In archaic times, people perceived the sun, in its shining prime and glory, the giver of heat and light and life, to be the effulgent force of the female. A passionate aspect of the great mother, the versatile jill-of-all-trades who issues forth and supports whole life. She is the heaven Illuminating goddess, Amaterasu Omikame, in Japan, and the queen of heaven and Earth, Arinna, in Mesopotamia. She was Yhi, sun woman, to the Arunta of Australia. Sun sister was known in Anatolia, Siberia and Native America.
Tribal North Europe knew her, too. The Germans called her Sunna, as did the Norwegians. In Scandinavia, she was Glory-of-Elves or Sol. The Eddas say that on doomsday, she will bear a daughter who will be the new sun, the next creation. The luminous world to come. She was Sol, as well, to the Celts who also called her Sul or Sulis. Her celebrations took place on open plains, on hilltops, overlooking springs. A major ceremonial site was Silbury Hill (Sulisbury Hill) and the springs at Bath, once called Aquae Sulis, were the site of Roman altars sacred to Sul Minerva.
The great mother in ancient India was Aditi, the mother of the 12 spirits of the zodiac, the Adityas who would "reveal their light at doomsday." The Mahanirvanatantra describes the sun as a golden garment of light that graces the great goddess. "The sun, the most glorious symbol in the physical world, is the vesture of Her who is ‘clothed with the sun.’"
Tantric Buddhist monks greeted the sun goddess, Marici, at dawn, chanting to her, "the glorious one, the sun of happiness… I salute you O Goddess Marici! Bless me and fulfill my desires. Protect me, O Goddess, from all the eight fears." Marici, or Mari, was a precursor of the Christian Mary. The New Testament Book of Revelation refers to her as a "woman clothed in the sun."
Some early Christian mystics gazed upon the sun, the shining shawl that encircles Our Lady’s shoulders, until they "became blinded by the light." The theory being, that once having contemplated such magnificent brilliance, there was nothing left worthy of being seen. The success of this practice seems to have been a sure path to sainthood. An odd parallel is Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, Santa Luz who plucked out her own eyes to discourage unwanted suitors and sexual advances. In the dark, with the one she truly loved, she was rewarded with the clear vision of the light of her faith.
The goddess was not always the sun herself, but often the force behind it. The grand controller of the cosmos, the sun, and the celestial cycles. According to Greek mythology, Leto laid an egg that produced two offspring, the sun and the moon, Apollo and Artemis. The Egyptian Goddess, Hathor, hatched the "golden egg of the sun" at the dawn of creation. The sun god, Osiris-Ra, died each night to return to the womb of the great mother, from whose "gate" he was reborn each morning. The same is said of the Maori sun god, who must descend into the uterine cave of the Waters of Life in order to be regenerated daily.
With the advent of the patriarchy, the sun underwent a sex change. Profound, this gender shift was a portrayal of the left brain revolution, the ascendance of ration over passion. Female divinity was overthrown, overthrone, overgrown. Her domain plundered, her authority usurped, her worship polluted. The sun, with the strength of it’s brilliance, it’s sheer presence and potency, came to stand for the masculine principle, the power of rational thinking. The moon, reflective, more subtle and seemingly erratic, came to be associated with the feminine in most cultures. Although the traits of the sun are thought to be male, it retains its female designation in the languages of Northern Europe, Arabia and Japan.
In Mesopotamian mythology, the Hittite sun goddess, Estan, evolved into Istanu, a male sun god. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the sun goddess was known as Torch of the Gods, Atthar or Al-llat. She was honored daily by pouring libations at roof top altars. Her name was subsequently masculinized to Allah. Her other name, Shams, along with her attributes became associated with a male sun god, Shams-On. The Babylonian sun god was Shamash, clearly related. The Hebrew word for sun, as well as the appellation of the biblical character Samson, were also derived from her name.
This summer let us each reflect and radiate the warming, nurturing energy of the sun in all her shining glory.
orange like a
arousing with a lover’s
touch the clustered
I praise this
great wheel the sun —
rising it is an
the Lady of the East.
— Vidya Kara
11th Century Sanskrit Poetess