Stories from around the world tell how even the messy things that deities produce are valuable and important. In Shinto myth the god Izanagi has two deities come out of his eyes and another from his nose. The ancient Egyptian deities Shu and Tefnut were born from Atum’s masturbation.
So it’s no surprise that a goddess’ tears would take the form of amber or gold. In fact, three different stories tell how valuable a weeping goddess could be.
The Norse sun-goddess is not alone in her splendour – among her neighbours are the Finnish and Baltic sun-goddesses, Beiwe and Saule. Last week I wrote a post comparing Sol with two major Indo-European sun-gods, Helios of the Greeks and Surya of the Indians, but this time I want to see how much the three goddesses have in common.
Comparing her to other sun-goddesses brings out more feminine aspects of her character; for example, spinning was the ultimate in women’s work, so it’s no surprise that the sun-goddesses have to spin their sunbeams. Their daughters, the sun-maidens, do not escape without their share of the work. And all three are nurturing figures, who provide food for animals and people.
We are used to thinking of the moon and sun as opposites, a fallacy that even pervades astronomy, as Space.com points out. For a single instant in a lunar month (29.5 days) the sun is opposite the moon in the sky. This is the exact moment of the full moon. Apart from this, the two may be anything from 180 to 0 degrees apart, and are often seen in the sky together.
This may explain why Völuspá refers to the moon-god Mani as the sun’s companion or escort. (Depending on translation.) Also, when the two appear in the sky for the first time, their routes are not yet established, so it makes sense that they would be together.
(Note: this is a slightly rewritten excerpt from my second book Sun, Moon and Stars. I hope that isn’t out of line, but I still like the piece as it is.)
In the same year so bright a light illumined a wide spread of lands in the middle of the night that you would have thought that it was high noon. On a number of occasions fiery globes were also seen traversing the sky at night-time, so that they seemed to light up the whole earth. (The History of the Franks IX.4)
The Northern Lights are a more personal topic than many in this blog. I grew up in Labrador, which is in the sub-Arctic of Canada, and we did get some good displays. (For the best, you go further north, above the tree line.) Apart from the great colour show you can get, the thing I most remember about them is the hush – people would stop and look, and no one made any noise, just watched the pink and green bands undulate across the sky. It wasn’t hard to see why the Innu and Inuit were in awe of them. Continue reading →