We all know the Norse creation myth. In the beginning was ice and fire, then the fire thawed the ice enough to form a place where beings could emerge and life begins to form. Eventually some of the younger generation, led by the god Odin, killed the very first being, the giant Ymir, and made the world from his body.
And may the sun shine and the day’s eyes open.
Norse mythology has many puzzles, and one of them is the imbalance in numbers between Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir, who incude Odin and Thor among their number, seem to have many associated gods and goddesses, while the Vanir seem to have only three: Njord, Freyr and Freyja.
This blog has frequently lamented the demotion of Pluto. After being expelled from the company of planets, it now resides in the newly-named Plutoids, in the company of Eris, Sedna and other dwarf planets. Another one-time planet suffered a worse, and lonelier, fate one hundred years ago.
Horus is one of the oldest Egyptian gods, possibly reaching back to predynastic times. His conflict with Set, the desert-god, was one of the basic myths of Egyptian religion, long before Horus joined to the Isis-Osiris family.
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.
Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow;
Though thou be black as night,
And she made all of light,
Yet follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow.
Follow her, whose light thy light depriveth;
Though here thou liv’st disgrac’d,
And she in heaven is plac’d,
Yet follow her whose light the world reviveth.
Follow those pure beams, whose beauty burneth;
That so have scorched thee,
As thou still black must be,
Till her kind beams thy black to brightness turneth.
Follow her, while yet her glory shineth;
There comes a luckless night
That will dim all her light;
And this the black unhappy shade divineth.
Follow still, since so thy fates ordained;
The sun must have his shade,
Till both at once do fade,
The sun still proud, the shadow still disdained.
PS – The image is of curls of light in the shade of a tree during the solar eclipse, by Thomas Baer, from Wikimedia.
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”
She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.
(For the image at the top, click here.)
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.
In this post I have assembled all the written evidence I could find for sun-worship in pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian culture. I haven’t covered rock art or other visual evidence for the cult of the sun here as that is a post in itself.