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.
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars. Then down between
The darkness and the light He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
from The Creation, by James Weldon Johnson
(For the image at the top, click here.)
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.
We all know that Yggdrasil is the World Tree of Norse myth, and that it holds together the nine worlds. However, the Norse, like the Finns and the Hindus of India, seem to have had some notion of a world mill (or churn) as well, which turned the heavens and could grind out various products. This cosmic mill shows through the confused myths about the sun and moon.
What do the Egyptian god Horus and the Norse god Odin have in common? Both of them are said to have the sun and moon as their eyes. The difference is that this belief about Horus dates back to very early Egyptian religion. As far as I can tell, the same statement about Odin comes from some 19th and 20th century writers.
The Celtic goddess Belisama comes from the south of France, where two inscriptions, from different areas, suggest that her cult was fairly widespread. One of them is to the goddess herself, while the other calls her Minerva Belisama. The first is signficant, since it shows that her cult was from pre-Roman times.
(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
The main solar deity of Mesopotamia was certainly male – Šamaš in Akkadian, and UTU in Sumerian. Evidence for this figure is abundant, and he performs normal sun-god/dess activities like witnessing and judging human activity, and maintaining life.
However, there are early personal names with a more feminine connotation, such as Ummi-Samas, (Šamaš is my mother), and Tulid-Shamash (Šamaš gave birth), which indicate that perhaps Šamaš had a female side. (In the same region, after all, the Canaanites and the Arabs both had sun-goddesses, Šapaš and Shams.)