Embracing the Sun
He ends the night and heralds the day
He wakes us up for work and play
He stirs the seed deep in the Earth
And sends it sprouting through Her girth
He rules our months, our seasons, and days
And with His Fire, He lights our way
He brings us joy and warms our hearts
He promises a brand new start
He doles out doses of Vitamin D
To increase our calcium absorbency
He brings us air and stirs the tides
And all the while, through the sky He rides
Without a cross word or a single objection
Do you know who He is? Have you made the connection?
He is none other than the glorious Sun
Who only finds rest when our day is done
The Sun is perhaps the most important influence in our lives. He heralds the coming of each new day, and lets us know that it's time to get up and get going. But more importantly, His appearance actually makes us feel like getting something done. In His light, we're motivated to move about, grab our to-do lists, and become productive members of humankind-something crucial in today's busy world. No one I know can afford to waste a perfectly good day.
But the very sight of Him does much more for us than that. It just can't help but make us smile. And that even goes for folks like me who aren't morning people at all. There's just something downright joyous about seeing the Sun light the world around us. The Sun lightens our moods, quickens our steps, warms our hearts, and just generally makes us happier people.
Those aren't the only things the Sun does for us, though. He also contributes largely to our good health. How? By supplying our recommended daily dosage of Vitamin D, the very substance that helps the body to absorb calcium.1 And not only does the Sun manage this without effort on His part, He manages it without effort on ours. Only about ten minutes of sunshine per day does the trick-and we're well on our way to having healthy bones and stronger bodies.
The Sun's list of responsibilities goes on and on. He rules our calendar, starts each week by holding dominion over Sunday, and marks the comings and goings of the seasons in the cycles of His journey. His position in the sky at the time of our births is responsible for our natal signs, and thus He is largely responsible for how the rest of the world views us. He's responsible for the blowing of the winds, the growth of the plants, flowers, and trees that populate the Earth, and for the oxygen we breathe. And even with all this stuff on His plate, He still finds time to entertain us with sunbeams, rainbows, sundogs, and the like. I'd say that He's a very busy star, indeed.
Taking all this into consideration, it's little wonder that the Sun has managed to infiltrate our lives as a household word. We say that happy people have a sunny disposition, and refer to those with freckled faces as being sun-kissed. Florida is known as The Sunshine State, and Japan and Scandinavia are known as the lands of the rising sun and midnight sun, respectively. We don sunglasses and sun hats, then head for the beach to sunbathe (but not before applying our sunblock; otherwise, we might wind up with a sunburn). We add sun porches to our homes, and have sunroofs installed in our vehicles. But it doesn't stop there. We also brew sun tea, order our eggs sunny-side up, and purchase Sunny Delight at the grocery store.
Even the realm of musical entertainment isn't immune to the influences of that big, blazing, gaseous mass that warms our backs and lights our way. Remember that fun and campy little song you probably sang in kindergarten called You Are My Sunshine? Or maybe you remember Good Morning, Sunshine, Sunny, and Here Comes the Sun if you're from my generation. And what about the film and television industries? A Place in the Sun, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, is a classic, as is A Raisin in the Sun, with Sidney Poitier. And no one could forget John Lithgow's hilarious sitcom Third Rock from the Sun.
The Sun influences our lives in other ways, too. If it weren't for the Sun, in fact, life as we know it would simply cease to exist. Without His warming presence, plant life would be nearly nonexistent. Vegetables would be limited to root crops like potatoes and carrots. And flowers? Well, they'd be a thing of the past as well, since even those that bloom at night need His light and warmth to bring them to bud.
But even if we could do without all those amenities, other problems would surface. Without sunlight, electric bills would skyrocket, and without warmth, so would heating bills. And there's no way we could just go back to the basics of firewood and candlelight. Why? Because without the warming rays of the Sun, trees would be in short supply. And using them for heating, cooking, and melting wax would not only drive them to extinction, but would present a much larger problem: a total lack of oxygen to our planet. The Earth would become a cold, dark, dank place. For all practical purposes, it would be virtually uninhabitable.
And yet we tend to take the Sun for granted. We simply expect it to rise each day and light the Earth. Maybe it's not our fault, though. Since we live in such a modernized world, the magic of the Sun seems nothing less than commonplace. But no matter whose fault it is, such an attitude is also pure and unadulterated travesty-for the magic of the Sun is truly nothing less than miraculous!
Who's Got the Time?
Precisely who first revered the Sun's daily comings and goings as more than just a common occurrence is anybody's guess; in fact, it's been the subject of academic and anthropological debate for centuries. Some insist that the Sumerians and/or Babylonians initially used solar cycles to measure time. However, most believe that the ancient Egyptians were the first to refine this use to the point of any sort of predictability.3 The first clocks weren't the sundials you might expect, though, and they really didn't keep track of minutes or hours. Instead, they were more like a calendar in the form of obelisk-shaped stone structures or buildings. And when the Sun shone upon them, He cast a shadow on the ground that not only measured days, months, and years, but the seasons as well.
But the Egyptians probably weren't the only ones who used the cycle of the Sun for time measurement. Take Stonehenge, for example, which announces and measures the solstices. The rising Sun at Midsummer casts a U-shaped shadow on the stones, and this shadow opens toward the growing light. At Yule, though, the reverse is true. The shape appears again, but only with the setting Sun, and it opens toward the fading light. And while nobody really knows all the intended uses of Stonehenge-some experts think it was originally built as an astronomical observatory, while others insist it was constructed solely as a temple to the Sun-or if it marks or measures other days, one thing's for sure: the only time this phenomenon occurs is at the solstices. And that makes it a safe bet that time measurement was at least one of the reasons for its construction.
Some time around 300 BC, solar time-keeping devices were improved to measure hours. One of the improvements was the creation of a circular arc divided into twelve equal sections with a bead in the center. But since the days varied in length from season to season, so did the hours. And because these time measurements weren't very accurate, they came to be known as temporary hours. It wasn't until the Greeks discovered the use of angles and gave birth to geometry and trigonometry that things began to improve. Even with all of that, though, it took another thousand years to figure out how to determine the equal hours4 we know today.
But what about the calendar? How on earth did we wind up with a solar calendar when we know that ancient civilizations initially marked time by the cycles of the Moon? Well, while the Moon definitely came and went with regularity, She just didn't mark the seasons accurately. And this was an awful problem for the early peoples since they were agricultural in nature. There was no way to know when to plant or when to harvest. This was especially problematic for the ancient Egyptians, though, for an accurate forecast of the seasons also provided an accurate prediction of the flooding of the Nile River. And without knowledge of the latter, the crops that fed and clothed the civilized world might simply be washed away.
So realizing that the Sun-rather than the Moon-announced the change of the seasons, the Egyptians made some changes around 4000 BC. They added five days to their twelve month, 360-day calendar to align it to the Sun's cycles. In doing so, though, they forgot about the fourth of a day left over, and that was a terrible mistake. Why? Because after years and years, that quarter day added up, and pretty soon, the months they'd marked as Summer were coming in the Winter. The seasons were completely out of sync, and they had a bigger mess on their hands than they'd ever had at the outset.
Finally, around 45 BC, Julius Caesar made some changes. He decreed that the first year be 455 days in length to bring the seasons back to order. Then he based the new calendar on the solar year at 3651¼4 days. And to catch up with the accumulation of those quarter days, he instituted a leap year that fell every four years. It was a good plan, but it was still a little more than eleven minutes off per year, and even though that doesn't seem like much, there was still enough of a discrepancy to cause a problem. Enough so, in fact, that by the fifteenth century, things were off by about a week.
It wasn't until the sixteenth century that the solar calendar was straightened out by Pope Gregory XIII, who incorporated some mathematical formulas to remove three leap years every four hundred years. This Gregorian calendar-the calendar we use today-is fairly accurate, but still not perfect. Not to worry, though. At this point, we're only about twenty-six seconds off every year. And at that rate, it would take nearly 3500 years to accumulate just one extra day!
Since early humankind knew there was a definite connection between the Sun and the seasons, they obviously drew the correlation between the Sun and plants. But without the scientific knowledge we enjoy today, this relationship must have seemed rather peculiar at best. Why? Because even though it's a given that ancient farmers expected their seeds to sprout and push through the Earth, and they knew the ground had to be warm to make that happen, it's doubtful that they ever expected more from them than a good crop. However, these young sprouts suddenly seemed to have minds of their own. They turned on their stems to face the Sun-stretching and craning toward Him as if paying homage. It must have seemed as if the plants knew something that the early peoples did not: that the Sun was, indeed, worthy of reverence and adulation. And that behavior pattern may have been the first inkling that the Sun wasn't commonplace at all, but rather a deity in His own right.
It wasn't just the plants, though. Animal behavior changed with the Sun, too. Mammals shed their winter coats as days became warmer, and some of them even changed color. The Sun's new warmth brought a real flurry of activity in the rest of the animal kingdom, too. Cocoons hatched, butterflies burst forth, and fish and turtles became more plentiful. Certain animals suddenly appeared again, even though they hadn't been seen since autumn. Some animals mated, built shelters, and gave birth. Others simply basked in the Sun and soaked up His warmth. It must have seemed as if the Sun Himself was not only responsible for this sudden burst of energy, but also in charge of replenishing the personal power supply.
But that wasn't all. Rainbows appeared after heavy rains, and lit the sky with myriad color. Jewels, when drenched in sunlight, reflected the very same patterns off walls in the form of sunbeams. There were sundogs, too-those rainbowlike arcs occasionally seen at the Sun's corona. And sometimes, the Sun really outdid Himself. He appeared as a big black hole in the sky surrounded by illuminated cross and birdlike patterns.
To the early peoples, this must have truly seemed like magic in the making.
Early Sun Worship
While these things alone were obviously enough to constitute Sun worship in ancient civilization, one can't help but wonder what might have happened if those people had known what we know about the Sun today. Can you imagine, for example, their reaction at knowing that even though the Sun was positioned ninety-three million miles away, He could still light and warm the Earth with ease? Or how they'd have responded to the discovery that He was responsible for every molecule of oxygen they breathed, and every breeze that cooled their bodies? Or what if they knew that He made a large contribution to the health of their bones? Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing's for sure: with the Sun bringing all that magic to the world, they'd probably have worshipped Him much more adamantly than they did. In fact, one has to wonder whether they'd have even bothered to honor anything else at all-or whether the rest of their gods and goddesses would have even existed.
Be that as it may, though, what they did know was that the Sun was one of the most powerful forces in their Universe. Some saw Him as the Creator and Life Giver. Others saw Him as the Harbinger of Happiness and Success. And still more saw Him as the absolute Center of the Universe, or the Omnipotent All. Since the Sun was such an important factor in early civilization, though, it's not surprising that variations of His image seemed to turn up everywhere, from temples to tombs, from scrolls to pottery, and from jewelry to other decorative arts.
On the following pages you'll find some of the common Sun symbols utilized by ancient civilization, as well as brief descriptions of their use. It's interesting to note that although some of these symbols are still in use today, their current meanings reach far beyond their original intent. You'll also find that the cross was not initially a Christian symbol at all; in fact, it was important in the religious world long before Christianity was ever conceived. For your convenience, I've divided them into three categories: Solar Symbols, Solar Eclipse Symbols, and Solar Symbol Structures.
Circle with Central Dot
This Sun symbol is so ancient that no one seems to be able to accurately pinpoint its timeline. Any time it appears, though-even today-it has something to do with the Sun or His properties. Commonly used today by astrologers to depict the Sun's position in natal charts-and by esoteric astrologers to denote the divine spark of consciousness and co-creationism-it has also been used as the alchemistic symbol for gold, the botanical symbol for plants with a lifespan of one Sun cycle (one year), and as the Cabbalistic symbol for Michael the Archangel, who is associated with both the Sun and Sunday.
Dating back to about 3000 BC and found in the rock carvings and writings of the Egyptians, Cretians, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Chinese,5 and pre-Columbian Americans, this symbol is commonly known as the Sun Cross. In early times, it not only represented the Sun and ultimate power, but the ruler of the land as well, since he or she was considered to be the Sun's counterpart. (It's interesting to note that the Roman Catholic church uses this symbol in some of its rituals, but calls it the consecration or inaugural cross. In fact, when the bishop blesses a new church, he anoints the walls in twelve places by drawing this wheel with consecrated water or oil.) The Sun Cross has enjoyed many definitions during its time. It's also known as Odin's Cross, the astronomical symbol for Earth, the astrological symbol for the Part of Fortune, and the solar halo in British meteorological systems.
Another Sun Wheel dating back to the early Bronze Age, this circle image was found in many places during the archaeological excavation of Mohenjo-Daro, which is now a part of modern-day Pakistan. And though all indications point toward its representation of the Sun there, such is not likely elsewhere. The Gauls utilized this symbol as an amulet to gain the protection of their God of Thunder, Taranis. And although Taranis was a solar god in His own right, He certainly was not representative of the Sun in any way. A variation of this image-a circle divided into six portions, with another circle at its center, and the outer rim divided into twelve portions-is the Tibetan symbol for the world wheel.
Since Hitler chose this figure to symbolize the Nazi party during World War II, the swastika6 has taken a really bad rap over the years. But it wasn't always the symbol of horror we know today. Not only did it originally symbolize the Sun, fire, continuous motion, and the infinite process of creation, but it seemed exclusive to the ancient Sumerians until around 1000 BC. Then it began to crop up in China, Greece, Rome, Egypt, India, and Scandinavia as well. The ancient Minoans used it to symbolize the labyrinth. It's been associated with Artemis, Athena, Astarte, Woden, Freya, and Valkyrja in Her aspect as the Sun warrioress. Also known as St. Bridget's Cross, it's linked to the Celtic Goddess Bride, in Her Christianized version. Sacred to the Hindu God Ganesha-the remover of all obstacles-this figure is still used today as a talisman to ward off all misfortune. One other notation about the swastika: When it's drawn with the arms pointing to the left,7 it symbolizes life or the Sun moving in a clockwise motion; drawn with the arms pointing to the right; however, it represents death, or the Moon when moving in a counterclockwise manner. And it's been said that Hitler purposely chose to arm his party with the death symbol even though those closest to him argued that it was a mistake. If that's true, it makes one wonder if he truly expected to triumph at all.
Commonly found in the Tigris-Euphrates area around 1000 BC, this rosette was used to represent the Sun, highest divinity, rulership, and the Babylonian Sun God Shamash. When found rising between the horns in the symbol for Aries, it denotes the Spring Equinox.
Found on Assyrian stone sculptures dating back to 850 BC, this rosette is said to have represented Assur, the Creator God, Who in many ways resembled the Babylonian God Marduk.