The Goddess in the Sun
Germanic cultures had Sunna and Frau Sunne while the Norwegian Goddess Sól traversed the heavens in a chariot drawn by the horses Arvak and Alsvid.
The Lithuanians and Lativans had Saule, the Finns Paivatar or Beiwe. The Hungarians had Xatel-Ekwa and the Slavs had Solntse. For the Arabs she was Al-Lat. In Australia she was Bila or Walo. In India she was Bisal-Mariamna or Bomong and in Sri Lanka, Pattini.
The ancient Hittites had Wurusemu, the Babylonians had Shapash. Among Native American cultures she was Unelanuhi to the Cherokee, Wal Sil to the Natchez, Malina to the Inuit and Herkoolas to the Miwok.
In Japan the Sun Goddess Amaterasu is still regarded as the Goddess of the Universe, from whom the emperor is descended.
In Ireland she was Grian (the Moon was her sister) and her path through the heavens was a central tenet of Celtic cosmology. To move "deiseil" or "sunwise" around a place or an object brought the greatest luck. When one engaged in ritual or processed around a sacred object, such as a holy well or a standing stone, it was important to move around it deiseil, in order to go with the flow of the universe.
A sunwise procession around a place or thing in Ireland was called "cor deiseil." In the Hindu tradition a sunwise procession is called "pradaksina" and is said to bring luck and prosperity. Moving with the Sun was a common facet of Indo-European culture.
Moving anti-clockwise, widdershins or "tuathamail" (Gaelic) was considered very unlucky because it meant you were deliberately going "against the flow" of nature. In fact, invading armies would approach a fort tuathamail and the inhabitants would know that they were under attack.
Fire Deities of the Celts
Brighid was the Goddess invoked at Imbolc, the great Fire Festival of February 1 that celebrated the lactation of the ewes. Lugh gave his name to the festival of Lughnasad, the Fire Festival of the first fruits of the harvest, originally funeral games in honor of Lugh's foster mother.
In Irish tradition the Sun was also known as "Áine Clair," or Áine the Bright. She could appear to mortals as an old woman, a young princess, a mother, or a mermaid. "Áine Chliach" lived in a hill (Cnoc Áine). At Summer Solstice bundles of straw, or "cliars" were tied to poles, lit on fire, and carried around her hill. The cliars were then carried through the fields, around the cattle herd, and along boundaries to bless the land with Áine's fire.
Making Offerings to Sacred Fire
The High Holy Days of the Celts (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasad, and Samhain) were all called Fire Festivals. A large bonfire (or in the case of Imbolc, candles) was featured at each of these celebrations. Offerings were made to the fires, such as butter, sacred woods, aromatic herbs, whiskey, and oils, as prayers were spoken and petitions made to the Gods.
Beltaine offered a unique opportunity for purification by fire. At this Fire Festival the cows were led between two sacred bonfires, so close that when a white cow passed through them her hair would be singed brown. This ritual was done to purify the cows as they left the farm and made their way to their summer pastures in the hills.
At Beltaine and Samhain hearth fires were put out as everyone waited for sacred flames to arrive, brought by torch-bearers. In Ireland the Beltaine fires were lit from the great Fire Altar at Uisneach, home of the Arch-Druid, at Samhain from a fire near Tara.
Smáladh an Teine (Smooring the Fire)
The sacred Three
Oh! This eve,
And every night,
And every night,
Each single night,
Till white day shall come to the embers.
Traditional, Carmina Gadelica 84 and 85 (adapted)
(From Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore, by Ellen Evert Hopman, Pendraig Publishing, 2011)
A Scottish Fire Blessing for a newborn child was done by filling a basket with bread and cheese and wrapping it in clean linen. The baby was laid on top of the bread and cheese; the oldest female present would carry the basket around a fire three times sunwise, and then suspend the basket briefly over the fire. Then the "bairnie" (baby) was put into its cradle as the bread and cheese were distributed to everyone who had helped with the birth.
Every home in the area would put out their own hearth fire and then re-kindle a new fire from the flames of the Need-fire. Then they would put to boil water from a holy well or sacred spring. Once the water had boiled it was taken from the flames, cooled, and sprinkled on people and animals to heal them.
Fire Temples and Fire Altars
I explore the idea of the Fire Altar in the first two novels, Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey and The Druid Isle.
References and further reading:
Ellen Evert Hopman (Massachusetts) has contributed to several Pagan journals and is a popular author of Druidry-related titles. A former teacher at the Grey School of Wizardry, Hopman has been active in American Druidism ...