Sun Symbolism

Peter Y. Chou

SUN: The great and universal symbol of the Higher Self,—
God manifest,— the central source of Light and Life within the soul.

"There is no visible thing in all the world more worthy to serve as a type of God than the Sun, which illuminates with visible light itself first, and then all the celestial and elemental bodies."
— Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), The Banquet, III.12

"I feel how difficult it is for the human mind even to form a conception of that Sun who is not visible to the sense, if our notion of Him is to be derived from the sun that is visible; but to express the same in language, however inadequately, is perhaps beyond the capability of man! To fitly explain His glory, I am very well aware, is a thing impossible... The Sun, that is, Apollo, is 'Leader of the Muses,' and inasmuch as He completes our life with good order, He produces in the world Aesculapius; for even before the world was He had the latter by his side."
— Emperor Julian (332-363 AD), Oration to the Sovereign Sun (1888 translation)

The Higher Self (sun) is the central harmoniser of the higher qualities (Apollo, Leader of the Muses in the Circle Dance), and completes the life of the soul with the perfect order of its final evolution. He produces in the lower nature (world) the indwelling Divine Saviour (Aesculapius) to heal and raise the soul. For before the lower nature existed, the soul's Redeemer was potential in the Self.

"I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."
Proverbs, VIII.23
The Self was, is, and ever shall be, and necessarily existed before the lower nature.

"And so the Sun, just as the Cosmos, lasts for aye. So is he, too, for ever ruler of all vital powers, or of our whole vitality; he is their ruler, or the one who gives them out. God then is the eternal ruler of all living things, or vital functions, that are in the world. He is the everlasting giver forth of Life itself (The Perfect Sermon)."
— G.R.S. Mead, Trice Great Hermes, Vol. II., p. 366

"In the well-known hymn, Rig Veda I.115.1, the Sun (Suryah)— interpreted by advanced pandits to mean the Supreme Being— is called the Soul (Atman) of the Universe, (that is, of all that moves, and is immovable)."
— Mon. Williams, Religious Thought in India, p. 95

"The eye of Mitra, Varuna and Agni, for that Sun is the eye of both gods and men; he hath filled heaven and earth, and the air, for when he rises he indeed fills these worlds; —Surya, the soul of the movable and immovable; for that sun is indeed the soul of everything here that moves and stands."
Sata. Brah., VII.5,2,27

The Self in all its aspects is the centre of perception or consciousness within both buddhic and mental states. The Self outpours in the higher, lower, and mental natures; for when the cycle commences he indeed energises the planes of nature. The Self (Surya) is the emanator of spirit and matter, for the Self is indeed the source of all life and form.

"Later Manicheans taught expressly that Mani, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, and the Sun, are the same." — Neander, Church History, Vol. II, p. 198

The Higher Self is known under many names and symbols in the scriptures of the world.

"The Sun is a figure in the outward world of the Heart of God."
— Jacob Boehme

"The sun, when mentioned in reference to the Lord, signifies his divine love, and at the same time his divine wisdom... By the sun is understood the Lord as to love and wisdom."
— Swedenborg, Apoc. Rev., n. 53

"By the 'sun' the Lord is typified, as is said in the Book of Wisdom (5, 6), that all the ungodly in the day of the last judgment, on knowing their own condemnation, are about to say, 'We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun rose not upon us.' As if they plainly said,— The ray of inward light has not shone on us. Whence also John says, 'A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet.' For by the 'sun' is understood the illumination of truth, but by the 'moon', which wanes and is filled up every month, the changeableness of temporal things. But Holy Church, because she is protected with the splendor of the heavenly light, is clothed, as it were, with the sun; but, because she despises all temporal things, she tramples the moon under her feet."
— St. Gregory, Morals on the Book of Job, Vol. III, p. 636.

SUN AS THE DOOR: A symbol of the Higher Self as the means by which the lower consciousness shall rise to union with the higher.
"When he departs from this body he mounts upwards by those very rays (the rays of the sun which enter the arteries of the body), or he is removed while saying Om. And quickly as he sends off his mind (as quick as thought), he goes to the sun. For the sun is the door of the world, an entrance for the knowing, a bar to the ignorant."
Khandogya Upanishad, VIII.6.5. (E-text)

When the perfected soul quits the vehicle of the lower mind, it passes upwards by means of the Divine Life (rays) from above, which purifies the currents of thought and emotion (arteries); or by means of the inspiration of Truth and Righteousness (Om). And immediately as the ego (mind) is liberated, the consciousness rises to the causal-body, and union is effected between the lower Self and the Higher Self. For the Higher Self (sun) is the means of union (the door),— the "way, the truth, and the life," which lead to immortality. From the lower life (world) the Self is the means of raising the perfected soul to bliss, and of relegating the unperfected to further experience and discipline below.

SUN-RISING, OR DAWN: A symbol of the commencement of a new cycle of life. The Higher Self (sun) beginning to appear in manifestation on the higher planes.
"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." — Matthew, V.45

The qualities of the soul are exhorted not to strive against their fellow qualities, but to assist them to purify themselves, so that all may be transmuted to the spiritual realm. For the Higher Self is established in the cycle from the commencement, for the purpose of raising all qualities, both evil and good, and therefore truth (rain) is poured forth both on the perfect and imperfect alike in response to their aspirations.

"Now the 'rising of the dawn' is the brightness of inward truth, which ought to be ever new to us. For the rising of this dawn is in the interior, where the brightness of the Divine Nature is manifested ever new to the spirits of the Angels."
— St. Gregory, Morals on the Book of Job, Vol. I, p. 213.

"We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread Universal Essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which hey are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old... Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, Ch. VII

SUN-SETTING: A symbol either of the termination, or the commencement, of the great cycle of life. The Higher Self withdraws into the Absolute, or the Higher Self becomes obscured and unapparent to the lower consciousness.
"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." — Isaiah, LX.20

At the end of the cycle, the individuality (thy sun) shall no longer be obscured to the consciousness, neither shall the personality (thy moon) withdraw any more into incarnation. For the Higher Self (the Lord) is united with the immortal individuality, and the grief of captivity to the lower nature is ended.

"At thy rising all live: at thy setting they die by thee; but the duration of thy life is the life that is in thee. Eyes shine brightly until thou settest; ceaseth all labour when thou settest in the west." [Hymn to Aten (sun-disk)]
— Wiedemann, Religion of Ancient Egyptians, p. 42

SUN-DISK, WINGED: A symbol of the higher Individuality, which is the atma-buddhis, and hich ensouls the causal-body.
"At the juncture the divine Isis asked her father Ra that the winged sun-disk might be given to her son Horus as a talisman, because he has cut off the heads of the fiend and his companions." (Legend of the Winged Sun-disk)
— Budge, Gods of the Egyptians

And now Wisdom (Isis) craves of the Supreme (Ra) that the mind may be so raised that it be consecrated entirely to the service of the Higher Self (Horus), so that the Divine impress or seal (talisman) be made upon it, and it rise to be one with its Father in heaven, as the Individuality. For it is in this prerequisite— the conquering over the lower powers— that the soul is entitled to aspire towards the higher possibilities of the upper planes.

"Horbehudti (Horus) came in the bark of Ra Harmakhis in a many coloured form as a great winged disk." — Ibid.

The Second Logos approached the soul in the "bark of Ra" which is a symbol of the higher or buddhic causal-body of all humanity, containing the complete collective experience of the race. The "many coloured form" is the buddhic vehicle of the higher Individuality.

A symbol of the Higher Self, the centre of perfection and fount of truth.

"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." — Malachi IV.2

To the disciplined qualities which yearn for perfection, the Higher Self (sun) shall arise within to impart truth and transmute their nature. They shall then go forth on higher planes, and develop in harmony and peace the higher emotions.

"The visible world is a book in which, if our spiritual eyes are open, we can read the nature of the invisible; in the soul of man we can discern the lineaments of God... Metaphors and illustrations of spiritual ideas are only possible because of this undoubed correspondence between the two planes of being (higher and lower) with which we have t do. Take such a beautiful figure of speech as the following: 'Unto you that fear my name, saith the Lord, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings.' Here the sun of our visible universe is used as an image of God's purifying action on the life of the soul; the righteousness of God is spoken of as rising like the sun upon human experience, bringing healing exactly as the rays of our earthly sun dissipate darkness and war against disease... Everything in the universe that has power to awaken in us feelings of delight and elevation of soul is really a spiritual symbol, directly connected with that which it symbolises, a word of God... The universe is a spiritual whole, a system within a system, a work revealing a work; it all means, for those who have eyes to read; it tells of what is hidden.
— R.J. Campbell, Sermons: Spiritual Correspondences

SURYA, THE SUN: A symbol of the Higher Self.
"Because there is none greater thn he (i.e., Surya), nor has been, nor will be, therefore he is celebrated as the Supreme Soul in all the Vedas."
Bhavishya Purana

— G.A. Gaskell, Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths
    Julian Press, New York, 1960, pp. 730-735


In theogony, the Sun represents the moment (surpassing al others in the succession of celestial dynasties) when the heroic principle shines at its brightest. Thus, after Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter, comes Helios Apollo. On occasion, the Sun appears as the direct son and heir of the god of heaven, and Krappe notes that he inherits one of the most notable and moral of the attributes of this deity: he sees all and, in consequence, knows all. In India, as Surya, it is the eye of Varuna; in Persia, it is the eye of Ahuramazda; in Greece, as Helios, the eye of Zeus (or of Uranus); in Egypt it is the eye of Ra, and in Islam, of Allah. With his "youthful" and filial characteristic, the Sun is associated with the hero, as opposed to the father, who connotes the heavens, although the two (sun and sky) are sometimes equated. Hence, the weapon of heaven is the net (the pattern of the stars) or the power of binding; while the hero is armed with the sword (symbolically associated with fire). And it is for this reason that heroes are promoted to solar eminence and even identified with the Sun itself. In a given period of history and at a certain cultural level, the solar cult is the predominant if not the only one. Frazer, however, as Eliade has noted, brought out the divergencies of the solar elements in the sacred rites of Africa, of Australia and Oceania as a whole, and of North and South America, in the New World, and— most advanced of all— in Mexico and pre-Columbian America to evolve a viable political system, it may be concluded that there is a parallel between predominantly solar cults and 'historical' forms of human existence. We must not overlook the fact that Rome, the most powerful political force of Antiquity, and the originator of the historical sense, upheld solar hierophany, which, during the Empire, dominated all other cults in the form of Mithraic ritual. An heroic and courageous force, creative and guiding— this is the core of solar symbolism; it may actually come to constitute a religion complete in itself, as is shown by the 'heresy' of Ikhnaton in the 18th dynasty of Egypt; here the hymns to the sun are, setting aside their profound lyrical interest, expressions of theories about the beneficent activity of the king of astral bodies.
    The sun on the horizon had long served the Egyptians of the Ancient Empire as a means of defining 'brightness' or 'splendour'. They were also forcibly struck by the analogy between the daily disappearance of the Sun and the winter solstice. at the same time, there was, for the primitive, astrobiological mind, an essential connexion between the Sun and Moon, analogous to that between heaven and earth. It is well known that, for the vast majority of peoples, the sky is symbolic of the active principle (related to the masculine sex and to the spirit), while the earth symbolizes the passive principle (cognate with the feminine sex and with matter); these equations, nevertheless, are occasionally transposed. And the same thing happens with the Sun and Moon: solar 'passion', so to speak, with its heroic and fierce character, clearly had to be assimilated to the masculine principle, and the pale and delicate nature of lunar light, with its connexion with the waters of the ocean (and the rhythm of woman), obviously had to be classified as feminine. These equations are certainly not constant; but the exceptions do not invalidate the essential truth of this symbolism. Even physically speaking, the Moon merely fulfils the passive role of reflecting the light which the Sun actively diffuses. Many primitive tribes hold that the eyes of heaven are the Sun and the Moon located on either side of the 'world-axis', and there are prehistoric drawings and engravings which may be interpreted after this fashion. Eliade notes that, for the Pigmies and Bushmen, the sun is the eye of the supreme god. The Samoyeds see the Sun and the Moon as the eyes of heaven, the Sun being the good eye, and the Moon the evil eye (one can see here an unequivocal instance of the symbolism of dualism expanded by the assimilation of that of moral polarity).
    The idea of the invincible character of the sun is reinforced by the belief that whereas the Moon must suffer fragmentation (since it wanes) before it can reach its monthly stage of three-day disappearance, the Sun does not need to die in order to descend into hell; it can reach the ocean or the lake of the Lower Waters and cross it without being dissolved. Hence, the death of the Sun necessarily implies the idea of resurrection and actually comes to be regarded as a death which is not a true death. For this reason, too, ancestor-worship is associated with the cult of the sun, in order to offer the symbolic promise of protection and salvation. Megalithic monuments are based upon the amalgamation of these two cults. Thus, the broadest and most authentic interpretation sees the sun as the cosmic reductio of the masculine force, and the Moon of the feminine. This implies that the active faculties (of reflexion, good judgment or will power) are solar, while the passive qualities (imagination, sentiment and perception) are feminine, with intuition possibly androgynous.
    The 'correspondences' of the Sun are chiefly gold, among the metals, and, of the colours, yellow. Alchemists regarded it as 'gold prepared for the work' or 'philosophical sulphur', as opposed to the Moon and mercury (the metal), which is lunar. Another alchemic concept, that of the the Sol in homine (or the invisible essence of the celestial Sun which nourishes the inborn fire of Man), is an early pointer to the way the astral body has latterly been interpreted by psychoanalysts, narrowing its meaning down to that of heat or energy, equivalent to the fire of life and the libido. Hence Jung's point that the Sun is, in truth, a symbol of the source of life and of the ultimate wholeness of man. But here there is probably some inexactitude, for totality is in fact uniquely symbolized by the 'conjunction' of the Sun and the Moon, as king and queen, brother and sister. In some folklore-taditions, the urge to allude in some way to the supreme good, which, by definition, is incapable of definition, is met by the saying 'to join the Sun and the Moon'.
    Now, having established the principal terms of solar symbolism— as an heroic image (Sol invictus, Sol salutis, Sol iustitiae), as the divine eye, the active principle and the source of life and energy— let us come back to the dualism of the Sun as regards its hidden passage— its 'Night Sea-Crossing'— symbolic of immanence (like the colour black) and also of sin, occultation and expiation. In the Rig Veda, Eliade reminds us— the Sun is ambivalent: on the one hand it is 'resplendent' and on the other it is 'black' or invisible, in which case it is associated with chthonian and funereal animals such as the horse and the serpent. Alchemists took up this image of the Sol niger to symbolize 'prime matter', or the unconscious in its base, 'unworked' state. In other words, the Sun is then at the nadir, in the depths out of which it must, slowly and painfully, ascend towards its zenith. This inevitable ascent does not relate to its daily journey, although this is used as an image, and hence it is symbolized by the transmutation of prime matter into gold, passing through the white and red stages, like the Sun itself in its orbit. Of undoubted interest, as an indication of the intensity of man's attitude towards the Sun, is the reference by Tacitus and Strabo to the 'sound' made by the Sun as it rises in the East and drowns in the oceans of the West. The sudden disappearance of the Sun below the horizon is related to the sudden death of heroes such as Samson, Hercules, and Siegfried.

The 19th enigmna of the Tarot pack. The allegory shows the disk of the astral king surrounded by alternating straight and flamelike rays, golden and red, symbolizing the twofold activity of the Sun in giving out warmth and light. Beneath the Sun, from which a golden spray is falling, are a young couple in a green field, and in the background there is a wall. This couple symbolize the Gemini under the beneficial influence of spiritual light. The Sun is the astral body of immutable constancy, and hence it reveals the reality of things— not their changing aspects as the Moon does. It is related to purification and tribulation, the sole purpose of which is to render transparent the opaque crust of the senses so that they may perceive the higher truths. But the Sun, apart from providing light and heat, is the source of supreme riches, and this is symbolized, in the allegory, by the golden drops which, as in the myth of Danae, rain down upon the human couple. On the positive side, this enigma symbolizes glory, spirituality and illumination. On the negative side, it stands for vanity or an idealism incompatible with reality.

A solar symbol, an emblem of authority and dignity, and one of the eight allegories of good fortune in Chinese Buddhism. It incorporates the symbolic concepts of irradiation and protection.

— J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols
    Philosophical Library, New York, 1962, pp. 302-305



A 9th century BC cuneiform tablet records the re-foundation of the temple of the sun by the Babylonian ruler King Nabu-apla-iddina (circa 887-851 BC), who sits in reverence beside the rayed disk symbolic of the sun's presence. Gray schist (29.5 cm x 17.8 cm);
Sippar (Northern Babylonia) circa 855 BC.
Found in the Ebabbar Temple (shrine of Shamash)
at Abu Habba (Sippar) in 1881 by H. Rassam
(British Museum, London, BM 91000)

The supreme cosmic power; the all-seeing divinity and its power; theophany; motionless being; the heart of the cosmos; the centre of being and of intuitive knowledge; 'the intelligence of the world' (Macrobius); enlightenment; the eye of the world and the eye of the day; the unconquered; glory; splendour; justice; royalty. 'It is the visible image of Divine Goodness... the Transcendent Archetype of Light (Dionysius). 'There is no visible thing, in all the world, more worthy to serve as a symbol of God than the sun, which illuminates with visible life, first itself, then all the celestial and mundane bodies' (Dante). There is a traditional distinction between the visible and invisible, sensible and intelligible, outward and inward suns.
    In most traditions the Sun is the universal Father, with the Moon as Mother, with the Teutonic, Oceanic and Japanese symbolism, where the Moon in the masculine and the Sun the feminine power. The sun and rain are the primary fertilizing forces, hence the bridegroom as sun and bride as moon goddess, the Sky Father and Earth Mother. As constantly rising and setting, and because its rays can be vivifying or destructive, the Sun symbolizes both life and death and the renewal of life through death. The Spring sun is the sol invictus. A solar disk with streams of water flowing from it represents the combination of sun and water, heat and moisture, as necessary to all life. The rayed sun and rayed heart share the same symbolism of the Centre as being the seat of illumination and intelligence. The sun in conflict with the serpent depicts light warring against darkness and heavenly against chthonic powers. The sun standing still is timelessness; the Eternal Now; the nunc stans; illumination; escape from time and the round of existence. The sun and moon together depict the male and female powers in conjunction.
    Sun symbols are the revolving wheel, disk, circle with central point, radiate circle, swastika, rays whether straight or undulating representing both the light and heat of the sun, luminous chariots with sun gods driving white or golden horses, or crossing the world in solar ships, a radiant face, an eye, a bronze man, a spider at the centre of its web with the rays extending in all directions, solar birds and animals such as the eagle, hawk, swan, phoenix, cock, lion, ram, white or golden horese, winged or plumed serpent, the dragon of China. The white sun is associated with solar animals, but sol niger is connected with the serpent and chthonic powers. In hunting civilizations the sun is the Great Hunter. The sun is sometimes depicted as the fruit on the Tree of Life. When the solar deity is male the sun is represented by the right eye, when female by the left eye. 'Children of the Sun' are royal, incarnate gods.
    African: In some tribe the sun is feminine power, the Mother; among Bushmen it is the supreme deity. Alchemic: Sol is the intellect. Sol and luna are gold and silver, king and queen, sould and body, etc. Sol niger is the prima materia. The planetary sign of the sun, the circle with central dot, is a symbol of completion of the Great Work. Amerindian: The universal spirit, the heart of the sky. In some tribes the sun becomes the feminine principle, the Mother, in others the Sun and Moon are depicted as man and wife or brother and sister. The Sun Dance is one of the most significant rituals. Astrology: Life; vitality; the incarnate character of the individual; the heart and its desires. Aztec: Pure spirit; the air; Quetzalcoatl; the eagle typifies the rising sun and heavenly aspect, and either the tiger or the falling eagle is the setting and earthly aspect. The plumed serpent is solar. Aztecs and Incas were 'children of the Sun'. Buddhist: The light of Buddha, the Sun Buddha. Celtic: The feminine power. Chinese: The yang, 'the Great Male Principle', the heavens; the eye of the day; the active force fertilizing the earth; power. The sun is one of the twelve symbols of power. Ten suns in a tree denote the end of a cycle. The cock and the three-legged 'red' raven live in the sun, the three legs representing the rising, noon and setting sun. Christian: God the Father, ruler and sustainer of the universe, radiating light and love; Christ 'the sun of righteousness'; the Logos; the divine essence in man. The sun and moon depicted with the crucifixion represent the two natures of Christ and the powers of Nature paying homage to the Lord of the Universe. The sun is the abod of the Archangel Michael, with the moon as that of Gabriel. St. Thomas Aquinas is portrayed with the sun on his breast. Egyptian: The rising sun is Horus, with Ra as the zenith and Osiris as the setting sun. The right eye is the sun and the left the moon. Horus in conflict with Set as the serpent. Apop is solar power warring with darkness. The winged sun disk is the solar power of Ra and Aton and renewal of life. Greek: The sun is the eye of Zeus. Apollo, as the sun, slays the python of darkness. In Orphism the sun is the "Father of All', 'the great generator and nourisher of all things, ruler of the world'. The sun is the heart, with the moon as the liver of the universe. Hebrew: Divine will and guidance. Hermetic: 'The sun... is the image of the Maker.' Hindu: 'The divine vivifier'; the eye of Varuna; Indra is solar and overcomes the dragon of chaos and darkness, Vritra. Siva is also the sun whose rays are the creative Shakti bringing life to the world. The sun is the 'world door', the entrance to knowledge, immortality. The triple tree with three suns depicts the Trimurti. A tree with twelve suns denotes the Adityas, signs of the Zodiac and the months of the year. These twelve forms of the sun will appear simultaneously as one at the end of a cycle of manifestation. Inca: The sun was depicted as human in form, with the face as a radiant disk of gold and was 'the ancestor'. Iranian: The eye of Ormuzd. 'Whoso venerates the Sun that is immortal, brilliant, swift-horsed... venerates Ormuzd, he venerates the Archangels, he venerates his own soul' (The Nyaishes). The winged sun disk also depicts Ormuzd or Ahura Mazda. Islamic: The eye of Allah, all-seeing, all-knowing, 'The sun is the reflection of the Sun beyond the veil' (Rumi). The heart of the universe and 'the sign of God in the heavens and earth'. Japanese: The sun is a lady and a snake divinity Amaterasu, 'she who possesses the great sun', born of Izanagi's left eye, and from whom the Mikado claims descent as the rising sun. The emblem of Japan. Maori: The sun and moon are the eyes of heaven. Mithraic: Mithra is a sun god. Sol, his quadriga and Cautes are usually depicted on the right with Luna and Cautopates on the left. Oceanic: The sun is most usually the Mother of All, with the moon as the Father and the stars as the children; in some parts the sun and moon are children of the first man and woman. The sun is 'the great eyeball'. Platonic: 'The author of visibility... of generation and nourishment and growth' (Republic). The heat and light of the sun are creativity and wisdom. Pythagorean: The ten suns are cyclic perfection. Scandanavian: The eye of Odin/Woden, the all-seeing. The sun is depicted as the sun-snake. Slav: The sun god is depicted as a beautiful young man, or, sometimes, as born anew and dying each day; in Slav symbolism the sun and moon can change sexes. Sumero-Semitic: The sun gods Shamash and Asshur are represented by the winged sun disk. Teutonic: The sun is feminine and the Mother, with the moon as the Father. Taoist: The sun is yang and the great celestial power; the sun and moon together symbolize supernatural being, all radiance.

Sun Dance
Amerindian: The regeneration of the sun and universal creation; union with the solar power. The ebb and flow of the dance denote the rising and setting of the sun and the phases of breathing and the heart-beat. A sun dance lodge is an image mundi, the twenty-eight posts (four and seven are sacred numbers) depict the lunar month and each represents some particular thing in creation; the circle of the posts signifies the entire creation and the central tree is the sacred Centre.

— J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols
    Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 162-164


The sun is an embodiment of yang, the male principle. It is associated with the East where it rises and with the spring when its power begins to make itself felt. It is also a symbol of the Emperor.
    Emperor Wu of the Former Han Dynasty was born after his mother had dreamt that the sun was entering her body. One of the oldest solar myths is to be found, according to Marcel Granet, in the fragments that remain of the oracle-book known as Guei Zang. This myth concers Xi-he, Mother of Suns, who rises up in the hollow mulberry tree which is the residence of our sun, and who stands in the valley of the sunrise (the East). Her issuing forth and her disappearance cause 'darkness and light' (hui ming). According to one myth, there were once ten suns— the sons of Xi-he— which threatened to scorch the earth until the heroic Hou Yi shot down nine of them. A different version of this myth gives the god of thunder the credit for destroying eight of the nine suns: though some sources say that these eight were removed by the young god Er-Lang, who crushed them with a mountain. The aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan say that there were once two suns: one of them was shot down, and became the moon. Among the minority peoples of South China, it is believed that there were originally twelve suns, ten of which were shot down by the sun-hero: the two that were left became our sun and moon. Another myth current in the same area of South China says that in the beginning when it was dark on earth, the cock induced the sun to come forth (the Japanese had a similar myth). Elsewhere, we find stories of how the sun went backwards or even stood still (cf. parallels in the Old Testament).
    A three-legged raven is supposed to live in the sun, though its place is taken in some versions of the myth by a toad. From the way in which eclipses were explained, we can see that the sun was associated with the husband, the moon with the wife. A solar eclipse was taken as a sign that the Emperor himself was being occulted— i.e. he was too much under the influence of the Empress. Lunar eclipses occurred when wives were not duly submissive to their husbands.
    Long after Chinese astronomers had identified the true reasons for both solar and lunar eclipses and could predict first the latter and then the former with some accuracy, ordinary Chinese went on believing that a dog was trying to swallow the sun, and tried to scare off this celestial monster by beating drums, praying, and firing arrows into the sky.
    The sacrifice to the sun was an ox which was slaughtered early in the morning. A cult involving sun and moon worship can be discerned in the rites of certain secret societies— e.g. the 'Sect of Devil-worshippers and Vegetarians' (13th century, i.e. late Sung). According to Wolfgang Bauer, these traces of sun worship and worship of the light show the influence of Zoroastrianism and Manicheism which were introduced into China in Tang times. Among the lower classes, sun worship joined forces with the lucky colour red, to find ideological expression in popular uprisings— right down to Mao Ze-dong, whose teachings were compared to a 'red sun'. The victorious power of the sun and of the revolution imbues the national anthem of the Chinese people— 'The East is red, the sun ascends.'
    A picture showing the god of good luck with his hand on the sun can be interpreted as meaning "May you rise in rank (as an official) in as short a time as possible."

— Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols
     Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1986, pp. 278-280


You should also understand that the night represents ignorance, but it is the moon and the stars which bring the Light of Wakan-Tanka into this darkness. As you know the moon comes and goes, but anpetu wi, the sun, lives on forever; it is the source of light, and because of this it is like Wakan-Tanka. A five-pointed star should be cut from rawhide. This will be the sacred Morning Star who stands between the darkness and the light, and who represents knowledge.
    A round rawhide circle should be made to represent the sun, and this should be painted red; but at the center there should be a round circle of blue, for this innermost center represents Wakan-Tanka as our Grandfather. The light of this sun enlightens the entire universe; and as the flames of the sun come to us in the morning, so comes the grace of Wakan-Tanka, by which all creatures are enlightened. It is because of this that the four-leggeds and the wingeds always rejoice at the coming of the light. We can all see in the day, and this seeing is sacred for it represents the sight of that real world which we may have through the eye of the heart. When you wear this sacred sign in the dance, you should remember that you are bringing Light into the universe, and if you concentrate on these meanings you will gain great benefit.

— Joseph Epes Brown (Ed.), The Sacred Pipe
     Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux
     Penguin Books, London, 1971, pp. 71-72


SUN: primordial divinity
In antiquity, numerous civilizations thought that the sun was God himself, or the visible manifestation of the Supreme Being, and made the sun a symbol of creative power.
• For theologians it was a substantiation of sacred power and the visible symbol of tis intellectual existence.
• In Orphic doctrine, the sun at the centre of the universe was a guarantee of the cohesion and harmony of the planets which gravitated around it attracted by its magnetic force, while effluvia from the sun's rays provoked movement in parts of the cosmos. In the Orphic litanies it is called the chain that links everything together, the principle of attraction, the redeemer who redeems Nature's powers by animating and fertilizing them.
• Sun worship was common in all civilizations which progressed from nomadic shepherds to farmers. It gave rise to Hinduism and Islam, Sabeism (star worship), and the esoterism of Zoroaster, to Sufism, Pantheism, the worship of Baal, Helios, Sab ('the Very-High'), Zeus, Apollo, Jupiter, Amun, Horus, Osiris, Harpocrates, Toum, Memon, Cronos, Shamash, Haraktes, Phoebus, Bel (meaning high, chief, king, lord, master), Ashur, Anuris, Adod, Jehovah, Mithras, Uiracocha...
• The sun was seen in the following ways:
— It was seen as different aspects of the god of the trinity: God the fater and creator, symbolized in petrified rays (menhirs, obelisks), and in solar rays (the stick, sceptre, phallus, arrows, hand); the pastoral god protecting through the eye, the eagle and hand; and the judgmental god or boundary of the mind, through the disk, shield and hand.
— It was seen as a unique god having as symbols the sun itself, the halo, revolving figures, the tonsure, solar crosses, the disk (either winged or with rays, or again with an eye) and its derivatives, the rosace, chrysanthemum, lotus, solar star, or ball.
• The Egyptians worshipped it as the unique god Amon-Ra, 'the One without parallel' adored as a trinity: Kepaa in the morning, Ra at midday, and Toum in the evening. The Sun Creator possessed three virtues, symbolized by the three signs: of life (the ankh), strength (the sceptre of gods and kings) and duration (djed, the four pillars of heaven seen in perspective and the sun's rays).
    The setting sun was sometimes represented by an egg (because it took on that shape at the moment it touched the horizon) which passed into the underworld to reappear with its shell broken and full of vigour the following morning: 'it was called the flame born of the flame.'
• In India, the rising sun is incarnated in the young, beautiful goddes Usas who 'makes darkness vanish and glitters in her clothes of light' and by the god of dawn, Aruna. The two (passive and dynamic) aspects of this sun are represented by Surya (symbolized by a bird, a horse, a wheel or a chariot) whose luminosity dissipates the darkness, sickness and evil powers and who dispenses rain, and Savitar, the divine motor which sets Nature in motion.
• The sun is a symbol of gods and powerful characters like Vishn, Buddha, Christ (with twelve rays representing the apostles) and numerous kings, and is also incarnated in a goddess in southern Arabia, Ilat, and in Japan by Amaterasu, a distant ancestor of the emperor, who, because of this became the Supreme Being in the Japanese cosmos. 'From this choice we can glimpse a gentler aspect of the idolized gift of light, a tender gratitude for all it enables us to see— so many traces of what once characterized the religious feelings of a great many peoples.
• For the American Indians, the sun's annual and daily trajectories are symbols of the cycle of human life: birth with dawn, descent below the ground, triumphant rebirth in the east.
    The sun 'is humanized to raise man's level to a divine level and is the model of true man. It symbolizes the law of eternal renewal.
• Every 52 years, at the moment the solar and divinatory calendars coincide, the Maya and the Aztecs thought that the sun's life could be extinguished, and to avoid the end of the world, practised outlandish rituals in the hope of appeasing the gods: the festival of the new fire involved a human sacrifice.
• Viracocha, the supreme god of the Incas, creator and animator of all things, was the spirit which manifested its power through the sun, and its incarnation on earth was the king, who was thus the son of the sun. Mummies of deceased sovereigns were taken to the market place in Cuzco and received the same religious veneration as images of the gods.
    In Cuzco's sumptuous temple, the anthropomorphic image of Viracocha was placed facing east and was surrounded by an infinite number of luminous rays.
• For the Aztecs, the four suns were the four ages of mankind, which had preceded the fifth (in which we live). They were linked to the four elements, the cardinal points and a divinity.
    The first sun, naui-Oceloti (four-Jaguar) associated with the earth, the north, and the god Tezcatlipoca, symbolized the nocturnal course of the sun.
    The second, naui-Echecatl (four-Wind), associated with the air, the west, and the god Quetzalcoatl, symbolized by a breathing monkey, was the setting sun.
    The third, naui-Quiahuitl (four-Rain, or sun of the Rain of Fire), associated with fire, the south, and the god Tlaloc, yielded its place to naui-Atl (four-Water), corresponding to the east, to the goddess of water, Calchiutlicue, then to the fifth sun naui-Ollin (four-Movement), dedicated to Tonatiuh who would be destroyed in an earthquake. The sun at its zenith was represented by Huitzilopochtil.
• The Aztecs believed that the sun had to be fed to supply it with the necessary energy for its course, and especially for its daily resurrection. And from this sprang their custom of ritual sacrifices, only human blood ('precious water') having the potential to fulfill this function of nourishment.
• In the Middle East, an identical function was fulfilled by solar walks, rituals used by Egyptians, Jews, and Phoenicians, at the time of the equinoxes and eclipses to help the sun-god during difficult periods in his annual cycle. 'Leaning on a stick, they walked continually in a circle throughout the duration of the eclipses, thus hoping to sustain the weakened sun.'
• In Japan, they would walk around Fuji-Yama, the holy mountain, at Osaka, a hundred times around the holy walls, singing their litanies.
• In the sun's passage to the zenith, situated on the perpendicular of the temple, which determined the rainy season, the sun could see the whole universe. Mexicans and Maya called this moment 'the eye of the sun' and symbolized it in a double circle, in place of an eye, when they depicted Tlaloc, god of rain.
• The light radiated by the sun is cosmic intelligence and symbolizes the intelligence and knowledge which every candidate seeks at initiation.
    The knowledge acquired in Freemasonry after an initiatic journey is identical to the sun's trajectory from east to west, defining the seasons that correspond to the stages on the perilous path followed by the candidate: birth in winter darkness, entering the menacing clouds of spring, mounting to the zenith in summer to ripen the wheat and fruit, triumphing over enemies who surround it, autumn mists, the descent before winter begins, death symbolized in the west where the sun discovers the 'secret of the renewal of existence.'
    The flaming star hung in the centre of the Masonic lodge is a symbol of divinity and also of the sun and its innumerable blessings.
• The sun's rays transmit celestial influences to the earth. 'The sun's rays lighting up the domestic threshold symbolize communication of divine energy to the womb of the world', as it is the axis which turns the heavenly and earthly wheels. Like a rainbow, they form the bridge along which God descends to man and man ascends to God.
• In India these rays are absorbed into the symbolism of the arrow and Shiva's hair, and the sun is the principle and end of every manifestation.
• In Mayan-Chortl ritual, these rays spread physical and spiritual light which, like human intelligence, illumines the world, conferring a magical power on things, which disappears with the setting sun.
• The solar cycle (solstices and equinoxes) was the reason for fertility rites which still exist to this day: the celebration of the birth of the sun at the moment it begins to appear in the sky on 25 December has been adopted by Christians, Christ being, in a spiritual sense, the new sun, the lustral branch used in purification rituals of flagellation and exorcisms during the spring equinox devoted to the resurrection and ascension of the sun gods; the fires of the summer solstice (fires of Saint-John).
• The sun's heat which gives man warmth, and its light which illuminates his world are, in the Bible, the symbol of divinity which warms the heart and makes itself aware through intelligence.
• In Genesis, the name of the sun symbolizes revelation and doctrine. The stationary sun is a manifestation of God's presence; the setting sun the absence of God: 'And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day' (Amos 8.9). 'She that hath borne seven [children] languishs: she hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down while it was yet day' (Jeremiah 15.9).
• The sun also has a destructive side, through its sometimes excessive heat, and the element of drought as opposed to the fertilizing element of rain. This links it to death: in every religion there is a tradition of the sun of the dead, the black sun, and of sun gods with black faces (Osiris, Hades). The Gnostics taught that the 'sun is double... a white sun and a black sun... Michael and Samuel', that it is the astronomical and cosmic symbol of two opposing lights and of two snakes symbolizing good and bad, God and Satan, an idea that they symbolized through the interwining of the good and bad rays of the sun.
• The Bible sometimes attributes the sun with an evil meaning of devouring ardour, fury and selfishness. Job congratulated himself for not having worshipped he sun and moon: that is to say, for not having faith in his own wisdom.
• The sun is the heart of the world, the centre of the system it rules, and is represented at the centre of the zodiac wheel. It plays a primordial role in the theme of the individual. Astrology defines its attributes as heat, dryness, masculinity, positiveness.
• The 19th major arcana of the tarot is the Sun, and it symbolizes the double action of the sun as 'giving light and heat: with twelve straight and wavy rays' (connected to the zodiac, therefore to the cycle of the year, the seasons).
    The sun at midday creates life but crushes, burns and dries up if lunar water is lacking. The rain of gold pouring out from it represents spiritual riches, the riches of the heart, the philosopher's gold of the alchemists, reserved for the initiated.
    This card calls to mind the conquest of the Golden Age through the wholesome soundness of the sun. It reminds us that earthly happiness is within reach of those who manage to reconcile the opposites in their nature, like the twins who are shown seated on the ground, relaxed and happy together, and 'who contribute to sorting out human chaos.'
Divinatory meaning: brotherliness, harmony, shelter, refound happiness. Honours, fame. Idealism that is incompatible with realty. Irritability, susceptibility.
• When the tarot shows the sun included in a triangle, the first geometrical figure, it means in heraldic art that the creative principle had been revealed to man threefold.
• In India, the swastika was a symbol of the sun, fire, and light, and often linked to the solar wheel and lightning.

— Nadia Julien (Ed.), The Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols
     translated by Elfreda Powell (from 1989 Belgian edition)
     Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, 1996, pp. 421-427


The skies, for ancient peoples, were a screen on which they projected their most profound speculations and spiritual needs. As the prime source of light and heat, the sun combined with rain to bring forth and sustain life. Its active, creative energy was considered to be a male attribute, and because of its high position in the heavens and the clarity of its light, the sun was regarded as all-seeing, and was worshipped as a (mostly masculine) god in a number of civilizations. To the Incas, the sun was a divine ancestor, who temples were lavishly decorated with gold, the colour with which the sun was closely associated. Even in Christianity the sun was felt to be a worthy symbol of God, standing for the impartiality with which he bestows gifts on all people ("He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good"). For Hindus, the sun symbolizes mankind's higher self, and the Upanishads speak of the sul after death ascending by the sun's rays towards the sun itself, "the door to the world, an entrance for the knowing, a bar to the ignorant."
The Buddhist Sun Shade
The sun has a fierce, destructive side, which can parch the land, destroy crops and men. In Buddhism, those of high rank were shielded from the sun by parasols, which thus became symbols of the majesty of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The parasol also came to represent boththe sun (its spokes the rays, its shaft the world axis) and protection from harm.
The Winged Sun Disk
The winged sun disk symbolizes the majesty of the Egyptian sun god Ra, ruler not only of the sun but also of the skies. Recognized as the creator of the world, Ra was revered by the Pharoahs, who considered themselves his sons. Ra resided in the ancient city of Heliopolis where he was worshipped in the form of an obelisk, believed to be a petrified ray of the sun.
The Dawn
Although the sun has masculine correspondences, dawn is usually seen as a female, and in Greek myth was personified as Eos (Aurora), sister of the sun god Helios and moon goddess Selene. She is often depicted rising from the sea or riding across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot. In Buddhism, dawn symbolizes the clear light of the void (ultimate reality), which is seen at the moment of death and, if followed, leads to Nirvana (supreme bliss). In most cultures, the rising sun is a symbol of hope and a new beginning.
— David Fontana, The Secret Language of Symbols
     A Visual Key to Symbols & Their Meanings
     Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1993, pp. 120-121


One of the most prevalent and important cultural symbols, often seen as male and associated with kinship and major male deities. In traditional Chinese culture the sun embodies the male active principle, yang. It is the greatest source of power in the heavens, and a symbol of the emperor, who wore a sun design (a circle containing a tree-legged crow) among the 'twelve ornaments' on his robes. The Japanese Imperial family are said to be direct descendants of their sun goddes Amaterasu Omikami. The Japanese word nihon means 'origin of the sun' and, as a red sun symbol, appears on the national flag. In the Kubu kingdom (Kongo), a sun motif is used on royal regalia such as the throne, and part of the Ashanti regalia is a gold sun disc representing the king's kra or soul.
    Sun deities were also central to the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Latin America. For the Maya, the rising sun affirmed the divine right of the ruler, and sacred rituals centred around sacrifices, which guaranteed that the sun would rise. Other cultures, too, encourage the sun to rise. To the Native American Cherokee tribe of the Southeast USA, the sun is female. When her daughter dies from a snake-bite, the sun covers her face in grief and the world becomes dark. The people dance and sing to the sun to console her, upon which she uncovers her face. The Plains tribes' Sun Dance is still a significant annual religious festival.
    The sun is often seen as a deity being transported across the sky on a chariot: examples are seen in Norse mythology, the Ancient Greek sun god Helios (Apollo), Mithras, the Ancient Egyptian Ra, and the Ancient Indian Surya. In Ancient Egypt, the sun disc was worn by many deities. A spoked wheel was the Celtic symbol of the sun, associated with Taranis. The deities Mabon, Lugh ('Light') and Brigid were also linked to the sun.
    According to the Vedic beliefs f the Ancient Indians, the sun god Surya was one element of the trinity of air (Vayu), fire (Agni) and sun (Surya). Such beliefs probably lie behind the depiction of the sun containing a face in the standard Western image. The Native American Hopi of Arizona's Sun Kachina also wears a human face.
    In Western Alchemy, the sun represents the ego of the alchemist, to be worked on and transformed by union with the moon. It represents male energy (animus) and can be depicted as a king. It is associtated with sulphur, the spirit, while gold is called 'the sun of the earth'.
    Astrology links the sun to individuality, the will, ego and personality, the father, health and vitality; it influences the circulation of the blood and physical growth. The sun rules the sign of Leo, and is associated with those in authority, and those working with money and gold. It is represented as a point within a circle. (p. 18)
Obelisk: Obelisks represented the Ancient Egyptian benben or 'Sun' stone in Heliopolis. They signified the first manifestation of Atum, marking where the first sun's rays fell. In later dynasties pairs of obelisks at temple gateways represented the sun and moon (and in the New Kingdom, also Isis and Nepthys). (p. 56)
Ra: Ra was the Ancient Egyptian Sun god who travelled the sky by day and the Duat (Underworld) by night in his solar barge. He sometimes took on the form of Khepra, depicted as a scarab or dung beetle. Khepra was the earliest sun god, first associated with the creator god Atum and then with Ra, whose rising at dawn and subsequent progress across the sky is mirrored by the beetle pushing before it a ball of dung containing its eggs. At dawn Ra was also sometimes shown as Ra-Herakhty (with a falcon's head, symbol of the sky); Ra at midday, and Atum Ra in the evening. When travelling through the Duat, he had a Ram's head. The Aten (sun disc) was originally associated with Ra. However, during his short reign (c. 1353-1336 BC) the pharoah Akhenaten named the Aten as representative of the one and only true god— the first time such a monotheistic philosophy was proposed in a religion of the Near East. (p. 98)
Helios * Apollo: A pre-Hellenic Sun god, Apollo developed into a complex deity with many roles and attributes. As a sun god he was depicted with a sun crown or halo, driving the Sun-chariot across the sky. A patron of agriculture and a shepherd, he also held a crook. As god of music and poetry, and inspirer of the Muses, he wore a laurel wreath (a symbol of excellence, associated with poets) and held a lyre. As patron of archers, he was also depicted holding a bow and arrows, the arrows representing the sun's rays. Apollo was also the god of prophecy, and was especially venerated at the Oracle of Delphi. He was linked with medicine, and was said to have fathered the great physician Asclepius. Finally, but not least, he was an athlete and was believed to have been a victor at the first Olympian games. (p. 103)
Amaterasu Omikami: The highest Shinto deity is Amaterasu Omikami, a Sun goddess. Members of the Japanese Imperial family are said to be her descendants. She is depicted with a halo of Sun's rays, and holding a sword or a mirror (both are regal attributes). She is sometimes accompanied by a three-legged crow, which keeps evil spirits away, or the cock that announces the sunrise. Born when Izanagi, one of the creator gods, cleansed his left eye after a visit to the Underworld, Amaterasu Omikami was charged by Izanagi with ruling 'the high plain of heaven', while her two brothers Tsukiyomi no Mikoto and Susano o no Mikoto rule the moon and the sea respecctively. After having been offended by Susano o no Mikoto, Amaterasu Omikami withdrew into a Cave, plungning the world into darkness and chaos. She was brought out by other gods, however, so that light and order returned to the world. (p. 139)
Phoenix: A bird of different form according to different cultures, but probably originally eagle-like— the phoenix is associated with fire and sun worship. Its red and gold wings were meant to suggest the rising sun— as it renewed itself eternally, like the sun rising from the water. Hence it was represented in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs by three parallel wavy lines, emphasizing its connection with water. The most celebrated myth relating to the phoenix's rejuvenation tells of its cremating itself on a bed of spices and aromatic wood, before rising from the ashes as a young bird again. It is a rare bird: only one exists at any one time.
    In Egypt it was called the bennu or beno (the Ancient Greek for which has become the English phoenix), and was said to return once every Sothic year (approximately every 1460 years) to sit on the ben ben stone at Heliopolis (Greek for the 'city of the sun'). Rather than an eagle, though, here it was generally considered to be a heron or a wagtail, and was regarded as the Soul (ba) of the god Ra, and a manifestation of Osiris, a deity particularly associated with reincarnation.
    The Jewish Talmud says that after 1000 years, the bird shrivels to the size of (or turns into) an egg, then re-emerges. An obvious symbol of eternal life, for Christians it came to represent the Resurrection of Christ and life after death. The Persian phoenix, central to Persian mythology and symbolizing the divine, is called the Si-murg, which additionally means 'thirty birds', A 13th century work by Farid od-Din Attar (Conference of the Birds) describes the journey of a group of birds that symbolizes the mystical journey of the soul towards the godhead. After many trials, only thirty birds reached their destination— the simurg's palace— to find an empty throne and a mirror in which they saw themselves reflected.
    For the Chinese, the phoenix (feng huang) is one of the four supernatural creatures, along with the dragon (lung), the unicorn (qilin), and the tortoise (gui). It is the chief of the 'feathered creatures', represens the South and the Summer, and is associated with the colour red. Phoenixes were believed to appear during periods of peaceful and just rule, and were thought to alight only on the drysandra (wutong) or paulowna tree— for which reason families planted these trees in their courtyard to attract phoenixes and good fortune.
    In Japan the phoenix (ho-o) appeared— with other aspects of Chinese culture— in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. It became a popular symbol in the art and architecture of Pure Land Buddhism, which focused on reverence for Amida Buddha and emphasized the reincarnation of the spirit. Phoenixes also became popular motifs on the tops of portable Shinto shrines (mikoshi). Like the dragon, the phoenix became a symbol of imperial authority in Japan.
— Rowena & Rupert Shepherd, 1000 Symbols
     Thames & Hudson, London, 2002


According to the oldest symbolism, the circle enclosing a dot represented the primal womb containing the spark of creation, like the bindu within the Yoni Yantra of Hindu tradition. Ancient Mesopotamian myths depicted the sun as a Goddess, such as Estan among the Hittites, who was later revised into a male divinity, Istanti Another Sun-goddess name was Arinna, "Queen of Heaven and Earth". she was also Hepat or Hebat, whose consort was the sun god. This name passed into biblical traditon as Hebe, Eveh, or Eve.
    In Arabia, Japan, and northern Europe, the sun retained feminine gender. The German language still calls her die Sonne, which is feminine. Norse myths say that although the Sun-goddess— named Glory-of-Elves— will disappear at doomsday along with the rest of the world, during the cosmic night she will give birth to a daughter sun, who will illuminate the world to come. Perhaps it was an anticipation of this Sun-goddess of the next universe that placed her symbol on rock faces of Celtic megalithic monuments, such as New Grange, where she appears as a dotted and rayed sun sign.
    It became more usual, however, for the sun to be considered a male deity in contrast to the moon, which was almost always female. The Greek brother-sister pairing of Apollo and Artemis represnts this kind of yang-and-yin dualism. The biblical God was also assimilated to an older male sun under the name of Azazel or Aziz-El, "the Strong One", who received the Hebrews' scapegoat-sacrifices. This Semitic sun god was Azeus in Boeotia, Azon in Syria, and founder of the city of Aza (or Gaza), where the name of Samson was given to the sacrificed sun-hero. In Arabia they called him Shams-On, the sun bound to the "mill-wheel" of the circling year. In early Gnostic literature, this solar deity or his earthly representative was identified with Cain, who was named a god, the sixth of the Great Aeons, "whom men call the sun".
    Many mythical connections between the sun and the male spirit led to a tendency for men to identify themselves with the solar day, the solar calendar, the gods of light and fire, in opposition to the female powers of night, the moon, the abyss, uterine darkness, secrecy, water, and earth. Yet, despite the sun god's glory, he was always swallowed up in the uterine darkness before he could be reborn at the dawn of each day or at the year's turning point (the winter solstice). The sun sign may have shown the sun at noon on high in the middle of heaven's dome, but it was also very much like the male bindu as embryonic spark of life beginning to take form within the cosmic womb, which surrounded and supported it. According to Maori myth, the sun god had to descend every night into the cave of the deep, where he could bathe in the uterine Waters of Life, in order to arise reborn the next day. Egypt's Osiris-Ra, represented by the winged sun disc, also died each day to enter the womb of the Great Mother and to be reborn from her eastern "gate" each morning.
    By the early Christian era, Roman emperors were routinely identifying themselves with the sun god and all his symbols: cross, eagle, fire, gold, lion, and so on. Constantine I, whom conventional history hails as the Christian emperor, was actually a worshiper of the sun god, whose image he placed on his coins, dedicated to "the invincible sun, my guardian". Contemporaneous Christian Gnostics used the sun sign surrounded by the Gnostic serpent as the symbol of the heart-soul of Terrestrial Man.
    It has been suggested that this dot-in-a-circle sun sign may have originated with the circular lens for starting fire by focusing sunlight on tinder. In ancient times this was known as "drawing down the sun" or "fire from heaven". Altar fires were often started this way, especially the heavenly fire to consume sacrificial victims, like the sons of Aaron, who were devoured by "fire from the Lord" (Leviticus 10:2). (p. 15)
Medicine Wheel: There are about fifty known examples of the Indian medicine wheel in the Rocky Mountain area, some dating as far back as 2500 B.C. The usual number of spokes in a medicine wheel is 28, the lunar number, with a 29th signified by the center post. Although the 19th century Plains Indians had forgotten how to tell time and follow the seasons by ancestral medicine wheels— which seem to have served much the same purposes as the megalithic stone circles of Europe— they nevertheless continued to set up their lodges for the Sun Dance celebration with 28 poles in a ring, and a pivotal 29th pole supporting the roof beams. (p. 11)

Obelisk: The word obelisk comes from Greek obelischos, "pointed pillar". The old joke that calls the United States' largest modern obelisk "Washington's greatest erection" is not so incongruous after all, because the original Egyptian obelisks were quite seriously conceived as phalli. Specifically, they represented the erect organ of the earth god Geb, as he lay on the ground trying to reach up to unite himself with Nut or Neith, the Goddess of the overarching sky. The ancients believed that the ideal proportion for an obelisk were 8-10 times as high as the width, at the base, with a pyramidion at the top inclined 60o. Washington's obelisk is 555 feet high and 55 feet square at the base. (pp. 26-27)
Sun Goddess: Although it seems traditional to associate the sun with the masculine principle, the archaic image of the sun as a Goddess was once widely diffused. The Great Mother of southern Arabia, Atthar or Al-Ilat, was the sun, also known as Torch of the Gods. The Goddess Sun was known in North America and Siberia. The ancient Germans called her Sunna, Sol, or Glory-of-Elves. To the Celts she was Sul or Sulis, from suil, the sun's eye. At doomsday, said the Eddas, she would give birth to a daughter sun who would illuminate the new world to come. In England she was worshiped at Sibury Hill (Sulisbury or Solbury) and at Bath, where the Romans identified her with Minerva and built altars to Sul Minerva.
    Japanese royalty traced their descent to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. The sun was considered the "clothing" of the Great Goddess, according to the Mahanirvanatantra: a tradition that certainly influenced the biblical image of the "woman clothed with the sun" (Revelation 12:1), who was, inevitably, identified with Mary. Buddhists also called the Sun Goddess Mari, or Marici, "Sun of Happiness". (pp. 221-222)
Sun: The popular European tradition usually made the sun male and the moon female, chiefly to assert that "his" light was stronger, and that "she" shone only by reflected glory, symbol of the position of women in patriarchal society. However,m Oriental and pre-Christian systems frequently made the sun a Goddess. The royal families in Japan traced their descent from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Before Islam, the Arabs worshiped the sun as a Goddess named Atthar. According to Tantric scriptures, the sun was nothing more than a garment of light for the Great Goddess. This concept reappeared, oddly, in the Book of Revelation as the "woman clothed with the sun" (Revelation 12:1). Some mystics carried contemplation of the Goddess's garment to such extremes that they made themselves "blinded by the light"— staring at the sun until their eyesight failed— thus achieving sainthood on the theory that having looked at the ultimate brilliance, they could have nothing greater to see.
    Vikings also worshiped the sun as a Goddess, Glory-of-Elves, or Sol. The Germans called her Sunna. Among the Celts she was known as Sol or Sul or Sulis. Her rites were celebrated especxially on hilltops overlooking springs, like the springs at Bath, which used to be called Aquae Sulis. The Romans set up altars to her under the name of Sul Minerva. Various priestesses dedicated to her entered Celtic mythology as sun women, like Iseult, Grainne, and Deirdre. The Scythian Diana was also a solar deity. Many of the old pagan festivals involving bonfires, torches, candles, and other lights were originally dedicated to the Goddess-as-sun, or to the Goddess as controller of the sun and its cycles. (pp. 353-354)
Sunflower: The sunflower of the ancients was probably not the giant blossom on its five-foot stalk that now bears this name, but rather several flowers of the daisy or marigold type that turn themselves to face the sun during its east-to-west arc across the sky. Greeks called the sunflower Clytie or Kleite (Famous One). Classical writers made her a nymph who loved the sun god and followed his frutifying beams with her head. Since her name was also the root of the word clitoris (kleitoris), it seems that the myth may have begun with symbols of the divine marriage between Father Heaven and Mother Earth. (p. 435)
— Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects
     HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, 1988


Wotan, the blue-cloaked All-Father of Northern mythology, was said to possess a solitary eye, understood by mythologists to point "beyond all doubt to the Sun, the one eye which all day long looks down from Heaven upon the Earth." In the mind of St. Matthew, the single eye was the equation of Light. "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." (Matthew VI.22)... The Egyptians cosidered God as the Eye of the Universe; and a point within a circle was regarded by them typified the supreme and everlasting God. The Greek for Sun is Helios, "Shining Light". The Assyrian Sun-God Sin, the English "sun", and the Dutch "zon" were probably once is-in, is-un, and iz-on, the "Light of the One" or "Light of the Sun"... Italians call the Sun il Sole, "the solitary one", and the French soleil may be equated with sole il or El, the Sole and Solitary God, the Monocle or Lone Great Eye. (pp. 288-290)
    An analysis of the several terms for man, soul, spirit reveals the time-honored belief that the human race emerged in its infancy from the Great Light, and that every human soul was a spark or fragment of the Ever-Existent Oversoul. The Egyptian for man was se, the German for soul is ziel, the fiery light of God, and the English soul was once presumably is ol, the essence or light of God. The Hebrew for man is ish and for woman isha. The Latin homo is Om, the Sun, as also is the French homme; and âme, the French for soul, is apparently the Hindoo AUM. (p. 300)
    It apparently struck the ancient fancy that anything round or circular was like the Orb of Day. Thus the Lithuanians called an apple obolys, which is simply obolus, a little ball... Among the ancient Mexicans the word on served to denote anything circular. The Celtic for circle is kibak ib, the "great orb", and for round, krenn— ak ur en, the "great fire sun"... The knowledge that ap is equal to ob enables us to reduce the name Apollo into Ap ol lo, the 'orb of the Lord Everlasting'. Shelley sings in Hymn of Apollo:
        "I am the Eye with which the universe
        Beholds itself and knows itself divine,
        All harmony of instrument or verse,
        All prophecy, all medicine are mine,
        All light of Art and Nature:— to my song
        Victory and praise in their own right belong."
Ap must be the root of the Greek apo, meaning "far away", and it may also be equated with our up and upwards, both meaning towards the orb: it is also the foundation of optimus, the best, and of optimism or faith in the highest. "High" may similarly be equated with towards the I or Eye. Country people pronounce up "oop", and the child's hoop may have been so named because it was a circle like the Sun. Op is not only the root of hope and happy but it is also the foundation of optics, optical, and other terms relating to the eye or eyeball. The word eye, phonetically "I", may have arisen from the fact that the eye is a ball like the Sun, and this idea runs through the etymology of "eye" in many languages. Ops or Opis was one of the names of Juno, the "unique, ever-existent O", or, as she was sometimes known, Demeter, the "Mother of brilliant splendour". Ops was the giver of ops, riches, whence the word opulent; plenty is fundamentally opulenty, and the Latin for plenty is copia. A synonym for plenty is abundance. The syllable Op, meaning Eye, occurs in many place-names, notably in Ethiopa and Europe. Cox translates Europe as meaning "the splendour of morning", and the word is alternatively rendered "the broad-eyed". But the two syllables of Europe are simply a reversed form of the English surname Hooper, the Eye or "Hoop of Light"— the Sun. (pp. 303-305)
    In Egypt, Hawks were kept in the Sun-god's temple, where the Deity himself was represented as a man with a hawk's head and the disk of the Sun over it. The Greek for Hawk is hierax, a word that has much puzzled philologers, but which obviously is hier, sacred or holy to— ak se, the Great Light. The Latin for hawk is accipiter, a word containing the piteer of Jupiter and resolvable into ak se pitar, Great Light Father. The Latin for Eagle is aquila, and the Spanish aguila. The core of both these words is evidently Huhi, an Egyptian term for God the Father, and both thus read ak Huhi la, the Great Father Everlasting. The Irish for Eagle was achil, probably ak el, the Great God, with which we may compare the French aigle and the English eagle
    One of the surnames of Dionysis was Puripais, a word understood to mean "Son of Fire". Pur or pyr is Greek for Fire, and the Greeks sometimes called the Lightning Pur Dios, i.e., the Fire of Dios or Dyaus, the Shining light, the Sky. Pyre in English means a funeral fire, in Umbrian pyr means light, and in Tahitian pura means "to blaze as a fire". In Sanskrit pramantha means the stick with which one kindled fire, and the pur of pramantha is no doubt identical with the pur of Prometheus, the traditional Bringer of Fire. (pp. 309-310)
    The Slavs knew only one god, the fabricator of lightning, whom they look upon as the ruler of all. This God, represented with three heads, was named Perun and was portrayed with a fiery-red face, surrounded by flames. He was worshipped by the Russians, Bohemians, Poles, and Bulgarians. A perpetual fire was maintained in honor of Perun, which, if extinguished, was rekindled by sparks struck from a stone held in the hand of the God's image. The name Perun evidently meant either Fire of the Sun or the One Fire; un being still the French for one and the root of Unus, unit, unique. Perun was also known as Peraun, the Solar Fire; as Perkunas, which we may restore to Per-ak-un-as, the Blazing Great Sun Fire; and as Perkuns, i.e. Per-ak-ince, the Sparkling Great Fire. (pp. 310-311)
    The Greek word paraclete used by St. John to denote the Holy Ghost the Comforter, is radically per ak el, the Fire of the Great God, and it was perhaps from Perak, the Great Fire, that the East Indian Perak and the American Paraguay derived their names. Perun must be allied not only to Perugia or Persia, but also to Peru, the land of self-termed "Children of the Sun". The Peruvian Solar hero was named Pirhua Manca, a term translated by Spence as "Son of the Sun", and by Donnelly as "revealer of pir, light". The syllable Per, either a coalesced form of pa ur or a contracted form of op ur, is still today a Scandinavian Christian name, and is obviously the root of Percy, Perceval, and Parzifal— names once meaning the light or strong light of the Fire. In Persian persica means Sun, and the Founder of the Persian Monarchy was termed Persica. (p. 311)
    The Son of Helios the Sun was named Perses; the daughter of Perses was Perseis; and the wife of Helios was Perse. Per, the Fire or Light, was doubtless also the root of Percides, Perseus, and of Persephone or Peroserpine, who is here represented with the Fleur-de-lys-tipped sceptre of Light and is crowned with the tower of Truth. The famous Persepolis, one of the wonders of the Eastern world, must have meant Per-se-polis, the City of Perse, the light of Per; and the land of Persia, orginally Persis, clearly owes its name to the same root. The Spanish surname Perez may be equated with the Italian Perizzi, and with Perizzites of the Old Testament. The Fire-worshipping Parsis were like the Parisii, the founder of the City of Paris— the followers or children of Per. (pp. 311-312)
    Par, the foundatioin of our word parent, may be equated with the French père, which means "father", and the Sun-God Perun may probably be equated with père un, the one Father. Pur is French for pure and is the root of prime, primal, primitive, premier, and progressive. Perfext, or as the French have it, parfait, must originally have implied made by or like Per. Per, meaning through or thorough, is the foundation of the adjectives permanent, permeating, persevering, pervasive, pertinacious, perennial, and present. (p. 313)
— Harold Bayley, The Lost Language of Symbolism
     Chapter XII: The Eye of the Universe (pp. 288-322)
     Citadel Press, New York (first edition, London 1912)


The Holy Grail and its quest is a legend which has had a powerful impact on our civilization and culture. The Grail itself is an ancient Celtic symbol of plenty as well as a Christian symbol of redemption and eternal life, the chalice which caught the blood of the crucified Christ. Two leading women of the Jungian school of psychology have cited the sun symbolism in relation to the Grail.
• In a 15th century woodcut only the upper half of Christ's body is represented as hanging on the cross, the lower half being replaced by a large heart from which blood flows into a chalice held by two kneeling angels. The heart is shown once in each corner... in the fourth, winged, the moon within it and the sun hovering above between the wings... The invocations addressed to the divine heart of Jesus also contain the same feminine element. It is extolled as "the temple in which dwells the life of the world," as a rose, a cup, a treasure, a spring, as the furnace of divine love "ever glowing in the fire of the Holy Ghost," as a censer and as a bridal chamber. (p. 100)
• In late antiquity, a tale of Alexander the Great recounts his march to India, where he comes to a mountain with two thousand five hundred sapphire steps leading to its summit. At the top he finds the "House of the Sun", a magnificent palace with doors and windows of gold. There is also a temple of gold with a golden vine bearing grapes of precious stones before its gate...
    Incense and balm are the fragrant foods of the gods. The palace is called the House of the Sun. There is also a temple and the holy trees of the sun and moon, from which a place of worship may be deduced, while the trees remind us of Paradise. The Gran Saint Grail describes how Joseph, in his wanderings with the Grail, came to the town of Sarras, the home of the Saracens, where there was a temple of the sun. (pp. 104, 106)
• The emergence of human consciousness can be compared to the Genesis story of creation. On the first day God divided the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. Psychologically translated, this would mean that on the same day the light of consciousness emerged from the chaos of undifferentiation, night, the unconscious, also came into being as an absolute and independent opposite to consciousness... "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also." The great light of day, the sun, may be compared to the mind, the lesser light which rules the night to the sun. After the earth, as solidity and consciousness, had been separated from the sea, the surging, fluctuating unconscious, the soul came into being as if arising from the water. Is it not her whom the ancients worshipped as Aphrodite, the foam-born, and who is still called upon today as Stella Maris? (p. 139)
• The legendary writer of antiquity, Maria Prophetissa, says that "the whole secret lies in knowing about the Hermetic vessel." The vessel is always One, and it must be round like the vault of heaven so that celestial influences can contribute to the work. It is also often called a matrix or uterus, in which the filius philosophorum (son of the philosophers) is born, and at the same time it is, in a mysterious way, identical with its contents. For instance, it is simply the aqua permanens itself. Mercurius is "our true hidden vessel, and also the Philosophical Garden in which our sun rises and ascends." It is itself the lapis philosophorium... By beholding it, man attains nous, the higher consciousness, which is found in the vessel. So the vessel also becomes a uterus for the spiritual renewal or rebirth of the individual. (pp. 142-143)
• The "sun table" has played an important role as far back as the Orphic mysteries of antiquity. Proclus recounts that Orpheus was acquainted with Dionysus' mixing vessel and had seated many other people at the sun table... The cup of Anacreon is connected with the realization of the divine in the four elements". The table, for its part, bears the cup, and round it sit those who desire to partake of the cup's mystery. (pp. 167-168)

— Emma Jung & Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend
     2nd Edition, translated by Andrea Dykes,
     Sigo Press, Boston, 1986 (original 1960)

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