Saturday, November 24, 2012

Worship of the Sun

     The sun has always been a mysterious and prominent force, a bright ball of light in the sky, one that disappears every evening but returns with godly certitude at the start of every day.
     In Mesopotamia, the hero Gilgamesh was a link between heaven and earth, the son of a human woman and father(s) the sun god, Shamash and the storm god Adad.
     In Egypt, the cult of Re (Ra), the God of the Sun was dominant around 2600 BC with its center at Heliopolis (Sun City). Greek myth has a somewhat confusing mix of 'sun deities': Apollo was the son of Zeus and, as one of the 12 gods of Mount Olympus, was known as the god of the sun. Before Apollo however, there was the Titan sun god, Hyperion; Helius, another god of the sun was perhaps contemporary with Apollo.

     But the sun was not always seen as the dominant force in the heavens. In African mythology (Yoruba), the sun and moon were created by Oleron, the supreme deity who directed the sun and moon when to come out and how to behave.
     In one aboriginal story from Australia, Wuriupranala, the 'Sun Woman' was given a torch of fire and her brother Thaparra, 'Moon Man', another torch but one of lesser intensity, explaining why the moon was never as bright as the sun.

Florentine Codex-Aztec Gods
     Aztec mythology focused on 5 suns or ages in the world. The First Sun (Sun of the Earth), inhabited by giants, was annihilated by jaguars; the Second Sun (Sun of the Air), populated by sinful people, was destroyed by the wind god, Ehecatl; the Third Sun (Sun of Rain) where people did not fulfill their sacred duties, was destroyed by a rain of ash and fire; the Fourth Sun (Sun of Water) was created and destroyed by flood (another flood myth?); the Fifth Sun (the final sun) is our present era , ruled by the sun god, Tonatiuh.

     If human beings do not work in harmony with the gods, this final age will also be destroyed, never to be created again.
     Although many of the sun deities were male, many were also female: the Arunta of Australia worshipped Sun Woman; in Japan, the sun goddess Amaterasu was revered; the Cherokee of native North America told the story of Grandmother Sun.

     A 'solar trinity' is seen in many theologies including Persian, Egyptian, Hindu, Babylonian and Christian (ie Father, Son and Holy Ghost) representing the light of the sun in its three phases: rising sun/dawn: God, the father, creator of the world, shrouded in blue (see blog: The Colors of Faith); the mid-day sun, the Illuminating One (yellow);and the setting sun: God, the Holy Ghost wrapped in flaming red.
     The sun, since very ancient times, has been recognized as creator, sustainer and, sometimes as destroyer.

     "Sun, sacred and blessed, rejoin your mother." - an ancient Basque bedtime prayer, still repeated in modern times.
     *Sky worship: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Temples to Watch the Sun

     Although many religions built temples for worship of the 'sun god(s)', many structures were built with specific alignments and points that allowed astute observations of our star.
Nabta Site

     The Nabta Site in southern Egypt is probably one of the oldest, constructed over 6000 years ago with vertical 'sighting' stones that corresponded with the zenith of the sun at the summer solstice. Also in Egypt, the Temple at Karnak, first built in about 2100 BC, was aligned in an east-west direction. The length of the temple allowed accurate determination of the length of the year.
     The passage of the Newgrange (tomb?) in Ireland (built 3200 BC) is illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise for 17 minutes. The famous Stonehenge in Salisbury, England, built in stages from 2950 BC to 1600 BC, has a number of its standing stones aligned with specific stars and the 'heel stone' aligned with sunrise of the summer solstice, creating the illusion of the rising sun balanced on the top of the stone.
     At Chichen Itza (Maya, built 1000-1200AD), the northwest and southwest corners of the main pyramid are aligned with the rising sun on the summer solstice and the setting sun of the winter solstice, respectively. On the days of the equinoxes, the shadows of the setting sun slither down the north face steps like a live snake.
     At Machu Pichu (present day Peru), the 'Temple of Three Windows' faces  the summer solstice.
     Medicine Wheels on the plains of the western US and Canada are arrangements of stone cairns that point to sunrise on the summer solstice.
Chichen Itza

     In 1279 AD, one of many Chinese observatories was built in Gaocheng, China, allowing a remarkably accurate calculation of the length of the year (365.2524 days).
     Between 1724 and 1730, the Indian astronomer-king of Jaipur built 5 observatories that allowed calculation of the longest and shortest days of the year, precise position of celestial bodies in the night sky and accurate time calculation (New Dehli) using an enormous sundial.
Easter Island
     Even in the isolation of Easter Island (off the coast of Chile), natives erected tall stone statues (moai) with 7 particular ones facing directly at the setting sun during the equinox.
     *Sky worship: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.