Sun Lore of All Ages, by William Tyler Olcott, , at sacred-texts.com
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THE pre-eminence of the Sun, as the fountain-head of life and man's well-being, must have rendered it at a date almost contemporaneous with the birth of the race, the chief object of man's worship.
"It was," says Karnes, 1 "of all the different objects of idolatry the most excusable, for upon the sun depend health, vigour, and cheerfulness, and during its retirement all is dark and disconsolate." Hence, as we shall see, the chief masculine deity of every nation which was the chief object of their idolatrous worship, is in every case to be identified with the sun.
The Abbé Banier wrote in like vein: 2 "Nothing was more capable of seducing men than the Heavenly Bodies, and the sun especially. His beauty, the bright splendour of his beams, the rapidity of his course, exultavit ut Gigus ad currendam viam,
his regularity in enlightening the whole earth by turns, and in diffusing Light and Fertility all around, essential characters of the Divinity who is Himself the light and source of everything that exists, all these were but too capable of impressing the gross minds of men with a belief that there was no other God but the sun, and that this splendid luminary was the throne of the Divinity. God had fixed his habitation in the heavens, and they saw nothing that bore more marks of Divinity than the sun." In the words of Diodorus Siculus: "Men in earlier times struck with the beauty of the Universe, with the splendour and regularity which everywhere were in evidence, made no doubt that there was some Divinity who therein presided, and they adored the sun as expressing the likeness of the Deity."
The worship of the sun was inevitable, and its deification was the source of all idolatry in every part of the world. It was sunrise that inspired the first prayers uttered by man, calling him to acts of devotion, bidding him raise an altar and kindle sacrificial flames.
Before the Sun's all-glorious shrine the first men knelt and raised their voices in praise and supplication, fully confirmed in the belief that their prayers were heard and answered.
Nothing proves so much the antiquity of solar
idolatry as the care Moses took to prohibit it. "Take care," said he to the Israelites, "lest when you lift up your eyes to Heaven and see the sun, the moon, and all the stars, you be seduced and drawn away to pay worship and adoration to the creatures which the Lord your God has made for the service of all the nations under Heaven." Then we have the mention of Josiah taking away the horses that the king of Judah had given to the sun, and burning the chariot of the sun with fire. These references agree perfectly with the recognition in Palmyra of the Lord Sun, Baal Shemesh, and with the identification of the Assyrian Bel, and the Tyrian Baal with the sun.
Again, we have good evidence of the antiquity of Sun worship in the fact that the earliest authentic date that has been handed down to us was inscribed on the foundation stone of the temple of the Sun-God at Sippara in Babylon by Naram-Sin, son of Sargon. There has also been recovered an ancient tablet, an inscribed memorial of the reign of one of the early kings of Babylon, on which is sculptured a representation of the worship of the Sun-God by the king and his attendants. In the sculpture, the Sun-God appears seated on a throne beneath an open canopy shrine. He has a long beard and streaming hair, like most conceptions of the Sun-God, and in his hand he holds a ring, the
emblem of time, and a short stick too small for a sceptre, which some archæologists think represents the fire-stick which was so closely associated with the Sun-God. On a small table-altar, which stands before him, is a large disk ornamented with four star-like limbs, and four sets of wave-like rays, while above the group is the inscription: "The Disk of the Sun-God, and the rays (of his) eyes."
The scene clearly indicates the fact that the priests of Sippara were worshippers of the solar disk, and solar rays, and their creed seems to bear a close resemblance to that in vogue in the 18th Egyptian dynasty. The inscriptions on this memorial tablet are a valuable record of the religious life and ceremonial of the Babylonian temples.
he Babylonians, whose deity Shamash, the Sun-God, was worshipped at Sippara and Larsa, believed that in the firmament there were two doors—one in the east, and the other in the west. These were used by the Sun-God in his daily journey across the sky. He entered through the eastern door, and made his exit through the western portal. One tradition records that he rode in a chariot on his daily course drawn by two spirited horses.
In the representations of the Sun-God on the ancient cylinder seals, however, he is generally
depicted journeying on foot. Each evening when the Sun-God disappeared in the west, he feasted and rested from his exertions in the abode of the gods, the underworld.
The authorities do not agree as to the place where the worship of the Sun was introduced, but perhaps those who claim Chaldea as the birthplace of Sun worship have the best of the argument, as it is well known that the Chaldeans were the first who observed the motion of the heavenly bodies, and astrology flourished in this reign in the earliest times. The principal deities worshipped by the Chaldeans were arranged in triads of greater and less dignity, nearly all the members of these being personifications of the heavens or the heavenly bodies.
The first triad comprised Ana, the heavens, or the hidden Sun, Father of Gods, Lord of Darkness, Lord of Spirits. Next in order came Bil, also a Sun-God, the Ruler, the Lord, the source of kingly power. His name has the same significance as Baal, and he personifies the same aspect of nature, the Sun ruling in the heavens.
The gods of the Canaanite nations, Moloch, Baal, Chemosh, Baalzebub, and Thammuz, were all personifications of the sun or the sun's rays, considered under one aspect or another. These cruel gods, to whom human sacrifices were offered, represented the strong fierce summer sun.
Solar worship was the predominant feature of the religion of the Phœnicians, and the source of their mythology. Baal and Ashtoreth, their chief divinities, were unquestionably the Sun and Moon, and a great festival in honour of the Sun-God, called "the awakening of Herakles," was held annually at Tyre, in February and March, representing the returning power of the Sun in spring. The Phœnician Sun-God, Melkarth, belonged to the line of Bel or Baal, and was the tutelary divinity of the powerful city of Tyre. Melkarth personified the Sun of spring, gradually growing more and more powerful as it mounts to the skies; hence the Phœnicians regarded him as a god of the harvests, and of the table, the god who brings joy in his train. Quails were offered as sacrifices at his altars, and as it was supposed that he presided over dreams, the sick and infirm were sent to sleep in his temples that they might receive in their dreams some premonition of their approaching recovery. The white poplar was particularly dedicated to his service. His votaries celebrated his worship with fanatical rites, invoking him with loud cries, and cutting themselves with knives. Strangely enough, in the North American Indian worship of the sun, a similar custom of self-mutilation is undergone in the sun-dance ceremonial.
The hardy Tyrian navigators soon spread this
solar worship from island to island even as far as Gades, where a flame burned continually in his temples. His name signifies, according to some, "the King of the City" or "the powerful King."
The Phœnicians also adored the Supreme Being under the name of Bel-Samen, and it is a remarkable fact that the Irish peasants have a custom, when wishing a person good luck, to say, "the blessing of Bel, and the blessing of Sam-hain be with you," that is, of the Sun and Moon.
The Israelites found the worship of Baal already prevailing in the interior of Palestine, and the adjacent countries on the east, when they came out of Egypt.
We know little of the ritualistic worship of Baal save that high places and groves were especially devoted to his honour, and regarded as sacred. He had a numerous priesthood, and a passage in Jeremiah reveals that human beings were sacrificed to his worship.
The ancient Persians were Sun worshippers, and Mithras, their Supreme Deity, represented the orb of day. Among these people, however, Fire worship soon became the predominating religion, which flourished under the guiding hand of Zoroaster.
The early inhabitants of Armenia likewise worshipped the Sun, and on festival occasions
they were wont to sacrifice a horse to the object of their worship.
One of the most interesting evidences of ancient Sun worship has been brought to light in Syria, during the last few years, by German excavators who have been engaged in exposing the wonderful and imposing ruins at Baalbeck. Chief among these in importance is the Great Temple of the Sun, dedicated to Jupiter, and identified with Baal and the Sun. With him were associated both Venus and Mercury, under whose triple protection the ancient city of Heliopolis was placed. Unfortunately, the Great Temple has been almost entirely destroyed. All that remains are six columns of the peristyle, capped with Corinthian capitals, and joined by an elaborately decorated and massive entablature. An inscription on the great portico states that the temple was erected to the Great Gods of Heliopolis by Antonius.
In Egypt we find Sun worship exalted to the highest degree, and the Sun may well be regarded as the central object of the Egyptian religion. Diodorus says: "The first generation of men in Egypt, contemplating the beauty of the superior world, and admiring with astonishment the frame and order of the universe, imagined that there were two chief gods, eternal and primary, the Sun and Moon, the first of whom they called 'Osiris,' the
other 'Isis.' They held that these gods governed the whole world cherishing and increasing all things."
The Egyptian priests taught that all their great deities were once men, but that after they died their souls migrated into some one or other of the heavenly bodies. As Osiris was declared to be the Sun, it is evident that, according to this system, the soul of the man was thought to have been translated into the solar orb, so that "when" says Faber, 1 "the pagans worshipped the sun as their principal divinity they did not worship him simply and absolutely as the mere chief of the heavenly luminaries, but they adored in conjunction with him and perpetually distinguished by his name the patriarch Noah, whose soul after death they feigned to have migrated into that orb, and to have become the intellectual regent of it. The person worshipped in the sun was not simply Noah but Noah viewed as a transmigratory reappearance of Adam. The setting and rising of the sun really meant the entrance into and the quitting of the Ark, or his death and resurrection."
The setting of the sun in the west at night, and its rising again in the east the following morning, presented a mystery to which the Egyptians attached great importance. To them the disappearance
of the sun signified the end of a contest, the Sun-God vanquished by the demons of the darkness, descended to the realm of death. "In the Book of the Dead" says Tylor, 1 "it is written that the departed souls descend with the Sun-God through the western gate and travel with him among the fields and rivers of the underworld."
The war that the Sun waged with his enemies did not, however, end with his disappearance in the west at eve of day. All through the hours of darkness the battle went on in the underworld, until, finally, the sun gained the upper hand, and emerged victorious in the east, all glorious and triumphant to gladden the hearts of men, and proclaim the immortality of his soul; for, to the Egyptians, the soul as wholly identified with the Sun-God, and partook of all the vicissitudes that befell him. It died with him at nightfall, fought with him against the powers of darkness in the underworld, and renewed its life with him in the glories of the dawn.
The Egyptians, in the deification of the sun, considered the luminary in its different aspects, separating the light from the heat of the sun, and the orb from the rays. Egyptian Sun worship was therefore polytheistic, and several distinct deities were worshipped as Sun-Gods. Thus,
there were Sun-Gods representing the physical orb, the intellectual Sun, the sun considered as the source of heat, and the source of light, the power of the sun, the sun in the firmament, and the Sun in his resting-place.
It is quite impossible in a work of this nature to adequately treat the subject of Egyptian Sun worship. Volumes have been written on the subject and space forbids more than a brief account of the worship of the more important of the Egyptian solar deities.
The worship of the Sun-Gods Ra and Osiris was the most ancient religion mentioned on the oldest monuments of Egypt. "They are those," says Tiele, 1 "which in after times prevailed most generally and may be said to have formed the foundation of the national religion."
Undoubtedly the most important of the Egyptian Sun-Gods was Ra, and there appear to have been few gods in Egypt who were not at one time or another identified with him. As far back as Egyptian history reaches this Sun-God appears, as where in the pictures on the mummy cases, Ra, the Sun, is seen travelling in his boat through the upper and lower regions of the Universe, and his worship appears to have been universal throughout Egypt.
Ra personified the physical sun, the glorious mid-day sun ruling the firmament, and symbolised to the ancient Egyptians the majesty and power of kings. He was worshipped as an omnipotent and all-powerful god under the names Ra and Amen-Ra. 1
Wilkinson 2 tells us that the name of this deity was pronounced Rä, and with the definite article Pi prefixed it was the same as Phrah, or, as we erroneously call it, Pharaoh of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word Phrah is no other than the Memphitic name of the sun.
The hawk and globe emblems of the sun are placed over the banners or the figures of the Egyptian kings in the sculptures to denote this title. This adoption of the name of the sun as a regal title was probably owing to the idea that, as the Sun was the chief of the heavenly bodies, he was a fit emblem of the king who was the ruler over all the earth. In many of the kingly titles the phonetic nomen commenced with the name of Ra, as the Rameses, and others, and the expression "living forever like the sun, the splendid Phrê," are common on all the obelisks and dedicatory inscriptions.
The Sun-God Ra was usually represented as a man with a hawk's head, surmounted by a globe or disk of the sun, from which an asp issued. His figure, and that of the disk were generally painted in red colour, appropriately suggesting the heat of the mid-day sun. He is sometimes accompanied by a scarabæus or sacred beetle, which was an emblem of the sun throughout Egypt.
Pa-ra, the city of the Sun, or, as the Greeks called it, Heliopolis, was the small but celebrated city of Lower Egypt where Ra was especially worshipped. It lies a little east of the Nile and is not far from the spot where Memphis was built. Its usual name among the Egyptians was An or On. Plutarch has this reference to the Sun worship at Heliopolis: "Those who minister to the god of Heliopolis never carry any wine into the temple, looking upon it as indecent to drink it during the day when under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King."
The priesthood of the Sun were noted for their learning. They excelled in their knowledge of astronomy and all branches of science.
The rat was sacred to Ra, and his votaries were forbidden to eat the rodent.
The best loved of all the Egyptian Sun-Gods, and the first object of their idolatry was Osiris (the one who sees clear), personifying the setting
sun. The mysterious and daily disappearance of the orb of day exercised over the Egyptians a phenomenal power. The sun then appeared to them, as Keary beautifully describes it in his Dawn of History "to veil his glory and sheathe his dazzling beams in a lovely many-coloured radiance which soothed and gladdened the weary eyes and hearts of men, and enabled them to gaze fearlessly and lovingly on the dreaded orb from which during the day they had been obliged to turn their eyes."
Osiris was distinctly a god of the life eternal. The Egyptians believed that when he sank from sight behind the western hills the souls of the departed were in his retinue, and that, in his nightly sojourn in the underworld, he held high court and judged the dead. Thus, in the inscriptions on the Egyptian temples, we see Osiris in his character as Judge figured in the sacred blue, holding in one hand a sceptre, and in the other the emblem of life, his head surmounted with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
"In the judgment scenes," says Keary, 1 "he appears seated on a throne at the end of a solemn hall of trial, to which the soul has been arraigned, and in the centre of which stands the fateful balance, where in the presence of the evil accusing spirit and of the friendly funeral gods and genii
who stand around, the heart of man is weighed against a symbol of Divine Truth."
The Sun-God Osiris was therefore to the Egyptians a deity of the living, and a god of the dead, a link connecting the earthly life with the life eternal, the upper and the under worlds, and consequently was personified as two distinct characters. One, as we have seen, depicts him as Judge of the Dead. In his capacity as an earth dweller, Osiris was worshipped under the form of a bull, the Apis, who by successive incarnations never abandoned his home land, and the sight of those who worshipped him through successive ages.
The Egyptians regarded the bull as the living representation of the deity, and believed that the soul of the god tenanted the body of the animal, thence deeming the bull the very same as Osiris himself.
The seat of Osiris worship in Egypt was at Thinis (Teni) in Upper Egypt, on the west bank of the Nile between Thebes and Memphis. Osiris is frequently alluded to as "Lord of Abydos," a city in the immediate vicinity of Thinis, and at this place there have been discovered many temples dedicated to his worship.
That Osiris was a Sun-God is clearly indicated by a number of expressions used regarding him taken from the inscriptions. In the hymns his
accession to the throne of his father is compared to the rising of the sun, and it is even said of him in so many words: "He glitters on the horizon, he sends out rays of light from his double feather, inundates the world with it as the sun from out the highest heaven." Like the sun he is called in the sacred songs, "Lord of the length of time." One of his usual appellations is, "Mysterious soul of the Lord of the Disk," or simply "Soul of the Sun."
The Egyptians often called Osiris "Unefer," that is, the good being, representing the beneficent power of the sun that triumphs always over the powers of darkness. In conclusion, the story of the death of Osiris agrees closely with the solar sunset phenomenon, and renders the personification of Osiris as the setting sun a true one.
The most venerable of all the Egyptian Sun-Gods, if not the most popular, was Atum or Amum, personifying the sun after it had set, and was hid from view.
There are two derivations of the name Amum, one meaning, "that which brings to light," the other simply expressing the invitation or greeting of welcome, "Come." In deifying Amum the Egyptians worshipped the unrevealed and unseen Creator of all things, the source of all things, the Ruler of Eternity, whence everything came, and to which all things would return.
On the inscriptions, the figure of Amum was coloured blue, the sacred colour of the source of life; the figure was that of a man with either a human head, or a man's head concealed by the head and horns of a ram. The word "ram" meaning concealment in the Egyptian language.
In the Sun-God Horus we see the dawn personified, and the triumphant conqueror of the shades of darkness and the demons of the underworld emerges in the glorious light of victory each morning. He was figured as the eldest son of Osiris, a strong vigorous youth, who avenged his father by waging a successful war against the monster who had swallowed him up.
Horus is depicted in the inscriptions as sailing forth from the underworld up the eastern sky at dawn, piercing the great python, born of night, as he advances.
"The ultimate victory of life over death, of truth and goodness over falsehood and wrong," says Keary, 1 "were the moral lessons which this parable of the sun's rising read to the ancient Egyptians."
The resemblance of lions to the sun is borne out by the fact that the Egyptians placed the figures of lions under the throne of Horus. This deity was sometimes regarded as the God of Silence,
and represented as a child with his finger held up to his lips.
In addition to the previously mentioned personifications of the Sun, Egyptian Sun worship included a worship of the actual disk of the Sun. This form of worship was in vogue in the reign of Amenophis III., its first appearance on the monuments being in the 11th year of that monarch's reign.
The worship of the solar disk, or Aten, became the sole object of adoration in the reign of Amenhôtop IV. This monarch, in fact, forbade the worship of any god save this, the "great living disk of the sun," and caused the names of all other gods to be erased from the monuments, and their images to be destroyed.
In the hymns, this deity is referred to as he who created "the far heavens and men, beasts and birds; he strengtheneth the eyes with his beams, and when he showeth himself all flowers live and grow, the meadows flourish at his up-going, and are drunken at his feet, all cattle skip on their feet, and the birds that are in the marsh flutter for joy. It is he who bringeth the years, createth the months, maketh the days, calculateth the hours of time by whom men reckon."
In his zeal to make the god of the disk preeminent, King Amenhôtop IV changed his name
to one which signified "gleam of the sun's disk." The death of this monarch resulted in a great reaction, the old gods being restored to their original favour.
Although the solar personifications alluded to would appear to include all the Sun deities worshipped by the Egyptians, there were several minor Sun-Gods that had a place in their religion, chief among these being the god Ptah, personifying the life-giving power of the sun. This god was worshipped with great magnificence at Memphis.
The Sun-God Mandoo personified the power of the sun's rays at mid-day in summer. He was regarded as a god of vengeance and destruction, and a leader in time of war.
The rays of the sun were personified in the gods Gom, Moni, and Kons, who are always referred to as the sons of the Sun-God. The sun's rays, personified in the deity Sekhet or Pasht, had a feminine significance. This goddess was figured with the head of a lioness, and it is said she was at once feared and loved. Her name Pasht means the lioness, and was perhaps suggested by the fierceness of the sun's rays, answering to the lioness's ferocious strength, or the angry light in her eyes. Another name for this goddess was "the Lady of the Cave," and her worship, though common throughout Egypt, had its seat at Bubastis.
Tiele considers that Set, the enemy and brother of Osiris, was also a Sun-God, as he is sometimes called "the Great Lord of Heaven," and "the Spy." He personified the fierce and terrible desolation wrought by the sun's power.
141:1 History of Man, Hon. Henry Home of Kames.
141:2 The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients, Abbé Banier.
149:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber.
150:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.
151:1 History of the Egyptian Religion, Dr. C. P. Tiele.
152:1 It is a singular fact that the great Polynesian name for the Sun-God is also Ra.
152:2 Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson.
154:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.
157:1 Dawn of History, C. F. Keary.