Mythemes II

June 28, 2020 Category: History


Controlling night and day, it would seem, is a clear manifestation of cosmic sovereignty.  This also makes sense because Sol is the giver of heat and light–and therefore represents a life-giving force.  Moreover, the sun is the brightest celestial body, and its diurnal procession augurs both power and natural order (read: authority and inevitability)–an idea captured in the Vedic conception of “Rta”.

And so it goes: worship of the sun serves important psychical purposes.  Having something so accountable confers a sense of ORDER in an otherwise bewildering universe–a guarantee that things will kinda-sorta continue to kinda-sorta make sense.  This is something we all covet.

Even better, the positing of diurnal procession as the quintessence of divinity proffers a sense of structure to an otherwise chaotic-seeming world…in which unpredictable things happen and tribulations (wars, injustices, draughts, monsoons, infestations, diseases) occur inexplicably.  Indeed, in a world that is so dismayingly unreliable, it is nice to have something that one can rely on NO MATTER WHAT.  (What good is a deity who is not dependable?)

To top it all off, light is the optimal semiotic for wisdom, as wisdom is universally understood to be a kind of illumination (hence the Greek titan, Hyperion).  This is often a matter being shown THE WAY–as by a beacon.  Hence the common idiom of “enlightenment” across the globe–from secular Europe to the Far East.  The ethos of SAGACITY is facilitated by that which provides the world with its light. {3}

Indeed, there is something to be said for the ultimate source of light–especially if one is seeking to grow crops for sustenance.  It is no wonder that there has often been an affiliation between deities of weather, of sunlight, of a mother-Earth, and of agriculture / fertility.  Even the Egyptian mother-goddess, Isis, was typically associated with light.  The sun invariably plays a key role in every possible cosmological theory.  After all, light is associate with good things–notably: sight, fecundity, and vitality. {5}

[Amun-]Ra was not an anomaly.  Fascination with the sun can be found in Semitic lore, as with “Shamshi-El” [Aramaic for “Sun of God”], likely based on the Sumerian sun-god, Shamash…rendered “Shamshu” in Assyrian…then rendered “Shapshu” by the Babylonians…then rendered “Shapash” by the Canaanites.  This was likely the basis for the Judaic arch-angel, Shamshi-El (guardian of the Garden of Eden according to the Kabbalah).

In the 3rd century, Roman Emperor Aurelian fashioned “Sol Invictus” as the godhead–a conception embraced by Constantine even after he “converted” to Christianity.  (Note: the birthday celebration of Sol Invictus was December 25, a date that might sound familiar.)  Here are fifty more preeminent solar deities around the world (some of whom are goddesses):

  1. Mitra (Vedic)
  2. Surya; Savit[a]r (as an Aditya); Aditi; Bhanu; Ravi; Vivasvan[a] (Hindu)
  3. Ninurta; Utu (Sumerian)
  4. Eri (Akkadian)
  5. Shamshu / Shapshu (Assyrian / Babylonian)
  6. Yarhibol (Aramean)
  7. Ilah hag-Gabal [Latinized: “Ela-gabalus”] (Syrio-Roman)
  8. Malak-bel (Palmyrene / Nabataean)
  9. Nahundi (Elamite)
  10. Mitra [adapted from the antecedent Vedic]; Hvare-Khshaeta (Persian)
  11. Malak-Baal [“messenger of Baal”; often rendered “Malakbel”] (Syrian)
  12. Mandulis [based on Horus] (Nubian)
  13. Shams / Shamash (South Arabian / Sabaean / Himyarite) {6}
  14. Nuha (North Arabian)
  15. Shapash / Shamesh [daughter of El; likely based on the Assyrian “Shapshu”] (Canaanite)
  16. Shivini (Urartian / proto-Armenian)
  17. Usil (Etruscan)
  18. Helios (Greek)
  19. Istanu; Wurus[h]emu [alt. Utu Arinna; Arinniti] (Hurrian)
  20. Uru [Kassite: Urus]; Mithras [adapted from the antecedent Vedic]  (Hittite)
  21. Aramazd (Armenian)
  22. Hars (Scythian / Sarmatian)
  23. Koyash, son of the godhead [the sky-god, Tengri] (Turko-Mongolic)
  24. Gun Ana (Kyrgyz / Kazakh)
  25. Dazhbog (Slavic)
  26. Saule (Baltic)
  27. Sol (Nordic)
  28. Sunna (Norse / Germanic)
  29. Lugh; Etain (Celtic)
  30. Ekhi (Basque)
  31. Belenus (Gaulish)
  32. Zoor [alt. “Zun”; of the Zunbil Faith of the Hindu Kush] (Pashtun)
  33. Xihe; Taiyang Shen (Chinese)
  34. Hae-nim (Korean)
  35. Tonatiuh; Nanauatzin (Aztec)
  36. “Kon-Tiki” Viracocha [original godhead]; then his son, Inti (Incan)
  37. Kinich Ahau (Yucatec Mayan)
  38. Tohil (K’iche Mayan)
  39. Gurzil (Libyan Berber)
  40. Magec (Guanche Berber)
  41. Liza (Fon; West African)
  42. Ngai; Enkai (Maasai, Kamba, and Kukuyu; East African)
  43. Anyanwu (Igbo)
  44. Chiuta (Tumbuka)
  45. Akycha; Malina (Inuit)
  46. Wi (Lakota)
  47. Tsohanoai (Navajo)
  48. Maui Tiki-tiki (Polynesian)
  49. Wuriupranili (Australian aboriginal)
  50. Tama-nui-te-ra (Maori)

The Khitans–including the (Sakyamuni) Liao dynasty–worshipped the sun as well.

And what of the perpetual renewal of the diurnal cycle?  Daily sunrise is the ultimate symbol of re-birth / re-awakening.  It is a reassurance that the natural order will continue apace.  Solar deification is the quintessence of ironclad constancy.  Indeed, even if we can count on nothing else, we can ALWAYS count on the next dawn.

It is no surprise, then, that the most important god of the Egyptian pantheon was [Amun-]Ra; who was LITERALLY re-born each morning.  (Another key god, Horus, was also associated with the sun.)  Also note the use of goddesses to represent sunrise (dawn)–as with the Vedic “Ushas”, the Shinto “Ame-no-Uzume-no-mikoto”, the Ugaritic “Shahar”, the Greek “Eos”, the Etruscan “Thesan”, and the Roman “Aurora”.

ANNUAL re-birth is also salient.  Hence the feminine embodiment of spring-tide (and the concomitant celebration of the vernal equinox) has occurred across the globe.  In Hindu lore, tribute is paid to the goddess of creativity, Saraswati, on “Vasant Panchami”.  In the Occident, we find:

  • Ceres and Flora in Roman lore
  • Baba Dochia of Dacia in Romanian lore
  • Baba Marta in Bulgarian lore
  • Ostara in Anglo-Saxon lore
  • Austria-henae in Celtic lore
  • Frau Holle (a.k.a. “Mother Hulda”) in Germanic lore
  • the May Queen in English lore

All were women.  Each represented the advent of spring–a re-birth that was (naturally) associated with femininity (i.e. fertility).  The significance of this particular idiom has been reflected since the days that Stonehenge was erected.  It should come as no surprise that EVERYONE assumes the vernal equinox to be cosmically significant.  For the re-ascension from the perspective of those in the Earth’s northern hemisphere symbolizes revitalization.  Consequently, it has been incorporated into many spiritual traditions.

The ancient Anglo-Saxons celebrated the goddess of rebirth, “[e]Ostara”.  That was later coopted by Christians–rendered “Easter” as a way to commemorate the resurrection of their savior.  The same motif is encountered in the Far East.  The Sanskrit term for astrological passage, “sankranti” is the basis for the Hindu celebration of the initiation of spring: “Makar Sankranti” (Tamil: “Thai Pongal”)…from which the Siamese celebration of “Songkran” is derived.  The Romans celebrated Ambarvalia.  The ancient Celts celebrated Bealtaine.  The Romanians celebrated Martisor.  To this day, Sikhs celebrate “Vaisakhi”.  The Zoroastrian festival of “Nowruz”, celebrating the onset of spring, predates the Achaemenid Empire. {23}

NONE of this was anything new.  The commemoration of the vernal equinox as a new beginning goes back to the Sumerian / Assyrian festival of “Akitu[m]”.

The list is long of archetypes that crop up again and again around the world.  Suffice to say: When it comes to deification, there are universal tendencies.  Of course, each mythic system fashions itself as sui generis.  In reality, it is merely operating from the same template as any other in the world, throughout history.  This is unsurprising, as each template reflects an aspect of human nature…modified to accommodate the exigencies of the time and place.

As we’ll see below, those attempting to reconcile Abrahamic monotheism with (Pauline) Christian Trinitarianism were willing to undergo taxonomic acrobatics so as to maintain a veneer of credence to their brand of theism.  This is a reminder that dogmatists are often obliged to engage in semiotic backflips in their attempt to keep cognitive dissonance at bay.

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