Sun Worship

07/27/2012 05:26 pm ET | Updated Sep 26, 2012
  • Donna Henes Urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, ritual expert and consultant

For many millennia, the moon reigned supreme and was worshipped as divine. Although the sun has been venerated to some degree in practically every culture in the world, a highly developed worship of the sun is comparatively rare. Solar cults flourished only in civilizations with vast civil structures and intricate political establishments, which organized around a central source of absolute imperial authority. In these societies, social order revolved around the priest-king-chief in the same way that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The Egyptians created the earliest and most elaborate of the sun cults. Sometime in the fourth millennium BCE, the moon calendar was discarded in favor of solar time-telling. Gradually, the pantheon of local gods gained sun-like qualities and eventually coalesced into a supreme solar deity, Ra, whose worship was centered in Heliopolis ("Sun City") in Lower Egypt. Through the pharaoh, His son, He ruled the world as He ruled the heavens. The order and rule of government, of society, indeed life itself, was deemed a direct inheritance from the sun. Divine dynasty. Solar symbolism is pervasive in Egyptian art, architecture and literature.

"Honour the King, the Eternal, in your bodies;

resort unto the Lord in your hearts. For he is

Understanding and knoweth the secrets of the

heart, his eyes search out all men. He is the

Sun by which all mankind sees. He illuminates

the Two Lands more than the sun."

-- Traditional Egyptian Invocation

According to the records of the Spanish conquistadors, the Inca rule of Peru was one of the most organized and orderly regimes in the world. By the time of the European occupation, their empire ranged from Ecuador to northern Chile. All political, social and religious organization was focused upon the sun temple in the center of Cuzco, the capital. The Inca considered themselves "Children of the Sun," whom they revered as Inti. The Palace of Gold, the shrine in honor of Inti, the sun from whom all riches flow, was lavishly decorated with that spectacular solar metal. It was situated so that each morning the rising sun would strike a gold-cast solar disc and bathe the entire interior with reflected yellow light.

"To the entire world I give my light and my radiance;

I give men warmth when they are cold: I cause their

fields to fructify and their cattle to multiply: each

day that passes I go around the world to secure a

better knowledge of men's needs and to satisfy

those needs. Follow my example."

-- Inca Myth recorded in 16th Century Spanish Royal Commentaries of Garcilaso de la Vega

The Aztec civilization of Mexico evolved into a solar monotheism as it became increasingly stable and affluent. Their ancestral tribal god, Huitzilopochtli, grew in influence and prominence and developed solar dimensions, as if to legitimatize their rule. The famous Aztec calendar, the "stone of the sun," diagrams the cosmology of the culture. In the center is the sun, Tonatiuh, "He Who Goes Forth Shining."

He is depicted as a bloodthirsty fellow, His great tongue stretched out to receive the ever-flowing "precious waters," the blood sacrifice, which He demands in payment for the great gifts that He bestows upon the world. The literal lifeblood of the community must be regularly offered in exchange for energy. As it is the job of the sun to uphold the structure of the universe, it was the responsibility of the emperor to ensure that the world works well. To that end, Tonatiuh had to be properly propitiated.

Today, we still offer ourselves up, well-oiled, splayed on the altars of the sun, both outside and in special solar worshipping salons. This is, actually, a rather snide sort of sacrament for us to make, since we have disregarded, disrespected and disdainfully rejected the gift of the sun's energy, freely given. Instead we built nuclear reactors and burned fossil fuels. As a result we have turned the sun into our enemy -- something to stay out of -- in our clumsy attempts to emulate holy conflagration. And we have burnt our naughty little fingers in the process.

But, perhaps, just perhaps, before we burn the house down around us, we will be able to learn, like any precocious child, not to play with fire.

"When it is hot I sweat alot.
When I sweat I feel the intense of heat.
Heat give off light.
Light give off energy.
Energy is give off of electricity.
Electricity give off shot.
Shot and then you get dead."

-- Denise Baque, Grade 6 Queens, N.Y.*

Poem originally printed in Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles & Celebrations by Donna Henes, published by Putnam/Perigee, 1996.

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