Tag Archives: Celts

Basking in the rays of solar goddesses

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As you have probably figured out by now, I like to turn the ho-hum tenets of Western belief on their collectivised heads at times. I do this because we forget, as a species, where we came from, and also because we get too focused on only one source of information (from the Greeks, let’s say, or Shakespeare, or Jesus), and forget that other civilisations at different times had much to say on these subjects. And so this brings me to the Feminine Sun, whereas earlier in our narrative we discussed the Masculine Moon.

One of the things we’ve already accepted is that humans love to anthropomorphise virtually anything we come in contact with. So we’ve already accepted one basic truth, which is that we think of the planets, the celestial orbs, and space dust, as though they were people, or, if not actually people, then that they have characteristics and qualities people have.

We know, intellectually, that this isn’t really true, but we secretly like to think of Venus wearing gossamer pink and blue, and Mars going off to battle in his chariot. Or, probably more accurately, we like to transpose those qualities onto ourselves, and then project this complicated psychological inner landscape onto the stars.

However, the question I have these days is, why do we feel a need to gender the planets, and further, why did “we” (the collective we), decide in this culture to go with the sun equalling masculine energy, the moon being synonymous with the collective feminine? And what about other cultures who see it differently? It’s not as simple as gender-logic would have it seem; it means that the culture has a very different ethos than ours, and I think that’s often a good thing, something we could learn from and emulate.

The next question revolves around what sun energy means to us, and why you might think that a feminine energy should or should not be capable of expressing it. It’s clear that other cultures saw something in solar energy that they were able to connect with the feminine, just like they saw something masculine in the moon (which I fully admit, I’m having trouble seeing. There must have been other connectors for them that I haven’t researched carefully or that have gotten lost in the sands of time that might better explain these associations).

Is the sun’s life-giving force of necessity a masculine energy? Some cultures definitely did not, or do not, see it that way. Although in the West the sun often symbolises mental energy, connected through Greek myth and its gods to the intellect, for other cultures, the sun’s life-giving force is not dry or intellectual, but visceral, fecund, of the body rather than of the mind.

Are either of these approaches better or worse?

No, they’re simply different. But they do reveal certain cultural biases, and as we know, those biases affect us every single day, in terms of what we believe and how we live our lives, based on our expectations for ourselves and others. Bias influences our behavior as well as our thinking, so values and bias are powerful and controlling metanarratives we tell ourselves and each other about how we are or think we should be.

Hathor. In earlier periods she was most often depicted as a cow with the sundisk between her horns, or as a slender woman wearing the horns-and-a-sundisk headdress.

The Egyptians crowned the goddess Hathor with a sun-disc, representing at one and the same time the life-force, which they associated with her as a mother-figure, and the concept of a protected death that would carry your soul safely to the afterlife. Hathor was revered for a number of complicated, intertwined reasons, but the association with the sun stemmed from the Egyptian’s ritualistic relationship with death. Hathor symbolised nurturing, in her guise as a cow, but also life after death.

The sun symbolised death for the Egyptians, since it glowed hot and round as it set in the west, which is also the direction where they buried their dead, in alignment with a sun they saw as “dying” each day. So Hathor came to represent all that was good for the Egyptians, who believed that their life after death was more important than the earthly realm. See? I told you the Egyptians were complicated.

The Celts had Brighid, born at the moment of daybreak (contrast this with Athena, born from Zeus’ brow, or temple). Brighid rose into the sky with the sun, a part of the sun from birth. Wherever she walked, flowers and shamrocks appeared; as a sun goddess her gifts are light (knowledge), inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the sun. She resembles, to an extent, the Roman goddess Aurora, born anew with each dawn.

Brighid, in flames

In Japanese Shinto tradition, Amaterasu is the supreme being, and has the honor of being the ancestor goddess of the Imperial family. The sun is so highly revered in Japan, in fact, it is emblazoned on their national flag; for centuries, the symbol of the sun has always represented the Imperial family (so when you see the Japanese flag, whether you know it or not, you are seeing a reference to their past and to the supremacy of their emperor in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people).

Amaterasu, sun-goddess in Japan

Shinto is a religion founded on a belief in the power of the natural world and animism, and Amaterasu represents the most glorious possible expression of that energy. Interestingly, she is the first-born child in Shinto creation myth.

She had a moral and spiritual supremacy over her siblings reflecting traditional Japanese expectations for their first-born daughters, who were expected to instruct their siblings, and act as spiritual leader in the home, under the mother’s influence. Amaterasu continues to inspire Japanese culture today, although her connections to Shinto are less and less obvious, since her image has inspired video games and other such popular social expressions.

Solar goddesses from all different cultures abound.

The interesting question remains, why does the West privilege solar energy as necessarily masculine, and is that a box we have placed ourselves in, in terms of our perceptions, or does it really matter? Are we simply so accustomed to it now that it would be a hard habit to break, and if so, what does that mean for us as a culture?

Take a look here for more about solar goddesses.