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Sun Lore of All Ages, by William Tyler Olcott, [1914], at

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Chapter II

Ancient Ideas of the Sun and the Moon

A STUDY of mythology reveals many legends and traditions that concern the Sun and the Moon as related in some way by family or marital ties. Consequently; in spite of the fact that the purpose of this volume is to afford a comprehensive review of solar lore, these legends were considered sufficiently interesting as a further revelation of the solar myth to be included.

In the early history of all people we find the Sun and Moon regarded as human beings, more or less closely connected with the daily life of mankind, and influencing in some mysterious way man's existence, and controlling his destiny. We find the luminaries alluded to as ancestors, heroes, and benefactors, who, after a life of usefulness on this earth, were transported to the heavens, where they continue to look down on, and, in a measure, rule over earthly affairs.

The chief nature of the influence supposedly

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exerted by the Sun and Moon over men was parental. In fact, the very basis of mythology lies in the idolatrous worship of the solar great father, and the lunar great mother, who were the first objects of worship that the history of the race records.

"The great father," says Faber, 1 "was Noah viewed as a transmigratory reappearance of Adam, and multiplying himself into three sons at the beginning of each world, the great mother was the earth considered as an enormous ship floating on the vast abyss, and the ark considered as a smaller earth sailing over the surface of the Deluge. Of these, the former was astronomically typified by the sun, while the latter was symbolised by the boat-like crescent of the moon."

As human beings, the Sun and Moon were naturally distinguished as to sex, although there is in the early traditions concerning them no settled opinion as to the sex assigned to each, nor their relation to one another. Thus, in Australia, the Moon was considered to be a man, the Sun a woman, who appears at dawn in a coat of red kangaroo skins, the present of an admirer. Shakespeare speaks of the Moon as "she," while in Peru, the moon was regarded as a mother who was both sister and wife of the Sun, like Osiris and Isis in

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[paragraph continues] Egypt. Thus the sister marriages of the Incas had in their religion a meaning and a justification.

The Eskimos believed that the Moon was the younger brother of the female Sun, while the early inhabitants of the Malay peninsula regarded both the Sun and Moon as women. One of the Indian tribes of South America regarded the Moon as a man, and the Sun his wife. The story goes that she fell twice; the first time she was restored to heaven by an Indian, but the second time she set the forest blazing in a deluge of fire.

Tylor 1 tells us that the Ottawa Indians, in their story of Iosco, describe the Sun and Moon as brother and sister. "Two Indians," it is said, "sprang through a chasm in the sky, and found themselves in a pleasant moonlit land. There they saw the moon approaching as from behind a hill. They knew her at first sight. She was an aged woman with white face and pleasing air. Speaking kindly to them, she led them to her brother the sun, and he carried them with him in his course and sent them home with promises of happy life."

Other Indian tribes, such as the Iroquois, Athapascas, and Cherokees, regarded the Sun as feminine, and, as a whole, the North American myths represented the Sun and Moon more frequently

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as brother and sister than as man and wife. In Central and South America, on the contrary, particularly in Mexico and Peru, the Sun and Moon were regarded as man and wife, and they were called, respectively, grandfather and grandmother.

This confusion in the sex, ascribed to the Sun and Moon by different nations, may have arisen from the fact that the day is mild and friendly, hence the Sun which rules the day would properly be considered feminine, while the Moon which rules the chill and stern night might appropriately be regarded as a man. On the contrary, in equatorial regions, the day is forbidding and burning, while the night is mild and pleasant. Applying these analogies, it appears that the sex of the Sun and Moon would, by some tribes, be the reverse of those ascribed to them by others, climatic conditions being responsible for the confusion.

In the German language, the genders of the Sun and Moon are respectively feminine and masculine, contrary to the rule of the Romance languages, whereas, in Latin, the Sun is masculine and the Moon feminine. In the Upper Palatinate of Bavaria to-day it is still common to hear the Sun spoken of as "Frau Sonne," and the Moon as "Herr Mond," and this story is told of them:

"The moon and sun were man and wife, but the moon proving too cold a lover, and too much addicted

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to sleep, his wife laid him a wager by virtue of which the right of shining by day should belong in future to whichever of them should be the first to awake. The moon laughed but accepted the wager, and awoke next day to find the sun had for two hours already been lighting up the world. As it was also a condition and consequence of this agreement that unless they awoke at the same time they should shine at different times the effect of the wager was a permanent separation, much to the affliction of the triumphant sun, who, still retaining a spouselike love for her husband, was, and always is, trying to repair the matrimonial breach."

From the conception that the Sun and Moon were husband and wife many legends concerning them were created, chief among these being the old Persian belief that the stars were the children of the Sun and Moon.

The primitive natives of the Malay peninsula believed that the firmament was solid. They imagined that the sky was a great pot held over the earth by a slender cord, and if this was ever broken the earth would be destroyed. They regarded the Sun and Moon as women, and the stars as the Moon's children. A legend relates that the Sun had as many children as the Moon, in ancient times, and fearing that mankind could

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not bear so much brightness and heat, the Sun and Moon agreed to devour their children.

The Moon pretended to thus dispose of hers, and hid them instead; but the Sun kept faith, and made way with all her children. When they were all devoured, the Moon brought hers out from their hiding-place. When the Sun saw them she was very angry, and pursued the Moon to kill her, and the chase is a perpetual one. Sometimes the Sun comes near enough to bite the Moon, and then men say there is an eclipse. The Sun still devours her children, the stars, at dawn, and the Moon hides hers during the daytime, when the Sun is near, only revealing them at night when her pursuer is far away. One of the native tribes of Northern India believes that the Sun cleft the moon in two for her deceit, and thus cloven and growing old again she remains.

The daughters of the Sun and Moon are represented in Finnish mythology as young and lovely maidens, seated sometimes on the border of a red shimmering cloud, sometimes upon a rainbow, sometimes at the edge of a leafy forest. They were surpassingly skilful in weaving, an accomplishment probably suggested by the resemblance borne by rays of light to the warp of a web. As might be expected in such a climate, the gods of the Sun, Moon, and stars are represented as serene

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and noble beings, dwelling in glorious palaces, possessing all that earth contained of beauty, and generally willing to share with mankind the knowledge of mundane affairs, which their penetrating rays and lofty position secured for them.

In Finnish, the appellation "Paeivae," came to mean Sun and Sun-God, "Knu," Moon and Moon-God. Paeivae had two sons, one of whom was named "Panu." 1

There are many legends of the sun and moon that relate their disputes and marital troubles, for mythology reveals that as husband and wife the Sun and Moon did not live happily together.

In the Kanteletar (a collection of Finnish popular songs), an amusing tale is told which concerns the Sun, Moon, and Pole Star, who, as the story goes, were suitors for the hand of a beautiful maiden hatched from a goose egg. "The pole star was successful, and won the maiden, who objected to the moon, as there was nothing stable in his appearance, inasmuch as his face was sometimes narrow, and sometimes broad. Moreover, he had a bad habit of roving about all night, and remaining idle at home all day, which habit was highly detrimental to the true interest of a house-hold.

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[paragraph continues] She objected to the sun as he caused not only the heat in summer but also the cold in winter, and the variations of the weather. The pole star she accepted because he always came home punctually."

In Bavaria, a tale is told about a maid "who was drawn up by the moon, thereby incurring the sun's jealousy. The sun, to get even with her faithless consort, spying the girl's lover asleep in a wood took him up to herself. The maid and her lover perceiving themselves thus remote from one another were naturally anxious to meet again, and a great grief it was to the moon when he found that the maiden no longer cared for him. The tears he sheds in consequence are what we call 'shooting stars.'"

Thorpe 1 gives the following account of the relationship between the Sun and Moon:

"The moon and the sun are brother and sister. They are the children of Mundilföri, who, on account of their beauty, called his son 'Mâni,'" and his daughter 'Sôl,' for which presumption the gods in their anger took the brother and sister, placed them in the sky, and appointed Sôl to drive the horses that draw the chariot of the sun, which the gods had formed to give light to the world. The names of the horses that bear her car

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are the 'Watchful,' and the 'Rapid,' and under their shoulders the gods placed an ice-cold breeze to cool them.

"A shield stands before the sun; if it were not for this, the great heat would set the waves and mountains on fire. Two fierce wolves accompany the sun, a widespread and popular superstition, one named 'Sköll' follows the sun, and which she fears will devour her, the other called 'Hati' runs before the sun, and tries to seize the moon,—and so in the end it will be. The mother of these wolves is a giantess, who dwells in a wood to the east of Midgard. She brought forth many sons who are giants and all in the form of wolves. One of this race called 'Managarm' is said to be the most powerful. He will be sated with the lives of all dying persons. He will swallow up the moon, and thereby besprinkle both heaven and air with blood, then will the sun lose its brightness, and the winds rage and howl in all directions. Mâni directs the course of the moon. He once took up two children from the earth as they were going from a well bearing a bucket on their shoulders. They followed Mâni, and may be observed from the earth."

Among the Indians of North America we find many legends relating to the Sun and Moon, who were regarded by them as living beings. They

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taught their children that the sun represents the eyes of the mighty Manito by day, the god the Indians worshipped, and that the moon and stars were his eyes by night, and that they could not hide their words or acts from him. We find practically this same belief among the natives of Australia, who regard the sun as the eye of the greater god, and the moon as the eye of the lesser god.

The following is Father Brébeuf's version of the Huron legend of "the white one and the dark one," an interesting bit of Indian mythology:

"The sun and moon were known to the Hurons as Iouskeha and Taoniskaron, respectively. When they were grown up they quarrelled and fought a duel. Iouskeha was armed with a stag horn, while Taoniskaron contented himself with some wild rose berries, persuading himself that as soon as he should thus smite his brother he would fall dead at his feet, but it happened otherwise, and Iouskeha struck him so heavy a blow in the side that the blood gushed forth in streams. Taoniskaron fled and from his blood which fell upon the land came the flints which the savages still call 'Taoniscara,' from the victims name. Iouskeha was regarded by the Indians as their benefactor, their kettle would not boil were it not for him, it was he who learned from the Tortoise the art of

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making fire. Without him they would have no luck hunting, and it is he who makes the corn grow.

"Iouskeha the sun takes care for the living, and all things concerning life, and therefore, says the missionary, they say he is good; but the moon, who is the creatress of earth and man, makes men die, and has charge of their departed souls, and they say she is evil. The sun and moon dwell together in their cabin at the end of the earth, and thither it was that four Indians made a mythic journey. The sun received the travellers kindly, and saved them from the harm the beautiful but hurtful moon must have done them." 1

In early Iroquois legends, the Sun and Moon are god and goddess of day and night, respectively, and acquired the characters of the great friend and enemy of man, the good and evil deities.

The Cheyenne Indians have a legend that relates to a dispute that took place between the sun and moon as to which was superior. The Sun said that he was bright and glorious to behold, that he ruled the day, and that no being was superior to him. The Moon replied that he ruled the night, and looked after all things on earth, and kept all men and animals from danger and that he had no superior. The Sun retorted, "It is I who light up

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the world. If I should rest from my work everything would be darkened, mankind could not do without me." Then the Moon replied: "I am great and powerful. I can take charge of both night and day, and guide all things in the world, It does not trouble me if you rest." Thus the Sun and the Moon disputed, and the day they spoke thus to each other became almost as long as two days, so much did they have to say to each other. Neither gained his point, although the Moon declared there were a great many wonderful and powerful beings on his side. He had reference to the stars.

The old theologists ascribed to both the Sun and Moon the guardianship of certain gates or doors in the firmament. These imaginary portals, they claimed, were in the two opposite tropics, and from them it was believed that all human souls were mysteriously born.

The Japanese believe that the moon is inhabited by a hare, and that the sun is the abode of a three-legged crow, hence the expression, "The golden crow, and the jewelled hare," meaning the sun and moon.

There was a belief current in ancient times, in countries remote from each other, that those great in authority, or of a superior order of society, were descendants of the Sun.

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Among the Hindus, the members of the military caste to which the rajahs always belong are styled "Surya-bans," and "Chandra-bans," or Children of the Sun, and Children of the Moon.

"The first Egyptian dynasty is said to have been that of the 'Aurites,' or Children of the Sun, for the Oriental word 'Aur' denotes the solar light.

"The Persian sun-god Mithras bore the name of 'Azon-Nakis,' or the lord Sun, and from him both his descendants, the younger hero gods, and his ministers the magi, were denominated 'Zoni' and 'Azoni,' or the posterity of the Sun.

"Among the Greeks we find an eminent family distinguished by the name of the 'Heliadæ,' or Children of the Sun, and originally this family consisted of eight persons. The Greeks were also familiar with the Children of the Moon. This ancient title was the ancient appellation of the Arcadians.

"Among the early Britons it was acknowledged that the solar 'Hu' was the father of all mankind. The Incas of Peru traced their genealogy from the sun, and called themselves Children of the Sun." 1

It is natural that the diurnal motion of the sun and moon should have stimulated the imagination of ancient man, and led him to account for this

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movement in a variety of fanciful ways. At an early date the idea was current that there was a subterranean world, into which the sun descended at nightfall, and traversed during the dark hours, to emerge from the cave in the east at dawn.

Among the red races, one tribe thought that the Sun, Moon, and stars were men and women, who went into the western sea every night, and swam out by the east. They say "the sun cometh forth every morning at the Place of Breaking Light." From this idea there rose the fancy that the Sun at evening was swallowed up by some monster, and the personified sun is a hero or a virgin who is swallowed and afterwards released or rejected, as in the Greek myths of Perseus and Andromeda, and Hercules and Hesione, the old Norse story of Eerick and the Dragon, and the more similar Teutonic myth of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Mexicans believed that "when the old sun was burnt out, and had left the world in darkness, a hero sprang into a huge fire, descended into the shades below, and arose deified and glorious in the east as 'Tonatiuh,' the sun. After him there leapt in another hero, but now the fire had grown thin, and he rose only in milder radiance as 'Metztli,' the moon." 1

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From persons possessing an all-powerful influence over mankind, the sun and moon came to be regarded as places where men could be consigned, and the extremes of heat and cold associated with them respectively gave rise to the idea that the sun and moon were places where men were sent in punishment for earthly misdeeds, there to suffer eternally for their sins.

The belief in the power of the sun and moon as persons to take up to them human beings from earth may next be shown to have had an influence over mythology. The sun and moon were both believed to possess this power of abducting mortals whom it pleased them to transport to the sky.

The Greeks of modern Epirus have a tale of a childless woman, who, having prayed to the Sun for a girl, gained her request, subject only to the condition that the girl be restored to the Sun when she became twelve years of age. When the child had reached that age, and was one day picking vegetables in the garden, whom should she meet but the Sun. That luminary bade her go and remind her mother of her promise. The mother, in terror and consternation, shut the doors and windows to keep her child safe from the sun, but unfortunately she forgot the keyhole, by which entrance the Sun penetrated and succeeded in carrying off his prey.

The Bushmen, almost the lowest tribe of South

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[paragraph continues] Africa, have the same star lore and much the same mythology as the Greeks, Australians, Egyptians, and Eskimos. They believe that the Sun and Moon originally inhabited the earth and talked with men, but now they live in the sky and are silent.

The Homeric hymn to the Sun-God Helios, in the same way (as Professor Max Müller observes), regards the Sun as a half-god, almost a hero, who had once lived on earth. This mythological sojourn of the Sun and Moon on the earth seems to have stimulated the mind of primitive man, and has given rise to a wealth of legends and traditions which is to be found in the ancient history of all nations.


36:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, G. S. Faber.

37:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

41:1 Herr Schiefner calls attention to the similarity between this name and the Sanscrit "bhâme," which he says is found in the Vedas, meaning the sun, and also an epithet for fire.

42:1 Northern Mythology, Benjamin Thorpe.

45:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

47:1 The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, G. S. Faber.

48:1 Primitive Culture, Edward B. Tylor.

Next: Chapter III. Solar Mythology