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

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Chapter X

Solar Omens, Traditions, and Superstitions

THE past has bequeathed to us a wealth of lore, in the nature of omens and wise saws, superstitions and quaint fancies, the product of imaginative speculation in every phase of human existence, from the earliest times. This is especially true of the influence exerted on human affairs by the sun, moon, and stars; and though, as might be expected, less superstition is attached to the sun than to the moon, owing to the fact that the latter rules the night, when the imagination is roused to activity by the deep shadows and the mysterious gloom, still there cluster about the sun many curious ideas, that, apart from their value to the antiquarian, are interesting to the layman, affording as they do an insight into the life of ancient times.

These superstitions naturally relate to the widest possible range of subjects, for, once given the idea, prevailing at one time in the world's history, that

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the sun was a living being, who, if he did not rule man's destiny, still had a great share in shaping or controlling it, there is no end to the play of the imagination respecting its influence on man's daily existence. Therefore, what follows must necessarily be fragmentary in its nature, impossible of extensive classification, and consequently disconnected. The purpose is merely to place before the reader the better known and most popular of the fancies relating to the sun that primitive and simple-minded people of past ages created, and which, because of the hold which superstition has ever exerted on the race, are believed in, even in this enlightened age.

In the Ægean Islands, a land teeming with myth and legend, there are still extant many strange superstitions respecting the sun. When the Sun disappears from sight in the west each night, they say he has returned to his vast kingdom in the underworld, where he dwells in a great castle. His mother waits to receive him, and has forty loaves of bread ready to appease his appetite; but if, by any chance, this meal is not prepared, the famished Sun becomes a cannibal, and eats his entire family. When he rises red, the islanders say: "He has eaten his mother. He is crimson-hued because he yielded to his bloodthirsty inclinations, when he found no bread to eat."

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Others say the red colours at sunset are caused by the blood flowing from the Sun-God when he hastens to his suicide. Curiously enough, the Greeks regard the rising sun as ushered in through the portals of the east each morning by the Virgin Mary. Again, the sun was regarded by the Greeks as the symbol of perfect beauty, and they formerly painted the sun's disk on the cheeks of a bride. Churches are still dedicated to the Virgin beautiful as the sun, and there are many legends which relate to maidens who boasted that their beauty excelled that of the sun, and of the penalty they paid for making such presumptuous claims.

The Greeks regarded the orb of day as an all-seeing eye, and believed that no deed escaped its detection. The Finns believed that even the abode of the dead could be reached by the blissful rays of the sun. Because the sun looked down on all men, messages were given to the Sun that he might convey them to absent ones of a family, whom he beheld wherever they chanced to be.

We have seen how the Greeks explained the crimson hues that accompanied the rising sun. Its ruddy hue at sunset also called for an explanation, and the ancients believed that, as the sun reached its vanishing point, it gazed on the fires of hell, and these lit up its face, and the western sky.

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It seems to have been an almost universal belief among primitive people that the sun and moon were the abodes of departed souls. In Isaac Taylor's Physical Theory of Another Life, we read that ''the sun of each planetary system is the house of the higher and ultimate spiritual corporeity, and the centre of assembly to those who have passed on the planets their preliminary era of corruptible organisation."

One of the most popular solar superstitions, and one that has survived even to this day, is the notion that the sun dances when it rises on Easter Day. In the middle districts of Ireland the peasants rise at an early hour Easter morning to witness this phenomenon, which they say is in honour of the resurrection. Brand 1 tells us this "is not confined to the humble labourer and his family, but is scrupulously observed by many highly respectable and wealthy families."

Sir Thomas Browne has left us the following quaint thoughts on this subject: "We shall not, I hope," says he, "disparage the Resurrection of our Redeemer, if we say that the sun doth not dance on Easter Day, and though we would willingly assent unto any sympathetical exultation, yet we cannot conceive therein any more than a topical expression. Whether any such motion there was

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in that day Christ arised, Scripture hath not revealed, which hath been punctual in other records concerning solitary miracles, and the Areopagite that was amazed at the eclipse, took no notice of this; and if metaphorical expressions go so far, we may be bold to affirm, not only that one sun danced, but two arose on that day; that light appeared at his nativity, and darkness at his death, and yet a light at both; for even that darkness was a light unto the Gentiles, illuminated by that obscurity. That was the first time the sun set above the horizon. That, although there were darkness above the earth, yet there was light beneath it, nor dare we say that Hell was dark if he were in it."

In some parts of England this quaint belief in the dance of the joyful Easter sun was regarded as the lamb playing for very gladness, in honour of the risen Christ.

In a rare book entitled Recreation for Ingenious Head Pieces, the Easter sun dance is thus referred to in an old ballad:

"But, Dick, she dances such a way
 No sun upon an Easter day
 Is half so fine a sight."

The Swabian people are firm believers in this superstition, and aver that the Sun leaps thrice for

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joy when it rises Easter morning; but at Rottenburg on the Neckar, the Sun was supposed to indulge in this dance at his setting Christmas Eve.

In England, we find this belief in the Easter sun dance still extant in parts of Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, and Devonshire, and it is the custom for the maidens to rise early Easter morning that they may witness the sight, and they also look for the lamb and flag in the centre of the sun's disk.

There is little doubt that the northern European nations welcomed the return of the spring sun with dancing, and the May rejoicings familiar in Cornwall are but an expression of congratulation to the spring. We have a similar custom in this country to-day, and May Day is a festival celebrated with elaborate Maypole dances by the school children of New York City. We see a striking analogy in these dances to the sun dances of the American Indians, which were part of the ritual of their Sun worship, and the radiating lines of ribbons from the Maypole represent the rays of the sun, as the thongs attached to the sun-pole in the Indians’ dance did.

The old Beltane games and dances, common in Perthshire and other parts of Scotland until the beginning of the last century, had a solar significance, the word "Beltane" being a derivative of

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the compound word "Baal," the Phœnician word for sun, and "tein," the Gælic word for fire.

Lady Wilde 1 says that "the Beltane dance, where the participants circle about a bush hung with ribbons and garlands, or about a lighted bush or bonfire, celebrating the returning power of the sun, is still kept up in parts of Ireland on May Day and that those taking part always move sunwise."

This sunwise motion is found in many customs extant to-day. In the Scotch Highlands they still "make the deazil" around those whom they wish well of. This superstition consists in walking three times around the person according to the course of the sun. To circle in the opposite direction or "withershins," is productive of evil, and brings bad luck. We see a survival of this custom of circling about to bring luck in the modern superstition often practised by a card-player to-day, when he rises and walks around his chair three times to produce good luck.

According to an Icelandic saga, a woman going against the sun round a house, and waving a cloth, brought down a landslip against the house, and in Yorkshire it is said that if you walk round the room against the sun at midnight, in perfect darkness, and then look into a mirror, you will see leering out of it at you the face of the devil.

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In Popular Romances of the West of England, by Robert Hunt, there is the following description of a superstitious belief that the sun never shines on a perjured person: "When a man has deeply perjured himself, especially if by his perjury he has sacrificed the life of a friend, he not merely loses the enjoyment of the sunshine, but he actually loses all consciousness of its light or its warmth. Howsoever bright the sun may shine, the weather appears to him gloomy, dark, and cold. I have recently been told of a man living in the western part of Cornwall, who is said to have sworn away the life of an innocent person. The face of this false witness is said to be the colour of one long in the tomb, and he has never, since the death of the victim of his forswearing, seen the sun. It must be remembered the perjured man is not blind, all things round him are seen as by other men, but the sense of vision is so dulled that the world is forever to him in a dark vapoury cloud."

Among the Tunguses, an accused man has to walk toward the sun brandishing a knife, and crying: "If I am guilty, may the sun send sickness to rage in my bowels like this knife."

The appearance of three suns, it is said, denotes war. It is claimed that they are only visible at sunrise, and differ in size. At Herbertingen, they aver that these three suns have frequently

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been seen, and that they appeared just before Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Russia. The largest sun in this case was in the northern direction, and they say that is why the Russians triumphed.

The sun is also an important factor in Mexican superstition. The following cases are typical, and their injunctions closely followed by the people of that country:

The head of the bed must never be placed toward the rising sun, since it will cause the sleeper to rise with a bad headache, and even insanity may result. The sun is also appealed to whenever a tooth drops out, or is extracted. When this occurs, the loser takes the tooth and throws it with all his might at the sun.

When the sun sets on a cloudy day, the following day will be a stormy one. The Mexicans also have a belief that blondes cannot see the sun.

In Germany it is the custom on St. John's Day for hunters to fire at the sun, believing that they will thereby become infallible hunters. According to another German belief, he who on St. John's Day fires toward the sun is condemned to hunt forever afterward, like Odin, the eternal hunter.

We are all familiar with the phrase, "the sun is drawing water," used to express the appearance of the sun's rays as they filter through spaces in the

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clouds, and spread out like a fan over a body of water. This expression arose from the fact that primitive people fancied the sun's rays on these occasions resembled ropes that ran over the pulleys of the old-fashioned draw wells.

A very strange belief is that of the Namaqua Hottentots, that the sun is a bright piece of bacon, which the people who go in ships draw up in the evening by enchantment, and let down again after they have cut a piece off from it.

There is a curious custom found in many parts of the world, which relates to the sun's influence on young maidens entering on womanhood. According to this superstition, these maidens must not touch the ground nor permit the sun to shine upon them. In Fiji, brides who were being tattooed were hidden from the rays of the sun, and in a modern Greek folk-tale the Fates predict that in her fifteenth year a princess must be careful not to let the sun shine on her lest she be turned into a lizard. A Tyrolese story tells how it was the doom of a lovely maiden to be transported into the belly of a whale if ever a sunbeam fell on her.

The old Greek legend of Danaë, who was imprisoned by her father in a dungeon, or brazen tower, is a further illustration of this strange idea relating to the sun's influence on human affairs.

The following solar superstitions show the wide

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play of man's fancy as relating to the power of the sun's light and indicate that there was a belief that the sun was a devout Christian, and kept the holy days prescribed by the Church:

For the sun to shine upon a bride is a good omen.

                   "While that others do divine
Blest is the bride on whom the sun doth shine."
                            HERRICK'S Hesperides.

If the sun shines while it rains, the witches are baking cakes.

The Mexicans say when it rains, and the sun is shining, a she-wolf is bringing forth her offspring, or a liar is paying his debts.

If the sun shines on Candlemas Day (February 2d), the flax will prosper.

If women dance in the sun at Candlemas their flax will thrive that year.

As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day
 So far will the snow blow in before May:
 As far as the snow blows in on Candlemas Day
 So far will the sun shine in before May."

"If the sun in red should set,
 The next day surely will be wet;
 If the sun should set in grey,
 The next will be a rainy day."

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When the sun does not shine, all treasures buried in the earth are open.

If the sun shines on Easter Day, it will shine on Whitsunday also.

On Good Friday the sun mourns over the Crucifixion, and does not shine until three o'clock in the afternoon.

The sun is obliged to shine for a short time at least every Sunday in order that the Blessed Virgin may dry her veil.

Three Saturdays in the year, when the Virgin Mary mourns, the sun does not shine at all.

From an old Dream Book we derive the following superstitions:

To dream you see the sun shine, shows accumulation of riches and enjoying posts of honour in the state, also success to the lover.

To dream you see the sun rise, promises fidelity in your sweetheart, and good news from friends.

To dream you see the sun set, shows infidelity in your sweetheart, and disagreeable news. To tradesmen, loss of business.

To dream you see the sun under a cloud, foretells many hardships and troubles are about to befall you, and that you will encounter some great danger.


256:1 Popular Antiquities, John Brand.

259:1 Ancient Legends of Ireland, Lady Wilde.

Next: Chapter XI. Solar Significance of Burial Customs. Orientation