Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sun Gods

By Caroline Price, ABC-CLIO Media Resources Manager

As we continue the quest for exciting imagery on the new ABC-CLIO World Religions database, one of the most fascinating aspects of the process lies in researching how many different mythologies have used similar themes to explain how the world works.

Since the long, hot summer is blazing to a close, we thought we'd pull some images featured on the database to show how some religions personified the sun with a bevy of fiery gods and goddesses. Be sure to check out World Religions for more stories of the deities who helped shape the history of religion.

Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mikami


Amaterasu-o-mikami, as legend has it, became so annoyed by the destructive behavior of her storm-god brother that she retired to a cave and refused to come out. This caused darkness to fall upon the world. The other gods created a plan to get Amaterasu-o-mikami to come out of the cave. The goddess Ama-no-uzume performed a ribald dance that made the sun goddess curious enough to look outside in order to investigate. She was then tricked into further opening the cave to look into a mirror, and one of the gods pulled her outside. Dawn broke as Amaterasu-o-mikami emerged, and the entrance to the cave was closed so she could not return to it.

Egyptian sun god Ra


Ancient Egyptian art sometimes depicts a Benu bird, the sacred bird of Heliopolis, as representative of the soul of the sun god Ra. Other depictions may show Ra as a man with the head of a falcon. He was considered first among the gods, and the passage of the sun across the sky was seen as his daily journey to renew the world.

Surya, Hindu sun god

J. Gordon Melton

In some versions of the Hindu myth, the sun god Surya drove a seven-horse chariot with one wheel, which caused it to orbit the sky. Surya was said to have as many as seven wives, who in turn represented such qualities as knowledge, courage, and light. In later versions of the myths, Surya's role diminished, and he was even depicted as being swallowed by the god Rahu each time there was a solar eclipse.

Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli

Getty Images

Huitzilopochtli serves many roles in Aztec mythology, from a god of war to sun god. In one version he springs fully grown and armed from his mother, Coatlicue, in order to vanquish a plot his sister Coyolxauhqui was hatching against her. The scheming Coyolxauhqui was killed and her head tossed into the sky, where it became the moon.

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