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Sun and Moon in Mythology

At the beginning of each day as we are stepping out to start our way to work, school, or run errands, we see the orange sun up in the sky brightly shining down on the earth. And, every night as we are winding down and preparing for a night’s sleep, we can see the big, white moon and the stars. In current times, we view the sun as the best source of light and warmth, as a great way to maintain our health, and as a companion in outdoor activities. We look to the moon with much admiration as we are stargazing, taking a walk along the beach at night, or even sometimes as we remember the “Man in the Moon.” Can you imagine how the people of the past viewed these incredible celestial bodies?

In one interesting myth of Ancient Egypt, the god named Ra (or Re) was believed to be the creator of the world. He is said to have ascended during a time of turmoil before the world began. His children and their children became the sky, the clouds, the earth, and the stars. And from Ra’s tears humans were created. Horus, a descendant of Ra, merged together with him to become Re-Harakhte, the god of the sun and the heavens. He rode across the sky in a chariot during the day and through the underworld during the night.

In an early myth of the Japanese Shinto religion, the goddess Amaterasu resided over the sun. Her brother, Susano, caused her so much grief that she fled away from the sky and hid in a cave causing the rest of the world to be encased in total darkness. With the help of the gods, Amaterasu was lured from her cave. She then noticed a mirror that had been placed there and was mesmerized by her own reflection. Light and warmth had then been returned to the lands.

In Greek mythology, Selene was known as the goddess of the moon. She is said to be the sister of the god of the sun, Helios. She is depicted as being very beautiful with wings, wearing a long robe and a crescent shaped crown. She rides across the night sky in a chariot drawn by horses or mules. In many Greek epics, she is noted as the goddess of night who shines with radiant light, having a full, round face. In other tellings by great poets, such as Ovid and Virgil, she is identified with the goddess, Artemis.

In Hindu mythology, the divine immortal being named Soma was called the moon and “Father of the gods.” He is also said to have healing powers over the sick. Soma was also the name of the elixir of the gods, an intoxicating plant of immortality. As the gods drank the elixir, the moon is said to go into the waning phases, as though each drink would empty the moon little by little.

In many world myths, like the ones mentioned above, we can see a few similarities. Gods and goddesses of the sun and moon were sometimes said to drive chariots as though they were riding through the atmosphere with beaming, bright light shining down on the world. Some sibling gods and goddesses worked closely together in their realms, as one was the sun and the other was the moon. Now, maybe when you are looking above to the sky, do you think you will catch a glimpse of a chariot flying over, or when the moon is waning, will you remember the elixir of the gods?

Philip, Neil. Mythology (1st American Ed.). New York: A. Knopf (1999).

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