Legends of the Sun

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The Sun is a magnificent thing.

It is 109.2 time's larger than our humble Earth, with a radius of 695,508km and a mass of 1,989,100,000,000,000,000,000 billion kg. With a surface temperature of 5,500 degrees Celsius it is a hellish landscape, often spewing out tendrils of radioactive heat and solar winds that, at any moment, has the potential to wipe us out. Yet, paradoxically, these winds are captured and warped by the Earth's magnetic fields into the heavenly spectacle of the Northern Lights. Despite the hellscape of the sun's surface, this heat gives us light and life.  Despite the distance between this vast star and our planet, we see it as a humble bright speck that grants order and wonder to the creatures that scuttle beneath it. Like clockwork the sun counts the days and, at each night, it appears to leave us.

Even in these days of modern space travel the significance, power and beauty of the sun still continues to enchant us. So it is of no surprise that, in our cultural pasts, the sun was revered and became the subject of many a creative legend in order to explain it's presence and role in our skies. This week I wanted to share just a few of the multitude of unusual stories about our sun from history, courtesy of the brilliant book Mythology: an Illustrated of World Myth and Storytelling (Edited by C.Scott Littleton).

Grandmother Spider Steals The Sun

The Native American peoples have many creation stories about the sun and the stars, with many stories focused around the animals that lived in the great continent. For the Cherokee people in the south-east, these animals brought the sun to their lands through teamwork and clever theft.

"At first there was no light anywhere and in the darkness everyone kept bumping into one another. "What we need in the world is light!" they all agreed, and so they conveyed a meeting. The red-headed woodpecker made a suggestion: "People on the other side of the world have light, so perhaps if we go over there, they will give us some."
After much argument, Possum said: "I'll go and get light. I have a bushy tail and can hide the light in my fur." So he travelled east, screwing up his eyes against the brightness. When he arrived on the other side of the world, he found the sun, grabbed a piece of it and hid it. But the sun was so hot that it burned all the fur from his tail, and when he came home he had lost the light.
Next, Buzzard went on a quest. On reaching the sun, he dived out of the sky and snatched a piece of it in his claws. Setting it on his head, he started for home, but the sun burned off his head feathers and Buzzard also lost the light. When Buzzard returned home bald, everyone despaired.
Suddenly they heard a small voice from the grass. "You have done the best a man can do, but perhaps a woman can do better." Who is that speaking?" the animals shouted. "I am your Grandmother Spider," replied the voice. "Perhaps I was put in the world to bring you light."
The Spider rolled some clay into a bowl and started towards the sun, leaving a trail of thread behind her. When she was near the sun, she was so little that she wasn't noticed. She reached out and gently took a tiny piece of the sun. Placing it in her bowl, and following the thread that she had spun, Spider returned from the east to the west. And as she travelled the sun's rays grew a spread before her, across the whole world.
To this day, spiders webs are shaped like the sun and its rays. And spiders always spin them in the morning, to remind us of their divine ancestor."

When the Sun Lived on the Earth
The San people (previously known as the 'bushmen' of the Kalahari) have lived in Africa for some 20,000 years and stories have been passed down to the modern day through a vast oral tradition. One of the tales about the sun's first appearance in the sky gives the sun a human origin.

"In the earliest days the sun lived among the tribes of the bush. he was like other men except that a brilliant light shone from his armpits when he raised his arms; then when he let his arms fall again, darkness swept across the Earth. A wise old woman instructed her grandchildren to creep up on Old Man Sun and hurl him into the sky so that the light he released could fall far and wide on all living things. they waited until the Sun had laid down on the ground to sleep, then they crept towards him stealthily and in an instant had seized him and flung him high over their heads into the great cavern of the sky. They called out to him to stay put and to descend no more to Earth. Far away, across the bush, the children's relatives saw the Sun appear as a golden sphere in the heavens and were pleased. the darkness was driven from their skies."

The Boomerang and the Sun

One of the many stories from the aborigine people of Flinders range in Australia tell the tale of how the sun came to make it's cycle across the sky after previously an eternity of daylight. It was all down to the revenge of a Goanna lizard and a gecko.

"One day the Goanna and the Gecko set out to visit neighbours only to find, to their horror, that their friends had been massacred. With one voice they declared vengeance on the one who was responsible. It had, it soon transpired, been the sun-woman and her dingo dogs who had attacked and killed the defenceless community: she was a formidable foe and the Goanna and Gecko were quite undaunted. As the sun-woman stormed and shouted her defiance, the lizard drew his boomerang and hurled it and dashed the sun clean out of the sky. She plummeted over the western horizon, plunging the world into total darkness - and now the Goanna and the gecko really were alarmed. What would become of them without the sun-woman and her warming illuminating rays? They must do everything they could to restore her to the heavens. the Goanna took another boomerang and hurled it westwards with all of his might to where he had seen the target disappearing. It fell ineffectually to the ground so he threw two others to the south and to the north, but they too drifted back without hitting anything. In despair, the Goanna took his last boomerang and launched it into the eastern sky - the opposite direction from that where he has seen the sun-woman sinking. To his astonishment it returned, driving before it the sun's burning sphere, which tracked westwards, across the sky before disappearing. From that day on the sun maintained it's course, rising in the east and setting in the west, lighting up the day for work and hunting and casting the night into shade for sleeping. All agreed that this was an ideal arrangement, and the Aborigines of the Flinders have felt a debt of gratitude to the Goanna and the Gecko ever since."

The Sacrifices of Tecuciztecatl and Nanahuatzin

The cyclic nature of the gods and creation in mesoamerican culture was one that was tainted with bloodshed and sacrifice, and it was through the sacrifice of two noble gods that the sun and the moon came into being once again.

"The creation of the sun and moon took place at the great ceremonial centre of Teotihuacan, about twenty-five miles northeast of modern Mexico City. After the fourth holocaust, in which the sun as well as the earth had been annihilated, four gods met in the darkness at Teotihuacan to create a new sun. They agreed that the self-sacrifice of a god was required to bring it into being.
As the gods discussed who should die by fire to create this new sun, the vain and handsome Tecuciztecatl put himself forward "to carry the burden, to bring the dawn." but the gods decided to make him compete with a god Nanahuatzin for the position of sun or moon. Although an equally powerful god,
Nanahuatzin was very humble, maybe because he was disfigured by running sores.
While the gods built a vast sacrifiial bonfire,
Tecuciztecatl and Nanahuatzin did penance on two mounds. the two gods now presented offerings that reflected their personalities.Where vain, boastful Tecuciztecatl brought quetzal feathers and gold, Nanahuatzin brought bunches of reeds. Where Tecucixtecatl offered awls of coral and jade, Nanahuatzin merely offered cactus spines anointed with his own blood.
When, after four days, the sacrificial fire had become searingly hot, the two gods were robed for their ordeal. Tecuciztecatl ran towards the flames but four times recoiled in terror from the intolerable heat. So the gods called on Nanahuatzin. daring, determined, resolved and with hardened heart, he shut his eyes. he did not falter or turn back. All at once he threw himself into the fire. His body crackled and sizzled and he burned. Spurred on by Nanahuatzin's heroic act, Tecuciztecatl too ran into the pyre.
The gods now waited in the darkness for the birth of the new sun. But instead Tecuciztecatl rose as the moon, casting a blinding light. To subdue his brilliance, one of the gods threw a rabbit up into his face. This rabbit can still be seen on the face of the full moon.
Nanahuatzin now rose in the heavens as the new sun, but refused to move across the sky until he had been fed with the hearts and blood of all the other deities. Incensed at thsi demand, the Morning Star attacked the sun with his darts and spear, only to be defeated and hurled down into the underworld. The sun god was acknowledged as supreme, and all 1,600 gods now allowed themselves to be sacrificed,
The humble, ulcerated Nanahuatzin was thus transformed into the mighty sun god Tonatiuh, he "who blinded one with his light". The first day of the fifth sun has begun."

For every culture that has turned its face up to the sun, there are creative stories that tell of its history. I hope that you've found some of these more uncommon stories as interesting as I have.

-Space facts
-The sun's name
-Current Solar Images
-The San People
 -Stories taken from the brilliant book Mythology: The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling  -general Editor C.Scott Littleton

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