Sun Goddesses Around the World
In the western world, the sun is quite often depicted as masculine, accompanied by the feminine moon, often the sun god’s sister or wife. One of the most famous of these gods is Apollo, known for his unlucky love affairs, his archery skill, and his musical ability. But while the sun may often be seen as male, this is not always the case, and there are many goddesses around the world known for their connection to the sun.
An Irish Goddess or fairy, Áine is said to have many attributes including love, fertility and summer. One of these attributes is the sun. She is said to make her home in Cnoc Áine, or Knockainy a hill located near a village of the same name in the Irish county of Limerick. She is said to show herself on this hill at midsummer and will sometimes take on the form of a red mare who is too swift to ever be caught.
Many of the legends surrounding Áine involve her laying with mortal men and conceiving children – sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly. Her son Eogan was said to be the result of her rape by the human king Ailill, in retaliation for which Áine is said to have bitten off the king’s ear. This is said to have lost him his kingdom as an old law of the time stated that a king must be unblemished, which Ailill no longer was.
A goddess from the Shinto religion of Japan, Amaterasu is one of the children of Izanagi – born from his left eye. Her brother, the moon god Tsukiyomi, was made from their father’s right eye, while their brother Susanoo was made from their father’s nose.
Susanoo was a known trickster, and often played meanspirited joked on his siblings. One culminated in him throwing a flayed horse into the room where Amaterasu was. Distraught, the goddess fled, and the world was plunged into darkness. The gods searched for Amaterasu and discovered that she had blocked herself inside a cave. No matter how they tried, they could not coax Amaterasu out. Eventually the goddess Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto came up with an idea.
The goddess placed a mirror near the cave and then began to dance wildly, ripping off her clothing. The other gods began to laugh at this display and the curious Amaterasu came out of the cave to see what was going on. Once outside she was immediately stunned by her own dazzling reflection in the mirror. The other gods grabbed her and barred the entrance to the cave, preventing Amaterasu from hiding again.
Gnowee originates from the Wotjobaluk people of south-eastern Australia. According to the legend, once there was no sun in the sky. The world was full of darkness and people could only see by the light of their torches. Gnowee was a woman with a young son. Food was scarce, and she was forced to leave her son sleeping at home while she searched for something for them to eat. Unfortunately for her, she either wandered so far that she could not find her way back, or her son woke and wandered off while she was away.
Determined to find him, Gnowee searched the world, eventually climbing into the sky for a better view. The bright light of her torch became the sun which she carries with her on her search across the sky. Sadly, no matter how hard she searched, Gnowee has never found her son and her search continues to this day.
Found among the mythology of the Inuit people of Greenland, Malina is the sun goddess fleeing across the sky from her moon-brother, Anningan. It is said that the two had been very close as children but as they grew older Malina moved into the woman’s area while Anningan moved in with the men. One day Anningan saw Malina fully grown and decided that she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. That night, he snuck into the woman’s quarters and raped her.
It had been dark, so Malina had been unable to see the face of her attacker, but in the struggle a lamp had broken and Malina had smeared the oil and soot onto her attacker’s face. The next morning, Malina saw the marks on her brother’s face. Angry, she confronted him and ran away into the sky grabbing a torch as she went. Anningan followed, but he dropped his own torch and when he picked it up it no longer shone so bright, which is why the moon is paler than the sun. In his obsession with his sister, Anningan sometimes forgets to eat, which is why the moon grows thinner in the sky.
Also known as Sól, Sunna is said to personify the sun in Norse myth, while her brother Mani personifies the moon. Both the sun and the moon are said to actually precede the siblings, their father naming them after them as the sun and moon, the most beautiful things in the sky. Unfortunately, the gods were angered at his arrogance. They took the siblings and placed them into the sky with their namesakes. Sunna now drives the chariot of the sun, while her brother drives the chariot of the moon.
In order to make sure that the siblings keep their course across the sky they also set two wolves to chase them. Sunna is chased by the wolf Sköll, when Ragnarök – the end of days – comes, Sköll will finally catch and devour Sunna. Sunna will then be replaced by her daughter, who will continue her course across the sky.
One of the two wives of the emperor Di Jun from Chinese myth, Xihe is the mother of the ten suns, while his second wife, Changxi was the mother of the twelve moons. Xihe’s sons took the form of three-legged crows who normally inhabited a mulberry tree. Each day one of her suns would accompany Xihe in her chariot across the sky and take the form of the sun for the day. Her sons were easily distracted however, and Xihe would need to cover their eyes so that they did not fly down to the earth, scorching it with their heat.
One day all ten of her sons came out on the same day and the world burned beneath their heat. In desperation, the famed archer Hou Yi was forced to shoot the birds down. Hou Yi however is said to have grown too enthusiastic about his task and would have shot down all ten of the suns, plunging the world into eternal darkness. Xihe pleaded for the life of her remaining son, and so the final sun was not extinguished.