On Celtic Fairy Stuff
Preparing Your Canvas for a Watercolor Painting
Fabulous Fabrics Without Breaking the Bank
The Sun, Part II
The Sun, Part IIMyths and Symbols
by Marina Bonomi
In China, according to the ancient myth of the archer Hou Yi, ten sun-birds lived on the cosmic tree, taking turns in flying to shine upon the world, but at one point the ten started to fly together, bringing about a terrible draught: fields burned, wells and rivers dried up and people were starting to die. Desperate, they called for help from the infallible archer, who, escorted by his groom, journeyed to the shores of the cosmic ocean from whose depths the tree on which the suns used to perch rose. Once there he aimed carefully and, one by one, shot nine of the birds. The myth says he was so taken by his mission and oblivious to anything else that, if his groom hadn’t stopped him, Hou Yi would have shot all the suns, leaving the world in darkness.
The Chinese myth is very complex and has grown to have many different versions, in some Hou Yi is an immortal sent by the Queen Mother of the West to save humanity, in at least another he is a man, obsessed by the thought of his own mortality at the point that he steals the gods’ own immortality pill (or elixir). The story goes on explaining how Hou Yi’s wife, Chang E, became the ‘woman in the moon’. Some sources add that the archer afterwards was pardoned by the gods and built for himself a palace on the sun (4).
It may be noted that in Mandarin Chinese the word for ‘sun’ is taiyang (or ‘supreme yang’), yang being the active, dry, hot, light, masculine principle of Chinese cosmology, while a poetic name for the moon is taiyin or supreme yin, the passive, damp, dark, feminine principle (there is absolutely no moral value of good and evil applied to yin and yang).
In another Chinese myth, the Taoist cosmogony of the dwarf-turned-giant Pan Gu, whose life’s work separated the Earth from the Sky and whose body, after his death originated the universe, sun and moon are the two eyes of the giant. Some scholars dispute the authenticity of the Pan Gu story as myth, due to the fact that the oldest known version of it appears only as recently as the third century B.C. in a text by philosopher Xu Zheng and no independent contemporary or older sources are known—a fact that seems to indicate that the story is, in truth, a philosophical allegory created by Xu Zheng himself. Others think the legend is Indo-Chinese and later was accepted into the Chinese system of belief, yet another school of thought find traces of the Pan Gu story as far back as the Neolithic age, claiming for it the dignity of ‘true indigenous myth’(5).
Next month, the last devoted to solar symbols and myths, we will travel back to Europe to examine Greek and Roman traditions.
(1)It may be noted that the gender of the word for ‘sun’ and the gender of the divine being associated it are not always the same. For instance it is known that in the Celtic languages ‘sun’ was a feminine word, but her divine persona was the male god Lugh (the bright one) also called Sun-face.
(2)At the best of my knowledge this is the only case in which the sun corresponds to the left eye of a primeval deity, the usual correspondence is right eye-sun, left eye-moon.
(3)Kusanagi means ‘grass-cutter’ (according to tradition) or ‘serpent sword’ (according to the scholars), Susano-o found the sword in the body of a many-headed serpent he slew and called it Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (Sword of the heaven of the clustering clouds), later on the warrior Yamato Takeru renamed it. Kusanagi is supposed to be a straight, double edged sword in the style of the bronze age. For some images of magatama jewels go to http://homepage2.nifty.com/daiitoku/magatama.htm
(4) Conflicting details clearly show the antiquity of the myth: at the beginning the ten suns are imagined as birds, but at some point the sun changes into a celestial body on which a palace can be built. Similar legends (with varying number of suns and having as a protagonist either a god or a human hero) are registered in Central Asia, India and Sumatra.
(5) The Pan Gu story will be treated in full in a future issue.
Bonomi-sunillo2 : Latvian solar symbol from: http://www.skyforger.lv/eng/stasti/stasti_zimes.htm
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