In this article I will provide a basic overview of sun-mythology, including the battle between light and dark, the birth, death and resurrection of a savior, and the triumph over darkness. Next I will give some contemporary examples to show how deeply, and yet unrecognized, the sun story influences our lives, and finally, I will prove that Jesus Christ shares more than an accidental similarity with the story of the sun.
The study of astro-mythology, or astro-theology, is an enormous subject, spreading back several thousands of years. Whether or not you believe in astrology is irrelevant; the first human expressions of spirituality were reactions to heavenly bodies, and the stories they told about the stars and planets are deeply imbedded in every modern religion. It is from astrology that we get nearly all religious symbols, like the yin-yang, the cross, the anchor and the ankh, as well as the main motifs found in spiritual texts. These stories, in turn, have heavily influenced modern culture in a way that is rarely appreciated. Not only is the gospel account of Jesus Christ completely based on an ancient sun myth, for example, but so are the stories of Harry Potter, Narnia, the Lion King, Peter Pan, and many other modern heroes.
Nowadays “sun worship” is regarded as some small-minded superstition which we have matured out of. However, we also teach in our science classes that all life comes from the sun; if it weren’t just exactly what it is, where it is, as hot as it is, then life on earth would fail. Ancient cultures, much more dependent on the seasons and the success of their crops for survival, watched the sun very carefully.
They divided the path of the sun into 12 equal portions, represented by specific constellations that the sun passes in front of on its journey – the way to keep track of the sun, they realized, was to recognize which constellation was behind it. This is easiest done at sunset, when the stars are just starting to come out. We get our modern zodiac or, “circle of animals”, from these 12 constellations.
I know some people right now are saying “ugh, you mean that newspaper fortune-telling garbage?” However, the zodiac signs are real constellations of stars in relation to the sun’s path. They exist, and have been used for at least 6,000 years to keep track of the sun – whether or not they have any influence on us is beyond the scope of this article (but not this website). The Western zodiac signs are often seen in churches, catacombs, and Greco-Roman/Pagan temples going back three thousand years or more, and Ancient Chinese, Mayan, Babylonian and Sumerian zodiac wheels, which sometimes use different figures for the constellations, go back much farther.
First, some basics:
1. The sun is light, and light is Good. Therefore, daytime is Good, and night-time is Bad.
2. Summer is Good. Winter is Bad.
Every year, the sun gets weaker and weaker. The seasons change, the crops die, the ground freezes. Then, the sun comes back and saves life as we know it. Into this story are added a few constellations, for example, Hydra, the sea-serpent. Hydra is the largest constellation, which stretches across most of the night sky. It was seen as the definitive symbol for darkness, night, winter, and evil. Every day the sun had to conquer Hydra, and every night the Hydra defeated the sun. It is a never-ending battle, being re-enacted even today.
Cultural myths about heroes defeating monstrous snakes stem from the sun’s conflict with darkness and winter, represented by the Hydra. Even Yahweh in the Old Testament was given credit with defeating an ancient sea serpent, the Leviathan, although this story was probably taken from descriptions about Baal killing the serpent Lotan in Northern Canaan. Babylonian sun gods Izhdubar or Gizdhubar fought the dragon as Tiamat, Apollo slew the Python, and Zeus killed the Typhon.
The story becomes a romance when we add in the figure of the moon. The moon was the sun’s lover, lost or trapped in darkness, guarded over by the Hydra. The sun was always trying to find and rescue her. There are hundreds of versions of this story in mythology – a young hero has to enter into “the kingdom of death”, or hell, or Somewhere Really Dangerous, and kill a big snake of some kind to rescue his girlfriend. The sun is usually defeated or killed before his journey is through, but escapes or resurrects in order to win the final battle.
Another important constellation, besides the Hydra, is Leo, the Lion. Leo is the constellation of the sun, the constellation that the sun is exalted in. (The sun is in Leo in the middle of summer.) For this reason, while winter and darkness are represented by a snake, summer, light and the sun are represented by a lion. While snakes slither underground, the sun is flying over our heads in the sky – his “kingdom of light” is above us, while the “kingdom of darkness” is below. This is why the personified sun is usually depicted with wings of some kind: a magical flying horse (Perseus saving Andromeda, above left), wings on his hat or feet (Hermes, Mercury), or a flying chariot so that he can get around more conveniently. In other versions, wings are presented in the form of a pet bird or winged side-kick. In the picture of Hercules killing the Hydra, (above right), he is shown both with a lion’s head mask and wings, just like the most famous symbol of the sun, the Griffin – a lion with the wings and the beak of an eagle.
Myths about the moon are sometimes blended with stories about the constellation Virgo, which is right next to Hydra and comes into the sky at the same time as it does. Virgo is the 2nd largest constellation, only a little smaller than Hydra, and the constellation was worshiped as a great goddess. Due to their close positions, myths about her always involved Hydra. Hydra is also a feminine constellation (the masculine form would be Hydrus), and sometimes these two great constellations were merged to create a larger symbol of night; a creature with the tail of a serpent and the upper body of a woman. The constellation Leo, the lion, immediately precedes Virgo in the night sky and seems to be escorting her past the treachery of Hydra. This is why, invariably, mythological sun saviors slay great serpents to save virtuous maidens. Their weapon of choice is almost always a sword, probably because it takes the same shaped as a cross, the oldest known symbol of the sun.
The Birth of the Sun
The zodiac is a belt of 12 constellations that go around the world in a line, tracing the perceived path of the sun. But there is another important line, the Celestial Equator. The Celestial Equator is important for keeping track of the seasons. When the sun crosses over it going south, it is called the fall equinox. The hours of daylight and sunlight are equal on this day, but from then on there is more darkness than daylight. Likewise, when the sun crosses the Celestial Equator going North, the days are again equal, but this time they become longer. This is the spring equinox.
Something different happens during the winter and summer solstices; in the winter, the sun appears to be getting farther and farther away. Then there is a point where its movement appears to stop, before beginning to return. In the summer, the sun is getting closer, then it pauses before moving away again.
“But the sun doesn’t move!” Of course not, but it is possible to mark the seasons based on where it rises or sets on the horizon, and this point does move. This is how those stone temples like Stonehenge work; they put a little hole on the spot of the horizon where the sun will rise on one specific day of the year. Imagine this point on the horizon like a giant pendulum. Every day, it will move a little to the left or right, approaching one of the solstices. When it reaches the end of its path, it has to “slow down” and go back the other way. It will be seen on the same spot of the horizon for 3 days, before beginning to move in the opposite direction. On December 22nd, the winter solstice, the sun appears to stop moving. Early civilizations mythologized this event as a “death” of the sun – darkness had triumphed. But three days later, on December 25th, the sun began moving again. This was a “birth” of the new sun, (and also a “resurrection” of the old sun), who would someday challenge the rulers of darkness and re-create the kingdom of light. This victory comes on the spring equinox, when light triumphs over darkness.
The birth of a spiritual savior on December 25th had been celebrated for thousands of years before the advent of Christianity. In the face of a long winter, it was celebrated as a time for hope in the eventual return of life and light. That December 25th was originally a Pagan holiday is generally well known, but not everyone realizes that it was a birthday celebration for the infant sun. On December 24th, the priests waited for a sign that the sun had returned, and when they saw it they shouted “A child is born in the East!” The sign the priests saw was probably the star Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the winter sky, which rises just before dawn.
“The coming of Sirius therefore to the Meridian at midnight became the sign and assurance of the sun have reached the very lowest point of his course, and therefore having arrived at the moment of his re-birth.” Carpenter, Pagan & Christian Creeds
People in those days believed that every night, the sun rested in a vast subterranean cave, before rising again in the East. Therefore this “birth” of the sun was pictured underground, in a cave, or sometimes a manger. Greeks, Egyptians and Romans carved little nativity scenes showing the heavenly child surrounded by his parents (the former sun-god and the moon-goddess, as we will see later), and also importantly, lots of animals. It is from the word “Zodiac” that we get the modern word “Zoo” – original nativity scenes showed the baby sun surrounded by the animals of the zodiac.
Late to the birth were three wise men following a star. Many traditions have called the three stars of Orion’s belt the “kings” or “magi”. They form a direct line to Sirius, a very bright blue star, and appear to follow him straight to the birthplace of the sun. Try to find them early on Christmas morning – they’ll be the brightest stars you see.
The Wicked Ruler
Winter begins on December 22nd with the winter solstice. At this time Saturn, king of winter, assumes his thrown. (The 22nd is the beginning of Capricorn. Just as Leo’s ruling planet is the sun, Capricorn’s ruling planet is Saturn.) Saturn, or in Greek, Chronos, was the father of time – from him we get words like “Chronology.” In the picture below, Saturn is seen with his symbol, the scythe, and with a dragon biting its own tail; the symbol for infinity. The inevitable consequence of time, of course, is death. The modern day Grim Reaper, shown below holding an hourglass, is based on images of Saturn.
In the Greek version of the myth, Chronos heard a prophecy from Uranus that one of his children would overthrow him; so he began to eat all of his children. After losing five kids this way, his wife Rhea saved the 6th, Zeus, by feeding Chronos a stone wrapped in blankets. Zeus grew up in exile, but came back in strength to challenge his father. The threat from an evil tyrant and escape of the infant sun is a common motif in sun myths. Just three days after Saturn comes to power on the December 22nd, the baby sun is born on the 25th. Saturn gets nervous and “eats all his babies”, or “orders a massacre of infants.” The infant son, however, is smuggled away safely, usually by his mother. This incident also begins the sun’s travels: he is always moving, and generally going “up” and “down”.
The sun grows up in exile, becoming stronger all the time. After Saturn has lost his power, the sun will return to challenge the ruler of winter and overthrow his kingdom. This happens on the spring equinox, when there is more light than day. The sun has been victorious, at least until the fall equinox, when darkness comes to power again. This time, on December 22nd, the sun dies, is buried for three days, and “resurrects”. (Like the birth, this is depicted underground.) Of course, there are many variations: sometimes he descends into Hades for three days, sometimes he sleeps, sometimes he is imprisoned, and sometimes people just think he’s dead.
In one Egyptian version of the sun myth, the moon goddess was Isis, while Osiris and Horus were both aspects of the sun. Isis gave birth to Osiris on December 25th, and he grew up to become his mother’s lover. Isis then gave birth to the baby Horus, also on December 25th, when Isis’ brother Set was in power. Set was a figure of darkness, and in later traditions became identified with Typhon, the giant serpent. Set killed Osiris and scattered his body parts down the banks of the Nile. Set wanted to kill Horus also, fearing that the child would someday usurp his thrown, but Isis was warned in time to flee and conceal the child. At the Spring Equinox, Isis gathered up the body parts of Osiris and put him back together. At the same time, Horus grew into manhood and defeated Set to avenge his father, freeing Isis from Set’s tyranny. Horus took his father’s place, and became Osiris. He and Isis would give birth to a new Horus the next year.
Snakes, Eagles, Lions – Oh my!
It may seem very foreign to give human characteristics to the sun, but you are probably more familiar with this story than you think. The sun rules the zodiac sign of Leo, the Lion. (The yellow color of this animal, as well as his flowing mane, have made it an ideal symbol for the sun.) Historical and mythological fig
ures, in order to elevate them to a divine status, are often affiliated with lions for this reason. In fact, the easiest way to spot a sun-myth is to look for snakes and lions. Hercules, for exam
ple, kills two snakes in his crib, and is usually shown wearing a Lion’s head. Even historical figures such as Alexander the Great have been given mythical grandeur with these symbols. If you saw the 2004 movie by Warner Brothers, you probably remember that his mother, Angelina Jolie, was a snake freak and the young Alexander was surrounded with snakes as a child. But did you notice that Alexander’s helmet is a lion? Or the scene when, to be even more explicit, he is wearing an actual lion’s head? Alexander is also accompanied by a pet Eagle, and seems to have some psychic connection with it. Alexander strays farther away from his kingdom, where he is strong, and grows weaker and weaker until his own followers betray him.
So firmly is the brave, sword-wielding dragon-slaying hero entrenched in human consciousness that many contemporary heroes, including J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter”, continue to act out the ancient motif. Harry is marked as a sun god by his placement in Gryffindor, whose emblem is a lion. (Or rather, a Griffin – a winged lion.) He also has his characteristic mark, the lightning bolt on his forehead; also the symbol of Zeus. He can fly, with a broomstick, and is also sometimes helped by Dumbledore’s phoenix. Like the sun, an evil power threatens him at birth and he was hidden away in obscurity. He battles the basilisk, an enormous snake, with a magical sword, in order to save the lost but virtuous maiden, Ginny. Eventually (we may suppose) he will defeat Lord Voldemort and end the threat of darkness altogether – although he may have to pay for it with his own life.
The newest Peter Pan movie (2003, live action version) is also full of sun symbolism. In the beginning of the movie, “never never land” is frozen in a deep winter and the pirates’ ship is stuck in ice. Spring hits fast and hard, the ice melts, letting the pirates know that Pan (the sun) has come back. Peter can also fly, of course, and instead of a phoenix is accompanied by Tink, a winged fairy. Peter battles Hook with a sword to save Wendy from the pirates, so she can be mother to the boys. And although the giant alligator is Hook’s enemy, the creature is an effective representation of Hydra, the water serpent. There is also a significant scene, where the weather gets nasty because Peter is sad over Tink’s death. The pirates think Pan is dead, and that they have won, only to have him reappear triumphantly.
In another movie, “Narnia” (2005), based on the original chronicles by C.S. Lewis, Aslan is an obvious sun-savior who has to battle with the queen of winter to restore life and spring to Narnia. He allows himself to be captured and tortured only to be instantly resurrected and continue the fight. Although many Christians considered Narnia to be a wholesome family movie, all of the ideas in Narnia stem from the sun myth, which predates Christianity by thousands of years. (Lewis’ contemporary, Tolkien, criticized Narnia for being a poorly developed collection of Pagan symbolism). Witness – for example, how the fallen Aslan has his hair cut off just like Samson – Delilah was a winter goddess like the white witch – but it miraculously regrows when he comes back. The ‘discovery’ of Aslan’s resurrection is actually the discovery of the rising sun behind the great rock. It may be argued that the rising sun is a symbol for Christ’s resurrection – however in fact it is Christ’s resurrection which has always been a symbol of the rising sun!
The Lion King
When the sun reaches his throne on the summer solstice, he is described as the king of kings, wearing a purple robe and a crown of golden rays. At the time when these stories developed, the summer solstice was actually in the sign of Leo. The sun could easily be identified as a lion king. Disney’s “The Lion King” (1994) captures the sun myth surprisingly well. Simba can’t fly himself, but he is always near his winged chaperone, the toucan Zazu. In the first five minutes, we are inundated with sun references. The infant king is anointed with the juice of a fruit that has been lifted up to the sun, the clouds part and a single beam of sunlight illuminates the child. The catchy opening song mentions the sun rolling high in a sapphire sky. Most people say that the Lion King plot is based on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and I can see the connections; but I wonder whether Shakespeare didn’t get his ideas from Greek stories like Oedipus, whose tale includes lots of sun symbolism.
While Simba is still young and dreaming of being ruler, (“I just can’t wait to be king”), there is a quip about the king of kings having so little hair. Some sun gods, when they reached maturity, were shown with long flowing hair to symbolize their strong rays of light, and short hair when they were newborn or weak. This is the reason that Samson, a biblical sun figure, was defeated by the winter goddess Delilah when she cut off all his hair. This is also why, when the lion king Aslan had his mane cut off by his enemies, it instantly grew back once he was resurrected. Soon after, Mufusa tells Simba, “A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. Someday, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king.”
Mufusa’s brother, Scar, is the ruler of death, or winter. He’s in league with evil hyenas, and plots with them in a fiery cave full of dancing skeletons. Scar succeeds in killing Mufasa, but Simba escapes into exile. The whole land falls into darkness and shadow when Scar takes over, but Simba grows up quickly outside of the kingdom. Simba runs into Nana, who thinks he’s back from the dead, and they have a brief spring love affair. (The sun and moon are necessarily lovers, in order for the new sun to be born each year). Simba is still struggling with the death of his father, but Rafiki the monkey-priest tells him, “He’s alive, and I’ll show him to you. You are your father. You are the same. He lies in you.”
Simba journeys home through the wilderness landscape that had once flourished under his father’s rule. The land is destroyed now and everyone is starving, on the brink of death. When Simba returns they assume he is Mufasa back from the dead. There is a battle between Scar and Simba, now exactly the same size and strength. They exchange blows, and finally Simba grows a little bigger and wins. This fight demonstrates the spring equinox, when the hours of sunlight struggle with and then surpass the hours of darkness. “It is time,” says Rafiki. A cooling rain falls as the new king climbs majestically up to his place of power on the throne. A skull is washed away, signifying the end of winter, and the earth springs to life again. At the end of the movie, Simba and Nana have a new child and repeat the cycle.
You may have heard of another lion king, Jesus of Nazareth, also called the “Lion of Judah” and the “King of Jews”. Jesus has many symbols, one of which is the white dove; and, feathers or no, he has no trouble defying gravity. Like the sun, (and Harry Potter, and the Lion King) Jesus had to hide from an evil ruler soon after his birth, because King Herod heard a prophecy concerning a future savior. Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world, and his enemy, Satan, is represented by the symbol of the serpent. Jesus comes to save his love, the Holy Mother Church. (The earth-bound communities of those faithful to Jesus are always collectively feminine.) He uses the symbol of an upright cross, which looks just like a sword, to defeat his enemies.
Do the basics of the gospel story come from the same source as the other sun-saviors? It would certainly help to explain a passage in the gospel of Luke that identifies Jesus’ herald, John the Baptist, as the prophet of the rising sun:
“And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76
Although most people consider sun-worship to be a superstitious and primitive practice, the truth is that we still worship the sun. Sitting your kids down in front of Peter Pan, Narnia or the Lion King is no different from attending a re-enactment of the adventures of Horus or Hercules 2,000 years ago. Harry Potter defeats his enemies with magic spells, and Jesus Christ overcomes his foes with miracles, but the symbolism from both stories comes from an ancient sun myth.
Even if the similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods were accidental, how can we reconcile the evidence that many early Christians themselves worshiped Jesus as the sun? Besides the many passages found in the Bible, there is also plenty of non-biblical evidence that Jesus was originally considered a sun myth by his own followers.
The story of the sun was based on astronomical observations, and created hundreds of years before the rise of Christianity. The sun’s movements have continued unchanged for billions of years, and many of the celestial details which led to the development of the sun myth can still be seen today. Therefore those parts of Christianity that come from the sun myth cannot be part of a tradition that begins with a historical Jesus. Unfortunately, removing the details of the sun myth from Christianity is like cutting out Jesus’ heart – he cannot survive independently once separated from his Pagan roots. So far I’ve introduced a broad outline of the sun myth, but only hinted at the potential comparisons between it and Christian history. The next article focuses on the inherent details of both traditions so we can see just how tightly they are wound together.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!