Sun Worship

Back view of a woman looking at breathtaking sunset.
People celebrate the sun all over the world. BraunS / Getty Images

At Litha, the summer solstice, the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Many ancient cultures marked this date as significant, and the concept of sun worship is one nearly as old as mankind itself. In societies that were primarily agricultural, and depended on the sun for life and sustenance, it is no surprise that the sun became deified. While many people today might take the day to grill out, go to the beach, or work on their tans, for our ancestors the summer solstice was a time of great spiritual import.

William Tyler Olcott wrote in Sun Lore of All Agespublished in 1914, that worship of the sun was considered idolatrous - and thus something to be forbidden - once Christianity gained a religious foothold. He says, "Nothing proves so much the antiquity of solar idolatry as the care Moses took to prohibit it. "Take care," said he to the Israelites, "lest when you lift up your eyes to Heaven and see the sun, the moon, and all the stars, you be seduced and drawn away to pay worship and adoration to the creatures which the Lord your God has made for the service of all the nations under Heaven." Then we have the mention of Josiah taking away the horses that the king of Judah had given to the sun, and burning the chariot of the sun with fire. These references agree perfectly with the recognition in Palmyra of the Lord Sun, Baal Shemesh, and with the identification of the Assyrian Bel, and the Tyrian Baal with the sun."

Egypt and Greece

The Egyptian peoples honored Ra, the sun god. For people in ancient Egypt, the sun was a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It was what made the crops grow each season, so it is no surprise that the cult of Ra had immense power and was widespread. Ra was the ruler of the heavens.

He was the god of the sun, the bringer of light, and patron to the pharaohs. According to legend, the sun travels the skies as Ra drives his chariot through the heavens. Although he originally was associated only with the midday sun, as time went by, Ra became connected to the sun's presence all day long.

The Greeks honored Helios, who was similar to Ra in his many aspects. Homer describes Helios as "giving light both to gods and men." The cult of Helios celebrated each year with an impressive ritual that involved a giant chariot pulled by horses off the end of a cliff and into the sea.

Native America Traditions

In many Native American cultures, such as the Iroquois and Plains peoples, the sun was recognized as a life-giving force. Many of the Plains tribes still perform a Sun Dance each year, which is seen as a renewal of the bond man has with life, earth, and the growing season. In MesoAmerican cultures, the sun was associated with kingship, and many rulers claimed divine rights by way of their direct descendancy from the sun.

Persia, the Middle East, and Asia

As part of the cult of Mithra, early Persian societies celebrated the rising of the sun each day. The legend of Mithra may well have given birth to the Christian resurrection story.

Honoring the sun was an integral part of ritual and ceremony in Mithraism, at least as far as scholars have been able to determine. One of the highest ranks one could achieve in a Mithraic temple was that of heliodromus, or sun-carrier.

Sun worship has also been found in Babylonian texts and in a number of Asian religious cults. Today, many Pagans honor the sun at Midsummer, and it continues to shine its fiery energy upon us, bringing light and warmth to the earth.

Honoring the Sun Today

So how can you celebrate the sun as part of your own spirituality? It's not hard to do - after all, the sun is out there almost all the time! Try a few of these ideas and incorporate the sun into your rituals and celebrations:

  • Use a bright yellow or orange candle to represent the sun on your altar.
  • Charge some water for ritual use by placing it outside on a bright sunny day.
  • Start each day by offering a prayer to the rising sun, and end your day with another one as it sets.
  • Hang solar symbols around your house, or place sun catchers in your windows to bring the light indoors.