Sol et Luna: Creation Myths of the Sun and the Moon

A solar creation myth from Japan contains a reference to a floating cloud in the midst of infinite space, before matter had taken any other form. This also nicely describes the original nebula from which scientists say the solar system was evolved. The legend says that when there was no heaven, earth, sun, or moon, there was only the Invisible Lord of the Middle Heaven existing in an infinite space. With him there were two other gods. Between them, they created a floating cloud in the midst of which was a liquid formless and lifeless mass from which the earth was evolved.

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After this, seven generations of gods were born in heaven – the last and most perfect were Izanagi and Izanami who went on to become the parents of the world and all that is in it. After the creation of the world of living things, Izanagi bathed his left eye and sprang Amaterasu, the great Sun-Goddess. Izanagi rejoiced and put a necklace of jewels he around her neck. He said to her, “Rule thou over the Plain of High Heaven.” Thus Amaterasu became the source of all life and light worshipped by mankind. Then Izanagi he bathed his right eye, and there appeared Tsukuyomi,the Moon-God. Izanagi said, “Rule thou over the Dominion of Night.”

In Norse mythology, Odin arranged the periods of daylight and darkness, and the seasons. He placed the sun and moon in the heavens, and regulated their respective courses. Day and Night were considered mortal enemies as light came from above, and darkness from beneath. However, there is another version which says that the sun and moon were formed from the sparks from the fire land of Muspelheim. The father of the two luminaries was Mundilfare, and he named his beautiful boy and girl, Maane (Moon) and Sol (Sun). The gods took his children from him and placed them in the heavens, where they permitted Sol to drive the horses of the sun, and gave over the regulation of the moon’s phases to Maane.

Among the Eskimos of Behring Strait, the creation of the earth and all it contains is attributed to the Raven Father. The Raven Father came from the sky after a great deluge. He made the dry ground and created human and animal life. But mankind threatened the animal life, and this so annoyed the Raven Father that he punished man by taking the sun out of the sky, and hiding it in a bag at his home. The people were frightened at the loss of the sun, and offered rich gifts to the Raven Father to appease him. So he relented somewhat, and would hold the sun up in one hand for a day or two at a time, so that the people could have sufficient light for hunting, and then he would put it back in his bag again. This arrangement, though better than nothing, was not satisfactory to people. The Raven’s brother took pity on them, and thought of a scheme to better human conditions. He faked his death, and after he had been buried and the mourners had gone away, he came forth from the grave, and turned himself into a leaf which floated on the surface of a stream. Later, the Raven’s wife came to the stream for a drink and, dipping up the water, she swallowed with it the leaf. The Raven’s wife soon after gave birth to a boy who cried continuously for the sun. To silence him, his father often gave him the sun to play with. One day, the boy flew away with the sun and placed it in its proper place in the sky. He also regulated its daily course, making day and night, so that the people always have the constant light of the sun to guide them by day.

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The ancient Peruvians believed that the god Viracocha rose out of Lake Titicaca, made the sun, moon and stars, then regulated their courses. The Muyscas, who inhabited the high plains of Bogota, was said to have lived in a state of savagery before the arrival of an old bearded man from the east named Bochica (the Sun) who taught them agriculture and the worship of the gods. However, his wife Huythaca was not pleased with his attentions to mankind and caused a great deluge which drowned most of the inhabitants of the earth. This, of course, angered Bochica. He drove his wife away from the earth by turning her into the Moon. He then dried up the earth, and once more made it habitable for mankind to live in.

According to Mexican tradition, Nexhequiriac was the creator of the world. He sent down the Sun-God and the Moon-God to illuminate the earth, so that mankind could see to perform their daily tasks. The Sun-God went on his way without delay, but the Moon-God, who was hungry, saw a rabbit and started chasing it. This, of course, took some time. After he caught and ate the rabbit, the Moon-God looked up and found his brother, the Sun-God, had outdistanced him. The Sun-God was, in fact, so far ahead, so that thereafter the Moon-God was unable to overtake him. This is also the reason why the sun always appears to be ahead of the moon, and why the sun always looks fresh and red, and the moon sick and pale. Those who gaze intently at the moon can still see the rabbit dangling from his mouth.

According to the Tonga tribe, of the South Pacific Islands, before there was any light upon the earth, Vatea and Tonga-iti argued about which one of them was the parent of a child. Each was confident the child was his and to end the dispute they decided to share it. The infant was then cut in two. Vatea took the upper half as his share, and squeezing it into a ball tossed it up into the sky where it became the sun. Tonga-iti allowed his share, the lower part of the infant, to remain on the ground for a day or two, but seeing the brightness of Vatea’s half, he squeezed his share too, and threw it up into the dark sky when the sun was absent in the underworld, and it became the moon. Thus the sun and the moon were created, and the paleness of the moon is due to the fact that all the blood was drained out of it when it lay on the ground.

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The Man of the Sun: The Story of Quetzalcoatl

“[Men] lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.” – Hesiod.

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“Allegory of Summer”, by Jerzy Szymonowicz (c. 1660 – 1711)

In Greek mythology, Astraea was the goddess of innocence. She was the  daughter of the Titans Astraeus, god of dusk, and Eos, goddess of dawn. Her name meant “star-maiden” and she was on the earth alongside humans during the Golden Age of Man. When the Iron Age dawned, bringing along misery and wickedness, Astraea sadly abandoned the earth and went to the skies where she transformed into the constellation virgo. When Astraea returns to Earth one day, she will once again bring the utopia that was during the Golden Age, bringing an end to human suffering.

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Quetzalcoatl, as depicted in the Codex Magliabechiano (16th century).

In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl was regarded as “The Father of the Toltecs,” and, legend says, was the seventh and youngest son of the Toltec Abraham, Iztacmixcohuatl. Quetzalcoatl became the ruler of Tollan and, by his enlightened sway and his encouragement of the liberal arts, did much to further the advancement of his people.

Quetzalcoatl’s reign had lasted for a long enough period for the cultivated arts to develop to a satisfactory level when his country was visited by Tezcatlipoca. Tezcatlipoca gave him a draught of pulque, which intoxicated him. The doom pronounced upon him was banishment, and he was compelled to leave Anahuac.

As a new age dawned Astraea left earth, taking away the last remaining innocence known to mankind, leaving behind only emptiness. Quetzalcoatl’s exile brought about more peculiar changes upon the country. He threw away his treasures, burned his palaces, transformed the cacao-trees into mosquitoes, and banished all the birds from Tollan. His people, nonplussed at these unexpected happenings, begged him to return, but he refused. He proceeded to Tabasco, the fabled land of Tlapallan and, leaving on a raft made of serpents, floated away to the east. In the native pinturas it is noticeable that the solar disc and semidisc are almost invariably found in connection with the feathered serpent as the symbolical attributes of Quetzalcoal. The Hopi people of Mexico symbolise the sun as a serpent, tail in mouth.

A slightly different version of this myth is perhaps closer to Astraea’s story. It says that, in sadness, Quetzalcoatl threw himself upon a funeral pyre. His spirit rose  upward and were changed into birds of brilliant plumage. His heart also soared into the sky, and became the morning star. As Quetzalcoatl died when the star became visible, the ancient Mexicans gave him the title “Lord of the Dawn.” When he died he was invisible for four days, and for eight days he wandered in the underworld, after which time the morning star appeared and he achieved resurrection. He then ascended his throne as a god.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Quetzalcoatl is that which regards Quetzalcoatl as a god of the air. He is connected with the cardinal points, and wears the insignia of the cross which symbolises them. He has a protruding, trumpet-like mouth, for the wind-god blows. His figure suggests whirls and circles. His temples were built in circular form.

American archaeologist and ethnologist Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837 – 1899) perceived in Quetzalcoatl a similar dual nature. “He is both lord of the eastern light and of the winds,” he writes (Myths of the New World) “Like all the dawn heroes, he too was represented as of white complexion, clothed in long, white robes, and, as many of the Aztec gods, with a full and flowing beard. . . . He had been overcome by Tezcatloca, the wind or spirit of night, who had descended from heaven by a spider’s web, and presented his rival with a draught supposed to confer immortality, but in fact producing an intolerable longing for home. For the wind and the light both depart when the gloaming draws near, or when the clouds spread their dark and shadowy webs along the mountains, and pour the vivifying rain upon the fields.”

An explanation of the origin of Quetzalcoatl is that which would regard him as the Man of the Sun, who has quitted his abode for a season for the purpose of teaching mankind arts which represent the first steps in civilisation. He fulfilled his mission and was displaced by new, invading, deities. Quetzalcoatl was represented as a traveller with staff in hand and, under his rule, the fruits of the earth flourished more abundantly than at any subsequent period.

Several tribes tributary to the Aztecs were in the habit of imploring Quetzalcoatl in prayer to return and free them from the intolerable bondage of the conqueror. Notable among them were the Totonacs, who passionately believed that the sun, their father, would send a god who would free them from the Aztec yoke. On the coming of the Spaniards the European conquerors were hailed as the servants of Quetzalcoatl, thus in the eyes of the natives fulfilling the tradition that he would return.

The titles bestowed upon Quetzalcoatl by the Nahua show that in his solar significance he was god of the vault of the heavens, as well as merely son of the sun. He was alluded to as Ehecatl (“The Air”), Yolcuat (“The Rattlesnake”), Tohil (“The Rumbler”), Nanihehecatl (“Lord of the Four Winds”) and Tlauizcalpantecutli (“Lord of the Light of the Dawn”). The whole heavenly vault was his, together with all its phenomena.