I’m Sol, and I was born in January. Coincidence?
Sól (Old Norse "Sun") or Sunna (Old High German "Sun") is the Sun personified in Germanic mythology. One of the two Old High German Merseburg Incantations, written in the 9th or 10th century CE, attests that Sunna is the sister of Sinthgunt. In Norse mythology, Sól is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson.
In both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda she is described as the sister of the personified moon, Máni, is the daughter of Mundilfari, is at times referred to as Álfröðull, and is foretold to be killed by a monstrous wolf during the events of Ragnarök, though beforehand she will have given birth to a daughter who continues her mother’s course through the heavens. In the Prose Edda, she is additionally described as the wife of Glenr. As a proper noun, Sól appears throughout Old Norse literature. Scholars have produced theories about the development of the goddess from potential Nordic Bronze Age and Proto-Indo-European roots.
In stanza 23 of the poem Vafþrúðnismál, the god Odin tasks the jötunn Vafþrúðnir with a question about the origins of the sun and the moon. Vafþrúðnir responds that Mundilfari is the father of both Sól and Máni, and that they must pass through the heavens every day to count the years for man:
- Mundilfæri hight he, who the moon’s father is,
- and eke the sun’s; round heaven journey each day they must,
- to count years for men.
In stanza 45 of Vafþrúðnismál, Odin asks Vafþrúðnir from where another sun will come from once Fenrir has assailed the current sun. Vafþrúðnir responds in stanza 46, stating that before Álfröðull (Sól) is assailed by Fenrir, she will bear a daughter who will ride on her mother’s paths after the events of Ragnarök.
In stanza 38 of the poem Grímnismál, Odin says that before the sun (referred to as "the shining god") is a shield named Svalinn, and if the shield were to fall from its frontal position, mountain and sea "would burn up". In stanza 39 Odin (disguised as Grimnir) says that both the sun and the moon are pursued through the heavens by wolves; the sun, referred to as the "bright bride" of the heavens, is pursued by Hati Hróðvitnisson, while the moon is pursued by Sköll.
In stanza 15 of the poem Alvíssmál, the god Thor questions the dwarf Alvíss about the sun, asking him what the sun is called in each of the worlds. Alvíss responds that it is called "sun" by mankind, "sunshine" by the gods, "Dvalinn‘s deluder" by the dwarves, "everglow" by the jötnar, "the lovely wheel" by the elves, and "all-shining" by the "sons of the Æsir".
Sól is referenced in the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, where she is introduced in chapter 8 in a quote from stanza 5 of Völuspá. In chapter 11 of Gylfaginning, Gangleri (described as King Gylfi in disguise) asks the enthroned figure of High how the sun and moon are steered. High describes that Sól is one of the two children of Mundilfari, and states that the children were so beautiful they were named after the sun (Sól) and the moon (Máni). Mundilfari has Sól married to a man named Glenr.
High says that the gods were "angered by this arrogance" and that the gods had the two placed in the heavens. There, the children were made to drive the horses Arvak and Alsvid that drew the chariot of the sun. High says that the gods had created the chariot to illuminate the worlds from burning embers flying from the fiery world of Muspelheim. In order to cool the horses, the gods placed two bellows beneath their shoulders, and that "according to the same lore" these bellows are called Ísarnkol.
In chapter 12 of Gylfaginning, Gangleri tells High that the sun moves quickly, almost as if she were moving so quickly that she fears something, that she could not go faster even if she were afraid of her own death. High responds that "It is not surprising that she moves with such speed. The one chasing her comes close, and there is no escape for her except to run." Gangleri asks who chases her, to which High responds that two wolves give chase to Sól and Máni. The first wolf, Sköll, chases Sól, and despite her fear, Sköll will eventually catch her. Hati Hróðvitnisson, the second wolf, runs ahead of Sól to chase after Máni, whom Hati Hróðvitnisson will also catch. In chapter 35, Sól’s status as a goddess is stated by High, along with Bil.
In chapter 53, High says that after the events of Ragnarök, Sól’s legacy will be continued by a daughter that is no less beautiful than she, who will follow the path she once rode, and, in support, Vafþrúðnismál stanza 47 is then quoted.
In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, Sól is first presented in chapter 93, where the kennings "daughter of Mundilfæri", "sister of Máni", "wife of Glen", "fire of sky and air" are given for her, followed by an excerpt of a work by the 11th century skald Skúli Þórsteinsson:
- God-blithe bedfellow of Glen
- steps to her divine sanctuary
- with brightness; then descends the good
- light of grey-clad moon.
In chapter 56, additional names for Sól are given; "day-star", "disc", "ever-glow", "all-bright seen", "fair-wheel", "grace-shine", "Dvalinn‘s toy", "elf-disc", "doubt-disc", and "ruddy". In chapter 58, following a list of horses, the horses Arvakr and Alsviðr are listed as drawing the sun, and, in chapter 75, Sól is again included in a list of goddesses.
Regarding Sól’s attested personifications in Norse mythology, John Lindow states that "even kennings like ‘hall of the sun’ for sky may not suggest personification, given the rules of kenning formation"; that in poetry only stanzas associated with Sól in the poem Vafþrúðnismál are certain in their personification of the goddess; and "that Sól is female and Máni male probably has to do with the grammatical gender of the nouns: Sól is feminine and Máni is masculine." Lindow states that, while the sun seems to have been a focus of older Scandinavian religious practices, it is difficult to make a case for the placement of the sun in a central role in surviving sources for Norse mythology.
Rudolf Simek states that Nordic Bronze Age archaeological finds, such as rock carvings and the Trundholm sun chariot, provide ample evidence of the sun having been viewed as a life-giving heavenly body to the Bronze Age Scandinavians, and that the sun likely always received an amount of veneration. Simek states that the only evidence of the sun assuming a personification stems from the Old High German Incantation reference and from Poetic Edda poems, and that both of these references do not provide enough information to assume a Germanic sun cult. "On the other hand", Simek posits, the "great age of the concept is evident" by the Trundholm sun chariot, which specifically supports the notion of the sun being drawn across the sky by horses. Simek further theorizes that the combination of sun symbols with ships in religious practices, which occur with frequency from the Bronze Age into Middle Ages, seem to derive from religious practices surrounding a fertility god (such as the Vanir gods Njörðr or Freyr), and not to a personified sun.
Theories have been proposed that Sól, as a goddess, may represent an extension of an earlier Proto-Indo-European deity due to Indo-European linguistic connections between Norse Sól, Sanskrit Surya, Gaulish Sulis, Lithuanian Saulė, and Slavic Tsar Solnitse.
Solveig, an Old Norse female given name that may involve the sun.
- Sowilo rune, the s rune, named after the sun.
- Sunday, a day of the week named after the sun in Germanic societies.
The Latin sol for "Sun" is the continuation of the PIE heteroclitic *Seh2ul- / *Sh2-en-, cognate to Germanic Sol, Sanskrit Surya, Greek Helios, Lithuanian Saulė. also compare Latin "solis" to Etruscan "usil".
Identification with Janus
According to Roman sources, the worship of Sol was introduced by Titus Tatius. Still in the Roman kingdom period, Sol came to be identified with Janus. Janus and Jana were worshipped as Sun and Moon, and were regarded as the highest of the gods, receiving their sacrifices before all the others. Numa introduced the month Ianuarius. Traces of the worship of Sol Indiges, i.e. a deity Sol as independent from Janus, are scarce.
Sol Indiges ("the native sun" or "the invoked sun" – the etymology and meaning of the word "indiges" is disputed) represents the earlier, more agrarian form in which the Roman god Sol was worshipped. It was later replaced by Sol Invictus.
See also Di indigetes.
Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the Roman state-supported sun god created by the emperor Aurelian in 274 and continued, overshadowing other Eastern cults in importance, until the abolition of paganism under Theodosius I. Although known as a god, the term "Unconquered Sun God’ is not found on any Roman document.
The Romans held a festival on December 25 of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." December 25 was the date after the winter solstice, with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. There was also a festival on December 19.
The title Sol Invictus had also been applied to a number of other solar deities before and during this period. The type of Sol Invictus, though not the name, appears on imperial coinage from the time of Septimius Severus onwards.
- ^ see e.g. EIEC, p. 556.
- ^ August. de Civ. Dei, iv. 23
- ^ Macrobius Saturnalia i. 9; Cicero De Natura Deorum ii. 27
- ^ Allan S. Hoey, "Official Policy towards Oriental Cults in the Roman Army" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 70, (1939:456-481) p 479f.
- ^ When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.
- ^ "An inscription of unique interest from the reign of Licinius embodies the official prescription for the annual celebration by his army of a festival of Sol Invictuson December 19" (Hoey 1939:480 and note 128).
- ^ Hoey 1939:470, 479f and notes.
- ^ Hoey 1939:456.
Macrobius and Cicero attempted to explain the name as Latin deriving it from the verb ire ("to go"). It has been conjectured to be derived from the Indo-European root meaning transitional movement (cf. Sanskrit "yana-" or Avestan "yah-", likewise with Latin "i-" and Greek "ie-".).
William Betham argued that the cult arrived from the Middle East and that Janus corresponds to the Baal-ianus or Belinus of the Chaldeans sharing a common origin with the Oannes of Berosus and thus with the Mesopotamian figure of Uanna known from seventh century BCE texts.
If Betham’s eastern origin thesis is correct, the name ultimately derives from a form of the Mesopotamian name Uanna which in turn has been speculated to be derived from the name of the Biblical prophet Jonah (Hebrew Yonah meaning a dove) who preached to the Assyrians over a century before the earlist mention of Uanna.
Janus was usually depicted with two heads facing in opposite directions. According to a legend,he had received the gift to see both future and past from the god Saturn in reward for the hospitality received. Janus-like heads of gods related to Hermes have been found in Greece, perhaps suggesting a compound god. These double headed figures have precursors in Assyrian depictions of Oannes with a human head in front and a fish head behind.
The Romans associated Janus with the Etruscan deity Ani. However, he was one of the few Roman gods who had no ready-made counterpart, or analogous mythology. Several scholars suggest that he was likely the most important god in the Roman archaic pantheon: this is reflected in the appellation Ianus Pater, still used in Classical times. He was often invoked together with Iuppiter (Jupiter).
According to Macrobius and Cicero, Janus and Jana (Diana) are a pair of divinities, worshipped as the sun and moon, whence they were regarded as the highest of the gods, and received their sacrifices before all the others.
In general, Janus was the patron of concrete and abstract beginnings of the world(such as the religion and the gods themselves), the human life, new historical ages, and economical enterprises. He was also the god of the home entrance (ianua), gates, bridges and covered and arcaded passages (iani) named after him.
He was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. He was also known as the figure representing time because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other. Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as marriages, births and other beginnings. He was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities, and youth and adulthood.
Numa in his regulation of the Roman calendar called the first month Januarius after Janus, at the time the highest divinity. Numa also introduced the Ianus geminus (also Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus or Portae Belli) , a passage ritually opened at times of war, and shut again when Roman arms rested. It formed a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated in the Roman Forum which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius. In the course of wars, the gates of the Janus were opened, and in its interior sacrifices and vaticinia were held to forecast the outcome of military deeds. The doors were closed only during peacetime, an extremely rare event. Livy wrote in his Ab urbe condita that the doors of the temple had only been closed twice since the reign of Numa: firstly in 235 BC after the first Punic war and secondly in after the battle of Actium in 31 BC. A temple of Janus is said to have been consecrated by the consul Gaius Duilius in 260 BCE after the Battle of Mylae in the Forum Holitorium. The four-side structure known as the Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium dates to the 4th century CE.
In the Middle Ages, Janus was also taken as the symbol of Genoa, whose Latin name was Ianua, as well as of other European communes.