The Sun: A Historical View
Introductiones ad astrologium; Germany; 15-16th century; manuscript on paper, pen and ink, hand colored
Mankind seem to always have worshipped the sun, our nearest star.
Naturally, because this source of light and heat is responsible for all life on earth.
If we go further, the sun makes it possible for us to grow plants and trees, and animals, birds, fish, depend on this variety in order to live and overcome.
In ancient time, long before our modern technology, it is therefore not surprising to register all the gods and goddesses, tales, stories and mythology that ruled mankind.
Among all these, Sol was the old italian sungod, Sol Indiges, or Sol Invictus, and had its place in the roman calendar of feasts. In fact, the romans celebrated this god on the 25th of December, so when the christians conquered the world, the romans did not have to lay off this feast! Later on, Sol, was indentified with the greek sungod Helios who rode across the sky from morning to evening in his carriage pulled by seven snowwhite horses, and each had eight legs. In front of Helios was always the goddess Aurora, the morning red. In the art, Sol was a young man with a garland of beams around his head. In the same way, we find the hindu sungod, Surya, and the slavian Dazhbog.
The sun in Leo; India; 17-18th century; manuscript on oriental paper
Sol in the norse mythology was a goddess, the Moon's sister, riding across the sky in her sun carriage pulled by two horses, Árvakr (the vigilant) and Alsvinnr (the fastest).
Sol is chased by a wolf that is going to eat her. Like mentioned above, also the norse had a fire feast called 'jol' around the same time as the celebrating of Jesus Christ's birthday, so the modern feast actually has the same name as the christian feast!
In parts of Scandinavia, the sun does not rise at all in the wintertime, so the choice of a bear on which the god Bæi'vi rode on from east to west, was a good idea!
Worshipping of the sun in Scandinavia, may be illustrated by the sacrificing of butter to the sun. This should give them nice weather for the crops.
Caesar mentions the Sun as one of the germannic natural gods.
Egypt may be the country where the worshipping of the sun played the largest role. Here large temples was erected to honor the sungod, like Ra and Heliopolis. Ra was the creator of the heavens and Earth. Ra was worshipped until the year 0, when the christians arrived to the arena, and the worshipping disappeared.
We find several other parts of the East and in the India-surroundings worshipping sungods, actually most of this originates from the East.
In Peru, once a part of the Inka kingdom, archeologists have found remains of buildings used for worshipping of the sun. The azteks meant that their sungod, Tonatiuh, needed human blood to have strength, and people, mostly prisoners of war, were sacrificed. In Mexico, where the azteks lived until the spanish invaders arrived in the 16th century, there are still pyramids to be seen, erected to honour the sun.
In Japan, the sun goddess was called Amaterasu. In the Middle East, the old babylons worshipped the sungod Sjamasj, and it is told that the mighty king Hammurabi, got one of the world's first lawbooks from this sungod.
In Rome, Jupiter, Janus and Apollo were the dominating sungods, while in old Greece, Helios, Lykos and Apollon governed the arena. Helios was around the year 300 BC honoured by a 30 meter high statue on the island of Rhodes, supposed to be one of the world's seven wonders.
Between 3500 and 4000 years ago, the kelts erected the famous Stonehenge north of Southampton in England. This was probably a kind of an astronomical temple where these people studied the sun. moon and stars. For instance, it is possible to see which day is mid-summer from Stonehenge.
In Denmark, one has found the famous sun wagon from Tundholm, a 3000 year old item which is horse that pulls a rolling sundial.
In Nothern America the Sun was especially praised by the indians because of the climate. We find sungods and temples in Mexico, and in Peru's cold mountains the Sun was the progenitor of the Inka people who ruled in and through them.
Today, the worshipping of the Sun in the modern world, is much connected with the leisure time, like holidaying, summer outdoor life and cheer living. Some people in the poor sunlit areas of the world, or like in the northernmost parts of Scandinavia for instance; holds feasts when the sun returns after the winter solstice from over the high mountain again. And did you know that a solarium, what we normally connect with a modern way to get a suntan, actually is a sundial? Only a hundred years ago, one was supposed to have pale skin, not tanned skin!
This glorious light above us contains many features, and has puzzled man's mind for thousands of years. Everything that changes in the heavens, like a meteor, a comet, or an eclipse of the sun or the moon, have been taken as warning signs, and may be the main reason why reports of ancient solar observations are so rare.
It has been told that naked-eye observations can be traced back to chinese astronomers in the year 28 BC. The greek astronomer Teofrastus from Athens saw some small, black spots of the surface of the sun in the year 300 BC. Aristoteles meant that the surface was clean and white, so what was this? Alas, nobody really cared about Teofrastus' observations! Aristarchos, mentioned below, and Teofrastus was therefore forgotten, and old faith and conviction made the astronomy a fall-back it did not return from for about 1800 years!
It may be possible that the greek philosopher Anaxagoras observed a spot in 467 BC, but according to the unchangeable heavens mentioned above, this could well be a concealed event of the times. Most philosophers meant that the sun was no grater than a shield and that it floated just above the clouds. Anaxagoras was sent to jail, when he said that the sun was greater than the peninsula of Peloponnes.
Aristoteles had a geocentric view of the solar system, but the greek Aristarchos from Samos (310-230 BC) decided that the sun was much greater than the earth, and the distance was 7 million kilometres and that the stars were far away. He was in deed into something there!
In 1607; Johannes Kepler saw a spot via a camera obscura, thought was the planet Mercury; but was in deed a sunspot.
Galileo Galilei; 1564-1642; born in Pisa, Italy, physicist and astronomer
The first real observations, however, did not occur until Galileo Galilei invented the telescope in 1610. They were first observed by Galileo and Thomas Harriot in 1610, and Johannes and David Fabricius and Christoph Schreiner in 1611; Galileo himself did not undertake the studies until April 1612.
Galileo's. first observations were performed in November 1610.
In 1612 he wrote this: "After having made several observations, I am now convinced that the spots are near the sun'surface, where they are formed all the time and are then resolved again." He also noted that the spots took 14 days to travel from east to west. So he meant that was because the sun rotates in 28 days. Nearly right!!!
Schreiner, who studied the sunspots very intense, was followed up by France Pierre Gassendi who published his studies in 1658, and in Gdansk, Poland, Johannes Hevelius in 1647, and Battista Riccioli in 1651 did the same publications.
A comprehesive, though typical, sunspotdrawing from the hand of Christoph Schreiner in 1611. When reporting
of his observations, he was told something was wrong with his eyes, - since Aristoteles did not mention anything
about sunspots! Schreiner, however, was fortunately not convinced, and made this drawing!
We may therefore say that the first reasonable coverage of solar observations, starts in the year 1610, just by the time the famous Maunder minimum starts, later referred to as Maunder minimum (Edward Walter Maunder 1851-1928). Maunder studied the long-term variations of sunpsot cycles.
The great astronomer William Herschel studied the sunspots at the end of the 18th century. He thought that the sun was covered in glowing clouds and that the spots were holes in the clouds making it possible to observe the dark landscape beneath.
In 1843 a german amateur astronomer noted that the spots did not appear of disappear accidently, and that there were especially many spots each 11th year.
The pioneer in modern solar astronomy, is under no doubt George Ellery Hale (1868-1938), who built the first spectroheliograph, and also Yerkes and Mount Wilson observatories.
Every living organism on Earth depends on our glorious, glowing Sun. Without it, Earth would be a cold, lifeless place in the Universe. Man has always understood this fact, therefore they have worshipped the sun in thousands of years.
If you once should come upon the chance of being stunned watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset over a glorious scene of nature which our World is so full of, think yourself back in time and try to understand why.
revised with illustrations, 24Mar98
e-mail: w e b m a n a g e r @ c v - h e l i o s . n e t
(with spaces here to avoid spam)