In our third themed episode, we talk about sun goddesses!
天照 - Amaterasu:
Zoe: Hello and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts--
Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.
Zoe: And I'm Zoe. And today, it's December. The world's starting to get dark and cold as the sun starts to slip away--or at least, in the Northern Hemisphere. So in order to honor that, in order to bring a little brightness and warmth into your lives during these dark and cold months, we've got a wide array of sun goddesses to talk about and introduce you to today. Lizzie, take it away.
Lizzie: So, across mythologies, solar deities are most often seen as male, while lunar deities are most often seen as female.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: The sun is very often seen across religious motifs, and some cultures even developed religions that revolve around the sun, such as Egyptian, Indo-European, and Meso-American cultures. The sun is one of the most popular deities among the Indo-European peoples, and was a symbol of divine power. Sun heroes and sun kings occupy a central position in Indian mythology, and the Indo-European character of sun worship is seen in the conception of the solar deity, drawn in his carriage, generally by four white horses, common to Indo-European peoples, and recurring in Indo-Iranian, Greco-Roman, and Scandinavian mythology. So, during later periods of Roman history, sun worship was highly important and led to what has been called “solar monotheism,” where nearly all of the gods of the period were possessed of solar qualities, and Christ and Mithra, who was the Zoroastrian divinity of covenant, light, and oath, acquired the traits of solar deities. The sun is the bestower of light and life to the totality of the cosmos, representing knowledge and power as well as justice and enlightenment. The sun is the source of wisdom. With this in mind, it makes sense that in patriarchal cultures, the sun would most often be seen as a man. However, there are several cultures where the sun is envisioned as female. In today’s episode, we will go over a few sun goddesses across the world’s mythologies, and see the ways that the conception of a sun goddess is similar and where it differs.
Lizzie: So--yeah. So to start off, one culture where the sun is envisioned as female is Basque.
Lizzie: Which, women have the leading role in the Basque mythological world, interestingly.
Lizzie: So, the Basque sun goddess is called Eguzki, also known as Eki. And she--so, according to tradition, when the Earth was immersed in darkness, humans begged Ama Lurra, the earth goddess, so basically the main goddess of the Basque pantheon--
Zoe: Uh huh.
Lizzie: --for help to fight the spirits that threatened them. Ama Lurra attended to their requests and gave birth to her daughter the Moon, or Ilargi. So humans thanked Ama Lurra for the moon’s light, but it wasn’t enough to protect against evil. So, humans pleaded for more light and something that could overcome the darkness. So Ama Lurra then gave birth to another daughter, the Sun, which is how daylight was born. So, then, during the daytime, no wicked spirits threatened humans. However, when the sun sets and night starts, evil comes out and continues to threaten humans.
Lizzie: So Ama Lurra created the Eguzkilore flower, scientific name carlina acaulis, uh, it means "sun flower"--eguzkilore, lore means flower, Eguzki is the sun, and it's often found hung on doors outside people's homes to keep evil away.
Zoe: Wow, that's super cool.
Lizzie: Isn't it?
Lizzie: It, like, I don't know how to describe flowers, but it looks kinda like a daisy, but the flower--like, the petals are all white.
Lizzie: Yeah, it's very nice.
Zoe: So does it, like, have a big yellow center?
Lizzie: Actually no, and it--I think it was, like, uh, dark in the middle.
Zoe: Interesting! Okay.
Lizzie: Yeah! So the legend has it that the Lamiak, which were creatures from Basque folklore, would go out at night in order to take away children from their homes. However, if they wanted to enter, they had to count the number of petals of the flower and say it loudly.
Lizzie: Since they didn’t know how to count, they could not get into houses through the night. So, this is how people used to protect themselves from evil, traditionally.
Zoe: Wow. That's very--
Lizzie: Because it has so many petals (laughs).
Zoe: So that's super interesting--
Lizzie: Isn't it?
Zoe: --cause we had the vampire episode where vampires loved to count.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly! (laughs)
Zoe: Now we have these creatures that can't count, so the opposite. And either way counting, like, saves the day.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly! (laughs) Cause it's like, in one way, they love to count, so they'll just sit there forever, and in this way, they can't count, so they just can't do anything about it.
Zoe: They get stuck! Yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. The Ancient Basques lived in harmony with nature; they were part of Nature and they worshipped it as a whole. They thought--they thought that all of nature’s elements have a soul and a life of their own. That is the origin of an old expression, which goes, "What has a name has a soul."
Lizzie: Yeah, so it's pretty interesting. So, in Basque mythology, Ama Lurra, which means "Mother Earth," is the most important goddess, and Eguzki Amandrea, the Grandmother Sun, and Ilargi Amandrea, the Grandmother Moon, are her daughters.
Lizzie: So every day, they rise from the underground and, after crossing the sky, they return underground. When the Sun is setting in the west, some people in small villages say their farewells by saying: “The Mother Sun returns with her Mother …” Which I thought was pretty nice.
Zoe: That's cute, yeah.
Lizzie: It's actually pretty nice how, um, like, the worship of these goddesses is, like, embedded in the Basque language. Like, there's also an old expression that goes, um, "Someone has got it out," which refers to, like, the sun, the moon, or the wind. So instead of saying, like, "the wind blows," or whatever, it's like, "somebody is making the wind blow."
Lizzie: Yeah. And--
Zoe: That's so cool.
Lizzie: Isn't it? I think it's really cool. And also--yeah, so this expresses, in the Basque language, that someone performs the action making the wind blow or the sun come out. And when it rains they say, "someone produces the rain."
Lizzie: Isn't it?
Lizzie: So this shows an ancient devotion to these goddesses, like, embedded in their language.
Zoe: That's so fun.
Lizzie: Isn't it?
Zoe: So now we're gonna travel north--gonna go very far north. And we're gonna go to Sápmi, which is the northernmost part of what is now known as Finland, where they worship a goddess known as Beaivi. So Beaivi is the Sami goddess of the sun, spring, sanity, and fertility.
Zoe: Um--yes! And we're gonna talk about that. It's so interesting (laughs).
Lizzie: (overlapping) Interesting!
Zoe: Okay, and she's mainly depicted as female, but sometimes as male. And so she, um, is said to travel across the sky into spring along with her daughter, Beaivi-nieda, in an enclosure of reindeer bones and antlers, and they bring the spring along with them. And so she's associated in particular with the fertility of reindeer, she makes plants flourish so to the--so the reindeer can eat them and be healthy for human use. And that makes sense because reindeer are very important, um--
Zoe: --for the Sami people in Northern Finland. So, in Sápmi, which is north of the Arctic Circle, the sun hardly ever shines in the winter, and so therefore she plays a very important role in cult worship. So, for example, um, they sacrifice a white female animal, mainly a reindeer, to her on the Winter Solstice, in order to ensure that she will return and bring an end to winter. And then they also thread the animal's meat on sticks, which are then bent into circles and threaded with ribbons.
Zoe: Yeah. And so when the sun returns, they smear butter on their doorposts as a sacrifice. And so when it melts in the sun, um, it's said to strengthen Beaivi so that she can go higher in the sky. So everyday, like, the sun appears for a little, like--and after the Winter Solstice, the sun appears for a little, and everyday it appears a little bit more. Or at least that's what they say in the Moomins, which also takes place in Finland, so (both laugh). Uh, I mean, you know, theoretically. Anyway so, um, so, this is the very fun part. During this time of return, prayers are offered up for the mentally ill.
Zoe: Because, um, they bel--um, in Sami culture, they believe that that madness was caused by the lack of sunshine during the long winter! And they were totally right about that. Um, either as, like, through seasonal depression, which we all know--I think pretty much everyone knows about at this point, or, like, um, uh, you know, not getting enough, like, vitamins because of the sun not being there.
Lizzie: (overlapping) Like Vitamin D.
Zoe: Yeah, like not enough Vitamin D, and that affecting your health and causing things to happen. So, yeah. Um, I think that's super interesting, that, like, they have, as part of her, uh, renewal and energy and bringing the sun back, she's also, you know, helping people who are mentally ill and struggling, um, in particular.
Lizzie: (overlapping) That's beautiful.
Zoe: Yeah. And so--
Lizzie: (overlapping) That's a really nice association.
Zoe: Yeah. And I just--I think that's so cool. And it sort of, uh, ties into what you said earlier about the sun often being, like, the light, and of knowledge, and stuff--
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: --and of bringing people back into the light and, like, keeping them safe. Um, so, on--also, finally, on the Summer Solstice, they create sun rings out of leaves and pin them up in her honor. And they also eat butter as a sacred meal. So, year-round worship of her as the sun comes and goes, and, like, in the summer, the sun's always there, and in the winter, the sun's never there.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: But she's so important. And so I thought that she's really cool!
Lizzie: I think she's cool.
Lizzie: So my next lady is 天照 (Amaterasu). I'm not gonna say too much about her because we might talk about her in a future episode, but, so basically she's the Japanese goddess of the sun. She's the center of Shinto and Japanese spiritual life.
Lizzie: Her name can be translated as “Shines from Heaven." It’s made up of two Kanji, or Japanese ideographic characters, the first (天) meaning either heaven or imperial, and the second (照) meaning “shines”. Her primary role is as the goddess of the sun, meaning both that she serves as the literal sun in the sky, and also that she provides nourishment for all living creatures. The sun represents purity and also order, which are two of the most important concepts in Shinto.
Lizzie: Yeah! All things in creation are ordered, from Amaterasu down to the denizens of Jigoku and other hells.
Lizzie: In addition to that, the Japanese Imperial Family are said to be descended from Amaterasu, and from there a natural hierarchy occurred.
Zoe: Yeah. Mm hmm.
Lizzie: So, Amaterasu married her brother, Tsukuyomi, the moon. However, Tsukuyomi didn’t have Amaterasu’s natural glowing light, and whatever goodness he had was just reflected off of her light.
Lizzie: Yeah! Tsukuyomi killed a goddess called Uke Mochi, causing Amaterasu to banish him. And now night and day are forever separated.
Zoe: Yeah. It's also very interesting, cause, like, they know they--it sounds like they knew exactly how the moon was given light!
Lizzie: Yeah! Exactly, which is super interesting. Like, they were right.
Zoe: They were totally right! And that's so cool.
Lizzie: It is! Yeah, so I don't wanna say too much about her because we plan to cover her in a future episode, but I will say that Amaterasu is said to be similar to the Norse goddess Sól, a rare sun goddess in a world full of sun gods. Like Amaterasu, Sól is siblings with the moon and promotes order and harmony in the world.
Zoe: Yeah! So Sól is a very interesting character. Um, as Lizzie said, she's the Norse goddess of the sun and she's the sister of the moon, Máni, um, and the daughter of the god Mundilfari, which means, "the one moving according to particular times."
Zoe: So--and then she also has a husband named Glenr, um, which we don't--um, I don't know anything about him, but he exists.
Zoe: So basically, um, a few fun facts. Um, in the Poetic Edda, in a stanza called Vafþrúðnismál, it says that there is a shield between the sun and the earth called Svalinn, and if the shield were to fall from its position, the mountains and the oceans would burn up. And so that reminded me of, um, the part in our Chang'e episode--
Zoe: --with the suns who were all playing together, and accidentally destroyed the earth.
Zoe: The main myth surrounding Sól and Máni is that they are said to be chased through the sky by wolves, or two jotuns, which are frost giants, disguised as wolves, who seek to devour them and cast the world into eternal darkness. So their running path across the sky makes the days and nights.
Zoe: So, um, in the Prose-Edda by Snorri Sturluson, it is said that both Sól and Máni were born as real children, and their father said they were so beautiful that he named them after the sun and the moon. And they were seen as blasphemous, so they were place in Heaven and made to drive the horses that pull the chariots of the sun and the moon. And so those horses are named Árvakr and Alsviðr, which means "early awake" and "very quick."
Zoe: Which I thought was fun. And so then the chariots are chased by the wolves that threaten to devour them and the horses, and so the wolf that chases the sun is named Sköll, which means “treachery” or “mockery." And so that's basically their main position in Norse mythology is that we have the sun and the moon in their chariots, riding up and across the heavens, being chased by these wolves constantly.
Lizzie: Norse cosmology is so interesting. Like they have all these realms and everything--
Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Lizzie: Like, do you know where Sól and--who was the moon again?
Zoe: Um, Máni.
Lizzie: Yeah, do you know where they, like, lie in the whole world of Norse stuff?
Zoe: (overlapping) Um, no. I don't know. Um, I don't think they were in a specific world, though. I just think it was sort of in between.
Lizzie: (overlapping) Like, up in the sky?
Zoe: Yeah, I think they were probably sort of, like, in between Asgard and, um--
Zoe: Midgard, yes! Ugh, I forgot the name for the earth. But I don't know for sure, so I might be wrong. Anyway. So, eventually this does happen. They do get devoured by the wolves.
Zoe: And this happens during Ragnarok, which is the Norse end of the world. You know it from the hit movie. It's a great movie.
Lizzie: (laughs) Thor: Ragnarok.
Zoe: Anyway (laughs) Yes. Um, so, what happens is the sun is swallowed by the wolf, Fenrir, and the world is plunged into darkness. But before she dies, she quickly gives birth to a daughter. And that daughter grows in brilliance and strength and warmth, and eventually continues in her path and grows in the same light as her mother. And that--
Lizzie: What's the daughter's name?
Zoe: I don't think she has one.
Zoe: Or it's also Sól.
Zoe: And she illuminates the new world that is born after Ragnarok, as told in the Prose-Edda.
Zoe: So Sól is a bit different from some of the other women that we talk about in that she's primarily referred to as an object or a personification of the sun, rather than a full goddess that does actions and adventures on her own. And so it's actually possible that she was not even personified at all, and that the sun is feminine might just have to do with the linguistic structure of Old Norse.
Lizzie: Makes sense.
Zoe: And I thought that was also interesting because, um, as you mentioned before, oftentimes the sun is masculine and the moon is feminine, as we see in a lot of different mythologies, but that's not the case here. And we can also see it in languages, like, um, in French, "sun" is masculine, for "le soleil," and the moon is feminine for "la lune." Um, but in this case, we have moon being masculine and sun being feminine. Um, the sun may have been essential to early Norse religious practices, but there's really just not enough evidence to make a solid case for that. Um, the references to the personification primarily come from the Poetic Eddas, which, again, not enough evidence on their own to support the existence of a sun-worshipping cult. And so actually she's believed to be an extension of an earlier Proto-European deity, due to linguistic connections. So, some fun etymology.
Zoe: Linguistics. So, the name "Sól" is similar to the Sanskrit "Surya," the Common Brittonic "Sulis," the Lithuanian "Saulé," the Latin "Sol," and the Slavic Tsar Solnitse.
Lizzie: Slavic, such an over-achiever (laughs).
Zoe: Yeah (laughs). Yeah. So, I thought that was very cool.
Lizzie: It is very cool!
Zoe: Yeah. And so--
Lizzie: Cause it's a very, like, base, like, common word, like, common enough word that it would make sense that it would be common in, like, all Proto-European.
Zoe: Mm hmm. But yeah it shows that, you know, the worship--you mentioned before that the Proto--you know, like, Indo-European worship of the sun was very--was, like, common, and happened a lot.
Zoe: And so I think that, like, possibly through the linguistics, that can show that.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: Um, through these different--through the similarities of the name "Sól" to other, um, gods that we know of from other mythologies.
Lizzie: Yeah, because they all descended from the same, um, like, common people.
Lizzie: Like back, back into history.
Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah. So I think that the personification, or the depiction of Sól and the sun is very interesting from an analytical standpoint of the culture that was depicting her at the time. So Sól really--and the image of the sun and the moon constantly being chased on the heavenly path by wolves, or giants disguised as wolves, just really shows how uncertain and frightening life was for the early Nordic people.
Zoe: Um, you know, at any point it sort of seemed that their sun would disappear, would be swallowed by wolves, and then the world would be plunged into darkness and destruction. And I think that's especially, uh, prominent, considering--with the sun, considering how little sun they really got, considering how far north they were. And so the idea that the sun--one day, the sun just might never rise is really prominent in their myths about the sun.
Lizzie: It's a reasonable fear.
Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah. So, I think that's very interesting.
Lizzie: Yeah! So that leads us to our next lady, who is the Cherokee Sun Goddess. So, many Native American legends view the sun as male, and the Cherokee are one of the few who view it as female. So her name is sometimes given as Unelanuhi, and sometimes she is nameless. Um, there--she is involved in a story that envisions her as an old woman with a grown daughter. And I think it's really interesting that she's envisioned as an old woman, because--
Lizzie: --as we've talked about, in the past, like, being an old woman in mythology is often, like, a bad thing.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: Like, the whole, like, being ugly, being old, it's usually, like--
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: --associated with evil.
Zoe: Yeah. Or at least, like, associated with death, whereas the sun is so often associated with new life and rebirth.
Lizzie: Exactly! But anyway, the story goes: So the sun lived on the other side of the sky, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the earth. So every day, while the sun was climbing west along the sky, she would visit her daughter’s house for dinner.
Lizzie: Yeah! It's pretty nice.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: The sun was jealous of the moon because of his popularity, and because the people looked at him without squinting and smiled pleasantly at him in the night sky. So she decided to kill the people.
Lizzie: (laughs) Common, uh, solution.
Lizzie: Um, so, every day when she stopped at her daughter’s house, she sent down such blaring heat that fever broke out and hundreds of people died. So then the people went to the Little Men, who were friendly spirits, for advice, and they said the only way was to kill the sun.
Zoe: That's pretty interesting.
Lizzie: So, they made a plan to kill her as she stopped at her daughter’s house. The Little Men changed one man into a water monster, called the great Uktena, and another one into a rattlesnake. However, the rattlesnake acted too rashly and bit the daughter instead of waiting to kill the sun herself. So the daughter died, and the great Uktena was very angry. He was so angry that he was a danger to the people and they sent him to the underworld.
Zoe: Oh no! (laughs) So the whole plan just went totally awry.
Lizzie: (laughs) Yeah, exactly. So, the sun found her daughter dead and shut herself in her house and grieved for her. The people were no longer suffering from the heat, but they now lived in darkness. By the way, does that remind you of anything?
Lizzie: It reminded me of, um, Chang'e.
Zoe: Yeah! It also reminded me of Chang'e.
Lizzie: Everything goes back to her (laughs).
Zoe: Yeah! It does. And it's just--I think it's so interesting that, you know, you talked about how a lot of different Native American legends have the sun as a man, and this is one of the few instances of having the sun as a woman. But it's also not a very positive depiction of the sun.
Lizzie: Uh, yeah (laughs). She's a bit spiteful. It's a sad story for her. Anyway, so people went to the Little Men again for help, and they said that they must bring her daughter back from the underworld.
Lizzie: So this story is kinda similar to, um, Orpheus a little bit.
Zoe: Yeah, it sure is!
Lizzie: As you'll see.
Zoe: Oh no. That's not good (laughs).
Lizzie: So, seven men made the journey. They were told to take a box, and for each man to take a wooden rod a handbreadth long. When they got to the underworld, they were told they could find the sun’s daughter at a dance with the rest of the ghosts. They were told that when they saw the sun’s daughter, they should strike her with the rods and put her in the box to bring her back to her mother. But they must not open the box even a crack until they arrived home.
Zoe: Uh huhh.
Lizzie: (laughs) So, they began their journey back to the earth with the box containing the sun’s daughter. When the sun’s daughter regained consciousness, she begged to be let out, crying that she was hungry, but the men didn’t lift the lid. When the sun’s daughter said that she was smothering, they feared she was really dying, so they cracked open the lid just a little.
Lizzie: Yeah (laughs). So there was a fluttering sound, and something flew past them into the bushes. Then they heard a redbird cry. They shut the lid and continued home. But when they arrived back, the box was empty.
Lizzie: So, from this, we know that the redbird is the daughter of the sun. If the seven men had kept the box closed, as they were told, they would have brought her home safely, and today we would be able to bring loved ones back from the dead.
Lizzie: But now we are not able to bring back people who die.
Zoe: Wow. It's--it really--it's like a really interesting combination of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the myth of Pandora.
Lizzie: Yeah! Oh my God, you're totally right, I didn't make that connection.
Zoe: Cause it's like both bringing someone back from the dead, and it's like, don't open the box, jar, whatever.
Lizzie: So true, oh my God (laughs). Connection.
Zoe: And then both things don't work out.
Lizzie: Just--they go awry.
Zoe: Mm hmm. And it's also interesting that the redbird--do we know what kind of bird, like, it's--we think it is?
Lizzie: It just says "redbird."
Zoe: Okay. Cool!
Lizzie: Yeah, so, the sun was so grieved when they came back without her daughter that she wept, and her tears caused a great flood.
Lizzie: (laughing) Does that remind you of anything we've talked about before?
Zoe: I mean, it reminds me of every culture in the world that has a story about a great flood, which there are many (laughs).
Lizzie: Well, it reminded me of--
Zoe: Oh! It-it reminded you of--
Lizzie: Erzulie Freda, and Ọba.
Zoe: Yes! And, um, yeah.
Lizzie: Episodes, um--
Zoe: (overlapping) Nine and ten, nine and ten! Yes!
Lizzie: Yeah (both laugh). So--so. The people sent their handsomest young men and women to amuse the sun, and they danced and sang for her. But for a long time she paid no attention. Suddenly the drummer changed the song, and the sun looked up and was so pleased at the sight of the beautiful people that she forgot her grief and smiled.
Lizzie: The end.
Lizzie: I love this story; I think it's so interesting.
Zoe: It's got a lot of twists and turns.
Lizzie: It really does (both laugh).
Zoe: Um, one thing I think is interesting is that she doesn't go down to the Underworld herself. She sends people to do it.
Lizzie: (overlapping) Yeah, I know. Cause--well, it's kinda their fault in the first place.
Lizzie: They have to fix everything.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: It's all up to humanity.
Zoe: And there's the question of, you know, had she gone down, would she have been able to accomplish it? But then maybe she wouldn't have been, cause if her daughter's saying she's hungry and she's suffocating--
Zoe: Is she gonna be able to resist that? You know.
Zoe: Yeah. So, I don't know.
Lizzie: And it's interesting that we saw so many different connections to, like, various other mythologies.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: Cause we talked about Chang'e, Ọba, like, everyone.
Lizzie: Which is very interesting.
Lizzie: Cause there's no, like, no historical connections, to my knowledge, so.
Zoe: And that's a--I really like that. It's a story about--it's not--it doesn't just end with her being sad, you know?
Lizzie: No, she--I like how at the end everyone's trying to cheer her up.
Zoe: (overlapping) It ends with happiness.
Lizzie: Like, everyone's, like, banding together to, like--
Lizzie: --make her feel better, like that's just--that's so nice.
Zoe: Yeah! And so even though, like, the relationship--and it's interesting, cause it all started because she was upset that the people didn't love her.
Lizzie: So true!
Zoe: And then so the people are showing now that they--they do love her, by cheering her up. And so, like, maybe, like, that's what really, like, made her happy at the end was that she saw that other people cared about her.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly! You're so right. And that's beautiful; that's a beautiful end to the--
Lizzie: --kind of sad story.
Zoe: Mm hmm. So actually, um, my next lady also involves a story into the Underworld.
Zoe: So she is named Shapash, and she's the Phoenician goddess of the sun, also sometimes called "the Torch of the Gods." So she, um, being the goddess of the sun, was not actually the most important goddess. She was more of a messenger goddess. She was sent--often sent on errands by El, who was the supreme god of the Canaanite Pantheon, and Anat, the goddess of war, who we should also do an episode on cause she's pretty cool.
Lizzie: Yes (laughs).
Zoe: So--and she's also, um, a psychopomp, she leads souls into or out of the Underworld. So she sounds a lot like our boy Hermes.
Lizzie: Oh yeah!
Zoe: Um, by being, uh, both a messenger and the person who guides souls into the Underworld.
Lizzie: Also made me think of Hecate. Like--
Lizzie: --delivering Persephone to the Underworld, and all that.
Zoe: Yeah, that's so true. So this is a example of the concept of the sun travelling into and out of the Underworld, which is found in a few other cultures, such as Egyptian Mythology, which has the sun descend into the Underworld every night. But that's a male god, so we're not talking about him. Anyway (both laugh). So, um--but I think that the idea of the sun descending into the Underworld is very interesting, and I--we can talk about that more.
Zoe: So, there's one particular story, um, that she's associated with. It's in the greater story, the Epic of Ba'al, um, and Shapash takes Anat into the Underworld to see the tomb of Ba'al, who is the storm god and Anat's husband or brother, depending on the story.
Lizzie: But not both.
Zoe: I don't know.
Lizzie: Okay (both laugh).
Zoe: It--it could--um, but--so Ba'al had been fighting against Mot, the god of the intense heat of the dry season and sterility. And he was also the ruler of the Underworld. And eventually, um, he had been killed by Mot and sent to the Underworld. So, um, at Ba'al's tomb, Shapash wept so much that she became drunk on her tears like wine. Which is also interesting--
Lizzie: This is so--this is such a common motif among mythology, isn't it? (both laugh)
Lizzie: Women crying so much--
Zoe: That something happens. Which I think is so cool, cause, you know, everyone makes fun of crying women, but their tears actually do something.
Lizzie: (overlapping) It's powerful!
Zoe: It's powerful.
Lizzie: They create rivers, they flood the world--
Zoe: (overlapping) They flood--yeah! It's so cool. So, she stops shining as the sun in mourning of Ba'al's death, until Anat convinces her to shine again. And so eventually she's able to retrieve Ba'al from the Underworld, and the clutches of Mot, and returns him to Anat. Um, and she's able to do that through her power of leading souls into or out of the Underworld, cause she's travelling in and out, so she can grab him. Basically.
Zoe: Um, so she's generally an ambivalent god. Which, um, I think represents the complex relationship that people in a very hot land will have with the sun.
Lizzie: That's fair.
Zoe: So--yeah, it's necessary for life, but it's deadly to life at times. It allows crops to grow, but could cause them to wither. And sometimes she will ally herself with Mot, so like, some points--like, while Ba'al is considered dead and the sun still--basically during a drought, she's allied with Mot. And basically, dries everything up. And the other times, she allies herself with Ba'al and Anat, and allows for rain and storms. And it's said that when she allies herself with Mot, that's likely a reference to the intensity of the sun of the Summer Solstice. Yeah, so Ba'al is eventually restored and battles with Mot, but Shapash convinces Mot to concede, allowing Ba'al to be victorious. And so that gives her a role as the judge of the gods, and the ultimate savior of mankind, despite her ambivalence.
Lizzie: Oh, that's nice!
Zoe: I think, you know, also shows again the essentiality of the sun, and the fact that it's needed for everything.
Lizzie: For life, often for--
Zoe: For life to exist.
Zoe: Yeah. And again, like, you know, the symbolism of the sun, like you said earlier about the sun bringing light and knowledge is like the sun, you know, bringing judgement, and she's able to see things clearly through, like, the light of the sun.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: So that's Shapash. I think she's pretty cool.
Lizzie: She is. And you don't hear much about Phoenician mythology, do you?
Zoe: No, not really. Yeah, and this is old-old stuff.
Lizzie: Yeah, I bet.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: Another mythology you don't hear too much about, um, Aboriginal Australia mythology. So, the--okay, so, our next goddess is Yhi, possibly pronounced differently; I couldn't find a pronunciation for that, so sorry if I'm pronouncing it wrong, but. Yhi was an Aboriginal sun goddess from Australia, specifically associated with the Gamilaraay people, who are one of the four largest indigenous nations in Australia.
Lizzie: So, there are a few different stories involving her that I found. One says that she is a wanton woman who overtook her enemy, the Moon--yeah.
Lizzie: It's interesting, because usually they're not quite enemies, I feel like.
Lizzie: The sun and the moon.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: Well, I guess that doesn't--cause Amaterasu as well.
Zoe: (overlapping) Well that--yeah.
Lizzie: Well, anyway. She tried to kill him, but humans prevented it. Another says that Yhi made advances on the moon, who wasn’t interested, and now she chases him across the sky.
Lizzie: Yeah! This also explains why eclipses occur, because the sun is overtaking the moon.
Lizzie: I love when these, like, myths explain, like, you know, like--
Lizzie: Natural phenomenons--phenomena.
Zoe: Yeah, for sure.
LIzzie: Anyway, so, then the other story about her, which I really, really like (laughs). So, there's a story about her where she creates the animals.
Lizzie: So. Yhi was asleep in Dreamtime, which was a hazy timeless dream that existed before the world began.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: So she awoke in a world of complete darkness, and her very existence brought light to the world. She walked all around the Earth and flowers sprang from her footprints. She looked around in caves and butterflies appeared. In the shadows, she sensed spirits that yearned for existence, so she created animals, then left, satisfied.
Zoe: Oh that reminds me, kind of, of, um, the story in Genesis of God creating the earth and animals, because, um, at the end, it's always like, and God saw that it was good.
Lizzie: Oh, yeah!
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: And she was like oh yeah, this looks good, and then she left.
Lizzie: Well, so, apparently Yhi was bad at anatomy--
Zoe: Oh no!
Lizzie: --and the creatures she created didn’t have legs, feet, or wings, and couldn’t move anywhere.
Zoe: Oh no! (laughs)
Lizzie: So they called upon her for help. So she came back and added wings and legs and fins and whatever else. However, since her anatomical skills were not excellent, Australia ended up with strange and interesting wildlife.
Zoe: Oh my gosh! (laughs)
Lizzie: Like the platypus, emu, and kangaroo.
Zoe: That's incredible!
Lizzie: Isn't it just? (laughs) I love that.
Zoe: That's such a good story!
Lizzie: Isn't it? So there was also a human man, who was also strange, walking around on just two legs. He was shunned by all, so, out of compassion, Yhi gave him a companion. She now had much more practice creating creatures, so she took a beautiful flower stalk and created the first woman.
Lizzie: I love that story (Zoe laughs). It's like, man is the first draft, and then you have the beautiful women from the flower.
Zoe: Yeah. I also--I mean, like, it's so funny. Like literally, she was bad at anatomy, and--
Lizzie: (laughing) I love--
Zoe: It's the perfect--just the perfect way to explain a platypus.
Zoe: Like, ugh, how did an animal like a platypus be created? I love them, but how?
Lizzie: (overlapping) It just--it just happens when a god isn't good at anatomy! (both laugh) I love that, I love that for her.
Lizzie: Because mostly they're quite, like, infallible, but she's, like yeah, bad anatomy.
Lizzie: And that's why you have such weird creatures roaming the land.
Zoe: Yeah, it's like, literally, you know--and it's just--it's so, like, you know, the area, you know, the island, there's so many unique species that are not found anywhere else.
Zoe: And so it's just so unique to the area to be like, oh there was a goddess who was, you know, kind of bad at anatomy (Lizzie laughs) so she created all these weird animals, like you don't really hear that anywhere else because there's not just such a unique, like, diversity of wildlife!
Lizzie: Exactly, like, it makes total sense.
Lizzie: I love that.
Zoe: It's so cool, yeah.
Lizzie: I think it's so fun.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: So that's Yhi.
Zoe: Yeah. Yeah! Alright. And our final lady today is Olwen. And so she's a Welsh flower and sun goddess, and her name means "golden wheel," which is believed to refer to the sun.
Lizzie: So, she's the goddess of flowers and the sun?
Zoe: Yeah, and kinda like springtime in general.
Lizzie: Kinda reminds me of Eguzki, because she has that flower named after her.
Zoe: Right, yes! And so actually, when Olwen walks, white trefoil clover flowers spring up wherever her feet steps.
Lizzie: That's so many connections today.
Zoe: Yeah! I mean, it's so cool. And so she's likely an ancient goddess whose original stories and powers have been lost, and the story that remains is told in the Mabinogion, which is the earliest prose stories of the literature in Britain, composed in Middle Welsh. Which I think is fun, that the earliest prose stories of the literature in Britain is actually Welsh. But anyways (Lizzie laughs). Alright, so this story is told in the Culhwch ac Olwen, which is considered by some to be the earliest story in the Arthurian canon, fun fact!
Lizzie: Oh, Arthurian canon! Cool!
Zoe: (overlapping) Yeah! Because there's a character that's, like, um, yeah. You'll--you'll hear--anyways. So she is the daughter of the giant, uh, Yspadadden Penkawr, which means "giant hawthorne tree." And he was destined to die if she ever married. So in order to avoid this, he set 39 very difficult tasks that all suitors needed to complete in order to marry her.
Lizzie: Love that.
Zoe: So many had--many tried anyway, all of them failed. So then, the hero of the story, Culhwch, enlisted the help of his cousin, King Arthur--
Zoe: And also a shepherd named Custennin, who's also the--like, the disowned brother of Yspadadden. So they go to meet Olwen, and Culhwch and Olwen fall in love instantly, but Culhwch still has to complete the tasks. But, he does! He managed to complete all the tasks in time for marriage on May Day, which is the beginning of the Celtic summer.
Zoe: Yeah, so most of the story in the Mabinogion, in that section, is, um, about him completing all the tasks, but, yeah.
Lizzie: I feel like if you want people not to marry your daughter, you shouldn't set some heroic tasks--
Lizzie: --cause then it's gonna be like--
Zoe: Cause then it's like, everyone's gonna try!
Zoe: You know they were like--and then they were like, I wasn't--I wasn't gonna try, but, like, now you've made it hard, and I wanna see if I can do it, you know.
Lizzie: This was probably the age of, like, people trying to prove themselves and, like, be heroes and everything.
Zoe: (overlapping) Mm hmm. Yeah! Yeah, I mean, it's like the same--I mean, it's, like, a very similar story, it reminds me of Perseus, it reminds me of Oedipus. You know, like--and also, I mean, just trying to avoid fate anyway, like, you know. It's just gonna happen. You just gotta go with it.
Zoe: Yeah. Um, so, yes, exactly, so on their wedding day, or around their wedding day, Yspadadden is decapitated, as is foretold, and his blood drips red like hawthorne berries, representing that the year has passed, and a new year begins.
Zoe: So, some other things about Olwen. She's said to always leave behind rings when she bathes. Like, actual rings, like, what you wear on your finger.
Zoe: And they spread warmth and light of the sun to whoever finds them. And that's kind of the only thing we really know about her. The rest remains secret.
Lizzie: So if you find a ring in the forest, or wherever, it's, like--
Zoe: Yeah. Yeah, and it's, like, warm, and light, yeah.
Lizzie: That's nice.
Zoe: She rules the Underworld, the earth, and the heavens, and so she goes into the Underworld in the fall, and emerges from the Underworld every May Day, bringing the sun, flowers, and spring with her, which, you know, sounds familiar.
Lizzie: Yes, it sounds like, uh, Persephone.
Zoe: Yeah, mm hmm. So, um, it shows the rebirth of life and light from the death and darkness of winter, and it's the connection again of the sun and the Underworld interacting as we had with Shapash. And her power over the sun unites the earth and the heavens. So, that's Olwen, a very cool little lady from Welsh mythology.
Lizzie: Very nice!
Zoe: Yeah! So, one of my thoughts about, um, like, listening to these stories is the different views of sun goddesses depending on the location.
Lizzie: Like the climate and everything.
Zoe: Yeah! So, mainly--yeah, so like in very cold, darker areas, sun gods are more venerated and glorified. So an example is Beaivi, in Sápmi, and Olwen, in Wales, who are both seen as, you know, bringers of life and light, springtime, and good things. And compared to Shapash, who is a lot more ambivalent and less good, and she is a goddess from an area that's a lot warmer, um, a bit more desert, and a lot more, uh, inclined to extremely hot temperatures.
Zoe: Um, so I thought that was really interesting.
Lizzie: Like I--I was thinking about that as well when you were talking about, uh, Shapash.
Zoe: Um, I also, again, was--I thought the use of old women as, um, sun goddesses was very interesting. In particular--
Lizzie: (overlapping) And often as mothers as well.
Zoe: Yeah! And we saw it twice in yours, we saw it with, um, with Eguzki.
Lizzie: And also with the Cherokee Sun Goddess, cause she was like--
Zoe: Yeah, and the Cherokee Sun Goddess was another.
Lizzie: --cause she had a daughter.
Zoe: Yeah. And so I just think that's, you know, like, cause I said, you know, um, in the case of, like, Olwen, she's, you know, like, the maiden, and like light and rebirth, um, and--but, like, for--to have, like, an older woman represent the sun is also interesting.
Lizzie: (overlapping) I mean, it makes sense because the sun is so ancient.
Zoe: Yeah! That was exactly what I was thinking. You know, is that the sun is--it's been worshipped for so long, it's been around for so long, you know, to have an older woman represent it, sort of, seems to, like, acknowledge, you know, how long it's been there, and how much, like, a goddess would have to be--would have been around in order to, you know, keep the sun going.
Lizzie: Yeah! I also find it interesting that every sun goddess is seen to be a counterpart of the moon. And like, the sun deity in general, I feel like.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: And this is, like, seemingly universal across mythologies. Like, sometimes the sun is a sibling, sometimes, like, part of a couple.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: Sometimes they're enemies, but like, either way, like, every single sun deity, basically, we talked about--
Lizzie: Right? Was, like, a counterpart to the moon.
Zoe: Yeah! Yeah, and I--I forgot--I didn't write her down, but there was--there is, like, a moon maiden in, um, Welsh mythology that Olwen is, like, sort of considered a counterpart to.
Lizzie: That's cool, cause I do feel like every time there's a sun and a moon, it's, like, usually opposite genders.
Lizzie: So Eguzki and then also Olwen, they're part of, like--
Lizzie: You know, two women.
Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah. And I thought the differing relationships of the sun and the moon, depending on the mythology, was interesting. Like, sometimes they were siblings, sometimes they were married, sometimes they were enemies, you know. I think that's interesting.
Lizzie: It is very interesting.
Zoe: The different ways in which they were associated. And, like, how people have, like, always associated the sun and the moon together, and it's not, like, oh, there was a sun, and, like, the moon was whatever, you know, like.
Lizzie: Yeah, like, every single mythology associates them in some way.
Zoe: (overlapping) A totally different thing. Mm hmm, and--
Lizzie: That's what we were talking about in the Chang'e episode, of, like, yin and yang. Like, they compliment each other.
Lizzie: Like, it's a part of a whole.
Zoe: Yeah! Yeah, and it's part of, like, the symbolism of the yin and yang, isn't it? Like, the, the sun and the moon.
Lizzie: I believe yes.
Zoe: Light and dark, yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly!
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: So, it kind of makes sense.
Lizzie: Even though we know, like, modern ideas about astronomy--
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: That it's, like--I mean, they're quite far away from each other (laughs).
Zoe: Yeah, they're quite different things.
Zoe: But in the end, they're both the things that give us light.
Lizzie: And they still--we still, even now, like, sort of refer to them as being opposites, or, like part of a whole, or whatever.
Lizzie: Like, sun versus moon, you know?
Zoe: Yeah! For sure, yeah. Like, um, you know, if people are listing opposites, they'll be, like, oh, they're as different as the sun and the moon.
Zoe: And things like that, you know.
Lizzie: Exactly. I also find it interesting that the sun is, in all these stories, basically, like, an intrinsically, like, part of nature.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: And often sun goddesses are seen as sort of a mother nature figure.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: A figure who brings life and light to the world--
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: --and is often associated with creations stories, and stories about how the world is the way that it is. I saw that a lot in my stories that I was telling.
Zoe: Mm hmm.
Lizzie: And I don't know, I just found that so interesting.
Lizzie: Like, we always, like--oh, this is how it is. This is why you can't bring people back from the dead, or, like--
Lizzie: --why Australia has such a weird, like, animals.
Zoe: Yeah. I think it's just such an essential part of, like, human mythology, is the sun. Because, like I said, you know, you can't live without the sun.
Zoe: It's always been there. And, like, no matter where you are in the world, there--the sun is there.
Zoe: Even if you're as far north as Sápmi.
Lizzie: Mm hmm.
Zoe: You know, like--and the sun will be there, at least part of the time, or at least a lot of the time during the summer.
Zoe: It'll, like, never set. But, like, yeah. And so, like, even if you know you don't all have the same animals, or the same trees, or the same, like, geography, you always have the sun.
Lizzie: Exactly! And the moon.
Zoe: Yeah! You're always lookin at the moon.
Zoe: Or the sun. Don't look at the sun.
Lizzie: (laughing) Don't look at the sun!
Zoe: Don't--don't look at the sun! (laughs) Well, with that, that's the end of our third themed episode on sun goddesses! Thank you for listening. Please, if you enjoyed, subscribe and leave us a review, and maybe tell your friends too about how much you enjoyed the show! Thank you so much!
Lizzie: Yes, thank you!
Zoe: And see you next week! Bye!
Outro, underscored by music:
Lizzie: Mytholadies podcast is produced, researched, and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @Mytholadies, and visit us on our website at Mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening, see you next week!