The Sun is the center of our solar system, the star that all the planets revolve around. It provides light, heat, and energy to all living things. No wonder it has special religious and symbolic significance, including the rising (renewal) and setting (endings) sun. The Sun is special for many cultures, Japan’s very name meaning “land of the rising Sun.”
Is Our Sun the Only One?
The Sun is the star that is the center of our solar system. The other planets revolve around it and obtain energy from its rays. The Earth is at the right distance with the right qualities to provide the qualities needed to sustain life. The Sun, however, is of central importance.
In science fiction, we often learn about other “suns,” which in many cases provide life in other solar systems. A “sun-like” star that might sustain life is quite possible, according to actual scientists. We have yet to learn about a sun that does sustain life other than our own, but if such life was sentient enough, perhaps they too have symbolism related to their sun.
Sun Worship Is Not Just About Tanning
The sun is the source of light, the energy that causes things to grow, warmth to keep chills away, and appears to dominate the sky. The sun symbolizes all these things. Their essential nature to life itself also is an important influence of religious symbolism. The sun has a divine side.
For instance, multiple major Ancient Egyptian gods (including Ra and Bastet, often represented in cat form) were associated with the sun. The “breadbasket” of Ancient Rome having a special place for sun-related deities is far from surprising.
One pharaoh made a form of Ra, Aten, the primary official god of the kingdom. It was an early, if short-lived, form of monotheism (worship of one god) in ancient times. Pharaoh Akhenaten’s hymn to Aten in part declared:
You rise beautiful from the horizon on heaven,
living disk, origin of life.
You are arisen from the horizon,
you have filled every land with your beauty.
Many other cultures, including Native Americans, also worshiped deities with qualities related to the sun. The sun rising and setting each day symbolizes renewal.
There are some scholars who argue that the Christian belief in resurrection was at least in some fashion (how much is controversial; see, for example, the writings of Bart Ehrman) influenced by such beliefs.
The sun also needs to be respected for its potential harms. Hercules supposedly was so annoyed at the heat of the sun, he dared shoot an arrow at sun god Helios, the Greek god who rode his chariot through the sky. The sun can symbolize painful things.
The heat that the sun symbolizes includes the heat of the desert and the hot sun that bears down as people toiled in the fields.
Why Was Louis XIV Called the “Sun King”?
King Louis XIV (1638-1715) reigned for over seventy years, impressive in itself.
The “sun king” name is perhaps appropriate for a royal whose parents named him “Dieudonné” or “God given.”
Louis chose the sun as his personal emblem, his own symbol. This was the age of absolute, all powerful monarchs, and the sun gave life to all things. The king who said “the state, it is me,” would naturally think everyone revolved around him.
The sun also was a symbol of the Roman god Apollo, also known as god of peace and the arts. Louis XIV also saw himself as a patron and provider of such things.
Sun As The Center of the Solar System
Louis’ choice was timely.
The sun would be an important symbol no matter what, but by his time, it was well accepted that the sun was the center of the solar system. The planets revolved around the sun. The widespread acceptance of this principle made it oh so much clearer what Louis was trying to say by associating himself with the sun in this picture.
The traditional view was that the earth was the center of the solar system, which seemed to be true by observation and matched biblical texts. The earth centric view is symbolic in its own way. It suggests we are the center of all things, with all that suggests. The idea that maybe we were but one of many planets revolving around the sun is more modest.
What Do Sunrises and Sunsets Symbolize?
We learned above that the rising sun symbolizes renewal.
Certain Native Americans believe sun dances are very important ceremonies to promote renewal for their tribe, people and earth. The seasons, including the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of sunlight, also are very important markers of the sun’s role.
Each day, the sun rises and sets, providing a study of its importance in miniature. The rising and setting of the sun represents the cycle of life. If the rising sun symbolizes renewal, the setting sun represents decline. The “sunset of one’s life” can mean old age. The “sunset” of a contract would be the end of it.
The Rising Sun Armchair
Benjamin Franklin was the Mark Twain of his time. Always good for a witty anecdote.
One takes place at the end of the Constitutional Convention. James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” remembered Franklin looking at the chair where George Washington sat while presiding over the whole thing. On the back of the chair is a sun symbol.
Franklin said that during the Convention he wasn’t sure if the sun was rising or setting. But, at the successful completion of the ratification of the Constitution, Franklin was sure it was a rising sun. This symbolized the positive destiny of the U.S. Constitution and nation itself.
Why Is Japan Known as the “Land of the Rising Sun”?
“Japan” in its native language is “Nippon” or “where the sun rises.”
The name has roots from as far back as the 7th Century. The Japanese government sent a message to China: “From the Emperor of the land of the rising sun to the Emperor of the land of the setting sun.” In China, Japan was “the land of the rising sun.”
When the great European explorer Marco Polo went to China, this too was the name given to him. The red circle on the Japanese flag symbolizes the sun.
Later, the “rising sun flag” became a military symbol. The militaristic symbolism particularly obtained negative connotations after World War II. Others argue the flag has wider symbolism, including of childbirth and seasonal festivals.
Helios is a superhero who obtains his energy from the sun. Superheroes are symbols. They represent a range of things and surely pop up repeatedly on this website.
The Sun shines down on us all, providing us life, but continuously sets, showing we are not immortal. But, the Sun itself continues to rise once again. And, thus we have more time to honor all of its symbolic glory. Is it a rising or setting sun? Let’s say it is both.