Cultic Observance

The Sun is a god of regular habits, which he does not vary in response to human intercession. He can inspire joy and admiration, but no real anxiety. It is the moody gods, the ones liable to tantrums, the ones who rollick about and do not know their own strength, who are greater promoters of religious activity. When Helios in the Odyssey (12. 376-88) is outraged by the violation of his cattle, he can threaten to go and operate in the lower instead of the upper world, but he cannot send a storm upon the miscreants; he has to persuade Zeus to do that for him.

58 [Aesch.] fr. 192. From later classical verse cf. Stat. Theb. 3. 407-14; Nonn. Dion. 12. 6-14.

59 J. Lasicius (tasicki), De diis Samagitarum in Mannhardt (1936), 356, cf. 392 'was er von der Perkuna tete erzählt, sieht ganz so aus, als sei es aus einer Daina oder einer Pasaka (Märchen) geschöpft'; Usener (1896), 97; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 247; Mannhardt (1875), 76 no. 6, 303 f., 307.

60 Grimm (1883-8), 742 f.; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 245-7; Väna (1992), 62.

61 Posid. fr. 16 Theiler ap. Strab. 3. 1. 5; Tac. Germ. 45. 1. I doubt if von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 9, is justified in connecting this with the 'wake-up call' (slöka-) delivered by Savitr in RV 3. 54. 11; 4. 53. 3; 5. 82. 9; 7. 82. 10. '

Solar festivals, accordingly, are in general of a calendrical nature, celebrating significant dates such as the first day of spring/summer, or the longest or shortest day. They are characterized by activities that in some way imitate the behaviour of the sun. Solar symbols are displayed, fires lit on hilltops, fiery wheels rolled down slopes.

The oldest palpable evidence comes from Scandinavia, from those Bronze Age rock drawings found especially in western Sweden but also in parts of Norway and Denmark.62 Some of them show a large solar disc being set upon a stand, held aloft by men, adored, mounted on two wheels and drawn along by a horse or a pair of horses, or conveyed in a ship. One has the impression of rites in which the emblem of the sun was carried in procession or taken on a symbolic journey. The Trundholm sun-disc perhaps belongs in this context. It seems too small to have played a role in a public festival, but it might be seen as a model imitating a larger disc that was set on wheels and pulled by a real horse. One of the rock drawings shows a large wheel mounted on two smaller wheels with a shaft attached to its right-hand side, ready for a horse to pull it in that direction, and in Gotland a bronze disc was found together with bridle-pieces of two horses.63

In certain Indian rituals the sun was represented by a wheel, a gold plate, or a round white skin. At the winter solstice festival (Mahavrata) there was a struggle for the skin between an Aryan and a Sudra, who had to surrender it. A priest sat on a swing, facing east, and measured with his hand the small gap between its seat and the ground. Amid other mantras and ritual actions he whispered to the swing-seat 'you are the Sun!' The swing clearly symbolized the sun's seasonal change of declination, and the measuring indicated that it had reached its lowest point.64

Swinging is a recurrent feature of Indo-European springtime and midsummer festivities. In India, besides the Mahaavrata, it had a role in the springtime Dolayaatraa festival, at which an image of Krishna was swung to and fro on a swing three times a day. In Europe we find it in ancient Athens (the Aiorai, incorporated as part of the spring Anthesteria), Latium (the Feriae Latinae, April), modern Greece (around Easter), Russia and the Balkans (Easter), and Latvia (Easter and midsummer). A South Slavonic myth relates that as Grosdanka was swinging on Easter Day the Sun came down on his own invisible swing and carried her away up to heaven to make her his

62 de Vries (1956), i. 101-15; Gelling-Davidson (1969), 9-14; M. Green (1991), 43, 74-83; F. Kaul and C. Sommerfeld in Meiler (2004), 58-63, 66-9, 82.

64 Oldenberg (1917), 85 f., 443 f.; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 137-40; Oberlies (1998), 395, 423 n. 130. The sun is Varuna's 'golden swing' in RV 7. 87. 5.

wife.65 Here the ritual swinging performed by mortal girls is put in direct contact with the cosmic swinging of the Sun.

Hopping, jumping, and dancing are also characteristic of the spring and midsummer festivals.66 It is not so clear that these are meant as an imitation of something the Sun does. Yet there was a belief that the Sun does dance at certain times or on certain days. Lucian (De saltatione 17) says that the Indians greeted the Sun at daybreak with a silent dance in imitation of the god's dancing. In Germany and England the Sun was supposed to dance and leap on Easter morning, and people would go out early to observe the phenomenon. In the Baltic and Slavonic countries it was associated rather with Midsummer Day.67

Ring-dances, where the executants form a circle that rotates as they dance and sing, have a potential reference to the sun's movement, and it may be significant that in parts of Latvia such dances by women and girls, accompanied by cries of roto! ('turn, circle'), were customary at the beginning of spring. An association of ring-dances with the sun is also suggested by designs on Minoan seals.68 We think further of the 'circular dances' (kvkXioi x°p°l) that provided the Athenians with a traditional show at the spring Dionysia.

Bonfires are a typical feature of all the season-marking festivals: the beginning of summer, midsummer, the beginning of winter, and midwinter.69 Their analogy with the fire of the sun has often been noted. It becomes more pointed with the (mainly midsummer) custom, observed across Europe from Russia to Wales, of rolling a burning wheel or barrel down a hill, sometimes all the way to a river or lake in which it is extinguished. Records of the practice go back to the fourth century.70

Buns or cakes used in ritual may also symbolize the sun. In the Indian Vaajapeya sacrifice the animal victim was tied to a post, on top of which a wheel-shaped cake of grain was placed. Steps were set against the post, and the royal sacrificer climbed up, saying to his wife, 'Come, wife, let us go up to

65 von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 44, 129-50, 343-6, cf. 434 (a Greek version of the Grosdanka story); Frazer (1911-36), iv. 277-85.

67 Grimm (1883-8), 291, cf. 741; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 37, 43 f., 48 f., 104, cf. 109 f.; de Vries (1956), i. 358.

68 von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 124-8; Goodison (as n. 27), 138-40.

69 Grimm (1883-8), 612-28, 1466-8; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 201, 204 f., 211, 220-2, 225-40; Frazer (1911-36), x. 106-269; de Vries (1956), i. 461-3; Unbegaun (1948), 431 f., 440; Gimbutas (1971), 162; Väna (1992), 118, 241-4.

70 Acta S. Vincenti 1 in Zwicker (1934-6), 302 f. (Aquitania), cf. M. Green (1991), 59, 108; Grimm (1883-8), 619 f., 623, 627 f., 1467; Mannhardt (1905), i. 455, 463, 500 f., 507-11, 518-21, 537; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 155-9, 229 f., 234; Frazer (1911-36), x. 116-19, 141, 143, 161-4, 166, 173 f., 201, 334, 337 f.; Gelling-Davidson (1969), 143-5; Vaiia (1992), 62.

the sun'. At the top he took hold of the cake and said 'We have reached the sun, O gods!' Among some of the western Slavs in Upper Silesia round cakes called 'little suns' would be baked for Midsummer Day, offered to the Sun, and danced round in the fields. In Anglo-Saxon times, as Bede records, the offering of cakes to gods was the principal feature of Solmonath or 'Sun month' (February).71 Probably the hot cross buns that we associate especially with Easter perpetuate the ancient solar symbol of the cross-in-circle or four-spoked wheel.

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