Name, Pronunciation, & Meaning:
There are two extant names for this goddess in Old-English, either Sunne or Sōl. I typically opt to use Sunne but I know several heathens that use Sol, including Wodgar (Sundorwic). The argument could be made for either term.
Sunne, pronounced /ˈsun.ne/ (IPA), means Sun and is the root of our modern English word for the Sun.[i] Sunne is descended from Proto-Germanic *sunnǭ which comes from Proto-Indo-European *sh̥₂uén- which is itself from *sóh₂wl̥.[ii]
Sōl, pronounced /soːl/ (IPA), means Sun just as surely as Sunne does but it did not persist as a reference to the Sun into modern English.[iii] Sōl comes from Proto-Germanic as either *sōwulą or *sōwulō which comes from Proto-Indo-European as either *sewol- or *sóh₂wl̥.[iv] This means that in either case, *sóh₂wl̥ is likely the PIE root of both names.
The reasons I personally tend to use Sunne more often than Sōl are simple. Firstly, Sunne is the term that came down to modern English as Sun meaning it is far closer to my common vernacular. It is also closer to Sunna, which, despite the fact that Sól is another Norse term and most likely the more proper term for the goddess in Old Norse, it remains the more common name by Norse practitioners. Being surrounded by Norse heathens that say Sunna, it makes it easier to discuss the goddess with Norse practitioners if I use Sunne. However, either way you choose go, be it Sunne or Sōl, the goddess will answer you.
Anglo-Saxon Attestations and connections:
The romans had a sun god, Sol, but Sol gets complicated and this is why I decided to talk about Sol first. Sol goes through a kind of radical shift some time after the Republic falls and the Empire begins. In the Monarchy and the Republic, Sol was more of an agricultural god. But at some point during the imperial period, Sol seems to have been syncretized with Elagabalus, a middle eastern deity, and also potentially other entities until he became quite unlike the earlier Sol cult. Rome began worshipping Sol then as Sol Invictus, a remarkably dissimilar god to the one from the Monarchy.
Sol Invictus was not the same kind of deity as Sol originally was and yet fit the more war-like and far less agricultural Rome that the Empire had become. There came a point when farming was not in the realm of experience for the average Roman, having most of the grain come from over the sea and most domestic production being produced by slaves. In such a society, the agricultural world was not in the forefront of their minds as it once had been. This is an important point simply because of just how important the original Sol was for agriculture.
Further, Sol Invictus was one of the primary influences for Rome becoming Christian because he was indeed the major god for Constantine and Constantine’s father Constantius.[vii] There is some mild debate on the religion of Constantius as to if he was a monotheist, I will not get into that argument. What is more certain is his devotion to the sun god Sol Invictus. This he passed to Constantine who was very devoted to Sol Invictus and there is a lot about his understanding of Sol Invictus that he would pour into his understanding of Jesus later. With Constantine’s oversized role in early Christianity some of those choices that were made by him still resonate in the religion today. One only needs to look at the structure of the organization of the Catholic church and its location and function in Rome to begin to understand that there is much still of ancient Roman empire in the structure of its institutions and in the iconography it employs.
Because of all of this, I will not be looking at Sol Invictus any more and I will put that god out of my mind for this endeavor. Instead, I will seek to examine Sol as he existed during the Monarchy and the Republic, the original Sol.
Sol was a god of the Romans back to the beginnings of the monarchy. The worship of Sol was said by Varro to have been imported by the Romans from the Sabines.[viii] In fact it was said to be Titus Tatius, the Sabine co-king of Rome with Romulus, who was the one who imported the worship of Sol from his Sabine people.[ix] This means that Sol was one of the first and original gods of Rome, one of those with the oldest cult and established rites and temples. I should note here that the Sabines were not some far flung people either; they lived on a neighboring hill, Quirinal hill, where Sol had a temple.
Sol had a holiday in August, around the 9th of August, which incidentally is right around when many of those other harvest festivals from other cultures take place.[x] This seems to indicate the incredible importance of the sun on agriculture. Varro indeed confirms this and informs us that Sol was indeed of prime importance in agriculture.[xi] There was another temple to Sol at the Circus Maximus that retained its relevance longer.
It is likely that the waning of the importance of the original cult of Sol can be linked to the waning of domestic agriculture in Roman society. A people who have lost ties to the understanding of their food’s growth cycles are not going to be able to understand the importance and value of the gods on those functions.
Sol is depicted with a horse-drawn chariot with four horses (quadriga), all of them white. The quadriga is supposed to be influential given that each is said to represent one of the seasons they ride through. Besides the quadriga, and horse iconography in general, gold was not uncommon to see in Sol imagery. What you would not see however was the sun disc halo, this came about much later in the Empire. Occasionally you might see the radiant crown though (think the hat of the statue of liberty), but this is more than likely a Greek import.
Helios is the Greek god of the sun that seems to be the most important for this particular study. Interestingly, despite the seeming difference in the name Helios from Sunne or Sol, Helios is from the exact same proto-Indo-European root meaning that they are cognates.[xii] This is important because we do tend to try to look for linguistic cognates when we do this kind of reconstructive work.
You might be wondering why I did not bring up Apollo, but Apollo took predominance over Helios later. While Apollo was later correlated with the sun, he was originally a god associated with plague and had no real solar connections. This would make Helios the god we are looking for when making this reconstruction.
The understanding of Helios as a god was extremely widespread in Greece, especially early on, but despite seeing him as a god, centers of his worship were remarkably rare and the only place where it was exceptional was in Rhodes. But while in other places it was not major, it would be incorrect to say it did not occur other places. Epopeus of Sicyon for instance raised an altar to Helios in his city.[xiii] There was also an altar to Helios near the river called Inachus by Pausanias.[xiv] But these aside, it is at Rhodes where Helios was supreme.
You are all likely aware of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; this statue was of Helios. Rhodes was the religious center of the worship of Helios. However, in 226 BCE an earthquake brought down the colossus at the knees and it was never rebuilt because the Oracle of Delphi made a prophecy which convinced the people of Rhodes to leave it alone and unrepaired despite having wealthy backers who wanted to see it rebuilt. It does however have a modern twin, the statue of Liberty was built with the Colossus of Rhodes in mind. She even bears the radiant crown which was one of the major symbols of Helios.
The Homeric hymn to Helios is one of our most ancient sources for this god. From this we gain an understanding of his relationship to Eos and Selene as their brother. Beyond this, even this early on we see the association of Helios with horses and a chariot. We can also gather from this that Helios is one of the deathless gods that is mentioned, showing him to be on the same level of godhood as other deities.[xv]
Gaius Julius Hyginus seems to indicate in his Fabulae that Homer notes that Helios only has two horses, which would indicate that either he is incorrect or there is some work from Homer that he is referencing that has not survived from antiquity to now.[xvi] I think this is significant because it would indicate the possibility of an earlier two-horse chariot tradition that was supplanted by a four-horse chariot tradition. This being the case because four horses are mentioned again in the Fabulae with Eumelus of Corinth and Ovid both giving the quadriga.[xvii] The quadriga tradition seems well in place then in all of the other sources that the Greeks have reason to mention the horses of Helios. There is no agreement on their naming though so it is unlikely that much can be gained from looking too deeply into that convention.
To highlight the importance of the quadriga tradition of understanding the horses of Helios, we have some small information about a ritual performed with a quadriga for Helios. It is indeed one of the few rituals to Helios we are aware of, the ritual occurred at Rhodes where they would drive a quadriga over a cliff into the ocean.[xviii]
Beyond this ritual, history has recorded several things to be sacrificed to Helios including “white rams, boars, bulls, goats, Lambs, especially white horses, and honey.”[xix] His sacred animal is the cock, which makes sense given the rooster-sun connection that we are all aware of.[xx] We do not know if it is sacred in that it would be chosen especially for sacrifice or if it would have been seen as sacrilegious to sacrifice a rooster to the sun.
One last quick note that is interesting is that in several parts of several myths Helios is seen as almost all-seeing in that he is able to see from above the deeds and goings on of those he looks down on. This includes the deeds of men and gods. Though, I think the implication is more of a line-of-sight omniscience in that he probably needs to be visible in order for it to be in effect. I would not expect this to work in buildings, underground, or at night.
The god that represents the sun in the Rig Veda is Surya. The etymology of Surya is directly in line with Sunne and Helios and Sol and indeed they are linguistic cognates.[xxi] Hinduism today has diverged greatly from its roots and has had a lot of change in the last 4000 years since the Rig Veda was composed. These works were probably composed almost 4000 years ago, were told orally, and were later written down then sometime around 1200 BCE. This makes the Rig Veda an important window into the past in regards to the development of their religion and indeed provides points of comparison for other Indo-European religions. In this case, Surya provides a point of comparison for Indo-European sun deities.
Surya is indeed the sun, and like the other cognates I have already visited he represents the orb itself as his major manifestation. But he is also a god, one to whom you could pray and who could in turn bless you. In other words, this is a worshipable god that engages in reciprocity and not some unfeeling and unthinking object in the sky.
One of the qualities that stands out about Surya in the Rig Veda is his nature as all-seeing. He is described as “the God who knoweth all that lives” and “all-beholding” and “seeing all things that have birth” and “farseeing”.[xxii] This quality seems to stem from the simple fact that the sun shines on people and is visible to us and so it would follow that he, like some great eye in the sky, is able to look down upon us in turn.
An interesting quality about Surya is his association with healing. He is noted in the Rig Veda for healing a heart disease and some other disorder that caused one to yellow.[xxiii] I cannot really speak to the heart disease in this case, but I do know that the treatment for jaundice in babies is exposure to sunlight which breaks down the bilirubin and returns the babies to a normal color. This could definitely be a reference to something regarding the sun being important in healing jaundice.
There is not much that I can say here except that for the Latvians and Lithuanians and other Baltic peoples the sun was not male but was instead a goddess. In Lithuanian she was Saulė, in Latvian she was Saule. Saule is a direct cognate of Sunne, Helios, Sol, and Surya as well, stemming from the same proto-Indo-Euroepan root.[xxvi]
I included this goddess for the simple reason to show that Germanic cultures were not alone in their feminine sun. The vast majority of Indo-European cultures had a male sun deity but this shows that it was not the Germanic peoples alone in being different from the perceived norm. We have to understand that our perceptions of normalcy are unfortunately often biased by survivorship of the Greek and Roman sources, but just because they survived and are culturally familiar to us through literature and media doesn’t mean that they represent the original or standard or normal model. Each culture would have had its own normal that had developed over thousands of years.
Information about Saule in English that is accessible to me is sparse and for the most part comes from very late folklore. There is enough there to look at but much of it would be repetitive from things I have already gone into.
As for iconography, generally it should be noted that she is associated with the colors gold and red as well as with horses.
The closest correlating figure to Sunne but for the Norse is Sunna or Sol. While we reference her most often as Sunna for Norse pagans today it seems from the source material that Sol would have been somewhat more accurate. One need only read the passages in side-by-side translation to note that where Sunna is generally referenced the Old Norse term tends to be Sol. Why the early neo-pagans decided to opt for Sunna over Sol when Sol is a more obvious choice from the lore is unknown but if you ask me one of the more likely reasons might be the presence of other gods called Sol.
If you read my reconstruction of Mona a lot of this will seem similar since they both appear in the same sources with more or less a lot of overlap in material.
Sunna is seen as the sister to Mani. She shows up in both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda in the same sections as did Mani and much like Mani, there really is not overly much.
In the Prose Edda Sunna and Mani are said to be the children of Mundilfæri, a figure about which we know next to nothing. But he named them Sun and Moon and it apparently angered the gods who put them to task moving the sun and moon. Sunna is said to be married off to Glenr (a gap in the clouds). The charioteering is mentioned and there are two horses that pull her chariot but the horses are said to have windbags under them to keep them cool. The Prose Edda also describes the end of Sunna at Ragnarok as she is swallowed up by a wolf that pursues her called Skoll.[xxvii]
In the Poetic Edda, Sunna appears in the Völuspá, Vafþrúðnismál, Grímnismál, and the Alvíssmál. Not much more is revealed in these references that I did not already mention for the Prose Edda. In a sense, the details are somewhat slim. However, there are many bynames and epithets given.
The Prose Edda gives us these epithets for Sol: Sun (sunna), Glory (röðull), Ever-Glow (eyglóa), All-Bright (alskír), Sight (sýni), Fair Wheel (fagrahvél), Healing Ray (líknskin), Dvalinn’s Playmate (Dvalins leika), Elfin-Beam (álfröðull), Doubtful-Beam (ifröðull), Luminary (mylin).[xxviii]
The Alvíssmál gives us a few others: Sun (Sól), Orb of the Sun (sunna), the Deceiver of Dvalin (Dvalins leika), the Ever-Bright (eygló), Fair Wheel (fagrahvél), and All-Glowing (alskír).[xxix]
(I shall be a little repetitive and mirror some of the relevant material here from my Mona reconstruction.)
Sunne (Sol) is most assuredly an Anglo-Saxon goddess; however, we do not have much native information for her besides the understanding that there is a goddess there and she is a she. That does not mean we just give up though. Instead, we can look at other iterations of Indo-European sun gods and goddesses to see what we can learn about how other cultures viewed their sun gods, how they worshipped them, and other tidbits.
From proto-Indo-European religious studies we can gather that generally speaking the moon and sun are seen as brother and sister (regardless of their individual genders), they are generally seen as children of Dyeus-phter (the reconstructed PIE term for the sky-father god), and they are generally seen as charioteers. Beyond this, it becomes a much more varied affair.
It is often pointed out that unlike many other prominently remembered Indo-European peoples the Germanic peoples had a masculine moon and a feminine sun. I will just go ahead though and reiterate that there is no “normal” when it comes to these things. Contrary to popular belief there are actually several indo-European cultures that had female sun goddesses, it was not just the German peoples. By no means is this a cut and dried issue where one is right or normal or proper. Instead, what we can say is that what we see would have been normal within the boundaries of Germanic religious thought.
But for me, I’ll postulate some things based on these other gods.
The first thing that is fairly present among most every iteration of the sun deity is the presence of the horses that pull the chariot. I do somewhat like the sun-quadriga and moon-biga differentiation that is found in the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville.[xxx] But I am not entirely sold on the four-horses or the two or the seven or any other number. What is most likely to me, seeing the original greek material intimate two horses and having two horses show up in the Norse material, it is most likely that a two-horse model is more accurate for the Anglo-Saxons.
The moon is slower than the sun; this deeply resonates with me because it is observable visibly. But there are then two viable paths already in existence in other cultures we can use to emphasize this. Either you can do both of them with horses and have the sun with a quadriga and the moon with a biga, or you can have the sun with two horses and the moon with two oxen. Or you could mix both and have the sun with a horse drawn quadriga and the moon with an ox drawn biga.
As for the name of the horses, to be quite frank they differ so incredibly that there is no reason to try and reconstruct them even from the Norse. Even among the Greek we have several surviving names of the horses and indeed numbers of them. I take from all of this that these are just one of the things we just don’t or won’t know for sure and I personally have no reason to try and place name to them at this time. They were named in the vernacular as well, so if I were to name them I would likely do so in modern English as I have no reason to try and make an Old English name for these things.
As far as iconography, the horse is a potent image. In many of the renditions golden hair or golden flowing clothes are mentioned. Chariots and wheels are a good image too. I personally like the four-spoked wheel because the sun can actually make this symbol in the sky visibly under the right atmospheric conditions. The sun can be seen with a four spoked wheel when there are sundogs in the sky as its rays extend outwards to the sides and above and below while ringed by a halo. Pictures exist of this phenomenon as it is not exactly uncommon. Colors like red or orange are associated here as well as colors the sun is capable of making.
The link to agriculture should be seen of paramount importance. No sun, no food, it’s as simple as that. This is however not often part of the myths we have recorded, likely because it would have been so incredibly ordinary. We do however have this for the Roman worship and indeed even the dates of the worship align with other harvest festivals. This is however not an aspect we should continue to ignore. We are a people dreadfully removed from our agriculture and we take it for granted as a society and civilization. For this, it is incumbent on us to rectify this issue by making this sacred again and celebrating the parts that have to be in place for agriculture to take place, including the place of Sunne whose light is essential for life. We should see the sun as a kind of life-giver in this way.
This can indeed also carry over into the aspect of healing and several of these deities, some tangentially and others directly, related to healing. Surya is especially indicated in this regard, but there are hints in other deities I did not go more into due to the constraints of length. For instance the etymological connection to a Brythonic healing goddess Sulis, I do not discuss her because there is not a lot there and the history and etymology is complicated but she is thought by many historians to have been a solar goddess before Roman conquest of the region. In any case, I choose to take this aspect of healing and apply it to Sunne who I see as a goddess of healing as well as a life-giver.
An aspect that is fairly prevalent in these other sun deities is the idea of the sun as overseeing all her light shines on. I would not exactly say she is omniscient, but I would argue for her seeing what occurs under her gaze which is a considerable amount. On this note, I would say it would be most proper to offer to Sunne while the sun was up rather than when the sun was down. That way she would see your offering. This sight quality also often comes with a justice component or an oath-overseeing component in other Indo-European religions and it would not be out of place here.
As far as relationships go, I personally opt for me in my practice to align Sunne back once more to being the child of Dyeus, whose closest cognate in Anglo-Saxon belief would be Tiw. I worship Sunne then as the daughter of Tiw and Eorthe and the sister of Mona and Eostre. I also tend to drop the Glenr association from the Norse and instead go a different direction with her relationship status, this having no amazing reason behind that besides UPG and there being no information or stories about it other than the brief mention.
- The Horse
- The chariot
- Colors of gold, yellow, orange, red
- Golden hair
- White animals
Sunne, Sol, Ever-glow, Far-seeing, Far-shining, Day-rider, Awakener, Shiner, Ever-bright, Deceiver of Dvalin, All-Glowing, Sister to the Moon
Sunne, Sol, Sun goddess,
Sister to the moon,
Awakener, to you the cock crows
Far-seeing, you who see all that lives
Ever-bright, you who ride through the day
I look today on your glowing brilliance in awe
Thanks be to you for the light your bring
Life-giving rays that sustain the world and heal men
Hail to thee, Sunne!
[vii] David Potter, Constantine the Emperor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p.116, 128, 156.
[viii] Varro, On the Latin language, translated by Roland Grubb Kent (1938), book V, p.70, https://archive.org/details/onlatinlanguage01varruoft/page/70/mode/2up?view=theater
[x] W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899),
[xi] Varro, De Re Rustica, translated by W. D. Hooper and H. B. Ash (1934), section 1,
[xii] Wiktionary “ἥλιος”: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E1%BC%A5%CE%BB%CE%B9%CE%BF%CF%82#Ancient_Greek
[xiii] Pausanias, Description of Greece, translated by by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918), http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0160%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D11
[xv] The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Hymn 31 to Helios), translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1914), https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D31
[xvi] Hyginus, Fabulae: from The Myths of Hyginus, translated and edited by Mary Grant (University of Kansas Publications in Humanistic Studies, no. 34, 1960?), number 183, https://topostext.org/work/206
[xviii] I have seen this information on several sources including encyclopedias, never with the citation from the original material.
[xix] William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (London: Spottiswoode and Co, 1873), http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0104:entry=helios-bio-1
[xx]Pausanias, Description of Greece, translated by by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918), http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0160:book=5:chapter=25&highlight=sun
[xxii] Rig Veda (Hymn L), translated by by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1896), https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv01050.htm
[xxv] Rig Veda (Hymn CLXXXIX), translated by by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1896), https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10189.htm
[xxx] Isiodore of Seville, The Etymologies of Isiodore of Seville, translated by Barney, Lewis, Beach, & Berghof (2006), p.368, https://books.google.com/books?id=3ep502syZv8C&pg=PA368&dq=biga+chariot+isidore+OR+isidorus&hl=en&ei=ptkoTILdBZH7nAfw8tGoAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false