Throughout history, the sun has been a symbol of immense power and spiritual significance to people around the world. As our planet revolves around the sun, it’s literally a “central figure” in our lives. Thus, solar symbols and the mythological meanings applied to the sun have appeared in many aspects of human life throughout history.
From sun deities to how ancient temples were oriented to the sun, to its use as a metaphor in music, art, and literature, many people are understandably in awe of this fiery ball of energy.
In this post, we’ll explore all facets of sun symbolism and solar mythology. Plus, we’ll cover how we can leverage it in modern-day spiritual practices.
What does the sun symbolize?
Before we dive into the detailed aspects of solar symbols, I thought you might like a quick list of what the sun and sunshine symbolize:
- Elevated Consciousness
- Higher Power Source Energy
Solar Symbolism Highlights
Here are some key takeaways about the sun as a symbol:
- The sun is a universal symbol that has been revered by people of diverse cultures for centuries.
- Solar symbols are associated with a variety of concepts, as noted above, such as life, happiness, energy, and enlightenment.
- Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Greeks, Native Americans, Mayas, Aztecs, and others all incorporated the sun and solar symbols into their cosmologies, spiritual rituals, art, and architecture.
- As the human race transitions away from fossil fuels, we have already entered a solar age where we will derive most of our energy from the sun.1
- Modern-day meditation and spiritual rituals involving the sun have the potential to elevate our level of spiritual consciousness.
Sun Mythology from Diverse Cultures
The Sun in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sun. Their creator deity, Ra, embodied the sun’s power, and the Egyptians believed he gave life to the Universe.
For the Egyptians, the sun represented life, fertility, and their creator’s omnipotent power. Needless to say, solar symbols were prevalent in ancient Egyptian culture. Here are some examples of Egyptian sun symbols:
|Egyptian Sun Symbol
|Eye of Ra
|The Eye of Ra symbolizes protection and power. While a symbol of the creator god, Ra, the Eye of Ra symbol also came to be associated with the pharaohs.
|A dung beetle rolling a ball of dung (which they eat and use to feed their young) reminded the Egyptians of Ra rolling the sun across the sky each day. So, scarabs, which are beetle amulets, symbolize Ra as well as rebirth, regeneration, and new beginnings.
|Winged Sun Disk
|This symbol represents power and divine protection. The winged sun disk is associated with sun and solar gods.
|The obelisk symbolizes a sunbeam, or the sun’s rays. It was believed to connect the Earth with the divine, as it represents dispersing the sun’s powerful energy. (Image: Karnak, Egypt by David Broad.)
|Bennu was a solar avian deity. He represented rebirth and immortality, and was associated with the sun, creation, and renewal. You can read more about him in my post about the phoenix bird.
|A boat symbol that represents Ra’s, or the sun’s, journey across the sky, it carried Ra into the underworld each night and then back into the heavens during the day. (Image: Bronze sun boat of Djedher. Ca. 404-332 AD. Photo: Xauxa.)
|Aten (Sun Disk)
|A symbol that is a direct representation of the sun. It was central to the monotheistic religion of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.
|An Egyptian lioness goddess who was associated with the destructive and nurturing aspects of the sun’s heat. She embodied the fierce power of the sun.
|It symbolizes the horizon, or the sun rising between two hills. It represents rebirth, renewal, and suns’ daily cycle.
It’s clear the sun played a vital role in all aspects of ancient Egyptian life, from spiritual beliefs to art and architecture. Notably, the Egyptians built their iconic pyramids, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, to be precisely aligned with specific solar and celestial events.
Egyptologists believe the Egyptians built the pyramids to be oriented to the four cardinal directions and in relation to the sun’s path. In addition, the slopes of the pyramids’ sides are thought to represent the sun’s rays. The Egyptians believed the pyramids’ design would assist the pharaohs’ souls in ascending to the heavens.
Solar Symbolism in Other African Cultures
Besides the Egyptians, a number of cultures across the African continent also revered the sun, associating it with their creator deities. Here are just a couple of examples:
In Kongo spiritual beliefs, Nzambi Mpungu is the god of the sun and the sky. He also ruled fire and change.2
For the Akan People of Ghana, Nyankapon-Nyame-Odomankomahold, or Nyame, is a creator deity who embodies the sun. Part of his name means “giver of the sun.”3
Sun Worship in Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks also held the sun in high regard. They deified it in their god Helios.
Helios is described as a handsome god who was crowned with a ray of sunbeams. Each day, he drove his chariot, pulled by fire-breathing horses, across the sky, basking the Greeks and their crops in his warmth and light.4
Electryone, or Alectrona, was Helios’ daughter. She was a goddess of the sun, morning time, and humans’ wakeful states.
A later generation Olympian god, Apollo also came to be known as a chariot-riding sun god. He was also the god of music, poetry, archery, and oracles.
In addition to the gods, are some symbols that embodied solar energy in ancient Greece:
|Ancient Greek Sun Symbol
|Symbols for both Helios and Apollo, the sun chariot represents the path of the sun across the sky. (Image: Helios riding his sun chariot, mural at Friedrich von Thiersch Hall, Wiesbaden, Germany. Photo: Oliver Abels.)
|The Greeks often portrayed the sun in golden disks worn as pendants or placed on pottery and other objects. (Artist: Thalassa Jewelry.)
|Vergina Sun, or Star of Vergina
|The Vergina Sun (also known as the Star of Vergina, Macedonian Star, or Argead Star) is another style of solar symbol with radiating sun rays from ancient Greece.
Celtic and Other Pagan Solar Rituals
In the British Isles and among other ancient European cultures, the sun wasn’t worshiped in quite the way that it was by the Egyptians and other cultures.
However, as these cultures were very in tune with the natural world, honoring the cosmos and changing seasons was an integral part of daily life. Furthermore, understanding the changing sunlight was important for life-sustaining agricultural purposes.
We have evidence that ancient peoples were observing the solstices (the longest and shortest days of the year based on the Earth’s position to the sun) for at least as far back as 5,000 years ago.
During this time, the Neolithic period, our human ancestors were just starting to use stone tools for grinding and polishing. In addition, they had begun to build monuments and other structures that were positioned in specific ways to the sun.
Archaeologists and anthropologists believe these structures served spiritual purposes. One classic example is Stonehenge in the UK. Based on carbon dating, the first structures at Stonehenge were built over 4,000 years ago.5
The Sun in Mesoamerican Culture
Across the Atlantic, another group of ancient people were quite immersed in the sun and all its glory. For the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica, the sun was revered as a powerful and life-giving force, playing a central role in the spiritual and daily lives of the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas.
These cultures, thriving in different eras, developed unique interpretations and symbols related to the sun, reflecting its importance in their mythology and religious beliefs, as well as their art, architecture, and rituals.
Maya Sun Worship
The Mayas viewed the sun as a key element of life and creation. Their solar deity, Kinich Ahau, was often depicted as a mighty being with a sun-like face.
Mayan pyramids, such as El Castillo at Chichen Itza, were designed to align with the sun during solstices and equinoxes. The Mayas intertwined solar worship into their intricate calendar system. For the Maya’s the sun’s journey across the sky was seen as a reflection of the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.6
Aztec Solar Worship
The Aztecs, known for their intricate sun stone and powerful solar deities, placed immense importance on the sun. For example, Huitzilopochtli, their primary sun god, was believed to battle darkness every night, requiring human sacrifices to emerge victorious each morning.
This belief underscored the details in the Aztec calendar and rituals. The famous Aztec Sun Stone intricately depicts the cosmology and mythological eras of the sun, reflecting the Aztecs’ deep connection to solar cycles.
Inca Sun Worship
For the Incas, the sun was synonymous with divine royalty. They believed their sun god, Inti, was the primordial ancestor of the Incas, and that he granted them the divine right to rule.
This connection was physically manifested in the Temple of the Sun, Coricancha in Cusco, Peru, where walls were once covered in gold to reflect the sun’s rays, embodying the sacredness of the sun.
Inca architecture, including Machu Picchu, featured alignments and structures that captured solar events, emphasizing the sun’s role in agriculture, the changing seasons, and religious ceremonies.
Maya, Aztec, and Inca Solar Symbols
Here are some sun symbols that represent the Mesoamericans’ reverence for solar energy:
|Mesoamerican Solar Symbol
|The Inca god Inti was often represented by a golden disk with rays and flames extending from his face, which symbolized the sun and its life-giving properties. (Artist: Evangelos Jewels.)
|A symbol of the night sun’s power in the underworld, the jaguar represents majesty, transformation, and power. You can read more in my post about jaguar symbolism.
|Aztec Sun Stone
|An intricately carved stone representing cosmology and the Aztec solar eras, it was a centerpiece of Aztec life. (Image: Aztec, Ca. 1200–1521 AD, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City. Photo: Gary Todd.)
|Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god, was represented by the eagle. The Aztecs believed that eagles played a role in leading the sun across the sky. You can read more in my post about eagle symbolism. (Image: Large stone eagle head, Ca. mid-14th century. Photo: Arjuno3.)
|Considered the “sweat of the sun,” gold symbolized wealth, sacredness, and the sun’s power in Incan culture. (Image: Gold Incan beaker, 1450-1532 AD, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München, Munich, Germany.)
The Sun in Native American Cultures
The sun is also a vital symbol of life and renewal for Native American Peoples. Each tribe has their own unique set of customs and beliefs. However, in general, Native Americans see the sun as a giver of life, which brings energy and growth to crops and warmth and light to the people and animals.
In addition, Native Americans associate the sun with fundamental virtues, including courage, wisdom, and generosity. These qualities are believed to be embodied in the sun and are seen as integral to living a fulfilling life.
The Sun Dance
Testament to their reverence for the sun’s power, a number of tribes have a Sun Dance, including the Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Shoshone, Ute, and others. The Sun Dance focuses on self-sacrifice for the greater good, gratitude, and giving thanks to the sun and the Earth.7.
Native American Solar Symbols
Here are some sun symbols of Native American cultures:
|Native American Sun Symbol
|Zia Sun Symbol
|Originating from the Zia Pueblo, this symbol represents the four cardinal directions, the four seasons of the year, the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening, and night), and the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle age, and old age). The center of the sun symbol stands for life itself. It reflects the Zia philosophy, which teaches the basic harmony of all things in the Universe.8
|Spiral Sun Symbol
|A representation that honors the Abenaki sun deity, Kisosen, which means “Bringer of the Sun.”
|A mythical bird who represents the sun’s power and creation. The thunderbird is also a messenger for the Great Spirit.
|Also known as Tawa, the Sun Kachina is a representation of the Sun God in Hopi and other Pueblo cultures. (Artwork: Torn Paper Co.)
Sun Symbolism in Hinduism
In Hindu culture, the sun holds profound spiritual and symbolic significance, embodying illumination, knowledge, and spiritual enlightenment.
Hindu Sun Deities
Hindu mythology personifies the sun through various deities. Notably, Surya is the embodiment of the sun. He is also represented by the gods Ravi and Arka.
Like Helios, Surya is often depicted riding a chariot pulled by horses, which symbolizes the sun’s life-giving and sustaining power.
As a deity, Surya is revered for bringing light and dispelling darkness. He also reminds Hindus of the inner light that is present within all beings.
The worship of Surya through prayers and offerings is a daily practice in the lives of many Hindus.
The significance of the sun is also evident in sacred Hindu texts, like the Rig Veda, one of the oldest Hindu scriptures, in which there are hymns in praise of the sun and Surya.
Hindus view the sun as a source of all life and a healer of physical and spiritual ailments.
Yoga practitioners are familiar with the sun salutation series of poses, or Surya Namaskar. This yogic sequence synchronizes your movements with the sun’s energy. It’s both a physical exercise and a spiritual practice, which honors the sun. Each posture and breath in Surya Namaskar aligns with the sun’s subtle energies, promoting physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual harmony.
Hindu Sun Temples
There are a number of Hindu temples that are dedicated to the sun. A notable example is the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, India. A world heritage site, it is built in the shape of a giant chariot with stone wheels.
Another is the Modhera Sun Temple in Gujarat, India. The temple is oriented in a way that the sun’s rays fall on a depiction of the sun deity Surya at the time of spring and autumn equinoxes.9
Hindu Sun Symbols
Hindu culture also has a collection of solar symbols. Here are some examples:
|Hindu Sun Symbol
|A symbol of good fortune and well-being, in Hinduism, it represents the sun, prosperity, and the cycle of life.
|Representing the Hindu sun god and depicted with rays of light emanating from it, the chariot symbolizes the sun’s movement and power.
|A geometric representation that is used in meditation, it symbolizes the sun’s energy and universal harmony. (Artwork: Sandra Petra Art.)
The Sun in Buddhism
In Buddhist traditions, the sun is associated with the Buddha’s radiance and is regarded as a symbol of the awakened mind, representing clarity, wisdom, and spiritual enlightenment.
Sometimes the sun is likened to the Buddhist Dharma Wheel. In Buddhism, the eight-spoked Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra, represents renewal and the cycle of life as well as the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Taking the Eightfold Path leads to spiritual awakening and transformation, and ultimately to enlightenment.10
Yang Energy Chinese Philosophy
In Chinese culture, the sun represents yang, or masculine energy, in the Yin-Yang philosophy. (Conversely, the moon represents feminine, or yin, energy.)
Yang energy is associated with light, warmth, vitality, and action, all of which are embodied in the sun and sunlight.
In addition, the sun is associated with royalty, power, and good fortune in Chinese culture.
The Sun and Modern-Day Spiritual Practices
In modern-day spiritual practices, sun symbolism and its spiritual meanings align elegantly with practices that promote spiritual growth and greater awareness. For example, the sun’s warmth and light can serve as a visualization metaphor for self-discovery and tapping into higher states of consciousness.
In addition, as you will find in yoga studios everywhere, sun salutations are as important for people today as they were in India hundreds of years ago.
In addition, psychics and spiritual healers say that safely gazing into the sun at sunrise or sunset (a time when the sun’s UV rays are low and less harmful) can help to stimulate the pineal gland.11 This practice, which is sometimes referred to as “sun gazing,” is believed to help the endocrine system as well as to open the third eye for greater psychic awareness.
In essence, the life-giving energy of the sun is a gift that can bring joy, warmth, and gratitude into our spiritual practices and our daily lives.
While it is perhaps taken for granted too much in our modern world, the sun’s ubiquitous and enduring presence is something that’s worth reflecting on and honoring. Ancient cultures were well aware of its miraculous power and they showed their awe of and appreciation for it in brilliant ways. Sun symbols are small reminders of the awesome power of this fiery ball of energy on which our lives depend.
Frequently Asked Questions
*? can be a symbol for the sun. It represents sunny weather, happiness, warmth, or a bright or sunny disposition.
A Greek symbol for the sun is a sun disk. The Greeks also associated the sun with their gods Helios, Electryone, and Apollo.
On a spiritual level, a sun face symbol can represent source energy, or the energy of your Higher Power, as well as spiritual enlightenment. It also represents the illuminating wisdom that comes from learning and your spiritual practice.
Native American sun symbols generally represent the cardinal directions, the Great Spirit, the cycles of life, and good fortune and abundance. Specific meanings can vary among different tribes, but generally Native American sun symbols honor reverence and gratitude.
You might like these other articles on UniGuide:
- Rain Symbolism
- Water Symbolism
- Rainbow Symbolism
- Mythical Birds
- Gratitude Quotes
- Cheetah Symbolism
- Mythical Lions