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29 Sep 2015

Slavic Worship of the Sun

Vox Orbis / 29 Sep 2015 Sun

Photo: Ancient Slavs worshipped the sun, seen here in a 2008 photo taken in Crimea, Ukraine. Andrew Kuznetsov/Flickr

Lera Burova

Since ancient times people have been depicting the Sun, worshipping, and sanctifying it. The Sun is the source of warmth and light and life and heart: forces and traits of which it is is difficult to downplay to most people. With this universal appreciation, though, came diversification: Many nations had their own symbols and traditional features associated with this luminary.

Slavs also worshipped the Sun. Thus, several gods shared a solar nature in the ancient Russian pagan pantheon: Hors (winter Sun) and Dazhbog (the fire god) had solar aspects related to Svarog, the main Slavic solar deity, depicted as a handsome, mature man.*

It is widely known to contemporary Slavs today that the ancient Slavic calendar was based on events for the four seasonal manifestations or personas of the pagan Sun god. They are Kolyada-Yarilo-Kupayla-Svetovid: deified events marking four solar astronomical points.

Sun worship also came packaged with numerous rules, prohibitions and rites, some of which are still alive nowadays—even when we rarely reflect on their origin. For instance, people working in the fields traditionally never turned their backs to the Sun. And, after the sunset, they did not lend money so that happiness and prosperity would never leave their family. This tradition is still alive as a superstition. In the choreography of folk rituals, too, circular movement, as a rule performs a mimesis of the Sun’s path across the Earth from left to right.

There are also many solar symbols to observe in the folklore and folk art of those descended from solar traditions: a wheel, a falcon, a human eye… These are a few among many others. Solar signs also lent power to amulets. The circle, a cross in a circle, a wheel or a swastika were frequently seen in female costume adornment, as well as in the ornamentation of fabrics and in the carving of various parts of peasant’s houses, spinning tools and furniture.

Today the people’s interest in the Sun is still great. For instance, the one and only museum of the Sun in Europe opened recently in Riga and there is Sun museum in the Russian city of Novosibirsk. In certain Eastern philosophies, like Taoism, solar symbols attract beneficial chi energy and healing to your home. Therefore, the symbol of the Sun is very popular in feng shui.

*Author’s Note: Much of what I know about Slavic traditions of the past comes to me as a speaker of Russian, a Russian national, and one born of Eastern Slavic descent. I myself do keep some solar symbols in my home, but I also seek out other solar symbols from other cultures to pair with the ones at home.

Lera Burova for Vox Orbis, 2015