Sacred Marriage of the Sun and Moon
Michelle Snyder, M. Phil, Symbolist
Cloudless days and clear skies at night give us a chance to observe the splendor of the heavens, home of the sun and moon. All people are dependent on the sun; sun symbols have roots in ancient astronomical notations dating back 77,000 years (Blombos, South Africa). Our ancestors watched the heavens and learned about the cycles of the sun on which their lives depended. During the Ice Age of 12,500 BC the sun was symbolized by blonde curly-haired females (Duncan-Enzmann). As time passed the young girl became Helen: first a queen, then a goddess of the sun. Her kingdom (queendom?) spread from Norway to Africa during the time of the great stone circles, and prospered for several thousand years.
Over time the sun became a father symbol, as in the biblical account of Genesis when Joseph dreams that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bow down to him. The sun symbolizes his father, the moon his mother, and the eleven stars, his brothers. The setting sun, its disappearance at night, and its rising again in the morning link with the archetypal symbolism of death and rebirth. Few young students today understand the analemma - the movement of the sun - or how critical this knowledge was to survival thousands of years ago. During winter solstice the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon (the Tropic of Capricorn). There it stays, appearing to be still for three days. When it rises again it brings with it warmth and change-of-season that allows crops to grow and life to thrive. From this ancient observation grew the mythologies of the sun-kings, the dead and resurrected kings, and other legends.
Mythologies and symbols of sun-gods appear around the world. Like Abraxas, the Greek and Roman sun gods Apollo and Helios drive chariots pulled by four horses; the horses are symbolic of the four seasons through which the sun travels. Wheels depict movement of heavenly bodies as calendrics; the spokes represent the sun’s beams. Whether male or female, throughout history sun “rays” or “discs” have symbolized spiritual energy and light emanating from divine (enlightened, knowledgeable) beings. The nimbus above the head of a figure is a “sun disc” connoting piety or divinity. Today, sun symbols can represent the intellect, the universal spirit, father of all, all-seeing divinity, intuitive knowledge, the bridegroom, enlightenment, and illumination.
The moon was also an important heavenly body to our prehistoric ancestors. Time was divided by the lunar cycle, and predicting a full moon was important to hunters; the light of a full moon allowed hunting nocturnal animals. The moon was feminine, as from astronomical symbolism of that time grew the association of the phases of the moon with the three Norns, and later the triple goddess - maiden, mother, and crone. In Greek mythology, Artemis the huntress is a moon goddess. The moon is still generally a feminine symbol and is associated with water; a universal symbol of the rhythm of cyclical time and the origin of life. To the Celts the sun embodies feminine power. It can represent the psyche, the unconscious, or the unknown darker realms. The word “lunatic” comes from the association of the moon with the more instinctual and emotional kind of behaviors.
While the sun became a masculine symbol, the moon remains feminine. The sacred marriage of the sun and moon is a theme found all over the world. In Incan mythology the moon is the wife of the sun, as well as the mother of the earthly king. Today, when depicted together, the sun and moon symbolize the archetypal father and mother - the sacred marriage of Heaven and Earth, king and queen - the divine union of male and female; divine perhaps because new life is born from this union. A full solar eclipse is the ultimate manifestation of the sacred marriage, as for a short time the two heavenly bodies appear to become one. Their sacred partnership is symbolized worldwide. They are the most ancient archetypes of humankind, followed by mother and child.
Whether masculine or feminine in symbolism, the yearly cycles of our sun and moon allow us to enjoy the benefits of these ancient and sacred guiding lights - the warm sun brings new crops and rejuvenates our spirits, and the mysterious moon reflects the sun with a gentle, night-time glow, providing relief from darkness.
Article and artwork © 2011 Michelle Snyder, author of Symbology: Decoding Classic Images, Art and Symbols Once Upon a Time, World of Symbols, and World of Symbols: Secrets of the Mermaids.