Ancient Nations Of The Skies.
The cosmology of the ancients were inextricably associated with divinity and godhead and civilisations established their reverence of the heavens in their language.
In Greek and Hellenistic (arising from Greek Influence) regions and times,especially after Alexander's conquests, there were a great number of 'heliopoli" - cities of the Sun, such as Rhodes, Baalbec and more than one Helioplis itself.
The peoples of Europe came from a Indo-European-derived race called the Tautens. Developing into the Teutons, they worshiped Sol the Sun and Mani the Moon. Like the Egyptians and Hindus farther east, they reverenced a deity of the dawn, Eoster and her season ("lenchten",
spring, in Anglo-Saxon) - our Easter and Lent - and the egg in the season of birth, of renewal.
The Sun in Sanskrit is "Surya" and the solar year "sama", which led to the Celtic/Druidic "Samhain" and our "summer". To both of the next waves of conquerors, the Romans and Germans, the Sun was "Sol"; "Saule" in Lithuania and "Sulis" in Gaul.
The highest devotional symbol of the Germanic people was the Wheel of the Year. This was either a six- or eight-spoked wheel or a cross within a circle. These were often placed, upright on poles, on top of burial mounds to make a sundial.
Their year centred on the summer solstice. Solstices played a key role in Teutonic lives, customs, and religious traditions and refer to the most northern and southern positions of the Sun in the sky, the word "solstice" coming from Latin "sol stetit", Sun stands still.
Even today, in Scandinavia on midsummer eve, thousands gather at hillsides to light bonfires and watch the setting Sun. This is a tradition stretching back long before the Roman hegemony and originally a tribute to the Sun, the event has been assimilated by the Church and honours St. John. Another extant midsummer tradition is the construction of large wheels of wood or straw; these are fired and rolled down hills, representing the Sun's journey down towards the winter.
Island In The Sun.
In ancient British Isles, the concept of the 'solar cross' prevailed, as did the 'central mound cosmology'. This had sacred centers, 'Tara', from where four divisions or provinces extended like spokes. On holidays, such as 'Samhain' (Sun's end), marking the end of summer, huge fires were lit in these Tara, on the tops of mounds across the countryside.
A deity originating in Ireland, the spring goddess, 'Brigit' (bright)
had a special temple complex in Kildaire, (originally Cill Dara) dedicated to her. It was a circular building with an eternal flame, stoked with sacred oak. Her holiday, on February 2,was known as Imbolc, associated with the fertility of sheep.
The most important of Bride's aspects, however, was the returning Sun at New Year . Even, today, the modern-day Catholic nuns of St Bright follow the ancient customs. Once a year, followers go to Kildaire where they circle a central pillar with a candle re-enacting the annual journey of the Sun. The 'primary' Sun god of the Celts was Lugh, honoured at the festival at harvest-time of Luhgnasad. The site of his temple, after minor name changes by conquerors, became London.
Stone Temple Pilots.
Numerous structures, such as megaliths, stone circles, graves and religious sites, appear specifically aligned with solar events, such as solstices and equinoxes. Lhiam Greine (Place of the Sun), for example, is so carefully designed that on the winter solstice day a beam of sunlight at dawn illuminates the inside of the structure for approximately 17 minutes.
Such associations of the Sun with the deceased remain to this day. Modern-day superstitions in Ireland warn that those carrying corpses past a graveyard or a standing stone, had to circle it 'sun-wise' two or three times to avert ill-fortune. An actual sunbeam falling on someone at a funeral would foretell of his or her death.
Similarly, In Scotland, a child born to a seventeenth century family underwent a 'saining' ceremony This had an attendant carrying a candle sun-wise around both mother and baby. As with so many other pagan customs, Christianity later absorbed this, converting from receiving the Sun's blessing to warding off the devil.
At Ceme Abbas In Dorset, , a giant-Sun deity is carved on a hillside. It is said by some to be the Saxon god - Heil, equivalent to the Greek Helios and the Norse Hel. St. Michael's Mont in Cornwall was originally called Dinsul, meaning, 'mount of the Sun'.
This mountain is an island, in legend the final settlement of the lost culture of Lyonesse It is associated with the Celtic Isle of Avalon, or of the Norse Surnrnerland. Cornwall also has a large number of other historic sites, including the standing stones called the Men-an-Tol, a large stone circle with a central hole. Tradition empowers it with health-giving power if a seeker were to crawl through the hole towards the Sun!
At the stone circle Long Meg and Her Daughters, there is an alignment to the winter solstice sunset, while at the site of Castleriggaligns, both the midsummer solstice and the ancient Imbolc of Brigit.
The American Way.
It is perhaps quite fair to say that The Aztec people of Mexico were the most evolved and civilized culture of their time in Latin America. They had developed astronomy and mathematics, and devised a solar calendar being Sun worshipers. They considered Huitzilopochtli their god of the Sun and of war.
He was pictured as a blue man, fully armed, with humming bird feathers on his head. It is believed that Aztecs used to offer human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli. Victims were usually prisoners captured in the frequent wars against their neighbors and were intended to secure rain, harvests and further success in war.
Further south, the Mayans had a very rich scientific and cultural life. Their lives literally centered on astronomy, mathematics and the calculation of time and calendars. Mayans based their calendar not only on the Sun and the Moon, but also on rising and setting of the planet Venus. This is mentioned in a surviving book, the Dresden Codex, written more than 1000 years ago.
Many Mayan kings are believed to have ascended to the throne on May 1, a date when Pleiades and the Sun were in conjunction. The kings were often depicted holding an upright staff, perhaps a sacred gnomon or sundial in their hands, to demonstrate their connection with and understanding of the Sun. On the solstices days in their regions, the Sun at noon does casts no shadow from upright sticks. This the Mayans considered to be one of the most sacred events of the year.
As in Europe, many of their ancient rituals were Christianized by Spanish missionaries and are still followed under that guise today. A good example is in the modern 'Passions'. Originally celebrated in honor of the Sun's influence on growing corn, it still demonstrates the annual battle between the summer Lord Sun (Jesus) and the darkness of winter.
Several Mayan buildings and cities are aligned with astronomical phenomena in mind. The most famous Mayan city is Chichen Itza in Yucatan, founded over 1000 years ago with its 'Pyramid of Kukulcan'. Each year at the spring and autumnal equinox, around 4 p.m., the Sun casts a shadow on the stepped structure. The shadow forms the shape of a slithering serpent sliding down the face of the pyramid to the Earth below.
The serpent is believed to represents the deity, Quetzalcoatl, also known as Kukulcan. The "feathered serpent". Natives of the area have a long held belief in this divine serpent god/dess, who fostered life on Earth and delivered mankind from evils. As is well known, they mistook the pale conquistador Cortes for the god when he arrived in the sixteenth century.
When men started looking at the Sun and its movement across the sky during the day, weeks, months and years, note was made of the its relation to regular phenomena With agriculture requiring tiling fields and sowing and harvesting crops etc, the Sun's profound influence on agricultural activities and, thus, on his daily needs, was not lost.
Observations allowed a watch on its movement during the day and predictions to be made on its position and on solar events that may occur during the year and in time. For this he constructed equipment possible and suitable at that time or used natural configurations of rocks, buildings etc., to keep track of the Sun.
From observing, he noticed that the Sun does not seems to rise or set at the same place in the horizon, but shift its position from day to day, according to time of the year. Sometimes the Sun appeared quite high towards the north side and sometimes in the south.
That these positions of the Sun coincided with the seasons; when the Sun was towards the north, it was summer (in the northern hemisphere), quite warm maybe even hot; but when it was towards the south side it was winter, quite cold. No doubt, he also found that its position in the sky repeats after about a certain number of days.
Britain;s Stonehenge, built around 2950 - 2900 BC in the Middle Neolithic (new stone age) period, is arguably the world's oldest solar observatory In the nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties, it had been proposed that it was built over period of many centuries and had three distinct phases of development.
The first, covering some fifty years, consisted of digging a circular bank and a counter-scarp bank of about 100 meters in diameter. Just inside the earthen bank is a circle of 56 'Aubrey' holes. These holes, it is suggested, were used to hold timber during the five hundred years of phase 2; the holes may have been used as timber settings indicated at the monument's centre and its north-eastern egress.
From 2550 to 1600 BC, the colossal stones were set. First a series of Bluestones, neatly-trimmed upright sets of massive sandstones blocks. Originally of a set of thirty stones now only seventeen remain placed in what are known as the Q and R holes. The stones, in two horseshoe patterns form the world-renowned circle measuring thirty-three meters in diameter and four meters in height. Some of the pairs of stones have massive stone lintels four meters above the ground,
It is likely that the Bluestones - each more than 25 tons in weight were brought from a quarry at Marlborough Downs, a distance of some thirty-two kilometers!
Seekers Of The Light.
It wasn't until the late eighteenth century and after that Stonehenge's Neolithic purpose was really fathomed. The theory forwarded said the stone circle was used to observe the Sun and to mark the time and day of the summer solstice (when, in England, the Sun is in its northern-most position in the sky). This was due to the fact that, seen from the center of the circle, the Sun could be seen directly through a gap at a particular stone, the 'Heelstone', approximately sixteen feet high (4.88 m) with another four feet (1.22 m) buried below the ground.
It is believed that the 'Heel' stone is a corruption of Welsh 'hayil', or Norse Hel, both meaning Sun. Likewise in the English town of Helston, a stone once stood called the Hel Stone, though it has long since been removed. Alignment of the Sun with less prominent stone-pairs may have referred to the sunrise at other significant times, such as the equinoxes six months before and after the solstices.
Sir Norman Lockyer got interested in Stonehenge in the 1890s. Working on the presumption that the midsummer Sun rose originally over the Heelstone at the time of its construction, he calculated back from the point where the Sun rose in 1901 at midsummer dawn (precisely over the Heelstone) and established a possible date of when Stonehenge might have been built, 1680 BC.
His calculations were flawed, because there were errors in his sightings and he used the wrong tables. His results, therefore, are generally dismissed. In 1950, however, Gerald Hawkins and Sir Fred Hoyle studied Stonehenge in great detail. They proposed that, in addition to being used as an 'observatory' site for astronomical solstice sightings, it was also a solar and lunar eclipse predictor, an almanac of sorts.
From these inferences it seems that the Neolithic people had a good knowledge of astronomy, including the movement of the Sun during the year and also of a calendar, which was required for the timing of agricultural, social and religious activities.
Round And About.
Various other Stone age monuments attest to the Neolithic knowledge of devotion to astronomical and calendric data These include a burial chamber which is naturally lit by the rising between the winter solstice sun between December 19 to 23. There is also a darkish seventy-five meters wide in a field near Goseck, Germany. Scientists suggests it is the remains of another observatory, possibly older than Stonehenge and dating back 7,000 years.
From an etched disk recovered at the site, archaeologists say the observatory was used by Neolithic and Bronze age people to measure the heavens. Originally, it consisted of four concentric circles, a mound, a ditch and two wooden palisades. Three sets of gates faced Southeast, Southwest and North. On the winter solstice day, any centrally-placed observer could see the Sun rise and set through the southern gates.
Aerial surveys have identified around two hundred other such circles all across Europe; the Goseck structure is the oldest and best preserved of the two dozen excavated thus far.