Sun & Moon Art: History & Symbolism
The impact of sun and moon art is universal: these are the most prominent symbols in our worlds. Images of the sun and moon have graced interior environments since the time of the cave dwellers. The sun and moon have been personified extensively, creating a pantheon of sun and moon gods around the world. Each have their own mythology and unique creation stories.
Table of Contents
Discover the mythology of the sun and moon below, including fascinating stories from many cultures and traditions. Learn about sun and moon art, sun and moon deities, the Hindu sun god, the Egyptian sun god and Christian sun symbolism. Also included is the science and symbolism of comets.
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Symbolic Significance of Sun Art
The use of the sun in paintings, illustrations and emblems can be seen throughout history. The sun literally powers our world. Thus, sun art brings hope, cheerfulness and optimism. The sun is one of the first things children draw spontaneously. We instinctively desire to remind ourselves of the power of the sun with art!
The sun is the source of life, giving the energy to plants and animals for survival. The sun is associated with positivity, clarity, confidence and power. The sun is generally related to masculine energy, growth and higher consciousness. Art depicting the sun carries these symbolic meanings.
Dreams of the sun are usually good omens: everything works out when the sun is shining. Bringing this energy into interior spaces through sun paintings or other decorations is an uplift psychologically and emotionally.
Many rulers have associated themselves with the sun to emphasize their own inherent power. This includes the ancient Egyptians as well as more recent hierarchs such as Louis XIV, known as the Sun King.
Christian symbolism also depicts Christ as the “sun” as well as the “son” of God. Archangel Michael is also symbolized by the sun. The sun symbolizes power, strength, energy and force. The sun is associated with the eyes and vision.
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Symbolic Significance of Moon Art
Moon art is associated with mystery and the hidden side of life. The moon is often viewed as the force that establishes a rhythm due to its changing phases. There are numerous moon deities. The moon has sometimes been viewed as masculine though more often it has feminine associations. Moon goddesses sometimes represent only one phase of the moon. Each phase can be viewed as a new cycle of life. The full moon reflects completion, maturity or pregnancy.
Many religions still use the moon to schedule significant holidays. For example, Easter is celebrated on the first full moon after spring equinox. The Chinese New Year starts following winter solstice and the second new moon. Passover in the Jewish tradition always happens on a full moon. In the Hindu tradition, the Festival of Lights called Diwali happens on the new moon when the sun enters Libra.
The moon is closely associated with human emotions and the water element. Dreams of the moon are typically related to intuition or that which is hidden. This can be a positive association such as hidden talents. The moon can also represent anything which has a strong pull, reflected in the way that the moon affect ocean tides. Ultimately, the moon represents the power of rebirth as it constantly shifts and changes.
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Sun and Moon Art & Prosperity
The sun has long been associated with gold; the moon is related to silver. In a story from the East, the Hindu sun god named Surya gives a gift to a devout follower. The gift is a magical gem that can produce a huge quantity of gold on a daily basis. However, this only occurs if the owner is good. If the owner behaves in an evil manner, the stone has deadly powers as well.
The transformation of base metals or sunlight into gold is an ancient quest. Empires have been built and continents explored in the search for gold. Gold is believed to reflect the sun or in fact to be solidified sunlight. The represents the self in its most exalted form: the self that shines.
Bright, light-filled interiors are associated with wealth and opulence. Dark, cramped interiors are synonymous with poverty. The light of the moon is also associated with abundance. The light of the moon is softer, more like splendor than brilliance. When the moon shines brightly, all is peaceful. The light of the moon can be a guide in the darkest of nights.
The sun and moon are often paired together as husband and wife or brother and sister. This ancient pattern is carried forward even in the symbolism of Christianity. For example, the story of Saint Francis and Saint Claire, immortalized in film as Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
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The Hindu Sun God Surya
In the early Vedic period, the sun god Surya reigned supreme. In later Hindu periods, only certain sects worship Surya as a central deity. In many branches of Hinduism, Vishnu has largely taken over his roles.
In spite of this shift, many mantras are dedicated to Surya. In fact, the sun is viewed as the ultimate healer. Chants to the sun are considered to be powerful options for all conditions. There are also specific mantras for healing the eyes, believed to be benefitted by the rays of the sun.
Watch a music video and learn more the article Surya Mantra.
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Moon Deities Around the World
Like many other deities, moon deities have changed and evolved over time in different cultures. For example, the moon goddesses in Greek and Roman culture were changed to represent the different phases of the moon. In Greek culture, their moon goddess Selene became Artemis, then had an aspect named Hectate or Persephone for the dark moon phase, the new moon became Artemis or Kore, and her full moon aspect was known as Demeter. Other moon deities include the following:
Abuk: Dinka goddess of fertility, morality, creativity, and love
Artemis: A Greek moon goddess who also ruled over the hunt, wilderness, wild animals, and chastity. Her Roman form was known as Diana.
Chandra: Hindu moon god also known as Soma
Chang Xi: Moon goddess in China, mother of 12 moons that correspond to the 12 months of the year.
iNyanga: Zulu moon goddess
Kabigat: Filipino Bontok goddess who cut off the head of Chal-chal’s son. The origin of headhunting came from her actions.
Mayan moon goddess: The mayan moon goddess does not have an official name, but she does have many forms. Each phase of the moon has a separate goddess, represented as a woman going through the phases of her life. She has been associated with sexuality and procreation, fertility, growth, and disease. She is heavily associated with water.
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Sun Deities Around the World
The alphabetical list below is just a few of the sun deities found in cultures around the world. Solar mythologies explain the sun’s movement across the sky, often traveling in a chariot or boat. In China, the sun is simply viewed as the male or “yang” principle, personified as a great cosmic eye. This is in contrast with the feminine or “yin” principle. Although most cultures view the sun as masculine, in Celtic lore the sun represents feminine power.
In astrology, the sun represents the self, shining outwardly towards the world. There are many solar symbols including animals, gemstones, flowers, and the geometric form of the circle or wheel. Solar animals include the hawk, lion, salamander, rooster, horse, ram, phoenix, eagle, lion, dragon, and bull. Solar metals and gems include bronze, gold, diamond, ruby and topaz. Learn more about healing gems and crystals in the article Chakra Stones and Meaning.
Many cultures also have stories of monsters or creatures that devour the sun. These myths may be associated with the phenomena of solar eclipses. Other myths show the foolishness of attempting to reach or interact with the sun. In Hinduism, some say the monkey-faced god Hanuman tried to eat the sun as a child, thinking the sun was an orange. Learn more about this beloved and fascinating hindu god in the article Hanuman Mantra.
Amaterasu: Japanese sun goddess and a central figure to the Shinto religion. The emperors in Japan claim to be descendants of Amaterasu. This is what gives them the divine right to rule. Amaterasu has a brother who is the moon. When he misbehaves, she retreats to a cave. This causes a crisis as the earth is without light or warmth. Eventually the other gods trick her into returning to the world from her cave.
Arinna/Arinniti: Sun goddess in Hittite mythology. The Hittites were a people located between Greece, Assyria, and the Red Sea. Arinna was called the “Queen of All Lands.”
Apollo: Olympian god of many different things, including the sun. God of music, light, poetry, healing, plague, prophesy, knowledge, order, beauty, archery, and agriculture. Apollo supplanted Helios in Greek mythology.
Belenus: Celtic sun god whose journey was viewed as a yearly rather than a daily cycle. The Celtic celebration in the spring is called Beltane in his honor.
Freyr/Freya: Norse sun goddess. Freya is the goddess of sunshine, rain, fertility, and peace.
Helios: An Olympian god believed to drag the sun behind a golden chariot in the sky during the day, returning during the night. Helios is the god of oaths and vision. Helios dwells in a golden palace near the river Oceanus. Each day he leaves this palace driven by four winged steeds. He is crowned with the areole of the sun and dressed in purple robes. When Helios reaches the far west, he descends into a golden cup that bears him back to his rising place in Oceanus. Helios is closely identified with other fire gods including Hephaestus and Apollo.
Hebat/Hepa: Asia Minor goddess made the national goddess by the Hittites. Renamed Arinna.
Huitzilopochti: Aztec deity of war, sun, human sacrifice, and was also the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan.
Huar Khshaita: Zoroastrian deity of the “radiant sun.”
Intil/Apu Punchau: Inca sun god believed to be the ancestor of the Inca people.
Jóhonaa’éí: Navajo sun bearer who carries the sun across the sky on his back. At night he hangs the sun on a peg on the wall as he rests for the labors of the following day.
Liza: Fon people of West Africa associated this goddess with the sun.
Lugh/Lug: Ancient Irish god. He was so prominent that in Victorian times he was considered to be a sun god. Lugh is a skilled warrior who carries a magic spear. He is also the god of storms and lightning. Perhaps most importantly, Lugh is the god of the harvest and grain. Lugh is accordingly the patron of artisans and farmers.
Mithra: God of sun, justice, contract, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran.
Ra: Egyptian god seen as the sun at midday. Later he was combined with Amun to make a “solar creation god” and became known as Amun Ra. The ancient Egyptians had three different sun gods to indicate the position of the sun in the sky. Horus is the rising sun, Osiris is the setting sun and Ra represents the sun at the highest point or zenith in the sky. Other experts view each of these gods as stages in life for a single god. Ra is a creator god traveling through the sky and through the underworld at night. Ra vanquishes the evil serpent Apopis.
Sol/Sunna: Norse sun goddess who rode a horse-drawn chariot.
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Sun Art and Flower Symbolism
There are many flowers that are directly associated with sun symbolism. This is particularly true of flowers that are yellow or orange in color. Other flowers associated with the sun bloom early in the year as the first signs of the return of the sun after the winter. The shape of many flowers also mimics the sun: a central disc with radiating petals.
Yellow Flowers and Sun Art
Yellow flowers are the heralds of spring. Sunshine yellow flowers symbolize the clearing away of the winter and stimulate clear thinking. The color meanings of yellow are enthusiasm, confidence, cheerfulness, sense of humor, fun, optimism and intellectuality.
Yellow flowers mean friendship in the Victorian language of flowers. Well-known yellow flowers include daffodils, crocus, irises, daylilies, dandelions and chrysanthemums. The flower most clearly associated with the sun is, of course, the sunflower.
Chrysanthemum Meaning: Chrysanthemums are valued as sacred flowers throughout Asia. First, they mean wealth. Secondly, they mean one who is cheerful. Thirdly, they mean truth. Other meanings include hope, humility, rest, and friendship. The name derives from the Greek meaning “golden flower.”
Crocus Meaning: The crocus is associated with Hermes, son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. Hermes is the inventor of the lyre and the Greek god of trade, travel, wealth and good fortune. The Victorian meaning of crocuses is cheerfulness or happiness. Learn about other flowers meaning happiness in the article Flower language: Find Over 100 Flowers by Meaning.
Daffodil Meaning: As one of the the first flowers of spring, daffodils bring hope and new beginnings. The end of the winter is near and good fortune lies ahead! Accordingly, daffodils symbolize rebirth. The advent of spring also brings the promise of prosperity. Find more in the article Daffodil Flower Meaning: Ancient Mythology, Rebirth & Prosperity.
Dandelion Meaning: Although much maligned in modern yards, dandelions symbolize the sun, clearly the most ancient and universal of all symbols. Dandelion flower meanings are love me and affection returned. Additionally, dandelion flowers mean desire, faithful and happiness. Learn more about the spiritual meaning of flowers in Sacred Flowers: Mythology, History & Religion.
Daylily Meaning: The botanical name for daylilies comes from the Greek word “hemera” meaning “day.” The daylily is aptly named due to the the fact that the flowers open at sunrise and wither at sunset. Daylily blossoms literally last for one day only! Learn more in Daylily Flower Meaning.
Iris Meaning: Like other flowers that grow from bulbs, irises symbolize renewed life. Even during periods of dormancy, the flower is waiting to grow in the right environment and circumstances. Iris flowers bloom towards the beginning of the growing season. They are sometimes viewed as an embodiment of the spirit of early summer. Learn all about iris symbolism in Iris Flower Meaning: Royalty, Faith & the Symbolic Trinity.
Sunflower Meaning: The Incan Indians worshipped the sunflower as a symbol of the sun. Their priestesses wore necklaces of sunflowers made of gold. Spanish explorers took sunflowers back to Spain, where they were cultivated and hybrids were created. Learn all about the meaning of sunflowers around the world in the article Sunflower Meaning: Ancient Incas to Modern Weddings.
Orange Flowers and Sun Art
Orange flowers raise the spirits and reflect the joy of sunshine. Is there anything happier and more promising than a meadow of beautiful marigolds? Cheerful orange flowers symbolize warmth, fire, energy and vitality.
Orange meanings include creativity, confidence, intuition, friendliness and the entrepreneurial spirit. Orange is symbolic of joy and wisdom. Common orange flowers include marigolds, nasturtiums, and calendula.
Calendula Meaning: Calendula flowers are used to decorate the statues of Hindu deities in India. They are also sacred in Central America and used in the Day of the Dead celebrations. The primary meaning for calendula is winning grace. Calendula are a genus in the daisy family. The daisy family includes asters, marigolds and sunflowers. Learn more in Sunflower Meaning.
Marigold Meaning: Marigolds are known as the “Herb of the Sun.” The Welsh used marigolds for weather prediction. They watched to see if marigolds were open early in the morning. If not, a storm was on the way. Marigold meaning includes passion, creativity and happiness. Learn more in Marigold Meaning.
Nasturtium Meaning: Nasturtium flowers mean victory in battle and conquest. The name “nasturtium” literally means “nose-twister.” This is a reference to the mustard-like oil in the leaves. Nasturtium have showy, often intensely bright flowers. In addition, they have round leaves shaped like shields. Nasturtium are red, orange or yellow.
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Comets: History, Science and Symbolism
Comets are unique cosmic bodies associated with both good and bad omens. Comets orbit the sun the way planets do, but have a longer orbit and different composition. There are currently 3,743 comets known to be orbiting our sun. Comets can be thought of as cosmic snowballs made of frozen gases, rocks and dust.
The tail of a comet is made of particles that burn off as the comet travels through space. The most famous comet is Halley’s Comet, named after astronomer Edmund Halley. Halley was the first to realize that comets have a periodic orbit. He correctly predicted the return of his namesake in 1757 after observing it in 1682.
Another well-known comet is Hale Bopp. This massive comet that made a close approach to the earth is 1997. This was the closest approach of this comet in 4,000 years. The last time the comet was near Earth was during the Bronze age in 2000 BC.
While Halley’s comet is 3.4 miles in radius, the Hale-Bopp comet is 18.6 miles in radius. It’s so bright that it was visible from earth as early as 1995 when it was still outside of Jupiter’s orbit. Another famous comet is Shoemaker Levy-9. This comet broke into 21 different pieces after experiencing the stress of Jupiter’s gravity in 1992. Then the comet slammed into the planet two years later in 1994.
According to New Scientist magazine, “The impact of one fragment – around 3 km across – is said to have yielded an explosion and fireball equivalent to 6 million megatons of TNT. The plume reached 22,000 km (13,700 miles)….”
Comet Symbolism in Hinduism
Comets can have both good and bad symbolic meanings. In either case, they are known in Hinduism for being a disruption in the order of the world. A comet is mysterious, hard to predict event. On the other hand, they are also a point of light in the darkness of space.
In Hindu mythology, comets are associated with Rahu and Ketu, two powerful demons. In one story, Rahu and Ketu were trying to drink one of the elixirs of the gods through deceptive means. They were noticed by the sun and moon gods. Vishnu, one of the Hindu trinity, rushed in and lopped off their heads.
The heads of these demons, having already experienced the elixir, became immortal. Their bodies became serpents. The shining heads and the serpent tails are seen in the heavens as comets. The comets are believed to swallow the moon and sun temporarily, causing what we know as lunar and solar eclipses. In other traditions comets are connected to new beginnings and to the elephant-headed god Ganesha. Learn more about Ganesha Meaning.
The appearance of a comet is perceived as a bad omen more often than a good one. A comet may portend a significant death, natural disasters, political or civil unrest and so forth. Some people may avoid scheduling important events during the appearance of a comet. This may include weddings, real estate transactions or major construction projects.
More Info on the Web:
Comets, NASA Science
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Comet Symbolism in Christianity
Comets and meteors also have important ties in Christianity. For example, when St. Lawrence was martyred in 258AD during the reign of Emperor Valerian, the Perseid meteor shower was at its peak. The shooting stars became symbolically connected with the saint’s tear. Others have argued that the star the Magi followed to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus was actually a comet.
Author Kathleen Karlsen
Kathleen Karlsen is a musician, artist, writer and speaker. She is the author of two books (Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine) and over 200 articles. Kathleen, her husband Andrew and their five children live in Bozeman, Montana. More about Kathleen Karlsen.
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