Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Sun and Moon in Baltic Mythology

The Cosmology of the Ancient Balts
Straižys, V., Klimka, L.
Journal for the History of Astronomy, Archaeoastronomy Supplement, Vol. 28

Saulè (the Sun) was imagined as a beautiful goddess of the sky who lives in a palace somewhere away to the east. Every morning she drives across the sky in a brilliant chariot of gold, copper or fire, pulled by two white horses. In the evening the chariot goes down into the Baltic sea and Saulè changes the chariot into a golden boat which takes her across the sea. The boat is steered by the goddess Perkūnèlè who bathes the tired and dusty Saulè and sees her off, the next morning, refreshed and shining for a new journey through the sky.

Mènulis (the Moon
) was a young god, dressed in silver attire, Saulè's husband. He had fertile, vitality-giving functions and was the guardian of night and time. Rich mythological imagery was connected with the four phases of the Moon, as this was considered of vital importance to animals, plants and the weather. One interesting tale tries to explain the solar eclipses: the Sun and the Moon are kissing each other; they cover themselves with a wrap, trying not to be seen by their daughter, the Earth.

Myths speak of Vakarine (the Evening Star) who made the bed for Saulè, and about
Aušrinė (the Morning Star) who burnt the fire for Saulè and made her ready for another day's journey. Aušrinė was a maiden of remarkable beauty with golden hair and an image of the Sun on her crown. She wore a starry mantle with a moon shaped brooch on her shoulder and was often considered to be even more beautiful than the Sun herself.

One of the most important sky gods was the god of thunder and all storms,
Perkūnas (the Thunder), fecundator and cleaner of the earth from the power of evil. He was imagined as a stern, bearded and powerfully-built man who traversed the sky in a fiery chariot, drawn by swift horses or as riding a fiery horse. His head was surrounded by a wreath of flames. In one hand he held lightning bolts and, in the other, a heavy stone axe. Nine festivals dedicated to Perkūnas were celebrated throughout the year, starting in the early spring. Figurines of Perkūnas have been found in the Kernavė settlement, in the so-called Perkūnas house in Kaunas, and elsewhere.

An interesting folk-song involves the Sun, the Moon, their daughter
Aušrinė (the Morning Star) and the god Perkūnas . We present it as written by Balys[1951]. Nowadays the Sun and the Moon, the heavenly couple, are divorced, and they never rise and set together. The cause of their enmity is explained as follows. The Moon married the Sun in the primeval spring. Because the Sun rose early, the Moon separated and walked along. He met the Morning Star and fell in love with her. Then Thundergod Perkunas became angry and punished the Moon by striking him with his sword. The Moon's face, therefore, often appears as cut in two pieces. Perkūnas's sword is probably a comet.

Lithuanian Ethnoastronomy
Jonas Vaiškūnas

Lithuanian riddles and fairy talks often associate the Moon with the Horse. In the riddles it is called "laukų arklys" (horse of the fields), "kumeliuku aukso pasagom" (a foal with the golden shoes), "dievo kumeliukas" (the foal of God), occasionally called "elnias" (a deer), "jautis" (an ox). In the fairytales the Moon turned in the horse rides along the sky and takes the hero to the maiden he is looking for (Greimas 1990, 51-56).

Lithuanian folklore believes that the Moon and the Sun is a wedded pair: the Moon is the husband and the Sun is the wife. In the attempt to explain why they appear in the sky in different periods of the day it is often said that they quarreled and parted. There are two typical explanations of the feud:

1. The Moon and the Sun could not share their daughter, the Earth;

2. The Moon was not loyal to the Sun and started courting the star Aušrinė (Balys 1951,8-9).

In both instances Perkūnas (Thunder) participates in the quarrel between the Sun and the Moon. He separates the quarreled parties or punishes the disloyal Moon by cutting it into two parts. Sometimes it is said that the Sun herself leaves the Moon, hides from it or punishes it by beating or striking (Dundulienė 1988, 70-76).

Analogous relationship between the Sun and the Moon is typical for the Latvian folklore. J. Kletnieks, a Latvian ethnoastronomer, has formed a hypothesis that Latvian song theme where the Sun is striking the Moon with the silver whip may be associated with the appearance of the half Moon in the neighborhood of a bright comet tail. By his calculations the astronomic situation of this character was on 17 May 240 years before Christ when Hale's comet was shining bright in the sky (Kletnieks 1986, 40-47).

In Lithuanian folk songs the Moon is called daddy and the Sun is mummy. It is sung that the Sun is collecting dowry for the girl who marries and the Moon deems her fate or gives her part of his possessions (skiria dalį, dalį turto). It is noteworthy that in Žemaitija one and the same word ‘‘ryžti’‘ means the waning of the Moon and giving part of the possession for the marital girl (LKŽ XI 775).

A. J. Greimas on having analyzed the role of the Moon in the Lithuanian folklore found a lot of data to prove that the Moon could have been one of the sovereign gods in the Lithuanian triad of gods along with Perkūnas and Kalvelis.


  1. What beautiful mythology, Marnie! One thing that strikes me are the gender identifications of the sun and the moon deities. I think that many Indo-European mythologies have moon goddesses and solar gods, but here the genders of the sun and the moon are reversed. The Hattic people of Anatolia have the Sun Goddess of Arinna and Kasku, a moon god, while the Canaanites also have a sun goddess--Shapash and a moon god, Yarikh. I wonder whether the Baltic mythology has relics from the Near East transmitted perhaps via Neolithic influences?

  2. Hi Roy,

    I checked into the Hattic Moon God and found this cool book:

    Religions of Second Millenium Anatolia. Looks complicated! But whether male or female, as in most of Europe, it appears that by 4000 years ago, the Moon God/Goddess was already being sublimated!


    I found a link for the Canaanites. http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/canaanite-faq.html

    Like the ancient Greeks, it looks like they were Pantheists.

    "I wonder whether the Baltic mythology has relics from the Near East transmitted perhaps via Neolithic influences."

    Very likely.

    It's often suggested that ancient hunter gatherers were Goddess worshippers. Over the years, I've come to think instead that the norm was more often like the Lithuanians, with some degree of gender balance.

    One of the reasons I posted these two myths is that they reflect that the Scots and Lithuanians were good observational astronomers. I also think, based on certain details, that the myths extend back to before the Neolithic and probably stem from the same source.

  3. Roy, I've been updating links to various labs. I was looking for your Stanford Lab link and I just realized that in addition to your Stanford School of Medicine affiliation, you are also associate with the Stanford Program in Gender, Feminist and Sexuality Studies. Ah ha! Now I know why you know so much about the history of gender and cosmology.

    Thanks again for your links. It's a profound topic. I'll add you to my list under both affiliations.

  4. Marnie, Thanks! I try to subvert traditional role expectations. Many years ago, when the psychiatry department wanted me (the only Black tenured faculty person) and the only female associate professor to teach gender and ethnic issues in psychiatry, I taught the gender stuff and my colleague taught the ethnic material even though she's of European American ancestry. It's great when reality belies appearance! I long for a future when each of us can find a niche harmoniously integrated into our true self's mission rather than placed into a box that others find comfortable to view. (To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr who's on my mind right now).

  5. "I long for a future when each of us can find a niche harmoniously integrated into our true self's mission rather than placed into a box that others find comfortable to view."


    "(To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr who's on my mind right now)."

    I have also been reading several of Martin's later speeches today . . .

    From "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence":

    "My third reason grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years - especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.

    "For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a Civil Rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed from the shackles they still wear.

    "Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read "Vietnam." It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over."

    Looking forward to your Martin Luther King talk on Monday.


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