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Sunrise and Sunset Meaning in Folklore and Magic

Lady Saoirse
By Lady Saoirse
June 19, 2024
Sunrise and Sunset Meaning in Folklore and Magic
Sunrise and Sunset Meaning in Folklore and Magic

The beauty of the rising and setting sun mesmerizes us every day. Today’s people are not the only ones to have looked upon the sun rising and setting in wonder, though. Ancient people attached great spiritual meaning to sunrises and sunsets, and they worshiped goddesses and gods who they believed controlled the sun. Besides the veneration of powerful sunset and sunrise deities, people believed in superstitions connected to them. This article will explore sacred deities and practices related to the sunrise and sunset and some superstitions. 

Aurora

Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn, and Eos is considered to be her Greek equivalent. Her name means “dawn” and she is said to renew herself, every morning, moving across the sky to announce the sun’s daily return. One of her lovers was a mortal prince named Tithonus, and she asked the god Jupiter to make him mortal. He did, but he did not grant eternal youth to Tithonus, who continued to age. Aurora was compassionate and changed him into a cicada. Her brother was Sol, the sun, and her sister was Luna, the moon. She was said to have married Astraeus, a star god, and together, they gave birth to the winds.

Aurora was said to be a goddess whose myths combined with those of proto Indo European goddess Hausos. Parts of her name mean various things such as “gold” and “to glow” or “glow red.” She was believed to be the one who brought the light of day, and some stories say she harnessed divine horses who drove the sun across the sky. Another goddess associated with Aurora besides Eos and Hausos was the Baltic goddess Saule, who represents the very sun itself. She married Menuo, the god of the Moon, and because he was unfaithful, she divorced him, but they still worked together so they could both see their daughter, Zemyna, who was the earth.

Some scholars believe stories of all these goddesses combined to form stories about Aurora. It is said this goddess of the dawn has a home on an island, or at the “ends of the earth” and every day she dances across the sky. Some say she drives a chariot or a carriage, but a Slavic tale says she sails a boat with a golden boat with a silver oar. Her horses are either pale white or a russet color and her task is basically to open the door or gates so a sun deity can travel across the sky. She was not a major deity, but she represented new beginnings and without her, the sun could not shine upon the earth.

Khepri

Khepri

The name of this god comes from “kheper” or to come into being. This was an ancient Egyptian god associated with the scarab beetle, which lays eggs in dung. The young emerge and feed on the dung and the adults roll the dung into balls they can easily move. People associated the scarab with the god Khepri, who they believed took the form of a divine scarab, and rolled the sun across the sky like the scarab rolls what it uses as food. Some believed Khepri was a form of Atum, another Egyptian sun god, and others believed he was a different god.

Khepri was associated with the sun as it emerged, like the scarab emerged from its burrow. He was associated with renewal and rebirth, and his job was literally to push the sun across the sky, and then into the underworld. The scarab was his symbol, and these were carved into jewelry and also used to adorn the dead. Carved scarabs were placed over the heart of the deceased, and inscriptions on them often said “do not stand as a witness against me” This was because the heart was said to be judged to see if the dead were worthy of advancing to a good afterlife.

These funerary scarabs were not just for the wealthy, or royal classes, however. Scarabs were used in funerary practices for anybody who could have them. It was believed that there were certain questions people had to answer properly to get where they wanted to in the afterlife, and rituals helped ensure the dead had those answers. Inscriptions from the Book of the Dead that held those sacred answers were placed with some burials so the dead could read them when they were awakened after death. As for the people who could not read, the answers were recited to living scarabs who would be ritually killed and placed in the ears of the dead so they could hear the answers when the time came that they needed them.

Khepri and his symbol, the scarab beetle, was associated with finding the way to the afterlife. They were called upon for help and they could grant admission to a good afterlife. Khepri was responsible for making the sun move across the heavens in the way it was meant to, thus ensuring survival on earth. So he was a god of life in that way, but he was an important god who helped people prepare for eternal joy and comfort in the afterlife.

The Hesperides

The Hesperides were nymphs who some stories say were daughters of the Titan god Atlas in Greek myth. They numbered either three, four, or seven, and they were personifications of the sunset and the evening. Some stories say they were the daughters of the Titan god Hyperion, and others say their mother was Nyx, goddess of the night. The Hesperides had a legendary garden and experts disagreed about its exact location. Some said it was near the Atlas Mountain Range in Africa while others say it was in Tartessos in Spain. It was said the garden once had to be moved west of its original location to keep it secret.

This garden was imagined as the sunset sky that was hidden away every day except for the short time the sun was going down. The Hesperides danced in the evenings, making the sky turn beautiful colors. In this garden, nectar flowed and sacred gifts from the gods grew. There were plenty of beautiful fruit trees, but perhaps the most famous thing in the garden was the Golden Apples of immortality. The apples were a wedding gift to the goddess Hera from Gaia the earth goddess. The Hesperides guarded the apples, but could not resist temptation and they had some for themselves sometimes, so Hera placed the fearsome dragon, Ladon in the garden to protect her sacred apples.

Despite how difficult it was to find the Garden of the Hesperides, Hercules managed to, and he stole the golden apples after slaying Ladon. After the dragon’s death, the Hesperides lamented loudly as they grieved his death. While the Hesperides were still in mourning, Jason and his men managed to find the garden and begged the Hesperides to give them water. The Hesperides were compassionate and helped the men. The Hesperides symbolize guarding the sacredness of immortality, but they also knew that exceptions should be made so that everybody could partake in the sacred. They allowed themselves some of what was forbidden to them, and they helped Jason and his men, who were not supposed to set foot in their sacred garden. They grant access to the forbidden to others in their great compassion.

Bast

Bast

Also known as Bastet, this goddess was worshiped in Ancient Egypt, and was portrayed as having the body of a human woman and the head of a cat. At one time, she was believed to be an aspect of the goddess Sekhmet, a lion headed warrior goddess. Bast was seen as the protector of Lower Egypt and the king and she also protected against evil spirits and disease. She was a daughter of the sun god Ra, and she represented sunshine. Her role in the movements of the sun was as goddess of the sunrise itself. She protected women, children, and the household.

She was also a fertility goddess who was worshiped in joyous rituals. Every year, her temple at Bubastis drew close to 700,000 women and men who partook of dancing, singing, and drinking hearty amounts of alcohol. They gave sacrifice to the goddess and enjoyed themselves. Sunrises represent new beginnings and the potential for great things after a time of darkness. The fact Bast, a sunrise goddess was worshiped joyously as opposed to in quiet contemplation at a main festival for her reveals her as a goddess of happiness, and one who wanted people to enjoy themselves. New possibilities create merriment and hope, which the goddess was kind enough to grant.

Bastet was protective over the home, as a domestic cat would be. Domestic cats were highly honored and loved in Egypt, and families grieved deeply when their beloved cats died. They would be mummified, as humans would be, and there were special areas in temples, including the temple of Bast at Bubastis just for cats. Cats would be adorned with jewelry and allowed to eat from the plates of their humans. There have been over 300,000 cat burials that have been excavated at the temple at Bubastis, further linking domestic cats to Bast. Like Bast, cats protected crops from rodents, and they were associated with her protective, life giving qualities. She was a loving mother goddess who gave life as a protector and as a solar deity and she provided the means for nourishment and all life in general.

Astraeus

Astraeus was the Greek god of dusk, who married Eos, another name for Aurora, goddess of dawn. He was a second-generation Titan, who were gods before the gods of Mount Olympus came about, and he was believed to be a Gigantes, or a giant. He was the father of the gods of the four winds, and also the father of stars, and two other deities. One was Astraea, a goddess of innocence and justice and the other was Phosphorus, a god of the morning star. If there were any myths about Astraeus, they have been lost, but if they exist, they may be found again in time. What we know is he conceived some very important deities without whom the world would not be as we know it.

He is the god of stars, planets, astrology, and astronomy, all of which were very important in ancient Greece and Rome. As the god of dusk, his role was crucial. Dusk comes right after the sun has set and before night has completely fallen. The sky will still be a bit lighter than it will be when it is completely night, and ancient people had beliefs about what happens at dusk. Some believed that dawn and dusk occupied spaces between time itself and that much magic was afoot then. Dusk brought in darkness, and hidden spirits and magic could be about at dusk. Dusk was a time to get indoors before malevolent forces came out and there was just enough light left to see to do that. Astraeus provided that.

Superstitions

People have always believed that things like the sun, the moon, day, night, the sunrise and sunset meant more than just what time they marked. Some people have always believed they had great spiritual meaning. From being a time when the dead came out to a time when evil spirits left, both the sunrise and sunset are believed by people to have deep meaning

Sunrise Superstitions

A sailor’s superstition is that if the sunrise is red, there will be storms. To offset the possibility of bad luck that could cause things like storms at sea, sailors would take a polydactyl cat with them on the ship.

The Summer Solstice sunrise was an auspicious time in ancient Britain. Various monuments like Stonehenge marked the sunrise on the Summer Solstice when it was believed the sun was at the height of its power. People sought to draw power from the sun when it was at its mightiest, believing this would strengthen them as well as the earth itself. 

The sunrise at the Winter Solstice was seen as auspicious as well. It was believed the sun was at its weakest in the cold months, but it was “reborn” on the Winter Solstice, and prayers and rituals were done to help give strength to the sun. The sunrise was “caught” within the chambers of Newgrange, a burial site, and for a moment on the Winter Solstice, the rays of the rising sun would illuminate the burial chamber, granting life giving power of the sun to the ancestors.

Rising with the sun is believed to make people more productive in their work. In times before electricity, people needed the light from the sun to help them see what they were doing, but rising early, as the sun did, was believed to help people get a good start on their day so they could get more done. Waiting later in the day would take away precious hours that could be used for work. The phrase “burning daylight” means to waste precious time that needs to be used.

Japan is called the “Land of the Rising Sun” because it was located to the east and that is where the sun rises. Some ancient people even considered Japan to be where the sun rises from. Scientifically, however, the sunrise is not seen first in Japan each day. It is first seen in Kiribati, Tongo, and Samoa each day.

The rising sun represents new beginnings, and the sun rises in the east. The east is associated with intellect, language, and the element of air. The colors for the east are white and yellow. Sunrises represent hopes and potential for great things. The dawn brings in the ability to go into the world and make good things happen.

Sunset Superstitions

Unlike a red sunrise, a red sunset is considered to be an omen that the weather will be calm and fair. In India, some people believe that cutting your nails after sunset can invite misfortune.

Appalachian folklore says it is unwise to sweep at home after the sun sets, and if you do, you will always be poor. It is also considered bad luck to hammer nails after sunset, lest you wake tree gods. The belief behind both of these concepts is that doing things after dark like that would disturb spirits will make bad things happen. Some believe evil spirits will enter the house if the sun is not out, so keeping doors closed while the sun is setting or at night will help keep those spirits out. Even if you don’t believe in evil spirits, if you do sweep after sunset and leave your doorway open to sweep the dust out, you might let in mosquitoes, and that isn’t a good thing!

Some people say they can see a brief flash of green light as the sun sets, and this is called a “green flash.” If you have never seen or heard of this, don’t be surprised. Seeing this is supposed to be a lucky omen few are fortunate enough to have. If you see the green flash, it means you won’t have bad luck in love. It is also believed to mean the weather tomorrow will be fair.

Sunsets represent final chapters and endings. For some, they represent finishing things, and to others they represent a rest before beginning again. The sun sets in the west and the west represents the element of water. Water represents emotions and psychic abilities. The colors for the west are shades of blue.

The sunrise and sunset are a time when great magic is believed to happen. Rising with the sun is believed to help us be successful, but making too much noise after sunset is believed to be unlucky. The sunrise and sunset have both been identified as gods and goddesses, and times of much importance. May the magic of the rising sun energize you to go forth and manifest all your dreams and may the setting sun provide you with rest until you arise the next day to shine with the sun. So Be It.

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