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The Cross as a Sun Symbol

Abstract

THE use of the cross as a sacred symbol dates from the earliest times, and is almost universal. It occurs upon the monuments and utensils of every primitive people from China to Yucatan. In many, perhaps in a majority of, instances it is used as a symbol of the sun. One of the oldest and most widely occurring forms is the cross with crampons turned to the right or left, the svastika and sauvastika of India, the “Thor's hammer” of Western Europe. Prof. Max Müller thinks that the svastika represents the vernal sun, and is hence an emblem of life, health, and creative energy (Schliemann's “Ilios,” p. 348). Mr. Edward Thomas (ibid.) believes it to have arisen from the conception of the sun as a rolling wheel. The Chaldean sun symbol was first a circle, then a circle with an inscribed cross. The symbol of the sun-god at Sippara is a small circle with four triangular rays, the four angles between being occupied by radiating lines, and the whole circumscribed by a larger circle. The same symbol occurs repeatedly upon the shell gorgets of the mound-builders (Second Annual Report of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, plates liii., lviii., and lix.). The peculiar figure repeated upon the facade of the “House of the Nuns” at Uxmal seems to be a conventionalised circle and cross with rays. The Moqui symbol for the sun is a Greek cross with a small circle at the centre, in which are three marks to indicate the eyes and mouth of a face (First Annual Report of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, p. 371). It is needless to multiply examples: the important question is, How has the cross come to be a symbol of the sun? If anyone will observe carefully a lamp, or other bright light, with partially closed eyes, the answer will be obvious. The rays which appear to proceed from the luminous point always form a cross of some kind. A little experimenting will show that this appearance is due to reflection from the eyelashes and edges of the eyelids. The same experiment may be tried with the sun itself: if observed when considerably above the horizon, squinting will be unavoidable. If the head is erect, the downward arm of the cross will be much the strongest, and the upward arm may be obsolete; but if the head is thrown back, the arms will be nearly equal. The evolution of the sun symbol seems to have been as follows: He was first represented by a circle or disk as he appears when near the horizon; observations made when he was shining brightly revealed the crossed rays. This led to a combination of the circle and cross. If this hypothesis be correct, the svastika was originally neither a rolling wheel, nor, as Burnouf supposes, the crossed sticks from which our ancestors elicited fire; but it is a modification of the circle and inscribed cross.

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DRYER, C. The Cross as a Sun Symbol. Nature 35, 345–346 (1887). https://doi.org/10.1038/035345f0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/035345f0

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