Saule, The Sun Goddess

​When I first started to study Baltic mythology I did not know what to expect. I was profoundly moved by the beautiful connection that the ancient Baltic tribes had to the earth and the way they respected the earth. There is a very strong feminine aspect within Baltic mythology which leads all the way back to ancient goddess cults of the pre-historic world.

​Great sun goddess Saulė(pronounced as Sow-ley) was the queen of heaven and earth and the matriarch of the universe. She was an extremely popular goddess among both Latvians (Saule) and Lithuanians (Saulė). Saulė was celebrated during the summer Solstice festival called Rasa. It was believed that Saulė ruled the world during the summer day and when winter approached she weakened. Many rituals and spells were performed to strengthen her. Lithuanians began waiting for the return of the sun around November 30th and festivities to celebrate her return lasted until 6th of January. Later times this time period of waiting Saulė ´s return became the Christian advent. Saulė was portrayed as a golden-haired woman. Dressed in golden silk, golden shawl and crown. She drew her chariot to the heavens, pulled by two white horses called Asviniai. These horses were sons of the sky god Dievas. Saulé is closely connected to the sea where she was believed to ride at the end of her daily journey and bathe her steeds. During the night Saulė visited the underworld embracing her dark aspect.

Being the mother of all heavenly family Saulė was believed to be the mother of the planets. Her daughters were Vaivora (Mercury), Ziazdré (Mars), Indraja (Jupiter), Aušrinė (Venus), Selija (Saturn) and Zemyna (Earth). According to some sources, ancient Lithuanian tribes named their planets even before Greeks and Romans.

​On December 13th Saulė pauses her return and dances with her daughters. She also dances on Velykos (Easter) and Rasa (Summer Solstice). According to some of the myths, Saulė was married to Mėnulis (the moon) but divorced him because of his infidelity with their daughter Aušrinė. In the moment of anger, Saulė scratched his face and this is why the moon only shows one side of him to the earth. Saulė is also connected to the magical blacksmith god Kalvis. It was told that Kalvis created the sun and placed her into the heavens. This story is very common among Finno-Baltic cultures and can also be found from Finnish, Estonian and Latvian folk tales. Worship of Saulė leads all the way back to ancient goddess cults in Europe. Saulė was seen as the nurturing mother goddess who loved all humans. Good women were often compared to her. In her presence, all the demons and evil spirits would flee and humans were free to return to their tasks while feeling protected.

​Legend tells that Saulė lived in a magical heavenly garden that was situated in the west. It was filled with apple trees bearing golden fruits that were made of gold, silver and diamonds. In traditional riddles and folk songs, Saulė was referred to as the golden apple. In Latvia, her symbol was the red apple which symbolized drowning sun. Her sacred animals were horses and žaltys the sacred serpents, white cows, white goats and birds. Her sacred tree was the linden and her sacred flowers were roses and daisies. Saulė was connected to the wheel and the agricultural wheel of the year. Sometimes she was referred to as ridolele the rolling sun. In Latvian songs she is referred to as ligo; ligot meaning to sway and rota from rotat to hop or to roll. Saulė’s symbols were burning Solar wheels and Solar crosses that were specially made during Rasa festivities. On the morning of Summer Solstice, people woke up early and gathered together outside to see the first sun rays. Everyone wanted to see sun dancing and the way she shone in all various colours bringing warmth to the earth. We can find depictions of these festivities from Latvian songs “The sun dancing on the silver hill, has silver shoes on her feet”

​In Lithuania, Saulė was especially worshipped by the shepherds who considered her as their protector goddess and they had many devotional songs and prayers dedicated to her. Saulė was also considered as the protector of women especially single mothers and she was closely connected to healing and motherhood. Saulė also played kanklės (a traditional harp-like instrument) and she was a goddess connected to arts and music. In Latvia, Saule was the protector of the orphan children and the people who faced difficulties in their lives.

Saulė has been described to be married to Mėnulis the moon, Dievas the god of the skies and Perkūnas the thunder god. Yet in the end, Saulė remains an independent matriarch of the heavens. The idea of sun goddess is universal and there are several cultures with female sun deities as in Finnish, Japanese, Hindu, Scandinavian, Saami and many Native American cultures. Thanks to the sun life on this earth are possible and this was vital for the people who lived in the ancient world. Saulė as the personification of the sun was the personification of life itself in all its beauty for the ancient Balts.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. A host of the Little Women Podcast.