The Winged Disc - Solar Gods and the "Light" of Reason. Selections & comments by Peter Myers.

Date November 16, 2003; update June 30, 2018.

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Behistun Inscription - to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs

The Persian Empire was the first "Multicultural" empire, engulfing Egypt, Pakistan, and the lands between.

King Darius ruled it from 521 to 486 BC. About 515 BC, he arranged for the story of the Empire to be inscribed into a cliff near Bisistun, in Iran.

The story was carved in 3 languages - Elamite, Old Persian and Akkadian - in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped script used in Babylon.

From the Behistun Inscription, the amateur scholar Henry Rawlinson started the decipherment of the cuneiform script of Babylonia.

(1) Overview
(2) The Winged Disc - symbol of divine kingship in the Egyptian and Assyrian religions
(3) The Faravahar - the Zoroastrian winged disc
(3) The Behistun Inscription
(4) The Behistun Inscription - translation
(5) Jacquetta Hawkes, Man and the Sun

(1) Overview

The text illustrates the use of the Zoroastrian religion to explain and legitimate the consolidation of the Persian (Achaemenid ) Empire.

Note the depiction of Ahuramazda as a winged disc, at the top of the carving:

with description at

This is the symbol for Ahura-Mazda in the Zoroastrian religion: Ahura-Mazda-wings.jpg

The winged disc was a symbol of divinity, which the Zoroastrian religion adopted from Assyrian religions. Horus, of Egypt, had earlier been depicted in a similar way.

The winged-disc symbol associated with the Assyrian sun-god Shamash: shamash.jpg

is from

This prominent Rosicrucian symbol, adapted from the Zoroastrian/Assyrian one, is called the Wings of Jehovah: Rosicrucian-WingsofJehovah.jpg

Zecharia Sitchin uses a similar symbol in his New Age books, e.g. on p. 240 of The Cosmic Code (Avon Books, New York, 1998): sitchin-Cosmic-Code-240.jpg

In the Behistun Inscription, Darius says, "Ahuramazda brought me help, and the other gods, all that there are" (paragraphs 62 & 63 at

This formulation does not sound Zoroastrian., as we think of that religion today, because it sounds a little "polytheistic". But the Jewish Bible has similar ambiguities. Zoroastrianism tended to incorporate lesser deities as "angels" and "archangels".

However, the following formulations are very Zoroastrian: "I call Ahuramazda to witness that is true and not lies" (para. 57).

"I was not wicked, nor was I a liar" (para 63).

The evil force - the Devil or Satan - was commonly referred to as "the Lie", in Zoroastrian texts.

The Zoroastrian religion has bequested apocalypticism and fundamentalism to us, via the Jewish religion.

" ... the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings ... " - Malachi 4:2.

(2) The Winged Disc - symbol of divine kingship in the Egyptian and Assyrian religions

Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary

by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green; Illustrations by Tessa Rickards

University of Texas Press, Austin, 1995.

{p. 37} Assur

Assur was the god of the Assyrian nation ...

{p. 38} The modern attribution to assur of the solar disc is certainly incorrect. Some scholars, however, believe that the winged disc, very common in assyrian art and often on Assyrian sculptures with the image of a god above it, and placed over scenes of battle, ritual and the chase, must represent Assur. The evidence, however, points strongly to this emblem as a symbol of the sun god Samas (Uru). again, there may be some borrowing of an image proper to another god.

{p. 182} Utu (Samas) Utu was the Sumerian sun god, whose Akkadian name as Samas. He represents the brilliant light of the sun, which returns every day to illuminate the life of mankind, as well as giving beneficial warmth, which causes plants to grow. ...

{p. 184} Presumably because the sun, in its path across the skies, sees everything, Utu/Samas came to be regardcd as a god of truth, justice and right. Samas, together with Adad (see Iskur), is invoked during Babylonian extispicy rituals. As a protector of right and destroyer of evil, he also had a warrior aspect to his personality.

A third aspect of Utu was his direct interest in the affairs of mankind. ... Utu acted as a special protector of some of the later heroic kings of the city, for instance Gilgames. In the Bablynian Epic of Gilgames, Samas helps the hero against the monstrous guardian ot the Cedar Forest, Humhaha (Huwawa).

{p. 185} Both the origins and meaning of the winged solar disc are matters of controversy. Probably its ultimate origins were in Egypt, from where it passcd via the Syrians and the Hittites to Mesopotamia. It first appears there in the glyptic art of the Mitannian kingdom, and was then transmitted to Assyrian and Babylonian art. Taken over by the Achaemenid Persians, it remained an important emblem in Iran until

{p. 186} modern times. Often in Assyria, and normally in Achaemenid art, the figure of a god is shown above the central dise, in Assyria sometimes with the heads ot two facing figures, perhaps scorpionpeople, set at the ends of the wings.

The disc in Assyria was a symbol of Samas (Utu), though it has been attrihuted by some scholars to Assur or Ninurta. The disc is often supported by supernatural creatures, such as a pair of bull-men, a pair of scorpion-men or a figure of Lahmu. ...


Plate 155 in this book, on p. 186, shows a winged disc.

The caption reads, "Assurnasirpal II, king of Assyria (883-859 BC), rides into battle, firing at the enemy. From the sky he receives more than symbolic support from a god flying in a winged disc. Monumental stone relief from the royal palace at Kalhu (modern Nimrud). Ht. 0.93 m.": winged-disc-Assyria.jpg ==

Asshur / Assur / Ashur

National god and chief deity of the Assyrian pantheon, Asshur (also written Assur and Ashur) ... Several scholars associate the the winged disc - extremely common in Assyrian iconography, frequently including the image of a god surmounting it and appearing over scenes of battle, ritual and hunting - with the representation of Asshur. This symbol, however, is most strongly linked to the sun god Shamash; (Utu) and perhaps therefore constitutes a further example of Asshur's appropriation of another god's imagery. ==

This symbol shows a god inside a disc with wings. The god could either be the sun god Shamash or the supreme Assyrian god Ashur. ==

How Persia Created Judaism IV

© Dr M D Magee Contents Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2001

... The Iranians always used the winged disc which originated in Egypt as a symbol of Horus in the third millennium BC so Herodotus was only relatively correct about this, and from the time of Artaxerxes, statues of Anahita became popular. The many sun names like Surya, Asura, Ahura, Aura, Huar, Hor, Ra and words for gold (Aureus, Or) derived from its bright sun-like colour betray a common origin and perhaps the winged disc accompanied it. It spread through the near east in second millenium when Egypt was its most imperial. Standing for the pharaoh who was the sun god incarnate, it came to represent royalty and thence power. In Assyria a figure appears in the disc carrying a bow or a ring in one hand while saluting with the other. Bronze objects from Urartu had this symbol in a form thought close to that of Darius's monument at Behistun, the earliest Persian example.

(3) The Faravahar - the Zoroastrian winged disc


The "Faravahar," the winged disc with a man's upper body that is commonly used as a symbol of the Zoroastrian faith, has a long and splendid history in the art and culture of the Middle East. Its symbolism and philosophical meaning is an ancient heritage that extends through three millennia to modern times. In this text I will tell the story of the Faravahar and explain some of its many symbolic aspects.

The history of the Faravahar design begins in ancient Egypt, with a stylized bird pattern which is known as the "spread-eagle." A "spread-eagle" (as it is called in heraldry) features a flying bird shown from below, with its wings, tail, and legs outstretched. Such designs have been used in cultures throughout history, including American, where the seal of the U.S. Government features a "spread-eagle." ==

Faravahar (fravashi) {also Farohar}

Definition: An emblem of the Zoroastrian religion. Faravahar means "to choose." The Faravahar is descended from the Egyptian winged disk, a symbol of divine kingship. It represented the Assyrian sun god Shamash, and may have represented the corona of a solar eclipse. In the Zoroastrian faith, it represents the human soul.

The faravahar has several parts:

A winged disk- the three layers of feathers represent the three pillars of the Zoroastrian faith: good words, good thoughts, good deeds. The ring represents eternity.

Two streamers, representing the duality of good and evil- left and right, respectively.

The head of a man, facing left-representing the prophet Zoroaster, and the choice to live a morally upright life. == FARAVAHAR - WINGED SYMBOL OF ZOROASTRIANISM

The "Faravahar," the winged disc with a man's upper body that is commonly used as a symbol of the Zoroastrian faith, has a long and splendid history in the art and culture of the Middle East. Its symbolism and philosophical meaning is an ancient heritage that extends through three millennia to modern times. In this text I will tell the story of the Faravahar and explain some of its many symbolic aspects.

The history of the Faravahar design begins in ancient Egypt, with a stylized bird pattern which is known as the "spread-eagle." A "spread-eagle" (as it is called in heraldry) features a flying bird shown from below, with its wings, tail, and legs outstretched. Such designs have been used in cultures throughout history, including American, where the seal of the U.S. Government features a "spread-eagle."

An Egyptian "spread-eagle" device is featured in the treasure of Tut-ankh-amoun which has a bird's body with a human head, and in which hieroglyphic symbols are held in the outstretched talons. (Illustration: Tut-ankh-amoun) These features will later re- appear, transformed, in the Faravahar. Closer still to the Faravahar are Egyptian designs which feature a sun-disc with wings. (Illustration: Egyptian winged disc.) This winged sun-disc represents Horus, the hawk-god believed by the ancient Egyptians to be incarnate in Pharaoh, the god-king.

The winged disc was from the beginning a symbol of divine kingship, or the divine favor upon a king. Very early on (second millennium B.C.) this design had migrated from Egypt to the ancient Near East. It appears above the carved figure of a Hittite king, (The Hittites flourished from about 1400-1200 B.C.) symbolizing a god's favor in the "spread-eagle" form. In Syria it is shown on a seal from the Mitanni civilization (c.1450-1360 BC) (Illustration: Mitanni winged disc).

The proto-Faravahar symbol may also have a native Mesopotamian origin, which was combined with the Egyptian symbol in ancient Assyria. Assyrian art also associates the winged disc with divinity and divine protection of the king and people. It appears both with and without a human figure. Without the human figure, it is a symbol of the sun-god Shamash, but with the human figure, it is the symbol of the Assyrian national god Assur. This appears on many carvings and seals. The Assyrian versions of the winged disc sometimes have the kingly figure inside the disc, and others have him arising from within the disc in a design that is very close to the Faravahar as it appears in Persian art. The graphic evolution from the "spread-eagle" is evident in the stylized Assyrian version of the design, where the bird's legs are abstracted into wavy streamers on either side of the disc which end either in "claws" or in scrolls, as they do in the Persian design. (Illustration : 2 versions of Assyrian faravahar)

By the time of the Achaemenid kings (dynasty flourished from about 600 B.C. to 330 B.C.), then, the design that would become the Faravahar had already been in use for at least 1000 years, from Egypt to Syria and then to Assyria. The early Achaemenids conquered Mesopotamian lands in the 6th century B.C., and re-patriated all the peoples subject to Babylonian rule, the Jews among them. These same Achaemenids also adopted Assyrian and Babylonian motifs for their monumental art, including the winged disc.

The Persian Faravahar is carved on the rock-cut tombs of the Achaemenid kings at Bisetoon in Iran, and varies from one carving to the other. In one it is very much like the Assyrian version, with squared-off "wavy" wings. (Illustration : Bisetoon) But it is in the carvings of Persepolis, center of the Achaemenid dynasty, that the Faravahar reaches its most elaborate and finely wrought perfection. The Faravahar of Persepolis is the one that has been adopted by Zoroastrians as their symbol. It appears in more than one form at Persepolis. When it must fit a horizontal, narrow space, the winged disc is depicted without the human figure in the disc (Illustration : Persepolis). But when there is enough space, the Faravahar is shown in all of its glory, with kingly figure, disc, streamers, and many-feathered wings (Illustration : big faravahar at Persepolis.). And, as it had done throughout history, from Egypt to Mitanni to Assyria, it represents the divine favor hovering above the king. ...

After the Achaemenids the image of the Faravahar disappears from Persian art. ...

The general scholarly opinion, at least in the West, was that the winged disc represented Ahura Mazda. ...

The word "faravahar" actually is Pahlavi, or Middle Persian. It derives from ancient Iranian (Avestan) word fravarane which means "I choose." The choice is that of the Good, or the Good Religion of Zarathushtra. Another related word is fravarti or fravashi, which may derive from an alternative meaning of "protect," implying the divine protection of the guardian spirit, the fravashi. From these words come the later Middle Persian words fravahr, foruhar, or faravahar.

Whatever the origin of the word, the use of the word faravahar to describe the Winged Disc is modern. No one knows what the ancient Persians called their winged disc. But the history of the symbol, both before and during its Persian use, has a continuous meaning, and that is one of divine favor for a king. As the Winged Sun-disc of Horus it hovered over the Pharaoh of Egypt; it hovered over the Hittite King, and in Assyrian art it is depicted over the Assyrian King, often with weapons in its hands, helping the Assyrian monarch wage war. So when it enters Persian art, it is already a symbol of divine guardianship of the king.

The current consensus on what the Faravahar meant to the ancients who carved it is that it represents not Ahura Mazda, but the Royal Glory of the Persian King. This view is held by scholars such as Boyce and Jafarey. This Royal Glory is an important concept in Zoroastrian teaching; the Avestan word for it is khvarenah.

(3) The Behistun Inscription - to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs

Behistun Inscription

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Find out how you can help support Wikipedia's phenomenal growth.

The Behistun Inscription (also Behistûn, Bisutun, and Bisistun) is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script. The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide, and 100 metres up a cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana). It is extremely inaccessible as the mountainside was removed to make the inscription more visible after its completion. ...

King Darius ruled the Persian Empire from 521 to 486 BC. Some time around 515 BC, he arranged for the inscription of a long tale of his accession in the face of the usurper Smerdis of Persia (and Darius' subsequent successful wars and supressions of rebellion) to be inscribed into a cliff near the modern town of Bisistun, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran, just as one reaches them from the Kermanshah Plain. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius, two servants, and ten one-metre figures representing conquered peoples; the god Ahura Mazda floats above, giving his blessing to the king. ... ==

Jona Lendering ©

The Behistun inscription

... A large relief depicting king Darius, his bow carrier Intaphrenes and his lance carrier Gobryas. Darius overlooks ten representatives of conquered peoples, their necks tied. One of these figures, badly damaged, is laying under Darius' feet. Above these thirteen people is a representation of the supreme god Ahuramazda. Underneath is a panel with a cuneiform text in Old Persian, telling the story of the king's conquests (translated below). This text has a length of about 515 lines. Another panel telling more or less the same story in Akkadian (the language once spoken in Babylonia and still used on official occasions and for scientific purposes). The epilogue ("column five") is missing. A third panel with the same text in Elamite (the language of the administration of the Achaemenid empire). This translation of the Persian text has a length of 650 lines. Again, the epilogue is missing.

In the text Darius describes how the god Ahuramazda choose him to dethrone the usurper Gaumâta (522 BCE). After this event, king Darius set out to quell several revolts. This is also depicted above the text, where we see the god and the king, the slain usurper, and seven men representing seven rebellious people. While artists were making this monument, Darius defeated several foreign enemies (520-519 BCE); these victories were duly celebrated by a change in the initial design, adding two new figures. When the carvings were completed, the ledge below the inscription was removed so that nobody could tamper with the inscriptions. This allowed the monument to survive (and made it impossible for humans to read the texts). ==

Jona Lendering ©

The Behistun inscription

Discovery of the monument

Several people have described the monument. The first to do so was the Greek doctor Ctesias of Cnidus (ca. 400 BCE). He tells us that there are a well and a garden beneath a monument dedicated by the Assyrian queen Semiramis to the supreme god, which Ctesias calls by his Greek name Zeus. The Roman author Tacitus (ca. 55-120 CE) informs us that there was an altar for Hercules; in 1959, this report was corroborated when a statue of the Greek god was found.

After the fall of the Achaemenid empire, the significance of the monument was forgotten. In the seventh century, a romantic story was told about the architect Farhad who created the monument. According to this legend, the relief shows king Khusrau II 'the victorious' (591-628 CE) and the enemies he has defeated. The next to describe the monument was the Arabian traveller Ibn Hauqal (died 977), who thought that Darius was a teacher in front of a group of pupils. He took Darius' bow to be a whip, used to punish the boys.

In 1598, the British diplomat in Austrian service Robert Sherley traveled east, hoping to speak the Persian shah Abbas the Great about the war against Turkey. One of his servants was a Frenchman, Abel Pinson, who wrote that the serail of Behistun was situated under a very high cliff on which he had seen a representation of 'the ascension of our Lord' with an inscription in Greek. It is obvious that Pinson had not seen the damaged figure of the fallen Gaumâta, and thought that the image of Ahuramazda and the twelve men represented Christ and his disciples. He was not the last to make this mistake: in 1808, a French traveler called Ange Gardane thought it represented twelve apostles standing under Jesus' cross. In 1818, the British scholar Ker Porter made the first drawing ot the monument, thinking that it was a picture of the ten tribes of the Jewish kingdom of Israel and the Assyrian king Salmaneser. Introduction Medieval legend Translation I Translation II

Henry Rawlinson

The first serious attempt to examine the rock relief was made by Henry Rawlinson in the summer of 1835. He must have been a skilled mountaineer, because he managed to climb the cliffs several times in order to make a squeeze of the cuneiform texts. This writing system was still unintelligible, but Rawlinson had already recognized the word Dârayavaus (Darius) somewhere else, and was soon able to recognize the same letters in this monument. When he received some notes by the German scholar Georg Friedrich Grotefend, who had booked some progress in the decipherment of the Persian cuneiform alphabet, Rawlinson was able to break the code. The first lines must have been a big surprise, because Darius wrote more or less:

I am Dârayavaus the King, son of Vistâspa, of the Hakhâmanisiya-dynasty, king of kings. I am king in Pârsa. My father is Vistâspa. Vistâspa's father is Arsâma, Arsâma's father was Ariyâramna, Ariyâramna's father was Cispis, and Cispis' father was Hakhâmanis.

This list was more identical to the list of kings in the Histories of the Greek researcher Herodotus (7.11), where these names are given as Darius, Hystaspes, Arsames, Ariaramnes, Teispes and Achaemenes. Within two weeks Rawlinson was able to establish the meaning of all 42 signs of the old Persian alphabet. In 1837 he returned to Bisotun, where he and an agile Kurdish boy made a new squeeze of half the Persian text, a dazzling feat of mountaineering which cost the two a year. Since Rawlinson knew the Persian language and had read the age-old holy book Avesta, he was soon able to read the entire text and to understand grammar, syntax and vocabulary of the language of one of the three texts at the monument. In 1838 he handed over his first results to the Royal Asiatic Society in London and the Société Asiatique in Paris. Eight years later, he started to publish on the 'Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, Deciphered and Translated' in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

The translation caused a sensation. It told how a Magian had occupied the Persian throne after the death of king Cambyses (Persian: Kambûjiya), claiming to be his brother Smerdis (Persian: Bardiya). Seven conspirators had discovered it and Darius, who was a relative of Cambyses, had killed the man. This confirmed one of the most unbelievable and romantic stories told by Herodotus (Histories 3.61-79). In the Behistun inscription Darius also told how he had suppressed several rebellions against the Persian hegemony and how he had defeated the nomads of the Central Asian steppe against whom the legendary Persian king Cyrus the Great had fought in vain.

In 1844, Rawlinson and three colleagues again climbed the cliffs at Bisotun, now making a complete squeeze. Using this copy, the scholars Niels Westergaard and Edwin Norris managed to decipher the 131 characters of the Elamitic script and to read the old language: an impressive achievement since Elamite is a dead language, related to no known spoken tongue. Rawlinson started the decipherment of the complex cuneiform script of Babylonia (which has some 500 characters) and the Akkadian language. He succeeded in 1852; from now one, scholars were able to read the flood of clay tablets coming from the excavations at Nineveh. These opened the way to a new discipline: assyriology.

The relief was damaged during the Second World War, when soldiers used the figures as targets.


Andrew R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks. The Defence of the West, c.546-478 B.C. (1962 London) pages 81-104 Ann Fawkers, 'The Behistun relief' in: Ilya Gershevitch (ed.): The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. II: The Median and Achaemenian Periods, 1985 Cambridge, pages 828-831 P. Lecoq, 'Un problème de religion achéménide: Ahura Mazda ou Xvarnah?' in: Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin emerito oblata, 1984 Leiden, pages 301-326 Rüdiger Schmitt, The Bisitun Inscriptions of Darius the Great. Old Persian Text (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, Part I: Inscriptions of Ancient Iran. Volume I, The Old Persian Inscriptions; Texts 1.) 1991 London.

(4) The Behistun Inscription - translation

The Behistun inscription (translation I)


The following translation was made by L.W. King and R.C. Thompson (The sculptures and inscription of Darius the Great on the rock of Behistûn in Persia, 1907 London). I have made some minor changes and added the titles of the sections. A new translation will be published by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (click here for the Achaemenid royal inscriptions project).

Part one

Introduction: Darius' titles and the extent of his empire

(1) I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, the king of Persia, the king of countries, the son of Hystaspes, the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenid.

(2) King Darius says: My father is Hystaspes; the father of Hystaspes was Arsames; the father of Arsames was Ariaramnes; the father of Ariaramnes was Teispes; the father of Teispes was Achaemenes.

(3) King Darius says: That is why we are called Achaemenids; from antiquity we have been noble; from antiquity has our dynasty been royal.

(4) King Darius says: Eight of my dynasty were kings before me; I am the ninth. Nine in succession we have been kings.

(5) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda am I king; Ahuramazda has granted me the kingdom.

(6) King Darius says: These are the countries which are subject unto me, and by the grace of Ahuramazda I became king of them: Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, the countries by the Sea, Lydia, the Greeks, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia and Maka; twenty-three lands in all.

(7) King Darius says: These are the countries which are subject to me; by the grace of Ahuramazda they became subject to me; they brought tribute unto me. Whatsoever commands have been laid on them by me, by night or by day, have been performed by them.

(8) King Darius says: Within these lands, whosoever was a friend, him have I surely protected; whosoever was hostile, him have I utterly destroyed. By the grace of Ahuramazda these lands have conformed to my decrees; as it was commanded unto them by me, so was it done.

(9) King Darius says: Ahuramazda has granted unto me this empire. Ahuramazda brought me help, until I gained this empire; by the grace of Ahuramazda do I hold this empire. ...==

The Behistun inscription (translation II)

Part three

... (51) King Darius says: This is what was done by me in Babylon.

Summary and conclusion

(52) King Darius says: This is what I have done. By the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. After I became king, I fought nineteen battles in a single year and by the grace of Ahuramazda I overthrew nine kings and I made them captive.

One was named Gaumâta, the Magian; he lied, saying 'I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus.' He made Persia to revolt. Another was named Âssina, the Elamite; he lied, saying: 'I am king the king of Elam.' He made Elam to revolt. Another was named Nidintu-Bêl, the Babylonian; he lied, saying: 'I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.' He made Babylon to revolt. Another was named Martiya, the Persian; he lied, saying: 'I am Ummannis, the king of Elam.' He made Elam to revolt. Another was Phraortes, the Mede; he lied, saying: 'I am Khshathrita, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Media to revolt. Another was Tritantaechmes, the Sagartian; he lied, saying: 'I am king in Sagartia, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Sagartia to revolt. Another was named Frâda, of Margiana; he lied, saying: 'I am king of Margiana.' He made Margiana to revolt. Another was Vahyazdâta, a Persian; he lied, saying: 'I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus.' He made Persia to revolt. Another was Arakha, an Armenian; he lied, saying: 'I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.' He made Babylon to revolt.

(53) King Darius says: These nine king did I capture in these wars.

(54) King Darius says: As to these provinces which revolted, lies made them revolt, so that they deceived the people. Then Ahuramazda delivered them into my hand; and I did unto them according to my will.

(55) King Darius says: You who shall be king hereafter, protect yourself vigorously from lies; punish the liars well, if thus you shall think, 'May my country be secure!'

Affirmation of the truth of the record

(56) King Darius says: This is what I have done, by the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. Whosoever shall read this inscription hereafter, let that which I have done be believed. You must not hold it to be lies.

(57) King Darius says: I call Ahuramazda to witness that is true and not lies; all of it have I done in a single year.

(58) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda I did much more, which is not graven in this inscription. On this account it has not been inscribed lest he who shall read this inscription hereafter should then hold that which has been done by me to be excessive and not believe it and takes it to be lies.

Affirmation that it is pious to make known the record

(59) King Darius says: Those who were the former kings, as long as they lived, by them was not done thus as by the favor of Ahuramazda was done by me in one and the same year.

(60) King Darius says: Now let what has been done by me convince you. For the sake of the people, do not conceal it. If you do not conceal this edict but if you publish it to the world, then may Ahuramazda be your friend, may your family be numerous, and may you live long.

(61) King Darius says: If you conceal this edict and do not publish it to the world, may Ahuramazda slay you and may your house cease.

(62) King Darius says: This is what I have done; by the grace of Ahuramazda have I always acted. Ahuramazda brought me help, and the other gods, all that there are.

The importance of righteousness

(63) King Darius says: On this account Ahuramazda brought me help, and all the other gods, all that there are, because I was not wicked, nor was I a liar, nor was I a tyrant, neither I nor any of my family. I have ruled according to righteousness. Neither to the weak nor to the powerful did I do wrong. Whosoever helped my house, him I favored; he who was hostile, him I destroyed.

(64) King Darius says: You who may be king hereafter, whosoever shall be a liar or a rebel, or shall not be friendly, punish him!

Blessings and curses

(65) King Darius says: You who shall hereafter see this tablet, which I have written, or these sculptures, do not destroy them, but preserve them so long as you live!

(66) King Darius says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, and shall not destroy them, but shall preserve them as long as your line endures, then may Ahuramazda be your friend, and may your family be numerous. Live long, and may Ahuramazda make fortunate whatsoever you do.

(67) King Darius says: If you shall behold this inscription or these sculptures, and shall destroy them and shall not preserve them so long as your line endures, may Ahuramazda slay you, may your family come to nought, and may Ahuramazda destroy whatever you do!

Names of Darius' supporters

(68) King Darius says: These are the men who were with me when I slew Gaumâta the Magian, who was called Smerdis; then these men helped me as my followers:

Intaphrenes, son of Vayâspâra, a Persian; Otanes, son of Thukhra, a Persian; Gobryas, son of Mardonius, a Persian; Hydarnes, son of Bagâbigna, a Persian; Megabyzus, son of Dâtuvahya, a Persian; Ardumanis, son of Vakauka, a Persian.

(69) King Darius says: You who may be king hereafter, protect the family of these men.

(70) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda this is the inscription which I have made. Besides, it was in Aryan script, and it was composed on clay tablets and on parchment. Besides, a sculptured figure of myself I made. Besides, I made my lineage. And it was inscribed and was read off before me. Afterwards this inscription I sent off everywhere among the provinces. The people unitedly worked upon it.

Part five

A new rebellion on Elam (Autumn 521)

(71) King Darius says: The following is what I did in the second and third year of my rule. The province called Elam revolted from me. An Elamite named Atamaita they made their leader. Then I sent an army unto Elam. A Persian named Gobryas, my servant, I made their leader. Then Gobryas set forth with the army; he delivered battle against the Elamites. The Gobryas destroyed many of the host and that Atamaita, their leader, he captured, and he brought him unto me, and I killed him. Then the province became mine.

(72) King Darius says: Those Elamites were faithless and Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the grace of Ahuramazda I did unto them according to my will.

(73) King Darius says: Whoso shall worship Ahuramazda, divine blessing will be upon him, both while living and when dead.

War against the Scythians (520/519)

(74) King Darius says: Afterwards with an army I went off to Scythia, after the Scythians who wear the pointed cap. These Scythians went from me. When I arrived at the river, I crossed beyond it then with all my army. Afterwards, I smote the Scythians exceedingly; [one of their leaders] I took captive; he was led bound to me, and I killed him. [Another] chief of them, by name Skunkha, they seized and led to me. Then I made another their chief, as was my desire. Then the province became mine.

(75) King Darius says: Those Scythians were faithless and Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them. I worshipped Ahuramazda; by the grace of Ahuramazda I did unto them according to my will.

(76) King Darius says: [Whoso shall worship] Ahuramazda, [divine blessing will be upon him, both while] living and [when dead.]


(5) Jacquetta Hawkes, Man and the Sun (The Cresset Press, London, 1962).

{p. 77} When urban life was coming into being during the fourth and early third millenia B.C. the pioneers were the Sumerians, a non-Semitic people living in the extreme south of the valley where Ur, Uruk (Erech) and Isin had their turn as leading cities. In the centre of the valley lived the Semites often known as Akkadians, who, having absorbed much of Sumerian

{p. 78} culture, became dominant in Mesopotamia from the time of Sargon, king of the city state of Akkad. A few centuries later, at the opening of the second millennium, Hammurabi, King of Babylon, a great conqueror, administrator and codifier of the laws, made his city one of the chief centres of power and culture of the ancient world. Power then shifted north once again to another Semitic people, the Assyrians, dwelling in the great mountain-girt upper basin where Assur, Nimrud and Nineveh were all in their day capital cities of the Assyrian Empire. Yet the whole land maintained a cultural and religious cohesion, which meant that the gods of one people would be identified with those of another, as later the Roman pantheon was to be identified with the Greek. At the same time in each city state the city god was likely to be equated with the supreme deity of the country as a whole, and even, when the city state became paramount, virtually to take his place.

Where in this divine kaleidoscope did the Sun God appear? In early Sumeria he occupied a relatively small corner of the pattern of the national theology, but later, with the growing power of kings and the shift of power towards the Semitic peoples, his golden presence filled a larger and larger part. In Egypt, as will appear, the original generative source of life was seen to be male, but in Mesopotamia it was female - the universe was conceived rather than begotten. Tiamat, primeval chaos, was 'mother of the deep who fashions all things'. Thus, in contrast with Egypt, a male Sun God was bound, theologically, to take a secondary place in the pantheon.

In the original Sumerian theology, which was never allowed to die, Anu the Sky God (who had his main seat of worship at Uruk), Enlil of the city of Nippur, god of air and storm, and Enki, the wise god of the waters whose shrine was at Eridu, formed the supreme trinity with Ninhursag, one of the many manifestations of the ancient Mother Goddess, making a fourth among the great, creative divinities. Anu was the king of the gods, but, as was often to happen again to remotely exalted sky

{p. 79} gods, he seems to have drifted above all power - like a British Member of Parliament being raised to a seat in the Lords. He was largely displaced by Enlil, who in the early theology, having defeated Tiamat and the other powers of chaos, created mankind by striking the ground with his pickaxe, enabling the first human beings to break through and begin their toil for the gods. Enlil remained a supreme national divinity even when Semitic divinities of Babylonia and Assyria had, as his deputies, taken over most of his attributes and functions, including the creation of man.

It was in a secondary trinity below these creator gods that the Sun God took his place in the Sumerian theology. First of these was Nanna, the Moon, city god of Ur, who was Enlil's son, perhaps because the Sumerians felt that this silvery and inconstant being must have been created out of air. Utu, the Sun God, was his child, as was the third of the Trinity, Inanna, goddess of the planet Venus and of love and fertility. Nanna's superior position as father of the Sun God (an exceptional form of the relationship between sun and moon) was probably due to the early pre-eminence of his city of Ur. Utu was also known to the Sumerians as Babbar, and his temple as E-babbara - House of the Sun.

From the first, Semitic deities were recognized as counterparts to the Sumerian; thus Sin was the Semitic Nanna, Ishtar was Inanna, while the Semitic Sun God was Shamash. After the days of Hammurabi, Marduk, the city god of Babylon nominally still acting as Enlil's deputy, became for most people the supreme creator god. This, as will appear, is of much significance for the present theme, as evidently the Semites of the Two Rivers had an ancient tradition for solar worship which was not lost in Marduk.

If one accepts a pantheon quite simply as representing human reactions to the powers of nature as they are encountered in the outer world, then one can say that in Sumeria, the lower valley of the Tigris-Euphrates, where the marvellously fertile silt had

{p. 80} recently been reclaimed from marsh and swamp, life evidently came from the earth, while the sun, beating down without mercy and finally in high summer burning all vegetation and making human life miserable, could not be conceived as having any share in creation and fertility. Certainly it was the Sun God's other aspect, that of measurer and law-giver, which was at first given honour. Utu-Shamash was god of justice - which as civilization matured came more and more to be identified with righteousness. It was probably for this reason that Shamash had special powers over devils and witches, including those responsible for sickness, and that one of his titles was Shepherd of the Land. Because of his own tireless journeying, he seems also to have been a protective deity for all travellers. A Babylonian hymn to the setting sun gives expression to these ideas.

Oh Shamash, when thou enterest into the midst of heaven,
The gate bolt of the bright heavens shall give thee greeting,
The doors of heaven shall bless thee ...
And Ai thy beloved wife shall come joyfully into thy presence,
And shall give rest to thy heart.
A feast for thy godhead shall be spread for thee.
O valiant hero, Shamash, mankind shall glorify thee.
O lord of E-babbara, the course of thy path shall be straight.
Go forward on the road which is a sure foundation for thee.
O Shamash, thou art the judge of the world, thou directest the decisions thereof.

Again, in the epilogue to his famous code of laws, King Hammurabi hails Shamash as 'the great judge of Heaven and Earth', while the stela shows the king standing in adoration before the god, who is enthroned, and investing him with the ring and staff of a law-giver. At Ur, where King Ur Engur established justice 'according to the just laws of the Sun God', it was declared that Shamash punished the corrupt judge who took bribes and oppressed the people. ...

{p. 80} The rise of the Sun God in particular and of the solar aspect of deity in general was also helped by the growing power of kingship in Mesopotamia as the land was unified under paramount rulers and turned to imperial conquest. The bond between king and sun has already been made plain. Hammurabi himself proclaims 'I am the Sun of Babylon which causes light to rise over the land of Sumer and Akkad', and it was a usual thing for any Mesopotamian king to be given the title of "the sun of his land', while Assyrian monarchs, conquerors of a wide empire, were promoted to 'sun of the totality of mankind'.

It is not surprising, then, to find that when ascendancy in the land of the Two Rivers passed yet further northward to Assyria, the solar power rose to its full glory. Assur, the city god of the first capital of Assyria and the special protector of the royal house, was an unequivocal Sun God, and when, like Marduk before him, he took over the functions and attributes of the gods of the subjected states, this original aspect was not dimmed. His symbol was the winged solar disk and he was often pictured as an eagle. At Nimrud, a later capital of the Assyrian Empire, I have seen the excavation of ivory couch ends exquisitely carved in low relief with figures of heroes, kings and divinities. Above them all was a huge winged disk which would have spread above the royal or noble occupant of the couch just as at that time Assur himself spread his wings over all the peoples of the Two Rivers. Indeed, Assyria approached what might be called a many-faceted monotheism, so nearly had Assur absorbed all other deities into himself

While the element of the lord of righteousness which had already been present in Shamash was strengthened so far as the Assyrians themselves were concerned, Assur turned quite a

{p. 87} different face to his enemies. As god of a martial people, he had to become in part a martial god; he was, indeed, given the title of The Warrior, and a man with a bow was often drawn beside the symbol of the solar disk.

The Assyrian Empire was overthrown late in the seventh century B.C., but even then the dominance of the Sun God was not greatly weakened when Nebuchadnezzar II gave Babylon a brilliant if brief return to power. Both he and his successor Nabonidus spent great sums of gold on restoring and endowing the ancient temple of the sun at Sippar, the original home of Shamash. It was unavailing. After this last flare of greatness the Persians under Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and Nabonudus was taken captive. No other event so poignantly represents the fall of the Ancient World of Bronze Age civilization - and with it the ancient gods.

{p. 88} From very early times the sun was worshipped in Egypt, but when about five thousand years ago the whole land became united under the Pharaohs, the Sun God assumed so glorious a sovereignty that it is doubtful whether man's relationship with the star was ever more exalted than there in the Nile valley. And during that strange, brilliant, obsessive reign of Akhenaten for the only time in all history he was worshipped, and passionately, as the one true god, sole deity of all mankind.

{p. 89} So the Sun God was one, yet had many titles and many meanings. First and greatest he was Re, creator of the universe

{p. 90} and original king of Egypt, a supreme deity who could be identified with all others, for all came from him. It was Re who lifted the first patch of land, the Primeval Hill, out of Nun, the watery abyss, and so made it the place of first sunrise the coming of light. He was Atum, divinity of the tempie of Heliopolis, also a creator god and absolutely identified with Re after the triumph of the Heliopolitan priesthood and its theology. He was Khepri, the beetle, He Who Comes Forth, a title which expresses his self-creation as the scarab beetle was supposed to create itself out of the ball of dung in which it rolled its egg. The beetle pushing the ball of the sun up the sky became one of the most potent of all solar symbols. He was Aten, the sun's disk or orb, the physical power and being of the star. He was Harakhte, the Falcon, who was the ancient sky god Horus as manifest in the sun, and sometimes called Horus of the Horizon, or Horus of the Sunrise. Horus himself had many forms - above the rest he was Horus the Great God, the Lord of Heaven, son of Hathor the Mother Goddess, and at the same time Horus the son of Isis and Osiris, who at the cost of an eye avenged his father's murder on Seth and so became the universal symbol for filial piety, just as his eye became the symbol for all sacrifice.

Finally the Sun God was Pharaoh. For the mighty ruler of the whole land, he who wore the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, was himself a god. {but lesser, by far, than the creator-gods; more like an intermediary between them and the people}

{p. 91} In all his aspects, then, the Sun God was supreme in the valley of the Nile. No one visiting the ruins of his ancient kingdom can forget this for a moment. His supremacy is proclaimed by those noble symbols of his, the pyramid and obelisk. It is proclaimed by the trim falcon which perches before so many temples, stands guard over statues, spreads its wings above the doorways of temples and of tombs. It is proclaimed by the disk set between the horns of Hathor and of Isis ... As to the means by which the Sun God made his great diurnal journey across the sky, no people among all his worshippers had a greater variety of ideas than the Egyptians, or illustrated them more charmingly. Because for them the Nile was the main thoroughfare, carrying not only the merchants and their merchandise, but also, on occasion, the sun king himself, it was inevitable that Re was most often seen to sail the heavens in a boat. The barque was depicted with high, gracefully-curved bow and stern posts, sometimes ending in lotus flowers.

{p. 92} Although when the notion of the barque was first conceived it must surely have been imagined as floating on the blue spaces of heaven as man-built boats floated on the waters of the Nile, the Egyptians found no difficulty in combining it with other quite different, images. Thus when the heavens were seen as the Goddess Nut with her attenuated body arched over the world, the Sun God was shown sailing his boat along her thigh or side or above her back. Or when, instead, the sky was seen as Hathor, the Mother Goddess, in the shape of a cow straddling the world between her legs, then the barque might be shown crossing her hairy, yet star-sown, flanks.

Through all Egyptian history the Sun God made his great Journey by boat, but always side by side with this image the Egyptians also saw the sun as flying with the wings of a bird. The bird was the divine falcon, Horus, especially in his manifestation as Harakhte. He might be seen in what was perhaps his most ancient form as whistling across the heavens with his shining eyes, the left one the moon, the right the sun. Again sometimes his wings were the pinions of the sky, covering the world with a feathered vault, while as Harakhte he was the sun itself, wearing the sun disk on his head as as plendid crest. In later time these two conceptions merged into the image of the winged disk in which the sun, fronted by the uraeus-cobra of the Mother Goddess, is borne between the wide pinions of the sky.

A totally different concept, sprung from the other side of the human imagination, saw the sun as being swallowed by Nut as it sank in the west, to pass through her and be reborn from her thighs with the sunrise. Yet even this idea could be combined with those of the boat and the beetle and also with the overriding idea of the eternal circuit of the sun - that having crossed the heavens by day it sailed round the netherworld or anti-heaven during the hours of darkness.

{p. 94} Although the idea of a solar cult of court and state in conflict with a popular mystery cult of Osiris has often been exaggerated, these two most powerful elements in Egyptian religion certainly were distinct in origin, and did represent two opposite approaches to the universe which had to be harmonized. The Sun God was at home in a celestial religion of triumph - he was Lord of Command and Intelligence, Sol Invictus - Osiris was a dying god of the earth and its fertility, at home in the chthonic mysteries of death and resurrection. They stood at the two poles of religious experience. Yet the drawing together of Shamash and Tammuz in Babylonia has already shown how the annual decline and return, and the daily rising and setting, of the sun could be equated with the death and resurrection of the vegetation and so serve to bring these opposites together. The Pharaoh who was at once the Sun God and Horus, and who at death became Osiris, was himself a powerful link between the two.

{p. 102} The loftiest of the thoughts which the Middle Kingdom Egyptians found in their hearts and put into the mouth of Re as Creator, give full expression to the ideal of all men being of equal value and worthy of equal opportunity. It was only the iniquity of mankind itself that caused it to fall into tyranny and abuse. The Sun God says:

I relate to you the four good deeds which my own heart did for me so that I might silence evil. I did four good deeds within the portal of the horizon.

I made the four winds that every man might breathe thereof equally with his fellow. That is the first of the deeds.

I made the great floodwaters that the poor man might have

{p. 103} rights in them like the great man. That is the second of the deeds.

I made every man like his fellow. I did not command that they might do evil; it was their hearts that violated what I had said. That is the third of the deeds.

I made that their hearts should cease from forgetting the west, in order that divine offerings might be made to the gods of the provinces. That is the fourth of the deeds.

Even the fourth deed, which smacks of propaganda, reveals the new care for the ordinary man and woman. For Re is saying that if they will remember eternal life and serve their local gods with piety all can attain Òthe west', the land of sunset and the dead, and enjoy the eternity which once was the royal prerogative.

Many texts show the Sun God insisting upon justice for the people. In the address delivered by each Pharaoh to his Vizier, this highest official in the land is charged to be ever just, to show no preference to the rich, the powerful or the noble, but rather to favour the poor and timid. The king declares: 'Men expect justice from the Vizier's office, for justice has been its customary way since the reign of the Sun God upon earth.' Then the magnificent Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, a parable illustrating the ideal of justice for the humble, shows the spirit of Re presiding as the ultimate authority over all human law. The Peasant, whose asses have been seized by a rapacious petty off1cial, turns to the Grand Steward for redress. Having made blistering attacks on official corruption and appealed to the Steward's known fairness, his final and successful plea is to divine authority. 'Do justice for the sake of the Lord of Justice [Re], thou ... who are far from doing evil ... Yet thou has not given me requital for this good word which came out of the mouth of Re himself: "speak the truth [Ma'at,] do the truth. For it is great, it is mighty, it is enduring."'

{p. 119} Art and life alike in Akhetaten were to express the king's fresh understanding of Ma'at - a vision of truth avoiding all stiffness and pretence. The king constantly refers to himself as 'Living in Truth' and his city as the 'Seat of Truth'. Men and nature were to stand naked before their god, rejoicing in the light and heat of his rays.

To gain an insight into the profundity of the religious revolution conceived by the genius and brought about by the will of Akhenaten it is only necessary to read his famous Sun Hymn printed at the end of this book. It shows a full spiritual realization of the idea of a universal god which had had its faint dawn in the previous reign; it is highly charged with the sense of the sole god's universal and all-pervading love.

When you shone from the eastern horizon
You filled every land with your beauty.
You are lovely, great and glittering,
You go high above the lands you have made,
Embracing them with your rays,
Holding them fast for your beloved son.

There is an ecstatic delight in the beneficent power of god manifest in nature, the power that makes the birds lift up their wings in adoration, makes the sheep skip and the fish leap, calls the chick from the egg, quickens the human child in the mother's womb. Throughout the whole hymn, there is no threat, no judgment, no fear of darkness. Moreover, although it is full of intense poetry it is also supremely rational. Here indeed is religion true to the light of the sun.

{Yet, Akhenaten engaged in violent destruction of the other temples. Whereas other Pharaohs had been divinities, but lesser ones - more like intermediaries between the people and the gods - Akhenaten and Nefertiti were made creator-gods in place of the traditional gods, displacing the priesthoods of those gods}

{p. 162} The Tenocha Aztecs came into the Valley later than most of the other invading tribes, and in their early days suffered defeat and crushing humiliation. Yet they were always aggressive, and established the myth that their Sun God was to lead them to victory over their neighbours, that he had commanded them to maintain the military discipline, the denial of the individual, of a dedicated warrior race. They therefore developed all the characteristics of a repressive society. Sin was for them synonymous with drunkenness and sexual liberty. In expiation or to please their gods they practised horrible penances of slashing themselves and drawing blood from ears and tongue with cactus spines. On many occasions they perforated their tongues and drew through them a cord threaded with these barbed spines. Even today the Flagellantes run through the streets of Mexico flogging and being flogged, their backs streaming with blood.

The Aztecs' image of themselves as a chosen people was even more dangerous than such images usually are, for it was charged with the hate and desire for revenge that follows from subjection and humiliation. So when success came to them and they fought their way to power and riches, they had become peculiarly charged with violence and dark urges, and hence, after the inevitable ways of the psyche, peculiarly inclined to see their supposed enemies as charged with violence and dark urges. As one of their own most sympathetic historians has written, in addition to believing they had to support the sun with human sacrifice they 'also believed they had an ethical ideal to attain. The struggle of the sun against the powers of darkness was not only a struggle of the gods, but it was also, above all, the struggle of good against evil. The mission of the Aztecs was, then, to be on the side of the sun, the symbol of good, opposing the fearful gods of darkness, the symbols of evil.' So the temple pyramids became a human shambles and

{p. 163} the Aztecs perpetrated the most dreadful deeds ever celebrated in religion's name. Speaking from their conscious minds, the priests still proclaimed their virtue and loving-kindness, their glorious duty of maintaining the light of the world, but within them the dark side of the psyche that is in us all had grown, had corrupted and had taken possession. They enjoyed what they did, and Huitzilopochtli the sun of the day became in truth the sun of darkness.


... Now I have to follow the story of man's relationship with the sun into an altogether new phase. The first experience of Old World civilization when religion, blossoming spontaneously from the psyche, united societies in total dependence on their gods, was faltering and coming to an end. The change which began to take place during the last millennium B.C. centred on a growing self-awareness in the individual. Each step since man had left behind his wholly animal past had been marked by his further separation from the natural matrix. The light of the conscious intellect brightened and was focused more sharply on

{p. 165} the individual predicament, on society, religion, and even upon nature itself The old intuitive expression of unconscious forms came in for a keener scrutiny, and as a result men and women were more burdened by their souls, more deeply anxious for their private salvation.

Whether this was solely due to the inescapable lessons of time, the discovery that great god-centred empires could fall to pieces, civilizations collapse and even the economics of everyday life fail, leaving individuals utterly at a loss, or whether it was the more or less inevitable outcome of a cosmic evolution of consciousness, is for each of us to judge. Certainly it was helped on by the invention of alphabetical writing. Ideas could now be recorded with much more ease and flexibility and by a greater number and variety of people, so that observations, questions and answers, inspired guesses, which before had too often flitted through the mind, been expressed in fleeting speech and soon been forgotten or allowed to become blurred, could now be fixed in permanent clarity and accumulated from generation to generation. Before going on to describe the part which the Sun God played in the mystery religions which were the oriental response to the new age, and to the great flourish of solar monotheism in which paganism ended in the Roman Empire, I want to go back for a moment to the earlier history of the Indo-European peoples who are to play so considerable a part in the remainder of this chronicle. Perhaps I would not bother to do so, perhaps I would plunge directly ahead, were it not for one very solid thing: Stonehenge. The most massive monument in the Old World, the Pyramid of Cheops, and what many might judge to be the most impressive momument in the New World, the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, were both raised in solar worship. It is a remarkable testimony to the creative power of the star that the greatest monument of prehistoric Europe was also a sanctuary of the Sun God. Although the history of the expansion of the peoples speaking

{p. 166} Indo-European languages is still very imperfect, there is no doubt that they were radiating far and wide through Asia and Europe during the second millennium B.C. They were successful pastoralists, and almost everywhere they imposed themselves as a ruling class, drawing their wealth from flocks and herds. They moved in the atmosphere of an Heroic Age. Everywhere, too, as far as we can tell, they introduced religions in which the celestial gods were pre-eminent. If a paternal sky god, a Zeus, was at least nominally supreme, the Sun God was always at his elbow. In the Kuban, where warrior graves dating from about 2500 B.C. illustrate their original way of life perhaps as clearly as we shall ever see it, the chiefs were buried with the battle- axes that were their characteristic weapons, and with disks or kidney-shaped emblems in gold that were certainly a part of a solar cult. The centre of dispersal of these battle-axe-using Indo-European peoples seems to have been the grasslands of Russia north of the Black Sea and the Caspian. From here they thrust eastward into Iran, and then over the passes into the Punjab, where they helped to bring the Indus Civilization to an end in about 1500 B.C. The early Aryan unity of the Iranians and these invaders of India is shown by the many similarities between the Rig Veda and the Persian Avesta. The southward movement of the Indo-Europeans is best represented by the Mitanni who entered western Mesopotamia, the ruling class among the Hittites in Asia Minor and the Greek-speaking Mycenaeans who had established themselves in Greece by 1500 B.C. Later, as is well known, further Greek-speaking peoples, including the Achaeans and Dorians, followed in the wake of the Mycenaeans, while the Italians occupied their promontory, the Spaniards theirs. In the north the Teutonic tribes took shape, and powerful Celtic-speaking peoples emerged in South Germany, Switzerland and France, many groups of them crossing to the British Isles during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages there. But long before these later

{p. 167} Celts arrived to give Britain the name by which she is now most commonly known, warrior groups armed with a type of weapon found from the Atlantic to the Pontic region already suggested as the centre of Indo-European dispersal, had fought their way right across Europe and had formed an element in invasions of Britain. These began as early as I750 B.C., and the ruling class of warrior pastoralists which they introduced survived to contribute much to the wealthy pastoral and trading society which began to flourish in Wessex some two centuries later. In their expansion to the south and west, the Indo-European peoples, with their devotion to celestial deities, again and again encountered the peoples whose religious beliefs still, as it were, looked downward towards the chthonic powers of the earth. Cults of the Mother Goddess had been carried by the early cultivators along the Mediterranean and into western Europe and Britain. The clash between the divinities of the heavens and of the earth took place with dramatic clarity, for example, when the Greek-speaking peoples entered the Minoan world, and it happened at a humbler level when the first warrior peoples of the Early Bronze Age, with their wealth in cattle and sheep, landed in a Britain then in the possession of a stone- using peasantry. The religious encounter is embodied at Stonehenge. This place, now visited by thousands of people from all over the world, was originally the site of a New Stone Age sanctuary. At that time instead of standing stones pointing towards the sky there were pits pointing down into the earth, and the deities served there may be assumed to have been of the underworld where they could be reached by the pouring of libations. Then came the invasions by the pastoralists whom we have recognized as in part at least Indo-European, and the holy ground was taken over for a temple built with the famous Blue Stones brought over two hundred miles from south-west Wales. Already this second Stonehenge had its entrance facing down the ceremonial Avenue towards the point on the horizon

{p. 168} where the sun rose at the midsummer solistice.

{p. 172} The simplest embodiment of the Sun God in India was Surya, the sun itself. He shone for the world, for gods and men, and drove away the powers of darkness, witches, disease and evil dreams. He was the husband of Ushas, the Dawn, and drove a chariot, sometimes with one horse, sometimes with seven or more. He seems to be one of the Sun Gods, now familiar, who have far more power and worship than their place in the pantheon would suggest.

{p. 174} I want now to return across the mountain barrier to Persia for there lay not only the oriental source of the mystery religion of greatest significance in this history, but also a native religion which demonstrates with perfect clarity the change in consciousness described at the beginning of this chapter.

The single origin revealed in the language, forms and religious feeling of the Rig Veda and the Iranian Avesta has already been mentioned, and the fact that many of the gods common to both represent something at least of the ancient Indo-European pantheon has been confirmed by their appearance in Mitannian inscriptions. Yet the Avesta has been in some ways very deeply altered by the individual teaching of Zarathushtra, the much mythologized yet essentially historical prophet of Zoroastrianism. Although it is uncertain exactly when he lived, it was before the middle of the last millennium B.C., and he may therefore be hailed together with the Hebrew prophets as the first of the great psychological and religious innovators. In fact he was the herald of the extraordinary spiritual and intellectual flowering of the sixth century, when Lao Tse, Confucius, the Buddha, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and other leading Greek scientists were all living at one time.

In Persia Varuna became Ahura Mazda. He, too, presided over a divine physical and moral order, and he, too, was closely linked with Mithra, who even more clearly than his Indian counterpart was a solar divinity. While probably the pre-Avesta Ahura Mazda was a general sky god, representing the light of heaven, the ultimate Indo-European celestial All Father in Persia as in India was Dyaus Pitar. The tendency for sky gods to concentrate into what men saw every day as the greatest of celestial powers and become Sun Gods is by now already familiar. I do not see how this solar aspect can be withheld from the original Ahura Mazda. Was not his symbol the winged

{p. 175} solar disk? In that most famous of all Persian inscriptions, the colossal Darius bas-relief carved on the cliff-face at Behistun, Darius the Great, standing head and shoulders above his followers, is shown raising his right arm in salutation to the god who hovers in the air above him in the form of the winged disk. The text, recording in three languages Darius's overthrow of his rivals for the throne, concludes with the words 'Darius proclaims: Ahura Mazda came to my aid.' I see no reason to doubt that the winged disk which stood for Horus in Egypt, for Assur in Assyria, also stood for a divinity with a powerful solar aspect in Persia. Those who deny this because Ahura Mazda was also said to transcend the sun, to control it and appear before it at the dawn, simply do not know their Sun God. Evidently the makers of electric bulbs agree with me, for is not the round shining Mazda bulb unmistakably our indoor sun?

However I do not want to linger over the proof that in early, pre-Avesta, Persia, Ahura Mazda was in part an Indo-European solar divinity. For what is of significance at this stage of the history of the Sun God is the change in his nature brought about by Zarathushtra. As the individual self-consciousness increased and the conscious and intellectual mind grew further apart from the unconscious, there was an equivalent tendency to set a single male divinity outside and above nature, the world being his creation, sometimes his creation as Logos, the most intellectual of conceptions. It is not easy to distinguish sharply between transcendental and immanent gods, for there is always something in man that wishes to draw the transcendent back into nature. Did not the ageing Wordsworth work over his poems trying to conceal the intuitive pantheism of his early inspiration? Perhaps the Hebrews made Jahveh more consistently transcendental than any of his contemporaries, yet even he seems sometimes to creep back into his works.

Zarathushtra took Ahura Mazda and made him sole creator of the universe. He was all-powerful, all-wise and all-good.

{p. 176} Immediately the prophet was up against the insoluble difficulty which has beset all transcendental monotheisms and besets them still: the need to explain why such a deity created and countenances evil. Zarathushtra's solution, as expressed in the Gathas, the most ancient part of the Avesta generally attributed to the prophet himself, was to say that Ahura Mazda who had created both light and darkness, good and evil, had created the twin spirits Spenta Mainyu (Good Mind) and Angra Mainyu (Evil Spirit), who, as a concession to more primitive ideas were allowed attendant hosts of angels of light and demons of darkness. These two spirits did not exist independently but in opposition to each other, and both met in the higher being of Ahura Mazda. It was the duty of man on earth to fight for the powers of good against evil; the good would triumph in the end, yet the efforts of each man contributed to its victory. For 'the central idea of Zarathushtra's religion is the individuality of Man and his responsibility towards the Universe. Before him the individual person and his life counted for little ... in recognizing the individual as a free agent on whose decision the fate of the world depended, Zarathushtra boldly broke with the religious views of his time. Everybody has to decide for himself whether to align himself with the Good or side with the Evil.' Thus in the teaching of this prophet, a true product of the new age of heightened individual consciousness, the old Sun God of nature had almost entirely given way to the new one of moral light. Yet the simpler ideas lingered on, doubtless more strongly in those who were inarticulate than in those whose words have been recorded. For instance the Indo-European idea of the god in his chariot lives in a hymn to the sun from the Avesta. It begins:

We sacrifice to the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun. When the light of the sun waxes warmer, when the brightness of the sun waxes warmer, then up stand the heavenly Yazatas by hundreds of thousands. They gather together its glory, they make its glory pass down, they pour its glory upon the earth made by

{p. 177} Ahura, for the increase of the world of holiness, for the increase of the creatures of holiness, for the increase of the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun.

Then after proclaiming the purifying powers of the sun and the danger that would come from the demons should it fail to rise, it goes on:

He who offers up sacrifice unto the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun - to withstand darkness, to withstand the Daevas born of darkness, to withstand the robbers and bandits ... to withstand death that creeps in unseen - offers it up to Ahura Mazda, offers it up to Amesha-Spentas, offers it up to his own soul.

Indeed the image of the chariot persisted in most tangible form. The Persian army of Xerxes was followed by a chariot of the Sky God drawn by eight white horses, and in writing of Cyrus, Xenophon says that this might be followed by another belonging to the Sun God. ...

Another manifestation of the solar element in Zoroastrianism is preserved in the religion of the Parsees, Persian refugees from the Arab conquest who have lived in India ever since. It seems that fire, that ancient solar symbol, was always the symbol of Ahura Mazda, and among the Parsees it still plays a great part. Their places of worship are 'fire-temples' where the sacred fire burns perpetually on the altar. There is a fire sanctuary, too, near each Tower of Silence, where the dead are exposed to be devoured by vultures. The Parsees keep close to the Good Life of Zarathushtra, being known throughout the world for their benevolence and honesty. Yet they prosper and grow rich, have attained a life in the sun. In this they are the Indian counterpart of our Quakers - and it may be remembered that the Quakers, too, depend upon the image of the Inner Light. Zarathushtra himself seems largely to have avoided a dualism of equal powers of good and evil by the device of the two

{p. 178} spirits, yet there is a hint even in the early Avesta that Angra Mainyu was an aspect of a greater power of darkness, equal and eternal enemy to Ahura. This, certainly, was the direction in which Iranian religion was to develop. Ahriman, the Lie, became coeval with Ahura Mazda, and under the priesthood of the Magi this emerged into a total dualism. For them Ormazd (compounded of Ahura and Spenta Mainyu) was in everlasting opposition to Ahriman. As two equal principles of good and evil they were expressed as Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, celestial Heaven and black, cavernous Hell.

Although after the lofty moral teaching of Zarathushtra himself his religion became considerably debased, and under the Magi full of magic and superstition, it nevertheless remained a strong, and in general virtue-inducing creed (the Parsees remain as proof) and became the official religion of Persia as late as Sassanian times. During this long history Iranian dualism, expressed in the terms of light and darkness which find so ready a response in the creatures of our turning globe, had a marked influence on Judaeo-Christian apocalyptic literature. In particular Satan, Prince of Darkness, and his followers can hardly be distinguished from Ahriman and his demon host. This influence has been made all the plainer by discoveries among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the Manual of Discipline it is told how the God of Israel shaped two spirits; 'they are the spirits of truth and error. In the abode of light are the origins of truth, and from the source of darkness are the origins of error. In the hand of the prince of light is dominion over all the sons of righteousness ... and in the hand ofthe angel of darkness is all dominion over the sons of error ...' These ideas, then, were powerful among the Essenes and they shine out clearly from the gospel of St. John "All that came to be was alive with his life [God as Logos], and that life was the light of men. The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never quenched it. There appeared a man named John, sent from God; he came as a witness to testify to the light ... he was not himself the light; he came to bear

{p. 179} witness to the light. The real light [Jesus] which enlightens every man was even then coming into the world." So when, soon, I have to plunge into the bewildering religious maelstrom of the Graeco-Roman world, it must be remembered that images remotely descended from the Indo-European sun-worshippers had permeated Judaism already in Palestine.

But the more direct and important contribution which Iran was to make to the Graeco-Roman world was the mystery cult of Mithraism. In the common Aryan pantheon of the Iranians and Indians before their separation this celestial divinity had a high place - and his antiquity is confirmed by his name appearing in the Mitannian inscriptions of the mid-second millennium B.C. Just as Mitra was linked with Varuna in the Rig Veda, so was Mithra with Ahura Mazda in the Avesta. Indeed, in the days before Zarathushtra his name came first in the divine names as Mithra-Ahura. In the exalted teaching of the prophet himself he could find no place, but he survived in the minds of those who preferred their deity to shine in the sky rather than in the new-fangled moral conscience, and came in the end to be the centre of a mystery cult in which morality and mysticism were equally blended.

In what seem to be fragments of pre-Zarathushtra songs incorporated in the Avesta are two pieces addressed to Mithra in peace and in war. They contain several mentions of the god's car: 'At his chariot pull four horses, white, of one colour, feeding heavenly fodder, immortal.' Here is the origin of the white-horsed chariots that went with the Persian hosts.

Another ancient fragment says of Mithra:

For whom the white racers
Pull the harnessed chariot,
The one wheel is of gold,
And the jewels hold all-light.

These lines introduce one of the most fascinating of the minor attributes of the Indo-European Sun God - or rather they

{p. 180} reintroduce it, for it has already begun to appear among the sun-worshippers of western and northern Europe. This is the solar wheel, one of the most irresistible and infectious symbols in the solar iconography. The 'one wheel' of Mithra's chariot is not for traction, but is the flaming wheel or nimbus nearly always shown behind the god of celestial light - behind Mitra-Varuna and Mithra-Ahura as he drives in his chariot. The jewels are the diamonds or rubies with which this great nimbus was evidently sometimes set and which were believed, like the sun, to hold their own light because they appeared to shine in the darkness.

The Persian kings ruled by divine grace, and as a sign of it were granted the Hvareno, a fiery aureole. This, it was recognized, was a celestial gift from the Sun God.

In the vision of the Book of Daniel, the Ancient of Days, the ultimate Creator, is seen enthroned. 'His throne was like fiery flame and his wheels as burning fire ... and his countenance was as the sun when it shines in its strength.' There seems no doubt that the Ancient's wheels belonged to him and were his flaming nimbus and not, as many translations have it, wheels of the throne (an unknown image). Again in Ezekiel each Cherub has a fiery wheel behind him, also set with eye-stones or jewels. Although some part of this tradition of the halo or nimbus comes from Assyria, where the Sun God Assur is shown in the midst of one, and before them from Babylonia where a king of the first dynasty of Babylon brought into the sun temple (E-babbara) 'great sun disks of agate', the solar wheel from the Indo-European sun chariot must have coalesced with it. I need not insist how readily it passed into Christianity. How many thousands of hours must have been devoted by monks to drawing the disk with the equal-armed cross behind the head of Christ, the disciples and saints, and lovingly spreading them with gold? The haloes were often identical in every detail with those little gold disks buried with the Bronze Age ladies on Salisbury Plain.

{p. 181} In Christian iconography Christ passes from the cross of suffering to the cross of glory, the latter being shown with tremendous sun rays radiating from the centre. One of the greatest of these, a huge golden sunburst, shines on the high altar of St. Peter's in Rome. Again in the Catholic church the monstrance in which the Host is placed for adoration on the high altar is made in the likeness of a radiant sun.

To return at last to Mithra standing in his chariot before his jewelled golden wheel, he must certainly be recognized as a god of celestial light. He is often evoked together with sun, moon and stars; he could arrive ahead of the dawn and linger after the sun had set; the sun was sometimes called his eye. There was, moreover, a humbler sun deity called Haverseta. Yet we are now familiar enough with solar theology to know that in spite of all this, for many of his worshippers Mithra could also appear quite simply as the Sun God - and I think that his subsequent history makes it evident that he did so. This is supported by the fact that in Iran he was also the god of social law and order, suggesting that he did not lack that common attribute of the Sun God - his all-seeing eye.

Very little is known of the evolution of Mithra worship into the esoteric and sacramental cult of Mithraism. It is said that the evolution had already gone far by the fourth century B.C. when Alexander destroyed the Persian Empire. Their defeat brought the Persians more even than the usual bewilderment of a conquered people. Why had Ahura Mazda not come to their aid after their long worship, their long fight on his behalf against the Prince of Darkness? Why had Alexander, who seemed to them Ahriman incarnate, been granted the victory? With the tenacious religious faith of our species, instead of doubting their god, they blamed themselves. They must have failed in their observances. So many turned to a more rigid formalism of creed and rite. But it seems likely that others, already caught up in the new age and eager for personal salvation, found relief from their national tribulation in dedicating their lives to a cult.

{p. 182} The central 'mystery', the revelation accessible only to initiates, the progress up the series of initiatory orders, the rich and secret sacraments, would all bring relief to individuals in this plight. Nothing better expresses the new desire for the secret, the hidden, for personal regeneration, than the small underground temples of the Mithras cult. The god who had been worshipped in the light of his own rays in the great courts by the Nile, on the summit of pyramids in the Valley of Mexico, within the great rings of Stonehenge, was now carried down into a sunken room. Here only the altarpiece was brilliantly lit. It is a good expression of men's growing need to bring their heightened consciousness to terms with their unconscious minds.

So Mithraism took shape in Persia and then began its spread to the south and west. Babylon became an important centre, and there the cult made some small borrowings from the powerful astrology of the Chaldeans, at that time influencing the whole of the ancient world. The people of the Two Rivers had no difficulty in identifying Mithras with their ancient Sun God, Shamash. In Asia Minor, too, where the cult flourished and had a centre at Trebizond, the Greeks identified him with Helios. It was here, in all probability, that the young Mithras acquired the pointed cap in which he is nearly always depicted. For it seems to have been Greek artists of the school of Pergamum who first provided the cult with its artistic imagery - with the famous bull sacrifice scene that was to appear at every Mithraic altar, with the torch-bearers representing the morning, noon and mudday sun and many other figures.

Mithraism did not enter the Roman world until the first century B.C., and then was not immediately successful. But after a century or two of obscurity as one among a motley crowd of oriental 'Mysteries' its popularity suddenly kindled among the soldiery, and the cult went with the legions as far as the shores of the Atlantic and the North Sea. It was also attractive to emperors seeking to strengthen the imperial dig-

{p. 183} nity, for it still carried with it ideas of divine kingship and of the royal Hvareno, the fiery aureole granted by the Sun God.

If there had been doubt concerning the solar nature of Mithras in his Persian days, there could be none now. The Babylonians had recognized him as Shamash, the Greeks as Helios and Apollo: for the Romans he was none other than Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun.

The myth of Mithras as it had now taken shape combined its own central story with details familiar from other mythologies. The beautiful youth was created from a rock by the power of Ormazd, this marvel being witnessed only by certain shepherds who thereupon brought gifts and adored him. He then clad himselfin fig leaves and set about conquering such beings as had already been brought into existence. The first of these was the Sun, with whom he afterwards made a special bond of friendship. Ormazd then created a bull and Mithras did battle with it, being carried along on its homs before finally subduing it and dragging it into a cave. When the bull escaped and he overtook it once more, the Sun's servant, a raven, brought word that he must sacrifice the great beast. This he did, with a reluctance always poignantly expressed on his face in the sculptures, and from the blood of the sacrifice sprang all the life of the earth, including the first man and woman. Angered by all this success among the powers of light, Ahriman strove to destroy the newly created life. Mithras bravely defended his creation. From a deluge sent by Ahriman one man and his cattle (and presumably his wife?) escaped in an ark. A drought was ended by the god striking a rock with his arrow, causing water to gush out. Having defeated the Prince of Darkness, Mithras' mission on earth was at an end. He partook of a final meal, a love feast, with the Sun God before being carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot He had been the creator and saviour of earthly life, and now he continued to protect his followers, to serve as mediator and conduct their souls up to the celestial realms.

{p. 190} ... One result of all this loss of faith and direction, and one which was an important element in Graeco-Roman life, was an overwhelming belief in Fortune, and, illogically linked with the Fortune, in Fate. Pliny said: 'We are so much at the mercy of chance, that Chance is our god.' So indeed she was, statues of the lady were everywhere, the Emperor had his own Fortuna just as Napoleon was to have his luck. It was a question of mood or temperament whether one preferred incalculable Fortune or inevitable Fate.

Now I have to introduce yet another ingredient into this confused intellectual and religious scene. This was astralism. It was an alien creed, derived from Babylonia and Syria (astrologers, whatever their origin, were known as Chaldeans), and yet it seems to have had a unifying influence on the late classical world. It certainly had much to do with the solar monotheism, the renewed worship of the Sun God in which classical paganism flared and died.

Astralism was, of course, directly descended from the ideas prevailing in ancient Mesopotamia and already encountered in this pursuit of the Sun God. The ideas which led to the belief that life on earth was the counterpart of celestial life, that the ordering of a kingdom should correspond with the order ofthe stars. By now it had become more formalized in its sacerdotalism, and had adapted itself to the heightened self-consciousness and importance of the individual. Every man and woman now had his personal relationship to the celestial Seven and the whole starry universe, every soul was a spark from the celestial light from which it descended and to which it returned. At the siege of Jerusalem Titus assured his soldiers that the souls of those who were killed would rise into the ether and be seated in the stars. Astrology had been deeply affected, too, by Greek science. Indeed, no one would have distinguished between astrology and astronomy. Since Aristotle it had been accepted that the divine order and harmony of heaven and earth depended on transparent spheres (often said to number eight) revolving

{p. 191} about the earth, and this cosmology had become an essential part of astralism as it was also of many of the Mysteries.

Most of all it affected men's vision of what happened to the soul after death. Nearly all were now beginning to look upward, abandoning the older, humbler belief in a gloomy or shadowy underworld of twittering ghosts in favour of celestial bliss. The idea of ascension was widely accepted, but its nature and precise direction varied astonishingly. The more philosophic thought of the individual soul reuniting with the universal; some had a vague, mellifluous picture of the poised soul eternally raptured by the music of the revolving spheres; according to their faith, others believed it went to dwell in the sun or the moon or soared as far as the eighth sphere of the fixed stars. Yet others again, more Platonic and transcendental in their views, saw the soul rising even beyond the eighth sphere, to a region of ineffable light and truth, to be in the presence of a godhead outside the physical universe. This, as will appear, became the belief of the most exalted of the devotees of a single and supreme Sun God.

Almost everyone, except Gnostics, Christians, Jews and a few incorrigible sceptics, believed the Sun, Moon, Planets and fixed stars to be 'gods visible and created', the 'heavenly race of gods'. This conviction enabled even the most philosophic to participate in a contemplation of the moon and stars by night and the sun by day which provoked powerful mystical emotion. It brought them both exaltation and, as they felt, moral purification. With it went a curious belief, bound up with the more general belief that man shared in the nature and stuff of the cosmos, that light could be contemplated only with light, that the human eye had close affinity with the heavenly orbs. Starlike eyes could contemplate the stars, sunlike eyes the sun. For centuries then, and throughout the classical world, men of the most diverse nature spent hours watching and communing with the sun, moon and stars.

One can imagine them in gardens, olive groves and atria, on

{p. 192} roof-tops and mountain-tops, in the great temple precincts of the Acropolis or the Palatine Hill. And this brings me back to a notion implicit in much of what I have written. That worship of the Sun God and all the heavenly bodies was constantly recharged by their actual physical presence and the impact they made upon man. Even today when we are so much confined by walls and roofs, dazzled by our puny but nearer lights, we all experience the extraordinary lift to the spirits brought by sunshine and moonlight, the expansion of the self that may come with a spring morning or a starry night. Thus there has always been a strange give and take. Religious rites have become more omate, further removed from nature, worship of the sun has become worship of spiritual light, yet all this has been constantly renewed by that gaseous ball and its streaming light and heat. It is as though whatever the priest may be teaching, the body and the enmeshed psyche remember that the sun drew up life on earth and by its energy still maintains it.

There it was, then, a mental life as confused, contradictory, cosmopolitan and obviously transitional as our own. All the old strong, organic cultures had largely broken down and the great cities of the Roman Empire, particularly the centres of thought in North Africa, Greece and Italy itself, were full of men whose ideas and beliefs were as many-complexioned as their faces. The background of thought was provided by Greek science and philosophy even while the social attitude became dominated by the acceptance of Chance and Fate. Large in the background of the more purely religious scene was the rich, well-equipped official faith of the Graeco-Roman pantheon and the deified Caesars which, together with a proper pride in its Law, Army and Imperial Administration, made the backbone of life for the Roman Establishment. But more alive, and in many ways more progressive because they were the response to the new needs of the individual consciousness, its loneliness and its desire for communion, were the many sacramental Mystery religions, most of them oriental in spirit and devoted

{p. 193} to foreign gods. For Mithraism was only one among many such. There were those of Cybele and Attis, of the Egyptian Lord Serapis and Queen Isis, the Syrian Baal and Adonis, Dionysus and many more - some local, some oecumenical. Then there were the Orphic and Pythagorean fraternities and the many groups of Gnostics with their faith in secret revelations. Some of these were bloody or licentious or much involved with magic, others dignified, ethical, even ascetic. The cult of Isis, which had had a fairly abandoned past, became respectable and must have provided a haven for many of the womenfolk of the devotees of Mithraism. Although Isis was not originally a Mother Goddess in the usual sense, her cult moved in that direction and she was sometimes portrayed with the infant Horus. Among them all, at first seemingly of little importance and long overtopped by the Isis cult and Mithraism, was that Dark Horse, Christianity. While almost all other worshippers could, if they wished, be initiated into more than one Mystery and at the same time pay due patriotic honour to the State religion, the Christians, like the strict followers of Judaism from whom their founders had come, were exclusive even unto death.

Finally, penetrating almost all schools of thought and all faiths, was the astralism which had made the whole Graeco-Roman world 'much subject to skyey influences'.

Out of this turmoil the Sun God rose majestically, drawing many ideas and many divinities into his single light. It is perhaps best to approach this solar monotheism which assumed its sway in the third and fourth centuries through the emperors who gave it much support. This chronicle has already shown what frequent affinity there has been everywhere and at all times between crowned heads and sun gods. The Roman emperors must have been aware that in Assyria, Persia and Egypt royal houses had owed much to their solar divinity. The first occupant of their own imperial throne had chosen the radiant Apollo as his patron, built a temple to him on the

{p. 194} Palatine and dedicated his famous Pantheon to the Sun and Stars. Nero had been interested in Mithraism, and Commodus the debauched son of the saintly Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, joined in Mithraic worship, insisting, so it is said, that the symbolic deaths that were a part of it should be turned into ritual murders (he would have enjoyed himself even more in Tenochtitlan). A bust of Commodus shows him wearing a Mithraic style Phrygian cap charged with the seven stars, while in a frieze of this time at Ephesus the Sun is taking his father Aurelius up to heaven in a chariot escorted by Moon and Stars.

Early in the next century Caracalla had his sculptors portray him in the guise of Pharaoh, and in so doing cannot have failed to think of himself as the son of the Sun God. He was in fact particularly devoted to the Lord Serapis, and contemporary inscriphons identify this life-giving divinity with Jupiter and the Sun. ...

{p. 196} Only a few years later Constantine suffered his conversion and Sol Invictus abruptly made way for Christ. Yet the Sun God was to have a brief and glowing resurrection. The

{p. 197} EmperorJulian who had seen many of his family murdered by Christians and was deeply devoted to pagan tradition, restored the solar monotheism. He was one of those, too, who had responded most strongly to the physical power of the star. 'From my childhood', he says, 'an extraordinary longing for the rays of the God penetrated deep into my soul.' For him the solar faith was full also of moral light. In his Prayer to the Sun, a religious expression worthy to be set beside the Hymn of Akhenaten, he begs the Sun King to grant him 'a good life, more perfect understanding and a divine mind'. So successfully did he live up to his ideals that when at the head of his armies he had to stay in Antioch, then a most dissolute city, his ascetic habits seem to have caused the Christians there quite as much distress as his paganism. The story that when he lay dying, fatally wounded in battle against the Persians, he threw his blood towards heaven and cried, 'You have conquered, O Galilean', is almost certainly fiction. Another incident more truthfully, and even more movingly, symbolizes the end of the rule of the pagan Sun God in the western world.

Julian wished to revive what had been Apollo's greatest source of strength - his oracle at Delphi. For some long time now the Pythia had fallen silent. The Emperor sent one Oribasius to the shrine at Delphi where she had uttered the prophecies that had swayed the fortunes of Greece and Rome, but he came back with this message: 'Tell the King, the fair-wrought hall has fallen to the ground. No longer hath Phoebus a shelter, nor a prophetic laurel, nor a spring that speaks. The water of speech is quenched.'

This, very briefly, is the history of the solar religion of the later Roman Empire. I cannot hope to do more than hint at the meanings, so utterly various, which it must have had for men and women of countless races, creeds, philosophies and states of consciousness. In those last days of classical paganism the Sun God shone like a pharos for ships at sea, guiding them on their way or lighting them into a harbour where all conflicting ideas

{p. 198} could anchor together in a kind of harmony and mental agreement.

For the astralists a sun-centred faith was a natural enough outcome of their worship of the heavenly bodies, as the sun was so evidently the greatest of their Seven. Moreover they had been pushed further in this direction by the scientific discoveries of the Greek scientists who understood at least some- thing of the gravitational power of the sun in the solar system. The astrological writer Julian of Laodicea declared, 'The sun has been appointed King and ruler of the universe, leading and originating all.'

Among the philosophers, the Stoics came readily into the fold. With their belief in a deified world and a world heart, in the divinity of the planets and stars and in fire as the highest and purest of the elements, the Sun God could easily be exalted. Indeed leading Stoics had recognized solar pre-eminence from the first. 'It was the opinion of Cleanthes that the Sun is the ruling power of the world ... the Sun is the potent ruler and master of the universe.' This led easily to seeing the sun as 'the heart of the world', 'the eye of the world', or as Macrobius had it, the mind of the world - 'Sol mundi mens est.' Also the platonizing Stoic, Posidonius, in wholeheartedly accepting the principles of astrology had done much to unite the ideas of philosophers and astronomers into a cosmic mysticism.

Inevitably the solar religion came into conflict with the transcendental outlook of Platonists and Neo-Platonists. But reconciliation was not difficult. Plato himself had idealized sun worship and called the sun the 'offspring of the first god'. His followers, although they saw the One God as above and outside the visible universe, could still readily accept the sun as the supreme symbol of this spiritual sun. God was 'the Sun's Sun' who 'causes the visible rays to shine upon him who sees .... For as the rising sun dissipates the darkness and floods all things with light, so when God, the Intelligible Sun, rises and shines on the soul, the darkness of passion and evil is dissipated.' Even

{p. 199} Julian the Apostate's theology recognized three aspects of the solar divinity - the Sun of the Intelligible World, of the Intelligent World, and of the Sensible World - which last he identified with Mithras.

As for the Establishment and its institutional religion, the Sun God could be accepted without a qualm. For one thing the emperors had led the way and the throne was deeply involved. For another the sky gods had always been supreme, Apollo glorious and Jupiter an All Father with monotheizing tendencies who could become the Sun at the drop of a hat.

Finally, so great was the appeal of solar adoration, and perhaps also the longing for synthesis and religious unity, that many of the Mystery cults also capitulated. Mithraism was, of course, in a special position, for with a kind of historical justice, its Persian divinity with his long Indo-European lineage was now himself patron of the Empire. But the initiates of many other Mysteries proved willing to identify their particular deity with this central light.

Those who did not were the Christians. Their refusal ever to compromise in matters of worship was undoubtedly one of the best reasons for their final success. Others were the moral universe of Judaism, the admission of women, an able and centralized leadership and the proclamation of a Founder who had at once fulfilled Messianic prophecy and himself lived out the myth of the dying and resurrected god of so many Mystery religions. But it would be presumption and folly for me to attempt to isolate what was unique in Christianity. That is already understood by each according to his understanding. Rather it is my business here to show how far solar concepts and practices were continued in the churches and among the people, partly by direct historical synthesis, partly through man's innate psychological tendency to identify both morality and spiritual illumination with light, and hence irresistibly with the source of light and life in the physical world.

Since the earliest days the Christians had been intensely

{p. 200} chiliastic, daily prepared for the end of the world and the judgment of souls. Yet perhaps few people are wholly desirous of such an end, so that the continued smooth working of the solar system proved no set-back. Instead of the Second Coming the Christians were ready to accept the conversion of Constantine, and instead of the next world temporal power and glory in this one. As he himself and all his house had been devoted to sun worship, it is not surprising that the vision which preceded the Emperor's conversion was of a fiery cross appearing to him at noonday. Here again was the sun symbol which has already been followed back to the pastoralists of Bronze Age Britain and on to the haloes of later Christian iconography. The Christians of the first three centuries had denied the tolerance and compromise of other faiths, had gladly suffered horrible martyrdoms for refusing a pinch of incense to the imperial altars. Yet with the malicious irony so often apparent in history, even while they fought heroically on one front, their position was infiltrated from another. Once it became evident that the end of the world was to be delayed, the original message and the social and ethical pattern of the little Christian communities were not enough to make headway in the competitive religious world of the day. No more than a bird can build its nest exclusively with its own feathers could the Christian leaders build a faith, rites and church without picking up all manner of extraneous material from the Graeco-Roman environment. Already, as has appeared, Judaism had been affected by the spiritualized solar vision of Persia, and this element was strong among the Essenes who may have had such direct influence on the first generation of Christians. Certainly the kind of language used in the Fourth Gospel must have helped many worshippers of the Intelligible Sun to cross the border into Christianity with scarcely more effort or change of scene than that experienced by a traveller going from Monmouthshire into Wales. The early fathers, who in general were concerned to harmonize Christ

{p. 201} with Greek philosophy rather than with the Mysteries, used this kind of language too. Origen says, 'He opened the gates of Light to those who had been the sons of darkness and of night.' They also had to come to terms with astralism. While all from Paul onwards declared that Christians could not be subject to the astral powers, the stars had to be brought into the picture. Thus Origen taught that sun, moon and stars worshipped Christ, and that he had died for them as well as for mankind. 'He did not die on behalf of men only but on behalf of all other rational beings ... such as the stars.' Jesus himself said that he 'must needs be crucified and taste death for the universe'. Another idea which the Christians absorbed as naturally as the air they breathed was that the deity dwelt above their heads in the furthest celestial realms. Paul taught that men had a pneumatic body that could ascend to immortality 'where Christ is'. In spite of the reticence of the gospels on the Ascension, literal belief in it soon led to the making of innumerable pictures of Christ ascending into the skies either in an aureole or in a fiery chariot of evident solar ancestry. Perhaps most of all Christianity became involved with the Sun God through Mithraism and through the solar monotheism in which it culminated. For all its success with the mass of the people, Christianity could not be satisfied with coming to terms with Greek thought and the theories of astrology. More and more it had to lean towards the Mystery religions with their initiations and sacramental means to personal salvation. And it was with Mithraism, its greatest rival among the Mysteries, that Christianity came to have most in common. Some of these similarities came from a sharing of oriental sources, others perhaps from direct borrowing. That they were striking enough to cause embarrassment the following list will show: 'The fraternal and democratic spirit of the first communities; the identification of the object of adoration with light and the sun; the legends of shepherds and their gifts, of the flood and the

{p. 202} ark; the representation in art of the fiery chariot; the drawing of water from the rock; the use of bell, book and candle, holy water and the communion, the sanctification of Sunday and the 25th December; the insistence on moral conduct ... the doctrine of heaven and hell, of the mediation of the Logos, the atoning sacrifice, the warfare between good and evil and the triumph of the former, the immortality of the soul, the last Judgment, the resurrection of the body and the fiery destruction of the universe ...'

All these similarities led to bitter recriminations on both sides, especially during those final decades of their rivalry. Just as nearly a millennium and a half later the Christians were to blame the similarities between their doctrines and those of sun-worshippers in the New World on the devil, so did they now. Even so early a writer as Justin could declare 'the wicked demons have imitated [the Eucharist] in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding that the same thing be done'.

But from the time of Constantine the confusion became much greater. During its shortlived triumph as the state religion of Rome Mithraism had been set up with its elaborate sacerdotal system - its High Pontiff and the rest. Some of these forms were taken over when Christianity succeeded Mithraism. A devout Christian historian has said how when it became the state religion 'the Empire was partly christianized and the church partly paganized', and 'Christ succeeded to the place vacated by Serapis and Mithra, and the Madonna gradually to the place vacated by Isis and the Great Mother'.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that in the fourth century and for some time afterwards there was for very many people of the western Empire a total confusion between state Christianity and the state sun worship it displaced. Members of the eastern church indeed taunted those of the westem with being no better than pagan sun-worshippers. The choice of 25th December for Christ's Nativity gave especial trouble, for it was the day of the winter solstice when the

{p. 203} Brumalia was celebrated, the feast of the birth of the Unconquered Sun. Paulinus wrote:

For it is after the solstice, when Christ born in the flesh with the new sun transformed the season of cold winter, and vouchsafing to mortal man a healing dawn, commanded the nights to decrease at his coming with advancing day.

In the Roman Catholic church the Great Antiphon, sung on 21st December, pleads:

O Day-spring, Brightness of the Light eternal, and sun of Justice, come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

The decision to make the Nativity of Christ coincide with the Natalis Invicti Soli meant that pagans and Christians were holding simultaneous festivals, and although the Christians insisted that while the actual sun would wane once more 'Holy Church celebrates the festival of the Nativity of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, who begins to conquer error and Satan and will never wane', blurring of the two celebrations was inevitable. Augustine had to exhort the brethren not to solemnize the day on account of the sun like the heathen, but rather on account of him who made the sun. Leo the Great rebuked those who thought that Christmas was observed for the solstice and not the nativity of Christ.

Much of the rest of the early Christian Year runs side by side with the cycle of the sun. Thus after the Nativity at the winter solstice, Easter is on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, an appropriate date to celebrate the Resurrection. The rite of the candles, each proclaimed as the 'light of Christ', and the lighting of the large Paschal Taper with the accompanying words of the Exultet, 'Rejoice, O earth, illumined by this celestial radiancy', has solar associations. The Taper burns until Ascension Day, and this whole period celebrates the renewal of life and the final triumph of light over darkness. In addition to this solar pattern of the

{p. 204} Christian year, there was the naming of Sunday as the holy day of the Christian week.

When all these parallels are remembered, all either in being or foreshadowed by the fourth century, and when, too, it is known that for many of the more conscious of the former worshippers of Sol Invictus the physical sun had been seen as the symbol (itself divine, certainly) of the One God, then my statement that there was for some a near identity between the two faiths is surely justified. By now the Sun God as the Sun of Justice and the Sun of Righteousness is familiar. In this light (I choose the phrase intentionally) a dramatic discovery made below the present dome of St. Peter's at Rome is not surprising. After his adoption of Christianity the Emperor Constantine ordered the building of the new basilica of St. Peter's on the Vatican Hill, a plan which involved covering over a cemetery part pagan and part Christian. When in the 1950's excavations were made below the cathedral in the hope of finding the tomb of St. Peter, this necropolis was found and in it the earliest known Christian mosaic. It showed Christ as Sun God driving a chariot with flying cloak and a rayed nimbus behind his head.

In its earliest days as a world religion, then, Christianity had absorbed much from more than one historical source of sun worship. In the Catholic churches the symbolism has very largely remained. It is present everywhere - in church building and church furniture and in many of the ritual enactments of the Christian year. Undoubtedly as the tradition of the worship of Sol Invictus of the late Roman Empire was left behind the overlapping of ideas became far less, and for most Christians the use of solar imagery, both visual and verbal, has been accepted in a more and more purely symbolic sense. On the other hand, among peasants and all the simpler members of the flock, many of the practices of sun cults long remained, most of them clustering round May Day, midsummer and Christmas. ...


The Chariot Riding Sun God Surya - by C. Hartley

Surya is the important ancient Hindu Solar God. There are many hymns found in the Rig Veda which mention or honor Surya. The Rig Veda is a collection of more than a thousand hymns written between 1200 and 900 B.C. by people known as Aryans, who came to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India from the Eurasian steppes to the north. The Rig Veda is one of the earliest known writings written in any Indo-European language. Hymn I.50 speaks to the Sun. (This passage is from The Rig Veda; An Anthology, a translation by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Penguin Press, London, 1981)

{from the Rig Veda, I.50; verse numbers added}

1 His brilliant banners draw upward the god who knows all creatures, so that everyone may see the Sun.
2 The constellations, along with the nights, steal away like thieves, making way for the Sun who gazes on everyone.
3 The rays that are his banners have become visible from the distance, shining over mankind like blazing fires.
4 Crossing space, you are the maker of light, seen by everyone, O Sun. ...
8 Seven bay mares carry you in the chariot, O Sun God with hair of flame, gazing from afar.
9 The Sun has yoked the seven splendid daughters of the chariot; he goes with them, who yoke themselves.
... {endquote}

This hymn is a mixture of verses about Surya and verses spoken to Surya. By its reference to the rising of the Sun we might guess that it was meant to be recited at sunrise. ...

The hymn tells of Surya's chariot being drawn across the sky by seven bay mares. Seven seems to be an important number in many religions. Seven may be significant because there are seven visible celestial bodies that wander across the sky, the Sun, Moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Because they are all wanders we can call them planets, even though today we normally do not think of the Sun and Moon as planets. "Planets" is a word which comes from the Greek "planet" which means "wander." As is found in the Greco-Roman Calendar the days of the week in the modern Hindu calendar are named for the seven visible planets, Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and they are ordered exactly as they are in the Greco-Roman Calendar, a vestige of the ordering by ancient Babylonians. ...

Chariots were developed before 3000 B.C. and offered a warrior a stable platform from which to shot arrows and cast spears at his enemies. The horse, which was domesticated probably a 1000 years earlier in the western steppes was also of great importance to the people who wrote the Rig Veda because the horse-riding warrior was able to easily maneuver around his foot-soldier enemy. It is not surprizing that the people who wrote the Rig Veda recognized of the more powerful gods, Surya, as having two of their most powerful weapons of war, the horse and chariot.

Today there are a great number of temples in India devoted to Surya.

{image: The 15th century Surya temple at Ranakpur, Rajasthan.}

Many of the temples are easily recognized because they are often decorated with carved images of Surya, who is shown holding two daisy shaped objects, one in each hand, and accompanied by images of horses. Often there are also one or more carved images of a chariot wheel decorating the Surya temples. (A typical depiction of a chariot wheel is shown in the title of this page.) In some cases there are seven gods, representing the planets, shown in association with chariot wheels.


To purchase Jacquetta Hawkes' book Man and the Sun:

Is the Marxist movement (via Feminism) restoring the "Feminine" principle to primacy? If so, why do Feminists cultivate "masculine" traits and lifestyles? Why do they disparage mothers who stay home to look after their children? Why has the Cesarean rate - indicative of the most Passive kind of birth - soared during the Feminist period, whereas Goddess religions were based on the miracle of "Active Birth"?

Are the Greens a "Chthonic" religion? Do not their endorsement of "Gay Marriage" show that, while they exalt "Nature", they disparage the idea of "Human Nature"?

Marija Gimbutas on the Patriarchial displacement of Goddess religions: gimbutas.html.

Camille Paglia defends the Apollonian culture against the Dionysian:: danielou-paglia.html.

Write to me at contact.html.