Brother Sun, Father Sun

By John P. Van Mater

Part One

Imagine, if you will, the true nature of that radiant globe, our sun, whose energies nourish all its kingdom. Is it the nucleus of a cell in the fabric of universal life? An atom? A molecule? Or, in quite another sense, is it our Father, our Elder Brother -- or both? Science gives us some idea of the magnificence and power of that glowing orb which each day 'rises' in our eastern sky, banishing calm night, warming and sustaining all creatures and things. But in a quiet corner of our consciousness there is the feeling, the certainty, that the reality is far more splendid than what we see.

We feel a kinship with that vital globe whose effulgent energies warm the world and nourish it and us in so many mysterious ways. How immensely powerful an energy-source, even on this visible plane! And if, as many have believed, the sun we see is but the outer garment of a great being, how inconceivably grand the Sun-entity must be in its invisible aspects. For how many billions of years has it stood at the center of our solar world, lavishing its manifold energies in every direction.

These subjects can be explored along many avenues: if the sun is a being, and earth and man as well, then all units great and small must also be 'alive,' following their destiny in the role they have carved for themselves. The totality of lives is the universe, but in this case the whole must be a great deal more than all the parts -- an entity in its own right, in which the lesser live and move. Impelled by "Necessity" (karma) world-beings are born and reborn in the vast reaches of Space, each helping to form a larger system, and each containing hosts of smaller lives, stretching from the lowliest atom or elemental force whirling the summer's dust, to Shakespeare's "Young-eyed" Cherubim and Seraphim whose godlike harmony and wisdom are, perhaps, the so-called laws of nature.

Nearly all religions postulate the existence of Supreme Beings of various types, and all but a few have seen clearly the need for an extended series of divine and semi-divine agencies linking God on the one hand, and man on the other. The Lord in a very true sense might well note the sparrow's fall, but it is difficult to picture him having a direct hand in it. Anymore than we could say that cosmic electricity operates a cake mixer without first being tapped or generated, then run through a series of transformers and wires to activate a motor, which in turn whirls the blades. A universal energy is operating the mixer, to be sure, but not without many intervening instruments devised by intelligence for the purpose of stepping down and focusing it. The ancient and modern pantheistic and polytheistic beliefs were rooted in this key idea.

These thoughts may sound strange to many raised in the Western tradition. In order to understand why, it is necessary to digress briefly. During the last half of the 19th century and for many decades into this one, modem researchers habitually interpreted the past as merely the preface to the present; ancient science, they asserted, started with primitive gropings overshadowed by taboos and superstitions; archaic religion the same. And over the centuries, they went on to add, mankind has gradually emerged from this dark past into the noonday brightness of the present, when the sun and its family of circling orbs, together with the story of emergent life on earth, are finally seen in true perspective, freed from dependence upon godlike agencies -- a universe that somehow created and is now sustaining itself through the blind interaction of physico-chemical forces and laws.

It is a matter of curious interest that before the advent of Christianity in the West, the ancient world was for the most part sun- and moon-oriented in its cosmological and religious thinking. The anthropomorphic ideas of the Christian movement, however, ignoring these solar and cosmic aspects, magnified the role of earth: the stars spangling the night sky came to be looked upon simply as lights moving about the earth, placed there for the edification of man and the glory of God. Early in the rebirth of modern science this fiction was dispelled and we returned once more to the heliocentric ideas of former eras. In the meantime, however, a large portion of our heritage from the pagan world had been destroyed, so that modern thinkers and researchers became intoxicated with what they felt was the uniqueness of their discoveries and the ideas devised to explain them; whereas the accumulated research of this century and the last is gradually proving without question that our forebears in earlier civilizations had a very clear picture of our solar world and its planets; the constellations that whirl in their majestic cycles; and the sphericity and dimensions of earth, together with the interactions between it and the moon.

Even paleolithic man, it has been found, carried with him bone fragments on which were engraved accurate lunar calendars. The large prehistoric remains found in various parts of Western Europe were called by Professor Thom "Megalithic Lunar Observatories." Structures like Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and others, also embody a surprising amount of astronomical lore -- sun and moon cycles hidden in the placement of stones and other markers . . . and spaces. Perhaps the crowning achievement of these ancient times was the Great Pyramid, which enfolds in its orientation, design, dimensions, and passageways a fund of knowledge, geometrical, terrestrial, astronomical, and symbolic. It probably also contains a mine of genuine occult wisdom yet to be deciphered.

Now all these archaic structures are 'voiceless' in the sense that we do not have any contemporary literature to interpret or explain what their builders had in mind in constructing them. However, they speak with loud and clear voice about a time when man evidently knew a great deal about the cosmos. They remain an imperishable record of eras before the advent of the Iron Age, or what the Hindus refer to as the Kali-Yuga, said to have started with the death of Krishna around 3102 B.C. It is as though a curtain had been drawn about that time, hiding from us the remarkable achievements of civilizations which may have flowered many thousands of years ago. Little is known of this most ancient period which, according to tradition, marked the final close of one epoch and the advent of our present racial expression. Could this have been the fabled Atlantis? Ice ages intervened, probably, and then came the subsequent vast flooding from melting glaciers thousands of feet thick, which overlaid large portions of continents. In addition, the gradual and also catastrophic sinking of land massifs (mythologically remembered throughout the world), must have contributed to hiding what had gone before -- not to mention man's own destructive proclivities which at times, turned loose on portions of the world, eradicated stone by stone former civilized accomplishments.

But a number of actual records come down to us from the classical and pre-classical periods. Some, like the Vedas and Surya-Siddhanta (India), the Gilgamesh epic (Sumeria), and many more, emerge from the mists of prehistory like immense monoliths worn by time and the elements, but preserving a few fragments describing the history of sun, earth, and the races of men. The same story is also told, compressed in the form of symbolic glyphs carved in stone, on such mysterious remains as the Gateway of the Sun (Peru) or the Mayan stele. Modern skepticism, however, looking into the past through the lenses of Neodarwinism, usually disregards these mythological records of world and human birth as inherited fancy from our primitive ancestors. How could man have emigrated many thousands of years ago from continents now sunken, onto our present land systems, portions of which are 'newly' risen? That would place his early cultures hundreds of millennia ago.

Was mankind taught by divine instructors, 'initiate-kings'? In this age such ideas are made to appear ridiculous. But there remain these great structures embodying astonishing scientific and other knowledge. There is also the universality of archaic legends. Left to their own imaginings, we should expect as many different mythological explanations as there were myth-makers. Instead we find fairly uniform stories of gods instructing men about worlds outbreathed from the depths of Chaos. Former races on continents now disappeared are described, and their wars with the forebears of our present humanity are embodied in epic tales. Divinities, demigods, heroes, men, beasts, plant life, minerals -- all are included in archaic history. In addition, the spirits of the elements are prominently featured: called variously sprites, satyrs, jinns, fawns, trolls, elves, etc.; and later by such words as sylphs, undines, gnomes and salamanders.

This digression has been necessary in order to picturize the universe of ancient times: these so-called pagans gloried in the thought of a living cosmos animated by infinite gradations of beings. So that when we read in the surviving fragments of their philosophy, religion and poetry about the Sun-god moving across the heavens, about the night sky ablaze with "living sapphires" (as Milton re-echoed it), we have to understand that these descriptions do not denote primitiveness or superstitious fancy; they are usually anthropomorphized, but are nonetheless accurate portrayals of the cosmos from their point of view. Let us not fool ourselves, these ancient philosophers, teachers and, yes, scientists, were as intelligent as our leading thinkers today. However, they looked at the universe through different glasses; they started with another set of premises; and their conclusions, while often at odds with modern materialism, are for the most part consonant with scientific fact.

Another drawback to our uncovering what they truly believed stems from the adamant rule among early religions that wisdom is of two kinds, revealed and hidden. It was a punishable crime to speak openly of the secrets of the sanctuary. There, it was said, the "mysteries of ere freely discussed, whereas in public these ideas had to be treated symbolically, hinted at. They feared the abuse of knowledge. We may not agree with this policy, but let us look carefully around us today before making hasty judgments. The upshot of this inflexible attitude is that in reading the scriptures of long ago we have to be alert to catch the hints given and to bridge where possible gaps that were often deliberately left. We must thus have in mind that when it came to describing the origin and structure of nature as we see and know it, published accounts were at best fragmentary, for the reasons just stated and also because so little has survived the onslaughts of intervening ages.

There are many additional factors which have all but destroyed the records of the past or make it difficult for us properly to interpret what we do have; but enough has been said to proceed with this discussion of the sun considered in the dual role of the Father of life, and the Elder Brother to the various beings in its system. Thirty or forty years ago most encyclopedias pointed out that until the time of Copernicus, Kepler and the birth of modern science, the earth was generally looked upon as the center of the universe. This notion is true if we consider only the views of medieval Europe; but there is ample evidence of a heliocentric concept long before, in the Graeco-Roman era and earlier, also in the Near and Far East.

Aristotle in his De Caelo (II, 12) speaks of the Pythagoreans who taught that "it is wrong to give the earth the central position" and that at the center "is fire, and the earth is one of the stars, creating night and day by its circular motion about the center."

Writing to Gelon, King of Syracuse, Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) details the beliefs of his older contemporary Aristarchus: "His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the sun remain unmoved, that the earth revolves about the sun in the circumference of a circle, lying in the middle of the orbit" (The Sand Reckoner).

Plutarch (46-120 A.D.) describes the views of Cleanthes, another contemporary of Aristarchus, who

. . . thought it was the duty of the Greeks to indict Aristarchus of Samos on the charge of impiety for putting in motion the Hearth of the universe [i.e. the earth], . . . supposing the heaven to remain at rest and the earth to revolve in an oblique circle, while it rotates, at the same time, about its own axis. -- On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon, vi.

This last reveals clearly the handicaps under which philosophers and scientists labored. In the words of Will Durant, "perhaps a distaste for hemlock moved Aristarchus to be the Galileo as well as the Copernicus of the ancient world" (Life of Greece, p. 634). Even the great Hellenistic scientists, such as Hipparchus, who argued against a sun-centered system, may only have been following the regulations laid down by the Mysteries relating to this topic.

Turning to other civilizations, Plutarch wrote in his Platonic Questions (viii, 2) that Seleucis the Babylonian in the 2nd century B.C. defended the heliocentric system. In the New World, it was reported that when the Spaniards conquered Peru, they found that there the sun had always been conceived of as the center of our solar world. (What a crime it was to burn the Mayan and Aztec books!) H. P. Blavatsky notes that Confucius (600 B.C.) and his school taught "the sphericity of the Earth and even the heliocentric system" (The Secret Doctrine,1:441).

In India's Vishnu-Purana (II, ch. viii) we find the following:

Of the sun, which is always in one and the same place, there is neither setting nor rising, for what are called rising and setting are only the seeing and not seeing the sun.

On these lines the able Sanskrit scholar, Fitzedward Hall, comments, "the Heliocentricism taught in this passage is remarkable."

As late as the 4th century A.D., the Roman emperor Julian said in his "Oration to the Sovereign Sun":

For the planets dance about him as their king, in certain intervals, fixed in relation to him, and revolve in a circle with perfect accord, making certain halts, and pursuing to and fro their orbit, as those who are learned in the study of the spheres call their visible motions . . .

From these references it is clear, I believe, that from the purely astronomical point of view, the ancients were by no means ignorant of the sun's true place and function, and very probably it was only their vows of secrecy that prevented scientists of those days from a more explicit discussion of the subject. Incidentally, they also knew a great deal about the moon and planets, their orbits, transits, eclipses, etc., and about the sphericity and dimensions of earth.

There is a wealth of material in ancient literature about the birth of worlds, especially in the Hindu and Hebrew traditions, a theme which is also treated at some length in modern theosophical writings. It is in its relationship with the planets that Surya was sometimes looked upon as an elder brother. For whereas the planets, it was said, came into being with the sun, each is an entity in its own right, pursuing its destiny as an evolving being. Earth, Mars, and the other members of the solar family were described as having a much shorter lifespan than their elder brother, which endures throughout a number of planetary reimbodiments. A planet lives its life, dies, and after a time is reborn, drawn to its brother sun in the form of a comet of short periodic time; and if it survives the immense attractive power of the sun's vitality, it gradually condenses and solidifies, and finally settles in a regular orbit around the sun as a planet like our own.

The most important difference between archaic doctrines about universal, solar, and planetary birth, and those propounded by modern science, is that the latter assume that matter in and of itself, acted upon by thermodynamic and other forces, will eventually produce a heavenly body, a sun, say, with its family of planets. Such a claim would have been inconceivable to many ancient thinkers, whose basic premise was usually that the cosmos in all stages of its unfoldment is pulsed through and through with the activities of divine beings. Mechanical forces and laws do exist, to be sure, but they are in all cases the result of overshadowing intelligent life. Laws in and of themselves can do nothing without intelligent law-giving and law-impulsing higher energies. They cannot drive a vehicle, regulate traffic . . . or build and sustain a man or a universe; and it is only our present scientific bias (itself a reaction to Christian anthropomorphism) that leads us to think so. These grooves of present thinking make it difficult for us to evaluate properly what the ancients had to say about cosmogenesis.

This is not the place to discuss at length the relationship between the concept of divinities, on the one hand, and the idea of a universe of law, on the other, except to say that nearly all the early schools of religious philosophy, East and West, saw no contradiction between the two. The point is important because one of the reasons why modern science turned away from metaphysics was that it saw no way of reconciling law with the arbitrary acts of Deity. However, the ancients' view was that the presence of the gods guaranteed the operations of cause and effect. Divinities are the servants of law, they taught, for their sublime existences are the harmony of nature's very fabric, and when this is disturbed on whatever level, it is the "life-style" of the gods which restores it. By making life, intelligence, consciousness, mere byproducts of matter, modern science is hard put to explain a universe that somehow built itself, using matter, energies and laws that arrived out of nowhere.

The ancients looked upon the sun as our Elder Brother in the sense that at one time in a far past aeon this grand entity must have passed through a stage in its evolution corresponding to the human. In other words, as Dr. de Purucker expressed it, "the divine force behind that flaming globe which is the pivot of our world, was once like a man; and the converse is also true: it is a man's sublime destiny to become a sun at some distant period when he shall have brought forth from within such godlike powers." (Cf. Dialogues of G. de Purucker, II, p. 344.) In addition, our "sovereign sun," as the emperor Julian phrased it, is the elder brother to those planetary companions which move about it with such mathematical precision, drawn to the shining center, nourished by its mighty forces, but following their own special destiny, contributing their unique melody to the music of the spheres.

Part Two

O thou that risest from the low cloud
To burn in the all above,
I greet thee! I adore thee!
-- American Indian

It seems altogether fitting that mankind should revere the sun. The more we know about that blazing orb which faithfully journeys across our daylight skies, the more we come to appreciate the central role it plays in the life of our entire system. Certainly the creatures of earth are wholly dependent upon the energies it so lavishly bestows. To reverence the sun is thus a spontaneous and natural impulse.

Whether we speak of the sun as our Father or as our Brother, we are giving voice to an urge that wells up from the center of our natures, an awareness that we are linked to this giant being, variously called Surya, Sol, Brahma, Helios, Ra, Phoebus-Apollo, etc., by ancient peoples. Paying homage to the sun has nothing in it of servitude, for it is a recognition that we too are sparks of the central fire, that in us also a spiritual sun shines, shedding its bright light upon all activities that are ennobling, kindly, and understanding.

The thought was common in former times that whereas we humans are children of earth and sun, a portion of us, too, derives from the moon, whose cyclings and phases intimately affect the lives of earth. How much more so the sun, whose influences may be far more potent along spiritual lines. Also, the hierophants and philosophers of India and Babylonia -- indeed throughout the ancient world -- held that each of us has within something derived not only from sun, earth, and moon, but likewise from the planets and stars, from our vast universe itself, and even beyond. Otherwise, they taught, we could not see or comprehend them. As the old maxim states: "Man can see outside himself only what he has within. The ancient Persians grasped this idea, as shown in this Zoroastrian hymn:

I invoke the excellent peoples of the stars.
I love nothing but light.
Let the soul lift thy faculties upwards.

Over the ages Father Sun has been worshiped in many ways, depending on what aspect was being referred to. Sometimes it was the inner sun within man, his higher self, that was being described or invoked. Or again, when a ray or influence from the mystical cosmic sun took embodiment either temporarily or for a lifetime in some noble human instrument, such a spiritual event would be remembered with its own particular symbols and terms. It is worth elaborating these topics, making reference to the beliefs of peoples in various parts of the world, for by so doing we may come to understand more profoundly the meaning of certain rites or ceremonies now thought of as merely celebrations, but which formerly may have had a direct personal application for every aspiring human being.

It is sometimes forgotten that the early Christians associated Jesus with the sun. Among the church fathers, Cyprian speaks of Christ as Sol Verus, the "true sun," and Ambrose names him Sol Novus Noster, our new sun. An interesting fact revealed in the old Roman calendars is that on the 25th of December each year they commemorated the new birth of Sol Invictus, the "unconquered sun." The Persian sun god Mithras was said to have had a virgin birth at the winter solstice, in a cave or grotto. Similar stories are told of Adonis and Atys of Syria and Phrygia, Krishna of India, and Horus born of Isis in Egypt. Concerning the latter, Dr. de Purucker in his Esoteric Tradition has the following to say:

Plutarch, in his profound little tract, or essay, On Isis and Osiris, informs us that over the front of the Temple of Isis at Sais in Egypt there was engraven the following inscription: "Isis am I: all that has been, and is, and will be; and my garment hath no one of mortals ever raised." Proclus, the Neo-Platonic philosopher, adds to this bit of information from Plutarch the further statement that the conclusion of this inscription was the following extremely significant words: "And the fruit which I brought forth became the Sun." The immaculate Virgin-Mother of Space, the Soul-Spirit of Space, brought forth the Logos . . . the Divine Sun. Here then is the germ of the Christian idea . . . the Cosmic Virgin-Mother and the God-child. -- p. 1104

Some of the early Christian hymns were addressed to the sun, such as this one:

O thou REAL Sun, infill us,
Shining with perpetual light!
Splendor of the holy Spirit
Pervade our minds!

How similar this is to the much earlier Gayatri from the Rig-Veda,which rendered literally reads: "That excellent splendor of the Divine Sun we meditate upon, may it arouse our minds!"

When we look out over the vast space separating us from the solar orb, we might well ask what possible relation could that sphere of coruscating energies have with the sun invoked in the Rig-Veda? How could the physical sun arouse or stimulate our minds? The answer is that it couldn't; but obviously the hymn refers to the Divine Sun of which each human being is, so to say, a ray. We invoke the ray of the solar heart which resides in the core of our being, and in so doing become "as the sun." The process by which such an event takes place was known in the old Mystery schools as initiation -- not the formalized degree-taking practiced in some orders today, nor the quick passage to nirvana dubiously promised by certain quasi-occult groups; but the true bringing to birth of the god within through a series of spiritual events resulting from years, indeed lifetimes, of self-effort.

According to tradition the first three degrees of the Mysteries were composed of doctrine, intellectual and moral discipline. Starting with the fourth degree, it was said, the candidate thereafter began to experience what he had heretofore only studied about. He sent his consciousness into nature's arcana and there 'saw' firsthand the various inner realms and their inhabitants. He traversed the circulations of the cosmos, even to the "portals of the sun" and beyond, so it is claimed; returning "clothed with the sun," a "son of the sun," surrounded with a nimbus or halo, such as is seen in Christian, Buddhist and other art. The crowning of kings with a golden circlet is a faint echo of the time when the rulers of nations were initiates into the Secret Wisdom. In the East the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are often shown wearing a rayed diadem or crown (ushnisha). These same thoughts are hinted at in the following from the Egyptian Book of the Dead (italics ours).

Homage to thee, O Ra, at thy tremendous rising!
Thou risest! Thou shinest! the heavens are rolled aside!
Thou art the King of Gods, thou art the All-comprising,
From thee we come, in thee are deified.

The striking universality of these ancient traditions can only mean that we are here dealing with religious facts. There can scarcely be any other conclusion if we are to explain these identities of custom and belief in such widely scattered areas. To elaborate this point: in various parts of the world, in regions often quite unrelated to each other, the same traditions exist about wise and holy men who so raised and purified their human consciousness that it became an instrument of their own inner divinity for a shorter or longer period depending upon the "degree" of the experience. And this divine or higher self was termed variously an influence from the Logos, from the cosmic Buddha or Christ, or a ray from the Spiritual Sun. Such a man emerged from this experience "showing forth" the splendor of the Divine (the exact meaning of the Christianized Greek word Epiphany). Among the Hindus the true initiate was called dwija, twice-born, once of the flesh and once of the spirit; and did not Jesus declare (John, 3:3), "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." (Matthew 3:11 speaks of two baptisms, one of water, one of fire.)

Now of course we could say that all these archaic customs are merely the trappings of religion based on wishful thinking and superstitious imaginings that have become glamorized with the passage of centuries. But is it not stretching the long arm of coincidence to suppose that in nearly every part of the world the same symbolisms could have been invented? Universality is the test of all phenomena, whether we are studying the law of gravity, genetics, or any other topic. Applied to the world-wide tradition of man bringing to birth the human Christ or Buddha from within the 'virgin' or spiritual soul, we can only conclude that actual occurrences are being described -- otherwise we would have hundreds of widely divergent stories. The Way to spiritual attainment has obviously been basically the same in every race and time, which is logical for, after all, the pilgrim following this Way, then and now, is yearning, striving Man.

The many noble-hearted individuals throughout history who have become the god-sun within themselves are the highest exemplars that the race has produced. They are the way-showers, those who have gone before, and in their compassion turned to light the path for those who follow. They stand as startling evidence of man's godlike potentials. Such evidence is often overlooked by historians and philosophers of evolution. The fact that the human race has produced such fine flowers cannot be gainsaid, nor the universality of their message pushed aside. It is indeed as though these highly evolved souls were able to see into nature's causal realms, and thus it is not so remarkable that their descriptions of the cosmos and of man would be basically the same. It would be more astonishing if they were not.

It is an old tradition (still alive today in parts of India and the Far East) that beyond the "snowy range" many of these great souls are still with us, linked together into a brotherhood; and that from time to time members of this august fraternity come among men to keep alive the spirit of truth, to sound once more the golden chords of wisdom. Purportedly these have been the founders of the various world religions and spiritual philosophies. This fraternity in turn, so legend implies, is linked step by step with higher ranges of semi-divine and divine beings, forming what is called the Hierarchy of Compassion, which is, actually, the spiritual-intellectual aspect of mother earth and father sun.

In these articles we have tried to give a picture of the pantheistic universe of the ancients, who recognized the presence of cosmic life and intelligence in all things; we have also indicated something of the reality behind the anthropomorphic beliefs sometimes prevalent in those times -- and also today! To be sure, the hosts of gods and goddesses that formed the popular worship in all countries were frequently made to appear scarcely more than human, with human frailties and passions. And it is also true that many people never go beyond this exoteric outlook. But thinking and intuitive persons in all eras have searched beneath these symbolic stories for the truths hidden there, and have been rewarded by a truly magnificent panorama of the origin, structure, and operations of the cosmos -- one which inspirits the facts of science without in any way contradicting them, and blends the reality of divine beings with a universe of law.

How intricately woven are the two concepts -- the symbolic outer sun, whose "rising" can be related to man's emergent inner god. Then there is the glory and splendor of that giant being who is the sun in its inmost parts, whose children we are, somewhat as the atoms of our bodies stand in relation to the spiritual-mental dynamo which is man in his real nature. When that sun rises we see clearly that man is truly a solar being.

In some civilizations man for generations considered himself a child of the gods, who in turn formed the higher aspects of the cosmos itself. He therefore read a deep significance into all natural phenomena: the solstices and equinoxes, which mark the year's turning points; the phases, eclipses, and transits of sun, moon, and planets, which forbade or encouraged important spiritual events, depending upon the "influences" involved. But above all was the Sun, considered as our Father, and we his spiritual rays. He was also elder Brother to all life in the sense that every monad presently expressing itself in a lower form will some day be a sun. We can thus truly say that all beings are sons and brothers of the Sun. Is it any wonder that the purity and grandeur of the sunrise has evoked the attention of man throughout the ages, for it is a daily reminder of our divine possibilities.

(From Sunrise magazine, October, November 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press)

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