Worship of the Sun: Summer Heat and the Blessings of the Rains

Introduction

Welcome to the hottest part of the summer here in the Upper Midwest!  The Summer Solstice was a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to continue my story writing for the seasonal shift and changes.  In this part of the country, summers are known for having fun in the sun and spending time outdoors which includes camping, fishing, and spending time out on the local rivers and waterways.  Summertime is also known for its heat, bugs, and humidly.  To many people, periodic rains during the summer can be a relief by dropping the heat and give areas that are dry some much-needed water and we are lucky to have a good balance between rainy and sunny days.  However the heat can persist within the humidity that lingers from the rains and the waterways and depending on the local wildlife, the bug population can skyrocket.  There are both blessings to celebrate and cautions to take this time of year.

Summer Heat and Thunderstorms

Let’s start with the good stuff.  The summer weather and the scenery here in the Western Uplands of Wisconsin and Minnesota is beautiful.  People along the Mississippi love to travel up and down the river checking out tourist attractions and the restaurants that are found in the tourist towns.  Parks and scenic overlooks span the Wisconsin Great River Road (250 miles along Wisconsin Hwy 35) as well as wineries, historic museums, and other attractions.  People in the Midwest take a lot of pride in their history and culture and it shows along the river in these small towns.  Also, summertime along the Mississippi is marked with various celebrations that include music festivals, games, and food. [1]  Many of these festivals last well into the night and with the mild evenings, the wetlands, in particular, can bring a sense of wonder because fireflies are out in large volumes from June to August, giving the evenings a sense of otherworldly wonder.  With the fireflies in remote locations and with many people having campfires going late into the night, the Western Uplands during the summertime can be quite breathtaking. [2]

The weather is certainly better in June although historically, it has been known to have more rainfall than other summer months.  But once July comes around, we enter the hottest month of the year.  The heat and the humidity in July starts to escalate and the average temperatures range between 75 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity averaging around 75% for most of the month.  Any activities happening this month usually works around the heat.  People work indoors if they can or if they are going to be outside, they make sure to have plenty of water, shade, and sunscreen.  Given the heat and humidity, the hot weather tends to linger into August and by the time we come to the end of August, we start to see the temperatures come back down and on average an increase in storm activity again. [3]

When looking at the storms in June and August, these rains help regulate local temperatures and keep plants staying healthy and green.  But with the warm humid air mixing with cooler air, we also see an increase of severe weather conditions and the development of tornados.  In reality, tornados happen throughout the year (except February for some reason), but the height of the season in the Upper Midwest comes in June. [4]  Tornados happen when large thunderstorms, called supercells, develop rotating winds due to warm humid air pushing up into the higher cold dryer air.  As the updraft continues, the wind rotations speed up and tornados form.  Roughly, one out of every 1000 thunderstorms become supercells and one out of every 10 supercells will develop tornados.  These tornados also happen along the polar Jetstream, where warmer temperate weather in the south meets the cooler weather towards the poles. [5]  Despite the increase in tornado activity, seen mainly in the southern part of Wisconsin, thunderstorms and local rains help local farmers and crop yields.

Folklore Regarding Summer Heat and Storms

The Upper Midwest, with immigrants from various European regions as well as local Native American legends, provides a variety of perspectives and folklore on how people relate with the summer heat and the seasonal rains.  In regards to the heat, one of the most famous elements of history and folklore we have involves what is known as The Dog Days of Summer, which runs on average between July 3rd to August 11th (between June and August storms).  This time of the year originally got its name because, in Europe, the star Sirius (Dog Star) is one of the brightest stars in the sky this time of year.  Because it would be seen at dawn and rose before the sun, ancient Romans thought it would produce enough extra heat that it made the summer heat sweltering. [6]  In Wisconsin, Sirius is visible in the sky between Late December and late March, so not so much a sign for extra heat, but given that July is one of the hottest months of the year, the local European American population kept the term because the heat can get bad enough that people thought dogs would go crazy from it. [7]

When it comes to rainstorms and thunderstorms, much of the folklore out there is about methods to predict good and bad weather.  This is done through various observations of clouds, birds, and other animals that seem to react differently when a storm is coming.  Given the animistic nature of ancient Europeans, these things were also seen as signs from local spirits and gods.  Thunder and lighting among the ancient Europeans were seen as the effects or tools of a god, usually but not always a local sky deity.  Deities such as the Gaulish god Taranis, the Norse god Thor, the Greek god Zeus, and the Roman god Jupiter were all associated with thunder and lighting.  They were also all warrior gods to some existent, defeating ancient primal beings and giants.  As gods, they also bestowed access to certain types of phenomena that were associated with their area of focus or sovereignty. [8]  For example the Gaulish god Taranis, even though we have no surviving mythologies for him, was petitioned in May/June during the Gallo-Roman period for rains so the crops in the fields would be plentiful.  We also know that he was also petitioned to protect the local communities from the more severe and dangerous aspects of the season. [9]

Reflections and Speculations: The Role of Storms

So as a Gaulish polytheist in the Upper Midwest, what does this tell us?

During the summer season, early on we have pleasant weather with rain.  Then the rains take a break, where it gets really hot and then the rains return later in the season and things cool down again.  Fireflies are active throughout the season and for the most part, fair weather that allows travel along the Mississippi as well as inland.  We also see an increase in tornados hitting their peak in June and the massive heat and humidity in July causing concern among the people that it could be harmful to animals.

As with our previous articles regarding storytelling and local practices relating to the Upper Midwest and Gaulish Polytheism (see here) there is a balance between the stories that have been told and what we see around us.  When looking at mythology across the globe, many myths are used to explain the establishment of events or phenomena around us within a narrative format.  With that approach when looking at our previous stories, Taranis rides in from the south on his mighty steed Dexosgaiton (south/favorable winds) and the storms come with him to drive the beast of winter, called Dusios, back into their lairs.  But the land is vast and he travels the lands helping out the people with the blessings of his rains, thus the traveling of storms as they come through the area.

One point to keep in mind is that not all rains are pleasant and helpful for keeping the temperatures cool.  Some are more forceful and destructive, like what we see with the tornado season.  When looking at European folklore and mythology, we do not see much regarding tornados, and I believe that is mainly because they do not happen that much in Europe.  On average, we see around 300 tornados a year throughout all of Europe vs on average 1,200 tornados in the US. [10]  Given the volume of tornados in the US, the idea of a giant or some other form of weather spirit causing problems would seem to make more sense from a mythic sense and when we look at Native American traditions, we do see this to some existent.  According to Ho-Chunk legends, severe storms were the work of “the bad Thunderbird” and it would cause storms with the flapping of their wings (on the flip side, the Thunderbirds was seen as a positive thing among the Ojibwe and Sioux Tribes). [11, 12]  In European Myth, birds were seen as the messengers of the gods more than anything and when we see things that rumble like thunder, it is said to be caused by either horse hooves or chariot wheels of some being.

Reflections and Speculations: Sun Deities and Summer Heat

During July, the summer rays are the most direct on the surface of the Earth in the Upper Midwest and is the main reason for the high heat.  Another aspect is the humidity, brought forth from the evaporation of water from our many waterways such as the Mississippi River.  The combination of these two can send people indoors or in situations where they can cool down, such as in the water.  Despite the frustration that can come from the heat in July, people in the Upper Midwest would rather see a nice sunny day over a cold wet one.

When looking at Indo-European Culture and Gaulish Culture, we see some interesting elements regarding how people viewed the sun and its relationship with the Earth.

  • Male and Female Sun Deities:  Depending on the region you are in, the sun is personified as either a male or female.  We also see the moon in many cases personified oppositely.  The Greeks, Romans, Indo-Iranian, and Vedic cultures saw the sun as masculine.  However, when you look at the Norse and the Baltic/Slavic regions, the sun is seen as female.  The few surviving Celtic regions are ambiguous in regards to the role of the sun in their myths and legends, but through linguistic research, it would appear that at least in the British Isles and Ireland, the sun was also seen as female. [13]  This would make sense given the Norse and Germanic influences in the northern regions.  When looking at Gaulish artifacts, there is no clear answer on whether the sun was seen as male or female.  The Gaulish word for sun is sonnos, which is a male designation. [14]  This can imply that they saw the sun as masculine but that is not a hard rule since many languages that have gendered nouns apply their gender use arbitrarily. [15]  Many people apply Apollo with the sun in the Roman interpretations, but Apollo was also mainly associated with healing springs/shrines, places of divination, and patron of music and the arts.  In regards to Apollo, there are almost 20 different epithets associated with him from Gaul that were considered regional avatars.  Of those, three are considered to be the main/primary ones: Grannus in the North, Borvo near Burgundy, and Belinos in the south. [16]
  • The Sun Chariot: Almost universally, Indo-European sun deities travel in a chariot through the sky, and given the amount of evidence that supports this, for the Gaulish Celts to not have a sun deity on a chariot at least at some point in their history seems odd.  Imagery involving the sun chariot in Europe can be seen in artifacts going back to the Late Bronze Age (around 1400 BCE) and evidence for chariots being part of Indo-European cultures goes as far back as 1800 BCE in Syria.  One of the most famous statues showing the sun chariot in Europe was found in Denmark in 1902.  In almost all cases, the sun chariot is pulled by horses and the wheel of the chariot is alight in fire (thus showing the sun as a turning wheel). [17, 18]  With the Gaulish Celts, we do not see much for chariot imagery other than chariot burials or members of the nobility.  With religious artwork, we do see one image of Grannus with a chariot and the “head of a radiant deity” so some have suggested that he is the Gaulish god for the sun. However given his strong connections with hot springs and his association with the goddess Sirona, who is seen as a healing star goddess, the direct connection between him and the sun is not clear. [19]
  • Sun Deity as a Lesser Deity or a Giant/Titan:  One curious bit that came up in my research is that when you look at Indo-European stories regarding the sun deity, in many cases they are not considered part of the main group of gods (with a couple of possible exceptions).  In the societies where we have creation myths, they are either decedent of giants/titans (Hyperion and Theia in Greece, the first giants before Ymir’s death in Norse Myth, etc) and are seen as similar (but not the same) to the main gods.  Usually, their role is more of background characters in the drama of Indo-European mythology, providing either help to the main hero or providing an avenue of contention that the hero must overcome.  Given this theme running through IE myth and looking at where the Gaulish Celts were located, it is unclear whether there would be any surviving indications of a specific Gaulish solar cult.  It is also possible that the roles these solar deities had within the community were at some point taken up by other deities (such as healing gods of hot springs or agricultural goddesses) and that solar deity fell to the background because of it. [20]
Speculations and Conclusions

Whether you’re looking at the sun from a mythic or historical standpoint, the sun is one of the most ancient things we directly interact with.  Born at the beginning of our little patch of the galaxy, it brings warmth and life to the Earth.  Its rays pull us out of seasonal depressions and helps with the production of Vitamin E.  Depending on the local conditions (weather, earth tilt, pollution in the atmosphere, etc) this light and warmth can be something of great abundance and benefit or it can be withdrawn and lacking in its gifts.  During the spring and the summer, the part of the Earth we live on turns itself towards the sun and in the fall and winter, it turns away.

When looking at the various Indo-European sun deities as well as the sun imagery that we find going back into the Bronze Age, seeing the sun god as an older deity who was later replaced by younger gods as society evolved make sense.  It is also possible that many of the giants and titans we see in Indo-European myth were inspired by earlier cultural expressions of gods associated with the primal world, and that these older gods were replaced by younger gods due to social and economic changes.  This might also help explain why we do not see a specific sun deity with the Celts in general.  So with that element, we can look at Gaulish gods like Grannus and take him for how he appears, a healing god of the hot springs that were associated with Apollo without needing to shoehorn him into a role he possibly did not have to begin with.  As stated already, the Gaulish word for the sun in sonnos.  Using that as the base for the name for the god of the sun is perfectly acceptable.  If you see the sun deity as masculine, Sonnos is fine.  If you see the sun deity as a feminine, Sonnâ (female version of sonnos) is also perfectly acceptable.  If you prefer a gender-neutral name because you see the sun primarily as a big ball of fire with a spiritual essence to it that transcends gender pronouns (or because of preference) Sonni would be the proper use of the word.  Some possible titles one could use for the sun deity can include Sonnomaros (Mighty Sun), Canecocantos (Golden Wheel), or Leucosarios (Radiant Lord) [21]

As for the role of storms this time of year, they do not have quite the impact that they do during the springtime which causes flooding along the Mississippi.  However, they do play a vital role to keep the temperatures down and making sure the crops are watered.  This would certainly be an expression of the nourishing side of a storm god.  The power of the storm can be destructive and oppressive or they can nourish the land leading to growth.  This would express the two sides of a thunder god like Taranis and this nourishing side can be seen in mosaics found from the Gallo-Roman period with rituals dedicated to him asking for fair weather during May-June. [22]  In addition to that, the atmosphere also protects the Earth from harmful UV radiation and other interstellar phenomena, so that sense of protection is certainly there as well.  As for the tornados, they affect some areas more then others so how much one wants to incorporate that into their understanding of the local sky god is up to them.

Additional Characters

All stories have their supporting cast.  Here are some of the additional characters and places in the story we are telling:

  • Abonâtîr: Father of Rivers, name for the Spirit of the Mississippi
  • Genetâ Saminos: The Maiden of Summer.  Also called Benârincâ, Lady of Grain, Spirit of the Land in the Western Uplands.
  • Dexosgaiton (South/favorable Wind): This is the name for the horse that Taranis rides in on because the storms of summer always comes in on the south wind in the Upper Midwest.
  • Andumnos: The Otherworld/Underworld
The Telling of a Story……..

Sonnomaros, Might Sun.  He who was among one of the first of creation travels the heavens in his might chariot.  Genetâ Saminos celebrating her full return from her cold sleep turns towards the radiant rider in jubilee.  The land continues to warm and the blessings of the season are felt by all.  Taranis, mighty storm bringer, knows that the blessings of Sonnomaros can bring warmth and life, but the heat can also harm.  The gifts of Sonnomaros if not tempered can be dominating, for the Lord of Light is ancient and can be just a cruel as blessed.  Taranis on his steed Dexosgaiton goes to Abonâtîr, Father of Waters, and asks for his assistance.  “Genetâ Saminos has embraced the warmth of Sonnomaros upon her return, but his might is great.  I worry that his fire will be too much for the people.  Abonâtîr, I ask for your help.”  Abonâtîr looks to Taranis and says “Storm Bringer, you ride with the power of the storms on your mighty steed and you have the power to release the waters of the Earth form the Andumnos.  Why would you need my help?”  Taranis looked at the river god and said, “I may be the vessel, but the abundance of the land is both yours and your sisters.  The waters I have is not enough for this vast land and I am concerned that the storms will run dry.”  Abonâtîr thinks upon this and replies, “Taranis, use what you have across the land.  If you run out, come and find me.  I will give you more if you need it.”  Taranis concedes and upon his steed, he travels forth across the land.

As Taranis rides, the storms swell on the hooves of Dexosgaiton and the rain falls to the land.  Taranis rides and rides, but he rides too hard.  Dexosgaiton starts to whine and stumble.  Eventually, Taranis realizes what is happening to his horse and looks down.  He notices that the waters in the storms are gone, as is their power.  “Be well Dexosgaiton.  We will return to get more.”  But as Taranis turns to return to Abonâtîr, he realizes that he rode much further then he thought and his ride back will take much longer then he expected.  Determined to complete his task, Taranis kicks at his heels and starts his return.  Without the rains, the heat from Sonnomaros’s chariot continues to radiate down from the heavens, the wheels of his chariot blazing as they spin and his steeds stretch forth, radiating across the sky like rays of the morning light.

Both Genetâ Saminos and Abonâtîr sees that the storms have stopped and wonders why Taranis has not come with the storms.  Abonâtîr climbed the bluffs above the river and peers out to see Taranis riding back through the summer heat.  Abonâtîr looks upon his sister seeing the plants beginning to wither and the waters begin to dry up, the people start to seek shelter from the sun’s heat.  “I made a mistake dear sister.  I thought Taranis had enough water for the storms, but I was wrong.  We must prepare for his return.”  The Abonâtîr calls forth the winds to gather the steam rising from the waters so that Taranis may take it to bring forth the rain again.  Genetâ Saminos cries out to Sonnomaros in his chariot.  “Sonnomaros!  Light Bringer!  You come too close!  Can you not see that the land is withering in your heat?  The people seek shelter and their dogs cry out in madness?”  Sonnomaors looks down from his blazing chariot and says “Genetâ Saminos, this path is well known to us for it is as ancient as I am.  It brings both good and bad and it will pass like all things.  Even now, the Storm Lord is coming to bring your relief.”  Then Sonnomaros in his mighty chariot continued his ride across the heavens. 

Abonâtîr and Genetâ Saminos look to find Taranis has returned on his steed Dexosgaiton.  Taranis takes the waters that Abonâtîr has collected in the summer heat and the storms erupt from Dexosgaiton’s hooves.  With the return of the storms, Taranis sees that he now has enough of the waters to complete his task.  As he rides forth, the storms return as if they had never left.  The land cools down and with the return of the rains, the people become relived.  They take to their work to prepare for the harvest.

 

Resources
  1. Staff.  Great River Road Wisconsin Official Website: https://www.wigrr.com/
  2. Staff.  “The Twinkling Lights of Summer” Friends of the Mississippi River Homepage: https://www.fmr.org/twinkling-lights-summer
  3. Staff. “Monthly Weather Forecast and climate Wisconsin, USA” Weather Atlas: https://www.weather-us.com/en/wisconsin-usa-climate#climate_text_10
  4. Kirchhaine, Kristen.  “Weather Blog: When is Peak Tornado Season in Wisconsin?” WTMJ-TV Milwaukee News, 2020: https://www.tmj4.com/weather/weather-blog/weather-blog-when-is-peak-tornado-season-in-wisconsin
  5. Staff. “Tornados Explained: Learn how these deadly storms form and wreck havoc and how you can reduce your risk” National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/tornadoes/
  6. Staff. “Why are they Called The ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?” Farmers Almanac: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/why-are-they-called-dog-days-of-summer-21705
  7. Lewis, James. “The Hunting Dogs of Orion” Middle Wisconsin: http://www.middlewisconsin.org/the-hunting-days-of-orion/
  8. Puhvel, Jaan.  Comparative Mythology Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989
  9. Serith, Ceisiwr. “The Gaulish God Taranis” YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=233DWe89JRs
  10. Du Brulle, Christian. “300 Tornados Hit Europe Every Year” Horizon: The EU Research and Innovation Magazine: https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/300-tornadoes-hit-europe-every-year.html
  11. Welker, Glenn. “Boy Stolen by Thunderbird” Indigenous People’s Literature: http://www.indigenouspeople.net/boystole.htm
  12. Andre-Warner, Elle. “Ojibwa Thunderbird Mythology: Powerful Sprits of the Sky” Northern Wilds: For the Love of the North, 2018: https://northernwilds.com/thunderbirds-powerful-spirits-sky/
  13. Puhvel, Jaan.  Comparative Mythology Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989
  14. Toutâ Galation “Gaulish Dictionairy” Toutâ Galation, Tumblr: https://touta-galation-official.tumblr.com/dictionairy
  15. Brooks, Richard. “Why Do Languages Have Gender?” K International: Language Service Provider: https://k-international.com/blog/why-do-languages-have-gender/
  16. Viducus. “APOLLINI GRANNO to APOLLO GRANNUS” DeoMercurio: http://www.deomercurio.be/en/apollini.html
  17. Staff. “The Sun Chariot” National Museum of Denmarkhttps://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-bronze-age/the-sun-chariot/
  18. Staff. “Chariot” Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/chariot/
  19. Widugeni, Segomâros. “Grannus” Nemeton Segomâros: http://polytheist.com/segomaros/2015/09/28/grannus/
  20. Puhvel, Jaan.  Comparative Mythology Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989
  21. Toutâ Galation “Gaulish Dictionairy” Toutâ Galation, Tumblr: https://touta-galation-official.tumblr.com/dictionairy
  22. Serith, Ceisiwr. “The Gaulish God Taranis” YouTube.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=233DWe89JRs&t=3s

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