Review: The Sun Goddess: Myth, Legend, and History

If you’ve just recently started following my blog, one of my favourite things to do is post reviews of things I’ve read, played, or otherwise consumed. What you might not know (unless you went back through my other posts) is that I wrote a couple posts on unpacking some of the myths certain segments of our community (particularly feminist Goddess worshipers, but also a very large segment of non-British Traditional Wiccans) tell about prehistory, ancient history, and well, just history in general.

I promise this is relevant, just keep reading.

So I see a few people on Facebook talking about this book on sun goddesses, and I look it up, and it turns out a new copy is cheaper than a used one, and then I read the description and was like “Okay, I’m not expecting much–wait–she doesn’t blame everything on teh kyriarchy overthrowing teh peaceful goddess worshipers?”

And I decided that “Well, even if it is bad, at least it’s a step above most of the other goddess-y books I have!”

As it turns out, I was right.

The book’s argument, in a nutshell, is that the Indo-Europeans (and thus, the cultures descended from the Indo-Europeans worshiped a sun goddess rather than a sun god, and that the obscuring of the sun goddesses is due more to poor scholarship than a kyriarchal conspiracy. To support her argument, the author (Sheena McGrath, who also wrote a book solely on Norse goddesses) profiles several different sun deities from various Indo-European cultures (Sol, Saule, Solntse, Grian, Arinitti, Helia, Lucina, and Suryaa) as well as moon, thunder, and sky deities in an attempt to “reconstruct” the seasonal myth cycle of the abduction of the sun maiden and her rescue by the Divine Twins. There’s also a chapter on mazes (I have no idea why they get their own chapter, TBH), sun symbols in general, and two chapters dedicated to rituals and visualizations.

Okay, where do I begin with this book?

For starters, as I said, this book is definitely head and shoulders over other books I’ve read on the subject because the author doesn’t resort to blaming the lack of exposure (lol pun) for sun goddesses on the Great Kyriarchical Conspiracy to Overthrow Peaceful Goddess Worshipers, she blames it on scholars assuming that sun deities are male and moon deities are female because THAT’S HOW THE GREEKS DID IT! Oh, and she actually gives in-text citations for points she makes.

The other thing I feel she does well is how she critiques certain segments of the Pagan community who are so fixated on the sun = male/moon = female thing that they even try to shoehorn deities who have absolutely nothing to do with anything celestial even in cultures where it is absolutely, 100% crystal clear that there is a sun goddess and a moon god. This is something that I (as biased as I am) feel that there needs to be more of (not that it’s not already going on, constantly) and I’m glad that that critique is in there (but then, it would be hard to make a book about sun goddesses if you didn’t intend to buck the “norm”).

Unfortunately, the first major problem this book has is that her research is so very, very dated. If she’s not quoting the late Patricia Monaghan (and I reviewed her book on sun goddesses here), she’s using Rydberg for the majority of the chapter on Sol or (even worse) outright making stuff up in the chapter on Hindu deities (more on this in a moment). She postulates that the sun goddess in Vedic cosmology was called Suryaa. Apparently she marries the Divine Twins, the Asvins, or runs off with the moon god, Chandra/Soma.

The thing is, I checked, and there’s no goddess by that name, only Surya, the sun, who is male, and this is the second major flaw that this book has, the shoehorning, oh gods the shoehorning.

I suppose I should give the author credit, she doesn’t make huuuuuge leaps of logic like other authors who have tackled the subject (once again, see my review of Monaghan’s book linked above).

So this is basically how her “sun maiden” theory works:

1) The sun is usually made up of a mother/daughter dyad, the daughter is usually the morning star or the dawn

2) There is conflict between the moon god and the sun, sometimes he kidnaps/seduces the sun maiden, or else she is kidnapped and imprisoned in a castle/tower

3) The sun maiden is rescued by the Divine Twins

4) Then there is Spring, it is wonderful.

So therefore, every young goddess that has a name that even remotely resembles the sun is REALLY a sun maiden (and thus the *true* sun goddess of cultures that ostensibly have a male sun and a female moon). The moon god is also a skirt-chaser par excellence. There’s even a bizarre comment to the effect that women menstruate because the moon god deflowers them every month (women apparently renew their virginity every month the way the moon renews himself every month). It’s actually kind of hilariously creepy that one of the rituals at the back of the book specifically focuses on asking the moon god for help with conceiving a child. The exact words of the ritual are “Moon, give me a child.”

Think about that for a second.

Given that McGrath spends a fair amount of time talking about what a seducer of women the moon god is and how women in some places are warned to not attract his attention, it strikes me as not the wisest idea, you know?Also, I should note that the rituals in this book are (predictably) Wiccanesque and the visualizations are….kind of terrible….they’re just a paragraph each of the most non-evocative prose ever and there are no instructions to help the reader either go into or out of a meditative state, which strikes me as potentially dangerous.

Overall, this book is at least a step above your typical popular Pagan-y book on sun goddesses, but the research is seriously outdated, the shoehorning is just, no, just no, and some of the ritual suggestions come across as creepy or are just plain terrible.

Also, I don’t usually remark on this, but there are numerous grammatical errors, awkward sentences, and places where I was just plain wondering what the heck the author was talking about. It wasn’t quite the disaster that Hedge-Rider is, but it came close to it.

I would say books like this are definitely needed, but I don’t think this one is worth your time, at all.


4 thoughts on “Review: The Sun Goddess: Myth, Legend, and History

  1. Very Random, but after reading your blog post, this is seemingly less so! I’ve been quite interested in old Norse mythology as well as a history geek myself. I’d love to share this awesome author with you.. I have just been reading her article, Labyrinths and Ritual in Scandinavia. Which, coincidentally, explains how labyrinths throughout NW Europe had weird social mating connotations. (after your post, I wonder if that explains the whole chapter on mazes). AKA the girl, sometimes virgin, would wait in the middle of the labyrinth as a boy raced the clock, or one boy raced another (divine twins?) find her and rescue her/earn her hand in marriage/bump uglies for babies.

    Long story short, there was this theory from 1893 by Ernst Krause, claiming they served as pagan cult-dramas to illustrate how each spring, a hero had to fight a winter demon to liberate the sun, represented by the sun virgin, from the labyrinth. So I was just curious about Sun-Goddesses, ran the good ol’ google, and now I’m here! Thanks for sharing this! It really makes me reflect on how the sun was once considered female and moon male. I will have to check out this book!

    Ps this is the awesome author I was referring to in case you’re curious too..
    Her name’s Freyia Volundarhusins and I find her work well written. She has this book out called Seed of Yggrasil that I’ve had my eye on too.

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