Embroidery >>> Dictionary of Symbols >>> The Sun

The Sun is the most ancient and important symbol of pagan religion and traditional craft. Researchers found it even in the Neolithic cave paintings. Symbols for the Sun were:

  • a circle
  • a "radiating" circle
  • a cross
  • a circle with a cross inside
  • a rosette
  • a swastika sigh

These symbols were used in traditional arts and crafts of Russia and Europe till 1920s. But, in different techniques, these signs have certain distinctions in their appearance. For instance, in Russian woodcraft The Sun represents by a large round rosette, but in embroidery and weaving The Sun looks like polygon, diamond or even rectangle. Despite a shape, craftswomen name this figure as "circle".

As "the Sun" is a very ancient and complex symbol, it has plenty of shadows of meaning.

1. Russian village people believed the Sun was the reason of life, and of the world as a whole. The very word "sun" (solace in Russian) is derived from Sanskrit word "su" ("to create", "to give birth"). A creative ability of the Sun condenses in its bright rays. That's why a circle (or a diamond), representing The Sun, often has radiating lines around it ("rays").

2. The Fire (especially that is gained by friction, so-called "live Fire") is "an ambassador" of The Sun in a material world. This Fire is symbolized by a cross.

3. Hunter-gatherers thought that the main aspect of fertility was fruitfulness of forests. Fertility spirits were responsible for abundance of forest berries and fruits. Such level of mythologic reasoning created an idea of Tree of Life as a symbol of fruitfulness and wealth. As Tree of Life owed its existence to The Sun, the image of Tree became must-be part of sun-related patterns.

4. The Sun's productive power was connected mythologically with an idea of Delivering Goddess. So, a mixed ornament of diamonds (Sun), crosses (Fire), Trees and women figures came to existence. Being a sort of "graphic spell", The Sun pattern could be worn only by mothers and married women. Maidens, spinsters and elder women must not include the Sun in their outfits.

5. Pagans think the Sun's daily way is a circle. During daytime the Sun gives its energy to men's world, during a night it travels across an underworld, next morning it rises into our world again, and so on. Graphically, this endless motion expresses by "legs": "crooks" at corners of sun squares. Swastika symbol is all about it too: the wheel of eternal movement.

6. Mixing of "fertility" and "motion" ideas creates a complex symbol of a horsewomen or maidens crowned with the sun.

In later times, The Sun sign gains some more shadows of meaning:

  • plain diamond (circle) means The Sun "as is"
  • "diamond-and-cross" means Producive Power of The Sun
  • tiny square rosette means Rising Sun
  • Sun Chariot becomes a symbol of summer solstice
  • etc.

In 1860-1870s Russian people started to forget symbolic language of embroidery. As a result, "Fire Crosses" became a Christian design, rosettes and "Sun Circles" degenerated into flowers. However (according to the eye-witness), in Northern provinces of Russia memory of symbols and meanings persisted until the beginning of the 20th century.

Sources (in Russian)
  1. Gali S. Maslova "Patterns of Traditional Russian Embroidery".
  2. L.M.Rusakova, "Reflection of the World's Structure in the Embroidery of Village Women of Altay Region"
  3. A.N. Afanassiev "Slavic Beliefs in Nature Spirits"
  4. B.A.Rybakov "Paganism of Ancient Slavs"
  5. V.Ya.Propp "Morphology of Folktale" (English translation available)
  6. B.A.Kuftin "Women's Outfit of the Russian Meschera Region"
  7. Yu.V.Ivanov, "Remains of the Sun Cult in Eastern-European Folk Tradition"
  8. B.Dm.Pokrovsky, memoirs (a manuscript)