(Chapter XII of The Worship of Nature)
by Sir James G. Frazer


1. The Worship of the Sun in general

As one of the most conspicuous and powerful objects in the physical world the sun has naturally attracted the attention and obtained the homage of many races, who have personified and worshipped it as a god. Yet the worship of the sun has been by no means so widely diffused among primitive peoples as, on purely abstract grounds, we might at first sight be tempted to suppose. If we were to draw a map of the world showing in colour the regions where sun-worship is known to have prevailed, we might be surprised at the many large blanks in the chart, blanks which would probably be particularly numerous and extensive in countries occupied by the most backward races. In Africa, for example, while sun-worship was a most important element in the religion of ancient Egypt, it is on the whole conspicuously absent among the black races of that continent, though we have noted some evidence of its occurrence in many tribes of Northern Nigeria and in certain tribes of East Africa. The same paucity of sun-worship, or at all events of any trustworthy evidence of its existence, is characteristic of the indigenous Australian, Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian races, who together occupy a considerable portion of the globe.

On the limited diffusion of this form of religion in the world the most learned and far-travelled of ethnologists, Adolf Bastian, long ago remarked that sun-worship, which people used to go sniffing about to discover verywhere, is found on the contrary only in very exceptional regions, or on lofty table-lands of equatorial latitude. Subsequent research has confirmed this weighty judgment. Whatever the reason may be, a solar religion appears to flourish best among nations which have attained to a certain degree of civilization, such as the ancient Egyptians and the Indians of Mexico and Peru at the time when they were discovered by the Spaniards. Perhaps the regular and peaceful movement of the sun in the heavens, by lacking that element of the sudden, the terrible, and the unforeseen, disqualifies it for being an object of interest to the simple savage, whose attention is excited and whose emotions are stirred rather by those events which occur at irregular intervals, which threaten his existence, and which no means at his disposal enable him to predict. A higher degree of intelligence and reflection is needed to ask whence comes the marvellous uniformity of those operations of nature whereof the courses of the heavenly bodies are at once the most easily observable and the most splendid examples.



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