and a Journey through their Symbolism, Myth and Meaning
“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there
are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform
a yellow spot into the sun.”
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Today’s sun design tattoos are popular for more reasons than their meaning.
Vivid colors, a wide range of influences and a creative imagination are all
tools that tattoo artists employ to bring the sun (and moon, and stars) to life
on individual, human canvases. And, as with so many other symbols, a slight
change in color, style or size can give each sun tattoo a totally unique meaning.
These tattoo designs can be rendered as evil angry suns or flaming suns. Sun
tattoo pictures can be found in many styles including tribal suns, Celtic suns
and Aztec suns. Whether adorning your arm, shoulder, forearm, chest, or legs
or lingering seductively around your belly button or lower back, the sun is
always on the rise.
From our first ancestor’s first exposure to the image of the rising,
of the sun, moon and stars, it’s an occurrence that has enchanted humanity
from our very roots. It’s no wonder that so many enthusiasts have permanently
etched their bodies with such powerful symbols as sun tattoo designs. Every
country, every culture has had its own local legend and lore concerning the
creation of the sun and the gods and goddesses that were so closely related
to it. From the Americas to the Orient, the sun has not only been revered as
a symbol, but also worshipped as a mighty deity.
Sun Tattoos Meaning and Symbolism
Today, having a tattoo in the design of the sun doesn’t necessarily mean
that you worship the sun, but that something about that particular design holds
a special meaning to you. Some modern symbolism concerning the sun includes:
- The sun represents the centralizing force (or purpose) that sustains, integrates
and gives design to our individual existence.
- The sun stands for the principle of selfhood.
- The sun symbolizes the will that is necessary to creatively participate
in the greater whole.
- It means vitality, personal power, leadership and dignity.
- On a gravestone, the sun symbolizes the soul rising to Heaven.
- Most widely, though, the sun represents eternal renewal, and the shining
virtues of both truth and light.
The sun and – really - all things celestial, have kept the imaginations
of man running for millennia.
The Sun’s Role in Myth and Lore
In all of the world’s leading myths and legends, you’ll find references
to the sun or its god or goddess. And it’s no wonder that this mighty
star was rewarded with reverence and fear. The sun was responsible for such
wonders as dawn and dusk, birth and harvest. It provided people with warmth
and temporary security, and was a trustworthy way to measure the days and times
To the Native Americans of North America, the general role of the sun was that
of the Earth’s guardian during the day. With it, the sun brought healing
energy, and the “Sun Face”, which was seen as the Giver of life,
warmth, growth and goodness.
In South America, there were the Incas (who called the sun Inti) who viewed
the sun god to be benevolent and married to his wife, Pachamama, the Earth Goddess.
There were also the Aztec’s who worshipped the sun god Huitzilopochtil,
a name which means “Blue Hummingbird on the Left”. As you might
have guessed, this sun god was depicted as a blue man, armed to the teeth with
his head decorated with many hummingbird feathers. A daring god, he encouraged
the Aztec people to move south to a promised land, to fight without mercy, to
form an empire, and –rather gruesomely- instructed them to take prisoners
in order to sacrifice their hearts (and lives) to the gods.
In Western Africa, the people lived under the rule of Liza, the African god
associated with the sun. The culture generally viewed Liza as a fierce and harsh
male deity who was always grouped together with his faithful partner, Mawu (the
moon). Farther north, in Egypt, the people have worshipped Re (or Ra) for eons.
He is usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc
encircled by a stylized representation of the sacred cobra known as the uraeus.
The sun itself was taken to be either his body or his eye. He was free to traverse
the sky each day in a solar boat and pass through the underworld each night
on another solar ship to reappear in the east each morning. His principal cult
centre was at Heliopolis, also known as the "sun city”, near modern
In Europe the Norse, Greek, Roman and Celtic cultures each worshipped the sun
in their own way. The Norse worshipped Freyr, the god of both the sun and the
rain, and the patron of bountiful harvests. A peaceful god, he was also a brave
warrior, and a ruler over the elves. The Greeks and Romans both worshipped Helios,
a son of titans. He was not only the god of the son, but the brother of both
the dawn (Eos) and the moon (Selene). Not surprisingly, his sacred animal was
the rooster. He fulfilled his job as sun god by causing the sun to rise and
rest with his golden, 4-horse chariot. The Celts worshipped Lugh, who’s
name translates to “shining one”, and is the Celtic sun (and most
supreme) god. In life, he faced many hardships, his life sought by his underworld
ruling grandfather Balor because of a prophecy which said Balor would die at
his grandson’s hands. Balor flung him from a high tower just after his
birth. The world had thought him dead, but he had secretly been saved by Manannan,
the god of the sea.
Finally, in Asia, the Japanese and Hindus had their own aspects of the sun
god. In India, the Hindus worshipped Garuda, a bird god, who is revered for
his ethics and the strength of those same ethics when used to correct evil-doers.
Garuda is not only a god, but the King of all birds. He has the wings (red),
head (white), talons and beak of an eagle, and the golden body and limbs of
a man. The final sun god we will meet isn’t really a sun god, but instead
a sun goddess. For in Japan, Amateras-Ohmikanmi is the female representation
of the sun. More important still, she is the ruler of the Plain of Heaven and
the greatest of all the Japanese deities. She was born of the left eye of the
creator of the world, the primordial sky, Izanagi.
It is no mystery then, with all of the attention that the sun god received,
that people began to wear tattoos that were designed to honor and symbolize
this magical partnership between life and the sun. In fact, each of the people
mentioned above bear a strong tribal history of tattooing, a history that continues
to grow and change today.
A few hundred years ago, we’d have been burnt at the stake for making
claims that today have proven to be facts. In truth, many did burn at the stake
for things as simple as saying that the earth revolves around the sun, and vice
versa. It wasn’t only the ancient Aztecs who were willing to offer their
lives for it.
Whether you want a traditional sun tattoo design for your lower back or a modern
new-school sun for your shoulder there are hundreds of choices in the gallery
to choose from. Maybe you want to combine your sun tattoo with a moon, with
stars or even a tribal cross. Either way a sun is a timeless choice for your
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