Saulė (Lithuanian: Saulė, Latvian: Saule) is a solar goddess, the common Baltic solar deity in the Lithuanian and Latvian mythologies. The noun Saulė/Saule in the Lithuanian and Latvian languages is also the conventional name for the Sun and originates from the Proto-Baltic name *Sauliā > *Saulē.
Saulė is one of the most powerful deities, the goddess of life and fertility, warmth and health. She is patroness of the unfortunate, especially orphans. The Lithuanian and Latvian words for "the world" (pasaulis and pasaule) are translated as "[a place] under the Sun".
Saulė is mentioned in one of the earliest written sources on Lithuanian mythology. According to Slavic translation of the Chronicle by John Malalas (1261), a powerful smith Teliavelis made the Sun and threw it into the sky. Missionary Jeronim Jan Silvanus Prazsky (ca. 1369–1440) spent three years attempting to Christianize Lithuania and later recounted a myth about kidnapped Saulė. She was held in a tower by powerful king and rescued by the zodiac using a giant sledgehammer. Jeronim Prazsky swore that he personally witnessed the hammer, venerated by the locals.
Saulė and Mėnuo/Mēness (the Moon) were wife and husband. Mėnuo fell in love with Aušrinė (the morning star or Venus). For his infidelity, Perkūnas (thunder god) punished Mėnuo. There are different accounts of the punishment. One version has it that Mėnuo was cut into two pieces, but he did not learn from his mistakes and thus the punishment is repeated every month. Another version claims that Mėnuo and Saulė divorced, but both wanted to see their daughter Žemyna (earth). That is why the Sun shines during the day, while the Moon visits at night. A third version claims that the face of Mėnuo was disfigured by either Dievas (the supreme god) or Saulė.
In other myths, Aušrinė is depicted as a daughter and servant of Saulė. Aušrinė lights the fire for Saulė and makes her ready for another day's journey across the sky. Vakarinė (the evening star) makes the bed for Saulė in the evening. In the Lithuanian mythology, Saulė was mother of other planets: Indraja (Jupiter), Sėlija (Saturn), Žiezdrė (Mars), Vaivora (Mercury).
Saulė's feast was celebrated during the summer solstice. Lithuanian Rasos (turned into Saint Jonas' Festival by Christianity) and Latvian Līgo (turned into Jāņi) involve making wreaths, looking for the magical fern flower, burning bonfires, dancing around and leaping over the fire, and greeting the sun when it rises at around 4am next morning. It is the most joyous traditional holiday. The winter solstice is celebrated as the return of Saulė. Christianity absorbed Lithuanian Kūčios and Latvian Ziemassvētki into Christmas. Other celebrations took place around the equinoxes.
- Baltic etymology
- Beresnevičius, Gintaras. "Lithuanian Religion and Mythology". Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture. Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.
- Beresnevičius, Gintaras (2004). Lietuvių religija ir mitologija: sisteminė studija. Vilnius: Tyto alba. p. 19. ISBN 9986-16-389-7. (Lithuanian)
- Jonas Trikūnas, ed. (1999). Of Gods & Holidays: The Baltic Heritage. Tvermė. pp. 75–77. ISBN 9986-476-27-5.
- Jonas Trikūnas, ed. (1999). Of Gods & Holidays: The Baltic Heritage. Tvermė. pp. 120–124. ISBN 9986-476-27-5.