Solar symbol

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Helios with a radiate halo driving his chariot (Ilion, 4th century BC; Pergamon Museum)

A solar symbol is a symbol representing the Sun. Common solar symbols include circles (with or without rays), crosses, and spirals. In religious iconography, personifications of the Sun or solar attributes are indicated by means of a halo or a radiate crown.

When the systematic study of comparative mythology first became popular in the 19th century, scholarly opinion tended to over-interpret historical myths and iconography in terms of "solar symbolism". This was especially the case with Max Müller and his followers beginning in the 1860s in the context of Indo-European studies.[1] Many "solar symbols" claimed in the 19th century, such as the swastika, triskele, Sun cross, etc. have tended to be interpreted more conservatively in scholarship since the later 20th century.[2]

Solar disk[edit]

The solar disk, crescent Moon and stars as shown on the Nebra sky disk (c. 1600 BC)

The basic element of most solar symbols is the circular solar disk.

The disk can be modified in various ways, notably by adding rays (found in the Bronze Age in Egyptian depictions of Aten) or a cross. In the ancient Near East, the solar disk could also be modified by addition of the Uraeus (rearing cobra), and in ancient Mesopotamia it was shown with wings.

Bronze Age writing[edit]

Egyptian hieroglyphs have a large inventory of solar symbolism because of the central position of solar deities (Ra, Horus, Aten etc.) in ancient Egyptian religion.

The main ideogram for "Sun" was a representation of the solar disk,
(Gardiner N5), with a variant including the Uraeus,

The "Sun" ideogram in early Chinese writing, beginning with the oracle bone script (c. 12th century BC) also shows the solar disk with a central dot (analogous to the Egyptian hieroglyph); this character later evolved to have a different shape (modern ).

Astronomical symbol[edit]

In UnicodeU+2609 SUN (HTML ☉)
Different from
Different fromU+2299 CIRCLED DOT OPERATOR (HTML ⊙ · ⊙, ⊙)

The modern astronomical symbol for the Sun (a circled dot) was first used in the Renaissance. A diagram in Johannes Kamateros' 12th century Compendium of Astrology shows the Sun represented by a circle with a ray.[3] Bianchini's planisphere, produced in the 2nd century,[4] has a circlet with rays radiating from it.[5]

Rayed depictions[edit]

Akhenaten worshipping Aten (14th century BC; 1903 drawing)

A circular disk with alternating triangular and wavy rays emanating from it is a frequent symbol or artistic depiction of the sun.


The ancient Mesopotamian "star of Shamash" could be represented with either eight wavy rays, or with four wavy and four triangular rays.

The Vergina Sun (also known as the Star of Vergina, Macedonian Star, or Argead Star) is a rayed solar symbol appearing in ancient Greek art from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC. The Vergina Sun appears in art variously with sixteen, twelve, or eight triangular rays.

Sun with face[edit]

Sun (ten rays) and Moon with faces in a manuscript miniature illustrating the fourth day of creation (c. 1200)[6]
Sun with a face and eight (alternating triangular and wavy) rays (fresco in Larbey, France, dated c. 1610)
Rayed depictions of the Sun with a human face are a Western iconographic tradition which became current in the Early Modern period.

The iconographic tradition of depicting the Sun with rays and with a human face developed in Western tradition in the high medieval period and became widespread in the Renaissance, harking back to the Sun god (Sol/Helios) wearing a radiate crown in classical antiquity.


The sunburst was the badge of king Edward III of England, and has thus become the badge of office of Windsor Herald.

Modern emblems[edit]

Official insignia which incorporate rayed solar symbols include the Jesuit emblem, the flag of Uruguay, the flag of Kiribati, some versions of the flag of Argentina, the Irish Defence Forces cap badge, and the 1959–1965 coat of arms of Iraq.

The depictions of the sun on the flags of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, and Nepal have only straight (triangular) rays; that of Kyrgyzstan has only curvy rays; while that of the Philippines has short diverging rays grouped into threes.

Another rayed form of the sun has simple radial lines dividing the background into two colors, as in the military flags of Japan and the current flag of North Macedonia, and in the top parts of the flags of Tibet and Arizona.

The flag of New Mexico is based on the Zia sun symbol which has four groups of four parallel rays emanating symmetrically from a central circle.

Modern pictogram[edit]

Typical "clear weather" pictogram (triangular rays)

The modern pictogram representing the Sun as a circle with rays, often eight in number (indicated by either straight lines or triangles; Unicode Miscellaneous Symbols U+2600; U+263C) indicates "clear weather" in weather forecasts, originally in television forecasts in the 1970s.[7] The Unicode 6.0 Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs block introduced another set of weather pictograms, including "white sun" without rays 1F323 🌣, as well as "sun with face" U+1F31E 🌞.

The "sun with rays" pictogram is also used to represent the "high brightness" setting in display devices, encoded separately by Unicode 6.0 U+1F506 🔆 (Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs).



The "sun cross" or "solar wheel" (🜨) is often considered to represent the four seasons and the tropical year, and therefore the Sun (though as an astronomical symbol, it represented the Earth).[a] In the prehistoric religion of Bronze Age Europe, crosses in circles appear frequently on artifacts identified as cult items. An example from the Nordic Bronze Age is the "miniature standard" with amber inlay revealing a cross shape when held against the light (National Museum of Denmark).[8] The Bronze Age symbol has also been connected with the spoked chariot wheel, which at the time was four-spoked (compare the Linear B ideogram 243 "wheel" 𐃏). In the context of a culture that celebrated the Sun chariot, the wheel may thus have had a solar connotation (c.f. the Trundholm sun chariot).

The Arevakhach (solar cross) symbol often found in Armenian memorial stelae is claimed as an ancient Armenian solar symbol of eternity and light.[9]

Some Sami shaman drums have the Beaivi Sami sun symbol that resembles a sun cross.

The swastika can be derived from the sun cross,[10] and is another solar symbol in some contexts.[11] It is used among Buddhists ("manji"), Jains, and Hindus; and many other cultures, though not necessarily as a solar symbol. Also see Malkh-Festival.

The "Black Sun" (German: Schwarze Sonne) is a 'sun wheel' with twelve-fold rotational symmetry. The design was incorporated as a mosaic into a floor of Wewelsburg Castle during the Nazi era and may have been inspired by Alemannic Iron Age swastika-like designs in Migration-period Zierscheiben.[12] It has been adopted by modern Satanist groups and neo-Nazis.

The Kolovrat, or in Polish "Słoneczko", represents the Sun in Slavic neopaganism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Since at least 1988, the International Astronomical Union has deprecated use of planetary symbols in journal articles.The IAU Style Manual (PDF). The International Astrophysical Union. 1989. p. 27. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 21, 2018. Retrieved August 20, 2018.


  1. ^ C. Scott Littleton (1973). The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumézil. University of California Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-520-02404-5.. See also R. F. Littledale, "The Oxford Solar Myth, A Contribution to Comparative Mythology" in: Echoes from Kottabos, London (1906), 279–290 for a satire on this effect.
  2. ^ notably ciriticized by Richard Chase, The Quest for Myth (1951); see also Astralkult for the more general tendency of over-interpretation of mythology in terms of "astral" mythology.
  3. ^ Neugebauer, Otto; Van Hoesen, H. B. (1987). Greek Horoscopes. pp. 1, 159, 163.
  4. ^ "Bianchini's planisphere". Florence, Italy: Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum of the History of Science). Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  5. ^ Maunder, A. S. D. (1934). "The origin of the symbols of the planets". The Observatory. 57: 238–247. Bibcode:1934Obs....57..238M.
  6. ^ Michon, Solange (1987). "Un moine enlumineur du XIIe siècle : Frère Rufillus de Weissenau". doi:10.5169/seals-168847. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Daniel Engber, Who Made That Weather Icon?, New York Times, 23 May 2013.
  8. ^ entry at the Nebra sky disk exhibition site (
  9. ^ Айк Демоян «Армянские национальные символы» = «Հայկական ազգային խորհրդանշաններ». — Ереван: «Пюник», 2013.
  10. ^ The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch, p. 18 (1930, Dover reprint 1955).
  11. ^ Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning by Ottfried Neubecker, p. 142 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976).
  12. ^ a b Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2002). Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-81-473124-4.

External links[edit]