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Astro folklore

The Sun and Solar Eclipses in Traditional Romanian Ornamental Patterns

Dimitrie Olenici, Suceava Planetarium, Suceava, Romania
Maria Olenici, Ethnographical Museum, Suceava, Romania

The Sun, as the source of the material and spiritual life of humanity, has deeply influenced human culture and civilization down through the ages. Symbols which represent the Sun can be found in all the ancient civilizations: Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mayan, etc..

For example, Mithra the Sun God was worshipped with prayers at the winter solstice, and with a festival at the summer solstice. The ancient Egyptians considered the Sun as being the eye of Horus, which later became the "eye of the Lord", and nowadays in a certain style of Christian religious painting this appears as a circle inside a triangle surrounded by rays.

In ethnographic studies it is assumed that circles, rings, lozenges, small crosses, and certain other signs found in embroidery, on ceramics, on painted eggs, and used in architectural decoration are representations of the Sun. Moreover, certain more complex images appear to be representations of solar eclipses. The typical example consists of a circle intersected on each sides by a circular arc, with three rays projecting downwards, and with three curves above it. Sometimes, another smaller circle can be found in the interior of the circle; sometimes, a small point. To decipher this image which has very ancient roots, it may be said that the circle represents the solar disk, the side arcs the Moon as it passes in front of the Sun, the upper arcs the solar prominences which can be seen during a total eclipse, and the central point a sunspot.

In Romanian villages, similar ornaments are found so often that some houses almost seem to be solar temples of ancient Egypt transferred to our era. This is not accidental. Similar symbols have been seen on a burnt clay tablet discovered in a Tartar village in Transylvania. Romanian peasants do not consciously follow Tartar models when decorating their houses or possessions, but these symbols have descended down through time for six thousand years, from one generation to the next.

Clay tablets like the Tartar ones have been found in Knossos, in Crete, and at Jemdet Nasr in Iraq. Specialists in the field consider the symbols on these tablets as being the first form of human writing. Initially, these symbols were put on houses or equipment both for artistic reasons and to serve as a protective talisman. Only the artistic aspect has persisted down to our times. In the Christian world the cross became the protective symbol, and this itself is an ancient representation of the Sun.

Over time these symbols have become modified to such an extent that sometimes it is not easy to distinguish the solar eclipse underlying what superficially appears to be a bunch of flowers or a magnificent ornamented cross.

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