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.
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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.
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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 and seasons.
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 Cairo.
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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.
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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.
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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.