Sun Myths – Ancient and Modern
Wherever we live, the sun is an integral part of our daily lives as the Earth’s source of light, heat, and fuel. Important fossil fuel is made from the sun’s energy. With the sun heating different areas of the planet at different times of the day, night, and year, these variances create weather. When sun heats the water, water evaporates, becoming clouds and eventually falling again as rain.
According to Egyptian myth, sun god Re, also known as Ra, was known as creator of the world. Portrayed either as a hawk with a fiery disk on his head, or as the head of a ram in the underworld, Re was said to have created the four seasons. Re also had two children who became the atmosphere and the clouds, and their children in turn became the Earth and stars. Poetically, humans were formed from Re’s tears.
In Navajo lore, sun god Tsohanoai laboriously pulls the sun across the sky on his back. At night he hangs it from a peg and it rests, as do we.
Greek mythology tells us that though preceded by Helios, Apollo, a healer, was the god of sun, logic, and reason. In modern society, sun worshipping is not based on logic and reason and some of us take it to extremes. Consequently we could probably use a little of Apollo’s healing under those circumstances!
Celtic myth views the sun’s journey as a cycle of death and rebirth on a yearly basis. Midwinter is seen as death with spring of course rebirth. Beltane, an ancient Gaelic celebration held in May, honored sun god Beltanus and heralded the beginning of summer.
But what about modern myths regarding the sun? These tend less toward deities and more towards health and wellness.
Though we’re encouraged to take precautions and stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, including melanoma, some studies have shown that not getting enough Vitamin D, which exposure to the the sun creates in our bodies, more than doubles the risk of dying from heart disease, besides leading to weak and brittle bones.
Identifying decreased outdoor activity and exposure (and its resulting low levels of Vitamin D) as a component of heart disease, researchers also acknowledge that in much of the northern hemisphere the sun never gets high enough in the winter sky to act as a catalyst anyway. In summer, however, more Vitamin D is produced when UVB rays penetrate our cells. Some suggest loading up in warmer months, and no, too much sun, while again responsible for other health issues like skin cancer, cannot result in too much Vitamin D.
The Sun is Not Safe Without Sunscreen
Depends. According to a U.S. News and World Report health report, it’s difficult to quantify how much sun is safe, however, as pigmentation affects how much radiation it absorbs. The darker the skin, the more it’s protected against skin cancer but the less able it is to absorb UVB rays. Safety also depends on how much skin is exposed and at what time of day.
Fair-skinned individuals looking for the Vitamin D boost and sunning at noon need just a few minutes without sunscreen. Those that are already tan or of Latino origin, for example, may need 15 to 20 minutes. Darker skin may require six times the sun exposure to make the same vitamin D levels as a light-skinned person, though this hypothesis is still undergoing research.
The Sun Does Not Impact Disease
Not true. Research has revealed that the effects of various autoimmune diseases like psoriasis and lupus–and even asthma–can be mitigated through exposure to direct sunlight.
Alzheimer’s symptoms, including depression and loss of function, were also better managed in one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) through exposure to sunlight. The results were linked to better regulation of circadian rhythms, which are thrown off-track when dementia sets in.
Similarly, sun is a natural mood elevator and a key component in combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression which may afflict individuals in the darker winter months.
The Sun Makes You Sleepy
Maybe lying on a blanket at the beach, but not always. In fact it can do quite the opposite. Daylight helps turn off your body’s production of melatonin, produced at night to help you sleep. Spending 15 minutes outdoors each day, preferably in the morning, tells your body it is no longer night and encourages alertness. Experts recommend leaving sunglasses indoors to do this right, allowing the light to travel through your eyes to the brain’s pineal gland so that it stops producing melatonin.