A Solar Deity (also Sun God(dess)), is a deity who represents the sun, or an aspect of it. People have worshiped these for all of recorded history. Hence, many beliefs have formed around this worship, such as the "missing sun" found in many cultures (see below). Sun worship is a possible origin of henotheism and ultimately monotheism.
A "solar barge" (also "solar bark", "solar barque", "solar boat", "sun boat") is a mythological representation of the sun riding in a boat. The "Khufu ship", a 43.6-meter-long vessel that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza around 2500 BC, is a full-size surviving example which may have fulfilled the symbolic function of a solar barque. This boat was rediscovered in May of 1954 when archeologist Kamal el-Mallakh and inspector Zaki Nur found two ditches sealed off by about 40 blocks weighing 17 to 20 tonnes each. This boat was disassembled into 1,224 pieces and took over 10 years to reassemble. A nearby museum was built to house this boat.
Other sun boats were found in Egypt dating to different pharonic dynasties.
A "sun chariot" is a mythological representation of the sun riding in a chariot. The concept is younger than that of the solar barge, and typically Indo-European, corresponding with the Indo-European expansion after the invention of the chariot in the 2nd millennium BC.
Sól, drawn by Arvak and Alsvid
The sun itself also was compared to a wheel, possibly in Proto-Indo-European, Greek hēliou kuklos, Sanskrit suryasya cakram, Anglo-Saxon sunnan hweogul (PIE ).
Solar deities are popularly thought of as male counterparts of the lunar deity (usually female); however, sun goddesses are found on every continent (e.g. Amaterasu in Japanese belief) paired with male lunar deities. Among the earliest records of human beliefs, the early goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon carried a sun above their head as a symbol of dignity. The sun was a major aspect of Egyptian symbols and hieroglyphs, all the lunar deities of that pantheon were male deities. The cobra, the lioness, the cow, the dominant symbols of the most ancient Egyptian deities, carried their relationship to the sun atop their heads; they were female and their cults remained active throughout the history of the culture. Later a sun god was established in the eighteenth dynasty on top of the other solar deities, before the "aberration" was stamped out and the old pantheon re-established. When male deities became associated with the sun in that culture, they began as the offspring of a mother. Feminist examination of some of the earliest religions of Western cultures concluded that a sun goddess, often, driving her chariot bearing it across the sky daily. Sól is the goddess after whom the sun and Sunday are named in English.
Some mythologists, such as Brian Branston, contend that sun goddesses are more common worldwide than their male counterparts. They also claim that the belief that solar deities are primarily male is linked to the fact that a few better known mythologies (such as those of late classical Greece and late Roman mythology) rarely break from this rule, although closer examination of the earlier myths of those cultures reveal a very different distribution than the contemporary popular belief. The dualism of sun/male/light and moon/female/darkness is found in many (but not all) late southern traditions in Europe that derive from Orphic and Gnostic philosophies.
In Germanic mythology the Sun is female and the Moon is male. The corresponding Old English name is Siȝel (/ˈsɪ jel/), continuing Proto-Germanic *Sôwilô or *Saewelô. The Old High German Sun goddess is Sunna. In the Norse traditions, every day, Sól rode through the sky on her chariot, pulled by two horses named Arvak and Alsvid. Sól also was called Sunna, Sunne, and Frau Sunne, from which are derived the words, sun and Sunday.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's mythology, the sun is the last fruit of Laurelin, the golden tree of Yavanna; set within a vessel crafted by Aule her spouse; and guided by Arien a female Maia. Among the names for the sun are Anar, the Fire-golden, and Vása, the Heart of Fire. In Tolkien's mythology the moon is guided by a male Maia named Tilion
Some other tales are similar, such as the Sumerian story of the goddess, Inanna's descent into the underworld. These may have parallel themes, but do not fit in this motif unless they concern a solar deity.
In Norse mythology, the gods Odin and Tyr both have attributes of a sky father, and they are doomed to be devoured by wolves (Fenrir and Garm, respectively) at Ragnarok. Sól, the Norse sun goddess, will be devoured by the wolf Skoll.
In different religions solarised supreme deities carry different names and are associated with different aspects of the cultural universe of the society, but for the most part its raw image remains identical.
The Neolithic concept of a solar barge, the sun as traversing the sky in a boat, is found in the later myths of ancient Egypt, with Ra and Horus. Earlier Egyptian myths imply that the sun is within the lioness, Sekhmet, at night and can be seen reflected in her eyes or that it is within the cow, Hathor during the night, being reborn each morning as her son (bull). Proto-Indo-European religion has a solar chariot, the sun as traversing the sky in a chariot.
During the Roman Empire, a festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) was celebrated when the duration of daylight first begins to increase after the winter solstice, — the "rebirth" of the sun. In Germanic mythology this is Sol, in Vedic Surya, and in Greek Helios (occasionally referred to as Titan) and (sometimes) as Apollo. Mesopotamian Shamash plays an important role during the Bronze Age, and "my Sun" is eventually used as an address to royalty. Similarly, South American cultures have emphatic Sun worship, see Inti. See also Sol Invictus. Svarog is the Slavic god sun and spirit of fire.
Sun worship was exceptionally prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion. The earliest deities associated with the sun are Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. First Hathor, and then Isis, give birth to and nurse Horus and Ra.
The Sun's movement across the sky represents a struggle between the Pharaoh's soul and an avatar of Osiris. The "solarisation" of several local gods (Hnum-Re, Min-Re, Amon-Re) reaches its peak in the period of the fifth dynasty.
In the eighteenth dynasty, Akhenaten changed the polytheistic religion of Egypt to a pseudo-monotheistic one, Atenism. All other deities were replaced by the Aten, including, Amun, the reigning sun god of Akhenaten's own region. Unlike other deities, the Aten did not have multiple forms. His only image was a disk—a symbol of the sun.
Soon after Akhenaten's death, worship of the traditional deities was reestablished by the religious leaders who had adopted the Aten during the reign of Akhenaten.
In Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh (Nahuatl: Ollin Tonatiuh "Movement of the Sun") was the sun god. The Aztec people considered him the leader of Tollan, heaven. He was also known as the fifth sun, because the Aztecs believed that he was the sun that took over when the fourth sun was expelled from the sky. According to their cosmology, each sun was a god with its own cosmic era. According to the Aztecs, they were still in Tonatiuh's era. According to the Aztec creation myth, the god demanded human sacrifice as tribute and without it would refuse to move through the sky. It is said that 20,000 people were sacrificed each year to Tonatiuh and other gods, though this number is thought to be inflated either by the Aztecs, who wanted to inspire fear in their enemies, or the Spaniards, who wanted to vilify the Aztecs. The Aztecs were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it, and had a solar calendar second only in accuracy to the Mayans'. Many of today's remaining Aztec monuments have structures aligned with the sun.
In the Vedas, numerous hymns are dedicated to Surya deva, the Sun personified, and Savitr, "the impeller", a solar deity either identified with or associated with Surya. Even the Gayatri mantra, which is regarded as one of the most sacred of the Hindu hymns is dedicated to the Sun. The Adityas are a group of solar deities, from the Brahmana period numbering twelve. The ritual of sandhyavandanam, performed by some Hindus, is meant to worship the sun.
The Mahabharata describes its warrior hero Karna as being the son of Kunti and the Sun. The Ramayana has its protagonist Rama as being from the Surya Vansham or the clan of kings as bright as the Sun. The charioteer of Surya is Arun, who is also personified as the redness that accompanies the sunlight in dawn and dusk.
At Konark, a town in Orissa, a temple is dedicated to Surya. The Konark temple has also been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Surya is the most prominent of the navagrahas or nine celestial objects of the Hindus. Navagrahas can be found in almost all Hindu temples.
In some cases the Sun is revered as a "father" or "founder" of the tribe. This may apply for the whole tribe or only for the royal and ruling families. This practise is more common in Australia and on the island of Timor, where the tribal leaders are seen as direct heirs to the Sun god.
Some of the initiation rites include the second reincarnation of the rite's subject as a "son of the Sun", through a symbolic death and a rebirth in the form of a Sun. These rituals hint that the Sun may have an important role in the sphere of funerary beliefs. Watching the Sun's path has given birth to the idea in some societies that the deity of the Sun descends in to the underworld without dying and is capable of returning afterward. This is the reason for the Sun being associated with functions such as guide of the deceased tribe members to the underworld, as well as with revival of perished. The Sun is a mediator between the planes of the living and the dead.
Another important mythological complex is that of the "Sun Hero", typical of the nomad-herders. Such heroes are encountered among the African nomad tribes, the tribes from Central Asia (Gesen Khan), and among all Indo-European peoples. The Sun Hero always has a "dark" side - he has some sort of connection with the underworld, with the initiation ritual and with fertility. The Sun Hero myth contains many elements that link the Hero with the Demiurge. The Hero often saves the world, renews the world, opens a new epoch, and generally brings about some major renewal to the established cosmical order. These functions of the Sun Hero represent the demiurgical "legacy" left from the supreme celestial being. A typical example for such evolution is the god Mithras.
R.F. Littledale criticized the Sun myth theory when he illustrated that Max Müller on his own principles was himself only a Solar myth, whilst Alfred Lyall delivered a still stronger attack on the same theory and its assumption that tribal gods and heroes, such as those of Homer, were mere reflections of the Sun myth by proving that the gods of certain Rajput clans were really warriors who founded the clans not many centuries ago, and were the ancestors of the present chieftains.