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Sir William Jones has remarked that two of the principal sources of mythology were a wild admiration of the heavenly bodies, particularly the sun, and an inordinate respect paid to the memory of powerful, wise, and virtuous ancestors, especially the founders of kingdoms, legislators, and warriors. To the latter cause we may attribute the euhemerism of the Greeks and the Shintoism of the Chinese. But in the former we shall find the origin of sun-worship the oldest and by far the most prevalent of all the ancient religions.
Eusebius says that the Phoenicians and Egyptians were the first who ascribed divinity to the sun. But long--very long--before these ancient peoples the primeval race of Aryans worshiped the solar orb in his various manifestations as the producer of light. "In the Veda," says a native commentator, "there are only three deities: Surya in heaven, Indra in the sky, and Agni on the earth." But Surya, Indra, Agni are but manifestations of God in the sun, the bright sky, and the fire derived from the solar light. In the profoundly poetic ideas of the Vedic hymns we find perpetual allusion to the sun with his life bestowing rays. Everywhere in the East, amidst its brilliant skies, the sun claimed, as the glorious manifestation of Deity, the adoration of those primitive peoples. The Persians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans --all worshiped the sun. The Greeks, a more intellectual people, gave a poetic form to the grosser idea, and adored Apollo or Dionysus as the sun-god.
Sun-worship was introduced into the mysteries not as a material idolatry, but as the means of expressing an idea of restoration to life from death, drawn from the daily reappearance in the east of the solar orb after its nightly disappearance in the west. To the sun, too, as the regenerator or revivifier of all things, is the Phallic Worship, which made a prominent part of the Mysteries, to be attributed. From the Mithraic initiations in which sun-worship played so important a part, the Gnosties derived many of their symbols. These, again, exercised their influence upon the Medieval Freemasons. Thus it is that the sun has become so prominent in the Masonic system; not, of course, as an object of worship, but purely as a symbol, the interpretation of which presents itself in many different ways (see Sun).
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