The Great Goddess, Saule, (pronounced SOW-lay) whose name means the sun itself, is queen of heaven and Earth and matriarch of the cosmos. She is a beloved and popular deity of the Lithuanians and Latvians, as many old hymns and prayers attest. Her main feasts occur at the summer solstice (Rasa or Kupolines), winter solstice (Kaledos) and the equinoxes.
As the days grow shorter in the fall season, Saule weakens in Her battle against the powers of darkness. Many rituals and spells are undertaken to aid and strengthen Her at that time. Lithuanians begin awaiting "The return of the Sun" around November 30th. Closer to the end of December, festivities in Her honour begin and last until the 6th of January.
This period of awaiting Saule's return, became the Christian Advent in later times and Kaledos is now synonymous with Christmas.
Saule is often portrayed as a golden-haired woman, richly dressed in golden silk raiment with a golden shawl and crown. She drives her chariot across the heavens, pulled by two white, golden-maned steeds, called the "Asviniai" or the Divine Twin Sons of Dievas (God of Shining Sky). Saule has close associations with the sea, into which She sinks at the end of her daily journey to bathe and wash her steeds and then crosses by boat. By night, She travels through the underworld, shining in Her dark aspect.
As the female head of the heavenly family, Saule is the mother of the planets. Among Her daughters are: Vaivora (Mercury), Ausrine, (Morning Star or Venus), Zemyna (Earth), Ziezdre (Mars), Selija (Saturn) and Indraja (Jupiter). Thus, according to some scholars, Lithuanians named the planets during a matriarchal age. i.e. earlier than the Romans.
On December 13th, (Feast of St. Lucia), Saule pauses on Her return to dance with Her daughters. She also dances at Velykos (Easter) and Rasa (summer solstice).
Saule was married to Menulis (the Moon), but divorced Him due to His infidelity with their daughter, Ausrine (the Dawn). Saule scarred His face for this deed. In other versions, Dievas smote the handsome Menulis and disfigured Him.
The Sun Goddess is associated with the magical Smith God, Kalvis (comparatives in Latvian - Dangaus Kalvis and Finnish - Ilmarinen.) It is said that He created the Sun and placed Her in the heavens. Other mythologies include tales of Her imprisonment and rescue by a hero or the signs of the zodiac.
Saule is wealthy, but works hard to care for Her lands, fields, cattle and family. Unlike the fickle Menulis, who occasionally disappears for a few days, Saule always rises and attends to Her duties. In a sense, "Her work is never done."
She loves all people and shines on all equally and unconditionally. Her love for humanity is likened to that of a mother. Good women are often compared to Her. In Saule's presence, demons and wicked spirits flee and people feel safe to go about their businesses and tasks. But, once She leaves the skies, certain work must end. To continue, without Her guardianship, would be inviting trouble from dangerous spirits.
Within Saule's garden, situated in the west, are apple trees bearing their fruit of gold, silver and diamond. In traditional riddles and kennings, Saule is often referred to as the "golden apple." Other associations include: Fire, horses, zalciai (Lithuanian grass snakes) birds and trees; in particular, the Linden; Roses and daisies; White cow or white she-goat at dawn and a black one as She sets; Bees; Her sled and later, Her multi-wheeled chariot or wagon; Her golden boat; Burning solar wheels; "Saules's Medis" (the Sun's Tree) and, of course, the solar crosses, which dot the Lithuanian landscape.
Saule is connected to the wheel. In Lithuanian, She is sometimes referred to as 'Ridolele', the rolling sun. In Latvian, there are solar songs with the refrain 'ligo', ('Ligot" means to sway), and 'rota' from 'rotat', to roll or hop.
On summer solstice morning, Balts anxiously awaited the sunrise, in order not to miss even Her first blessed rays. Everyone wanted to see how the sun danced, how it ascended and then descended for a moment, and how it finally shone in various colours. In Latvian songs about such feasts we find the refrain: "The sun, dancing on the silver hill, has silver shoes on Her feet."
Shepherds in Lithuania consider Saule to be their only guardian and have many devotional prayers dedicated to Her. Lithuanians address Her in the morning, as She sets and at the end of harvest with other songs and rites. All spheres of traditional women's work are under Her guardianship, as are earthly fecundity and healing; and it is She who plays the kankles (a traditional, ritual, stringed instrument).
Saule has been described as the wife of Dievas, God of Shining Sky; of Perkunas, the God of Thunder, and Menulis, the Moon. Yet, in the end, She remains the independent and powerful matriarch of the Heavens and divine inspiration to all 'single' mothers.
Beside the Balts, we find many other peoples with female solar deities; as in the Norse, Germanic, Japanese, Hindu, ancient Arab and numerous Native North American cultures. Where one does find a contemporary masculine sun, (Celts, Greeks and Romans) one also finds vestiges of Sun Goddesses in myth and place names.
Prane Dunduliene, Lietuviu Liaudies Kosmologija. Vilnius: Mokslas, 1988.
Dainius Sirutis, "The Lithuanian Sun Goddess Saule", Romuva/U.S.A, issue #4, 1991.
Lietuvos Kulturos ir Meno Institutas, Senoves Baltu Simboliai. Vilnius: Academia, 1992.