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Sun cult and sun dancers in the Nordic Bronze Age

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(Original article 9/5/2019)

In the ancient era of the Bronze Age, more than three millennia past, somewhere in Scandinavia, a captivating scene unfolded during a summer solstice. A congregation gathered near a time-worn stone structure, eagerly anticipating the break of dawn. The profound stillness was intermittently interrupted solely by the crackling of burning torches. Gradually, the ambient space became infused with a haunting, rhythmic resonance.

A colossal horn was raised, and a measured drumming commenced. Within the circle, men wielded substantial drums embellished with red images, employing their axes with purpose.

As the initial sunbeams kissed the ancient stone, three young women entered the midst of the assembled group. Their hair was cropped short, in brief shirts and skirts fashioned from cords. Adorning their waists were bronze discs adorned with spirals and a pronounced central point. Rings adorned their necks and arms.

Enveloped by the drumming and the subdued hum of the grand horn, the trio initiated a spirited dance with the ascending sun. While the women spun, leapt, and contorted, the radiance of the rising sun caused the plates on their belts to gleam.

Nordic Bronze Age and the sun cult

The Nordic Bronze age is a culture that prevailed mainly in the Southern Scandinavian peninsula and Denmark in 1700-500 BCE. Sometimes also parts of Finland, Estonia and Germany are included.

Along with agriculture, the sun became a more important part of the religion. Sun cult had its most significant role in the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. Solar symbols of the Bronze Age were the sun cross or wheel, circles and concentric circles, spirals and also spiral decorated shields and circular belt-plates.

More about the Nordic Bronze Age:

The solar ship


In the images of the rock carvings and razors, a ship carries the sun. A Danish archaeologist Hemming Kaul has interpreted Bronze Age razors motifs. According to him:

1. A fish helps the sun from the night ship to the day ship.

2. In the forenoon, a bird eats the fish and takes control over the ship.

3. At noon a horse moves the sun over to another ship.

4. In the afternoon a snake takes the sun into the tail curls and helps it go down.

5. The ships of the razor knives without the sun are night ships where the sun isn’t visible.

Bronze Age razors with sun cult related images

Bronze Age razors from Denmark with ship and sun symbol images. The picture: Ridpath’s history of the world, Ridpath, John Clark, 1897

Rock carvings

Tanum rock carvings

Also in the Scandinavian rock carvings, the solar symbol travels on a ship. Sometimes the symbol is in a way, in a form of a shield. Hemming Kaul has also studied these images. The solar symbols are always on the ships sailing to the right or west. So being, the ships going towards the west would be day ships and the ships sailing to the east night ships.

The Sun chariot

The sun could also travel across the sky pulled by a horse like in the images of the razors. The famous sun chariot found in Trundholm, Denmark shows a gold-coated disc decorated with spirals and a horse on wheels dragging the sun. The backside of the disc is dark and not gilded so it may be that the front side represents day and the other side is the night.

Trundholm sun chariot
The Sun Carriage from the Bronze Age, on display at the National Museum

Much later sources tell about the sun goddess Sól or Sunna who drives in her chariot across the sky pulled by horses. Because in the Bronze Age Scandinavia they didn’t know how to read or write all we know about their beliefs is based on the images, objects and constructions. The names of the gods are not known. However, the gods of the Iron Age Scandinavian religion likely have origin in the Bronze Age.

Sol and Mani chased by wolfs

In Scandinavian mythology, Sól (the sun) was female and Mani (the moon) male. Wolfs chacing Sól and Mani. Picture: Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.

The sun goddess

The sun cult was a cult of fertility. In the Scandinavian rock carvings, the men holding axes and pictured with the sun symbols seem to have an erection. A sword or a spear pierce the sun symbol in some cases. For example, in this kind of connection, the solar symbol seems to be a feminine symbol.

The common symbols in the Bronze Age, a sword and a spear represent deities that have later become Freyr and Odin. But to which deity the solar symbol belonged to? Maria Kvilhaug and Lan Wang have suggested that the fertility and war goddess Freyja (and also her brother Freyr) would be the successors of this sun deity. Read more about it here:

Freyja and Freyr: Successors of the Sun: on the absence of the sun in Nordic saga literature:

The sun deities in the more southern and eastern regions have been male but among the Finno-Ugric people, the sun has had a female aspect. Maria Kvilhaug thinks that there might have been influencing from east to Scandinavia. It seems possible since according to the new research at least the ceramic influences were transferred from east to west maybe along with the women themselves.

Egtved girl

In 1921, in Egtved, Denmark a grave of a young girl was excavated. The girl was lying under a mound, in a carved oak-trunk. She was wearing a peculiar outfit: a short cord skirt, short top and a bronze disc fastened on the waist. Also, she had a short hair.

There are small figurines from the Bronze Age that are wearing similar cord skirts. These statuettes represent persons who are performing acrobatic moves. It is probable, that these figurines are related to the sun cult and represent sun-worshipping rituals.

Sun cult related figurines

Picture of Bronze Age figurines. One of them is wearing a corded skirt and performing a bridge. By Marcus Schnabel – Danish Museum (?), Public Domain,

The Egtved girl might have been a priestess of the sun who performed a ritual sundance. She was only 16 – 18 years old.

Watch a documentary about the Egtved girl

or read more here:

The grave of the Egtved girl
The grave of the Egtved girl