Sun Goddesses and Sun Circles . . . the Trans-Atlantic Connection

Readers of my most recent book, Lessons Learned, may recall an extraordinary event that occurred four days after my graduation from Georgia Tech. On the third day of work at the Landskrona, Sweden City Architect’s Office, my boss, Stadsarkitekt Gunnar Lydh, took me over to Ven Island to see the project site for a planned pedestrian village. The site was ringed with vestiges of Sweden’s ancient heritage . . . including petroglyphic boulders. I immediately noticed that the symbols were the same as what my girlfriend and I had seen at Track Rock Gap in Georgia the previous autumn. I told Gunnar this and he laughed at me.

Part 18 of the Mesolithic Period in Eastern North America

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Trail of Tears Memorial – Council Oak Park – Tulsa, Oklahoma (Sponsored by the Oklahoma Centennial Commission) Creek sculptor Dan Brook and I intentionally placed the two most sacred symbols of the Creek People in Georgia at the base of the Sacred Fire. The floor of the memorial is a marble Sun Circle, while the brazier for the bronze flames are the spiral symbols of the Sun Goddess Amana. Most Oklahoma Creeks are not aware of the complex, sophisticated culture that their ancestors in the East developed. The outer ring motif represents the ocean, Milky Way or the Universe.

Until the early 1800s, the Uchee and Apalachete Creeks in northern Georgia worshipped an invisible Sun Goddess with qualities equivalent to the Hebrew YHWH. She was the universal creator goddess for all humanity – not just the Apalachete. They believed that she lived in Mexico.

However, Apalachete Monotheism was very different than the blood-thirsty religions that typified Mexico, when the Spanish arrived. As recorded in the De Soto Chronicles, no statues of deities were permitted in or near the temple. However, there were numerous statues of famous ancestors, created from clay, stone or wood inside the temple, in the plaza in front of the temple or in homes.

Priests constantly maintained a Sacred Fire inside the temple. It was believed to be the same “fire” which was taken from the hot lava of the Orizaba Volcano in southern Veracruz State Mexico, many generations earlier.

No bloodshed of any kind (animal or human) could occur within one Creek mile (2.2 English miles) of a temple or shrine. Slavery was forbidden. The only form of sacrifice occurred each spring, when members of the elite would place colorful, woven clothing on the stone altar of the temple.

Amana the Universal Sun Goddess

Each September, the people living in the capital of Apalache would climb an ancient extinct volcano overlooking the Nacoochee Valley (probably the one now called Mt. Yonah) and utter prayers to give to the Painted Buntings, living in the temple. When they flew south to Mexico for the winter, the Painted Buntings would give their prayers to the Sun Goddess. The same ritual occurred throughout the realm of the Apalache Kingdom, at other mountaintop, hilltop and mound top temples.

In the mid-1700s, Protestant missionaries began pressuring the Creeks to change the gender of their sole deity. This effort was the tip of the iceberg in an overall effort to make Creek women, servile and with no right to vote or hold political office, like their white neighbors. The Creeks initially rebuffed this pressure by pointing out that only a mother could love her human children, despite their many spiritual and moral failings. Eastern Creeks tended to maintain gender equality to this day. For example, my grandparents had separate bank accounts, but got along remarkably well. Women in our family were encouraged to get as much education as possible and to speak out against injustices in the community.

In contrast, Muskogee Creeks began changing their religious practices and social customs, once they were forced into Alabama. They came under the influence of Shawnee shamans with disastrous results in the Redstick War. What Oklahoma Creeks think today are their traditional religious beliefs and practices are far more akin to Shawnee shamanism.

The Apalachete called the sun goddess, Amana.  Amana was represented by either a cross within a circle or a spiral pattern. You can see the sun circles in the three spires above the temple on the right. The spiral pattern was much more common on pottery or the clothing of female priests.

The pyramids of the Sun and Moon, seen from the crest of Cerro Gordo

Teotihuacan, Mexico

An invisible sun goddess was also worshiped at Teotihuacan in central Mexico.  Most likely that is where the Apalachete thought Amana lived. The elite at Teotihuacan were Totonacs, but later they had both male and female sun deities. Sun crosses and spiral patterns are rare in Mesoamerica.  I did find some sun crosses carved into boulders on top of Cerro Gordo, the 10,000 feet (3,048 m) extinct volcano, overlooking Teotihuacan.

The Sun Goddess spiral motif at a Neolithic Period shrine in Donore County, Ireland

Western and Northern Europe

A sun goddess was worshiped throughout western and northern Europe during the Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods.  She was also called Amana in the Iberian Peninsula. Just as among the Apalachete in northern Georgia, her symbols were spiral patterns and the sun cross circle. However, the spiral patterns were much more common in Iberia.

Apparently,  the same sun goddess was worshiped by Late Neolithic peoples throughout the western and northern edges of Europe.  The spiral pattern is quite common in Neolithic Ireland, Scotland and Britain, plus Neolithic art in the Nordic lands.  During the Bronze Age the Sun Wheel (Circle Cross) became the most common symbol for the sun, why the spiral motifss became common decorative motifs for stone and wood carvings.    

Southern Sami singer, Sophia Janok

The Sami of Northern Europe

I searched around and found only one other supreme, female sun goddess.  In traditional Sámi religion,  the Uchee-Creek “Sacred Fire” symbol was called a sun wheel, representing Beaivi, the invisible Sami Goddess.  To the Sami, the sun wheel represents the fertility of plants and animals, and thus of flourishing life, reproduction, health and wealth.

Virtually all Sami girls and women wear silver gorgets, honoring the sun goddess, Beaivi.  Most have spiral patterns, while some have both the spirals and the sun wheel.

The last documented temple compound of the goddess Amana was on Billy’s Island in the Okefenokee Swamp of Southeast Georgia. Botanist and explorer, William Bartram, visited it in 1776. He stated that its priestesses were the most beautiful and best education young women of the Creek Confederacy. I have not found any mention of the temple after the American Revolution.

The Truth is out there, somewhere!

3 Comments

  1. This is exciting, and these symbols are world-wide. It seems to mean that were were once one people closer to modern times than archeologists understand, or are willing to admit.
    As fer Shawnee shamans, I have a problem wit that. To be a shaman. you must have the ability to be a shape-shifter. Nothing like that is in Dad’s line, and one of his grandfathers was a Shawnee-Susquehannock healer. Mom, on the other hand, was mengwe (houseless, outcast) on both sides of her family, Cherokee and Lenape, Longhouse of Dog Spirit. Nana was from the Willies in WV, and Pappy raised on the Asgina Nohi, the Demon Road. Their mothers ordered anyone in their respective families to burn all demonic things and attend a church (to hide in).

    Liked by 1 person

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