The true meaning of the Black Sun

There is a symbol that recurs often in the realm of esoterica, but whose meaning is largely misunderstood in modern times. Like many symbols found in either pre-Christian religion or broader occultism and mysticism, the Black Sun is a symbol that is associated with the Nazis because it was seen to have been adapted and recuperated by the Nazis. But the Nazi association belies its true meaning, which is far broader than the Nazi use of the name.

For starters, let’s get something straight: the symbol that is called Schwarze Sonne (“Black Sun”) or Sonnenrad (meaning “sun wheel”) by contemporary neo-Nazis is not actually an ancient symbol. Its design may have been adapted from an older symbol, but rather than being a symbol of a pre-Christian Germanic religion, the most likely candidate for such inspiration was probably a Merovingian ornamental disk, or Zierscheibe (“decorative disk”), simply representing the visible sun and its passage. That’s at least according to some scholars, though apparently it’s not really known if the Nazis attached any real significance to their sun wheel symbol. They may indeed have been based on an older form of jewellry dating back to the Iron Age, but it’s not clear what if any religious significance it had. At any rate, the Schwarze Sonne of the Nazis appears nowhere before the 20th century, and was invented by Wilhelm Landig as a substitute for the swastika and commssioned for Heinrich Himmler as part of his designs for Wewelsburg Castle. Apparently the Nazis believed that it was supposed to symbolize a source of mystic power and renewal for the “Aryan” race, which is definitely quite the leap from what might just have been a snazzy ornament (which they of course bastardized into a symbol of esoteric racism). But, before the Nazis came along, there was another, older Black Sun, one with an entirely different meaning to what the Nazis had in mind.

In alchemy, we see a symbol that is referred to in Latin as Sol Niger, literally meaning “Black Sun”. It is a symbol of the process of nigredo, the first stage of the alchemical process denoting a putrefaction or dissolution that constitutes the first stage of a process of purification of matter that leads to the creation of the philosopher’s stone. In a more symbolic sense, the process of nigredo can represent something like the dark night of the soul, a sort of depressive distillation of the soul/psyche that is part of the journey to spiritual awakening or the realization of faith. In general, Sol Niger tends to be a symbol somewhat associated with death, albeit a death that precedes rebirth and renewal, far from the Aryanist fantasies about it being a power source for the “master race”. It is perhaps the association with death and decay that leads some to link the symbol of Sol Niger to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and the planet of the same name, and it is here where things get really interesting.

Saturn, or Saturnus, was also considered a god of dissolution, renewal, as well as liberation. In Rome he was even sometimes identified with Dis Pater, the god of the underworld. It is thus only natural that he might be associated with death and decay, to the extent that he probably ended up having some influences on the Grim Reaper, the popular personification of death, with his scythe or sickle (though the proper Hellenic personification of death was Thanatos, known as Mors in Rome). Some modern commentators of myth also link Saturn with Mahakala, a wrathful manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva and one of the main wrathful deities of esoteric Buddhism. Saturn and Mahakala do have some things in common; both are associated with the colour black, both have some association with time (denoted by Mahakala’s namesake), both can be thought of as chthonic deities to a certain extent (see Bernard Faure’s Protector’s and Predators on the broad chthonic character of Daikokuten, the Japanese transmission of Mahakala), and both have a fairly clear association with death, with Mahakala sometimes being identified with/as death itself (though the name Mahakala is sometimes interpreted as meaning “Beyond Death”). The planet Saturn was also, in some contexts, associated with the underworld in the specific sense that it was seen as the “sun of night”. In ancient Mesopotamian astronomy, Saturn was strangely associated with the Sun, but was also believed to be black in colour, hence in a way it was to them a black sun. This idea was also linked to a myth concerning Shamash, the Babylonian sun god known elsewhere as Utu, who somtimes travelled beneath the earth to the realm of Arallu, the kingdom of the underworld abundant with gold, to fulfill his function as the supreme judge of the dead.

Saturn also seems to have been linked to the sun elsewhere as well. In India, there are apparently numerous Sanskrit words recurring in the writings of Varaha-mihira that point to Saturn as “son of the Sun”. Ptolemy said that the people living throughout southern Asia revered the planet Venus as Isis and Saturn as Mithras Helios. In Egypt, Saturn is referred to as “Horus the Bull, that is the Star of the Sun”. The idea of the sun god descending to the underworld is also familiar to Egypt, with Ra journeying there every night on his barge, donning the appearance of a ram as he does so. The Mayans also believed that the Sun descended and journeyed through the underworld, taking the form of the “Night Sun”, in the form of the Jaguar God of the Underworld. The idea of a “night sun” or “dark sun” can also be found in the religious mythos of antiquity. In Egypt, the “night sun” is Osiris, the fertility god of the underworld. In Greece, it is Dionysus, the chthonic mystery god usually remembered as a god of wine, who was apparently described as the “Night Sun” by Plutarch. Dionysus was not usually a solar deity by almost any stretch, but was sometimes associated with the Sun by Orpheus (who said that the Sun is also called Dionysus). The Vedic Indian god Varuna was sometimes seen as a sort of solar deity, and in the 19th century it was said he was like a “night sun”, which suits his role in that he presided over the evening and sometimes was a god of the underworld.

As Nika Lavrentyeva and Ekaterina Alexandrova discuss in Liminal Sources of Dangerous Powers: A Case of the Black Ram (2020), there is also a “black sun” featured in ancient Egyptian texts and iconography, with multiple meanings. In the tomb of Irunefer at Deir el-Medina, the deceased is shown to be illuminated by the sun, shadows who want to harm him are captured in the Netherworld, and “the darkness” in the form of a black sun aborbs all the evil which is arrayed against the deceased, thus the black sun here functions as almost a kind a sin-eater. The papyrus of Ani made for his burial depicts supernatural villains threatening the deceased and being covered with the darkness of a shining black sun, which is meant to refer to a place for the sinful dead; it seems that Christianity was not the only religion to believe in a place of punishment after death. Similar to the context of the sun god Utu, the black sun appears in connection to judgement in the Netherworld, and in monuments it appears as a devourer of the sin and evil of the damned souls, thus protecting the cosmic order and the beatified dead.

All told, the nocturnal sun in the ancient world seems to have been a cipher for the power of the underworld, and for the unity of light with darkness, the hidden aspect of the former within the latter. It is perhaps not for nothing that Sol Niger symbolized putrefaction, dissolution, and in a certain sense death. Nor indeed is it for nothing that the cycle of the Sun itself is part of a network of myths concerning journeys to the underworld, the discovery of the dark underbelly of life itself. We may even hark back to the fall of Lucifer in a certain sense, in that, however much Wiccans prefer to shy away from Luciferian mythology and pathos in their neopagan enterprise, Doreen Valiente herself relates the fall of Lucifer to the cycle of the Sun, this fall being re-enacted every year by, after rising to its heights in the midsummer, falling from said heights to hide in the realms below. Incidentally, Valiente even admitted in private correspondences to the Luciferian Michael Howard that she believed Lucifer to be the true name for the “god of the Old Religion”, presumably referring to the Horned God of Wicca. Of course, this is not to say that the Black Sun is necessarily a symbol of Lucifer, though the nocturnal sun motif can be connected to certain views about Lucifer and his fall, even though strictly speaking Lucifer is the spirit of the morning star. The Black Sun or Sol Niger in alchemy is a sign that points to the light that awaits those who dive into darkness, into the underworld, in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. I fail to see what the Sonnenrad used by the Nazis has to do with any of that.

The last thing to know about all of this is that the Nazi sun wheel symbol that is called the Black Sun, or Schwarze Sonne, seems to have never actually been called a Black Sun by the Nazis. The term “Black Sun” in reference to the Wewelsburg sun wheel symbol is a more contemporary appellation. Apparently it only started being called “Black Sun” during the 1990s, but the Nazis never actually called it that (why would they have, considering the symbol in the Wewelsburg mosaic was not actually black, more like a kind of dark green), and apparently we don’t know what they actually called it instead. I suppose we might assume they simply called it a Sonnenrad, since it was, after all, a sun wheel, but it was not called a Black Sun, and their sun wheel has nothing to do with the Black Sun. In other words, it’s just a sun wheel that was designed specifically by and for the Nazis.

So, in summary, the Nazi symbol that is commonly referred to as “the Black Sun” is not actually the Black Sun, and not even the Nazis themselves referred to it as such, and the real Black Sun is not a symbol of Nazism. The symbol falsely called the Black Sun is nothing more than a stylized Germanic sun wheel that may just have been a generic sun symbol but with added Aryanist mysticism attached to it. Stop using Nazi symbolism to denote an old symbol of darkness that never belonged to the Nazis, and stop letting neo-Nazis recuperate and bastardize old symbols that don’t necessarily belong to them in order to lend some kind of mystic credence to their genocidal politics.

Sol Niger as depicted in Philosophia Reformata by Johann Daniel Mylius

One thought on “The true meaning of the Black Sun

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s