Sowilo [pronounced so-EE-lo] means Sun and is one of the simplest runes to translate into tarot. Before I get on to explaining the obvious connection between Sowilo and The Sun in tarot, one thing that is important to note is that the sun in Norse pagan tradition, unlike modern esoteric constructs, is coded as female. Furthermore, a number of archaeological finds point strongly to the preeminence of sun worship in Bronze Age Scandinavia.
Elements of the sun-cult appear to have survived in the myths that have been left to us in the Goddess Sol, also known as Sunna. In Snorri’s Prose Edda, Sol is not a personification of the sun, but the charioteer that drives the sun across the sky, chased by the wolf Skoll (which may also be another name for the great wolf Fenrir) who is fated to devour her and the sun at Ragnarok. Her brother is Mani, the charioteer of the moon, and she is wed to an otherwise unknown figure known as Glenr (whose name means Gap Between Clouds – if that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is).
Some evidence does however point to the idea that the sun was a personified goddess to Bronze Age Germanic peoples, and there appear to be some surviving pieces of this tradition in later Norse myths. The existence of Thor long predates the rise of Odinn, with his mythology dating back to Proto Indo European myth, and while common Viking and post-Viking age stories hold Odinn as the All-Father and progenitor of Thor, there is ample suggestion in older sources that Thor was the first god, born not from Odinn and Jord (the Earth personified), but from Sol and Jord, two female deities. Considering the short-circuit this could have caused in the brains of Christian writers such as Snorri and Saxo, it is little wonder scant evidence of this myth and origin story survive.
Anyway, without rambling on too much, the all-encompassing importance of sun worship in Bronze Age Scandinavia changed over the centuries and appears to have lost much of its popularity, however there are more inklings of its importance amongst later pagan worshippers than much of Norse mythology initially suggests, and the Norwegian rune poem sums it up perfectly, “Sun is the light of the world; I bow to its holiness“.
Much like The Sun in tarot, Sowilo speaks of illumination, brightness and victory. It is the bringer of great joy, light and truth; the shadows have been chased away and the cold, harsh need of previous runes like Nauthiz, Isa and Hagalaz are melted away.
The Icelandic rune poem states, “Sun is the sky shield, and a shining radiance, and the nemesis of ice.” This idea of the protective power of the sun as a shield also echoes in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, where we see the sun as a vigilant guide for those at sea, “The sun guides seafarers who ferry across the fishes bath until the seahorse [ship] brings them to land.”
This idea of protection and guidance has a very different feel to the protection of our attending, ancestral spirits seen in the previous rune. While Algiz represents a protector not quite of this world, existing in liminal space between this and the otherworld, sometimes seen but most often not, the protection of Sowilo is shining and all-apparent. It is in this vein, along with the sun’s holiness expressed in the Norwegian rune poem, that I also feel hints of the power of The Empress. She is life itself, nurturing, protective, abundant and generous, she brings fertility and growth to the land, much like the sun’s rays; she, like Sowilo, is a shining beacon of life that warms her children and promises prosperity.
Sowilo, like other runes, cannot appear merkstave (reversed), but in this singular instance I will not be exploring the shadow meanings for this rune (although others do). For me, Sowilo is as good as it gets, it has the power to blast away the negative energies of any number of the more challenging runes – or all of them combined. No matter how dreary a rune-casting may look, the presence of Sowilo gives strong cause for optimism, and the promise that regardless of the difficulties you face, there is a bright, shining, all-encompassing light at the end of the tunnel – life will always prevail, you just have to hold- tight long enough for sunrise.