Sun (Hąbᵋwira, "Luminary of the Day")

by Richard L. Dieterle

Unlike the God Day, who is responsible for the actual daylight,

The Sun is a circular plane, composed of wood, which burns perpetually. It is supposed to have life, to be furnished with heat by the great Spirit and to have for its resting place the eastern extremity of the earth before mentioned. It commences its journey every morning and having passed over the great earth & the island upon which they live, it moves suddenly under (97) it and returns to the resting place, where it remains until another day. They suppose that the day is not far distant when this luminary will cease to burn, and that then the world will be reduced to chaos. They believe the sun to be nearly as large as the earth which they inhabit.1

This living eternal fire is the Hocąk Helios. The Sun's celestial orb is a fiery disk that orbits the earth in a single day, at night traversing the antipodes.2 The sacred emblem of Sun is a representation of this red disc placed in a white field (like the flag of Japan).3 He is known as Hąbanįjᵋra, "Day-Wanderer," or simply as Wire, "the Luminary," but when he assumes human form to come to earth as a man, he is pictured as an anthropomorphic spirit who owns an all-powerful disc.4 More than one story relates how Sun, having come to earth to fight the Giants, had a circular leather disc hanging around his neck, which when rolled made a whirring sound and carried him faster than any mortal could run.5

In mythology, Sun is the husband of Moon, is the father of the Twins and the brother-in-law of Bluehorn.6 When the sunset is a rich red color, it is said that Hąbᵋwira has cloaked himself with the blanket of Edgily, the daughter of the chief of the Thunderbirds.7 In addition to his polychrome blanket, he wears a single eagle feather in his hair and two garters around his legs. His entire body is painted a vivid red.8 An old tradition says that Earthmaker once sent both Sun and Fire to earth to rid the world of evil spirits.9 In world mythology, the sun often suffers an episode of excess in his early history, an excess that other gods bring into check to create the orderly sun of our present age. In one waiką, Sun is said to have come to earth to live among the humans, but when he became old, he acquired an insatiable appetite. So much food did he eat that his sons abandoned him to escape starvation. However, he was adopted by men who were great spirits incarnate, and they eventually cured him.10 He is said to have sired on the moon the first horse, Big Eater, who took after his father's voracious appetite.11 In one of the stories about the birth of the Twins, the role of the sun is played by the paternal grandfather. He commits a social excess by killing his own daughter-in-law and devouring her completely.12 This recalls some of the social excesses of the Greek solar figure Ixion, who even brags of violating the wife of Zeus.13

Sun only rarely blesses men with the great war powers in his possession. When a man receives the head or scalp brought back by a warparty, one of his first actions is to offer a special public prayer to the sun.14 That the sun has such powers no doubt reflects the great physical force of its heat and light, as well as the power it displays in traversing the heavens without fatigue. More than one story relates how a trap was set for the sun. At first the traps fail because the sun simply breaks the rope out of which they are made. Finally, a woman makes a rope probably out of her pubic hairs, which owing to their association with menstruation, have the capacity of weakening the power of the warrior spirit. This trap restrains the sun, and an animal has to free him by enduring his heat. This has the effect of burning the animal, but the sun is finally freed and the world spared eternal night.15

In warbundle feasts Earth and Sun are both given herbs and maple syrup.16 These pacific offerings reflect the role that the sun shares with the earth as a nurturer of life. Therefore the sun's blessings may also include life. Thus Sun once blessed a man, saying, "Every day I will bring the blessing of life to you. This also: if you think of me when you are in any difficulty, you will pass through it safely. The sick you will be able to heal through the blessing I give you. I am the Sun. Even if a day is cloudy, then know that I am keeping Life for you beyond the clouds."17

Links: Earthmaker, Bluehorn, Moon, Day, The Twins, Nightspirits, The Meteor Spirit, Yųgiwi, Horses, Supernatural & Spiritual Power, Fire, Earth, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, Gottschall, Giants, Mice, Cosmography, Bears, Martens.

Stories: featuring Sun as a character: Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, The Big Eater, The Children of the Sun, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The Birth of the Twins, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Origins of the Milky Way, Red Cloud's Death; about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars.


1 Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 96-97.

2 Mary H. Eastman, Chicóra and Other Regions of the Conquerors and the Conquered (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co., 1854) 22.

3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 200 (plate 47).

4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 238, 392.

5 Paul Radin, "Morning Star (Wiragošge Xetera)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society), Notebook #8: 1-93; Paul Radin, "The Sun," Transcripts in English of Winnebago Tales, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, #7L: 1-9 (= 78-86 = 978-996).

6 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. Bollingen Foundation, Special Publications, 3 (1954): 80-84. Paul Radin, XI. Untitled, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909, recopied and corrected, 1945) Winnebago III, #11b: 61-63. Told by Frank Ewing. Radin, "The Sun," 1-9.

7 James Owen Dorsey, Winnebago Ethnography, "Buffalo Dance, etc.," (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, MS 4558 [102], 1883).

8 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 250-251.

9 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 238, 392.

10 Radin, "Morning Star."

11 Radin, Winnebago III, #11b: 61-63. Radin, "The Sun," 1-9.

12 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 84-87. Informant: Sam Blowsnake of the Thunderbird Clan, ca. 1912.

13 Zeus made a cloud in the form of Hera his wife to test whether Ixion would try to seduce her. As a result of Ixion's seduction, Cloud (Nephele) gave birth to Centaurus. Zeus punished Ixion by tying him to a wheel that spun through the sky incessantly. See Apollodorus, Epitome 1.20; Pindar, Pythian Odes 2.21-46, and Scholia on 2.21; Diodorus Siculus 4.69.4; Scholiast on Eurippides, Phoenissæ 1185; Scholiast on Homer, Odyssey 21.303; Scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.62; Hyginus, Fabula 62; Servius on Virgil, Ænæas 6.286; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Thebaid 4.539; First Vatican Mythographer 14; Second Vatican Mythographer 106.

14 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 331.

15 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 102-103; Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 26-27. Informant: Felix White, Sr.

16 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 390. 

17 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 250-251.