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Sky father


The sky father is a recurring theme in mythology. The sky father is the complement of the earth mother and appears in some creation myths, many of which are European or ancient Near Eastern. Other cultures have quite different myths; Egyptian mythology features a sky mother and an earthly dying and reviving god of vegetation. Shinto gives precedence to a sun goddess. A sky father also relates to a solar deity, a god identified with the sun.

  • In Maori mythology, Ranginui was the sky father. In this story, the sky father and earth mother Papatuanuku, embraced and had divine children.
  • In China, the God of the Abrahamic religions is sometimes called 天父 which means the Sky Father or Heavenly Father.
  • In Ancient Rome the sky father, or sky god, was Jupiter (Zeus, Ζεύς, in Ancient Greece). Often depicted by birds, usually the Eagle or Hawk, and clouds or other sky phenomena. Nicknames included, "Sky God" and, "Cloud Gatherer." Most predominantly heard in The Iliad, an epic poem written by the Greek poet Homer. While many attribute a sky god to the sun, Jupiter ruled mainly over the clouds and the heavens, while Apollo is referred to as the god of the sun. Apollo was, however, the child of Jupiter.
  • In Ancient Egypt, Horus was ruler of the sky. He was shown as a typical male humanoid, however, he appeared to have the head of a falcon. It is not uncommon for birds to represent the sky in ancient religions, as birds were one of the few creatures that flew.


History of the concept

In late nineteenth century opinions on comparative religion, in a line of thinking that begins with Friedrich Engels and J. J. Bachofen, and which received major literary promotion in The Golden Bough by Sir James G. Frazer, it was believed that worship of a sky father was characteristic of nomadic peoples, and that worship of an earth mother similarly characterised farming peoples. According to this body of doctrine, nomads militarily overran farming societies, and replaced goddesses with male gods. During the process, it was believed that the invaders devalued the status of women and replaced a matriarchy with a patriarchy. The religious changes were imagined to reflect this change in the status of the sexes. This belief system was linked to the discovery of the Indo-European languages, and it was fancied that the military conquest underlying this model spread those languages. The sky father was held to be an Indo-European cultural ideal. Aryan and Indo-European were synonymous during this period.

The sky father is frequently invoked in feminist spirituality, which has helped revive the concept even as the notion of earth mothers and sky fathers was rejected as oversimplified and implausible in the world of anthropology, archaeology, and comparative religion.

The ancient God of the Turks, Tengri or Tangra, is usually referred to as the "kok Tanri" or sky god, therefore heavenly father

Reconsideration of theory

The theory of a common sky father is rejected by most archaeologists and anthropologists as an explanation of early European religious life. The archaeological record does not indicate that Indo-European languages spread throughout their area in Europe and Asia by military conquest alone. Many non-Indo-European cultures also have male-dominated pantheons, without being conquered or bent on conquest. There is no direct historical correlation between the worship of goddesses and the social status of women; nor is there a great deal of evidence that the worship of female deities is associated with agriculture, or that male gods accompany nomadism. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Indo-Europeans practiced a religion that was more male-dominated, patriarchal, or wont to promote male gods at the expense of goddesses, than any other polytheistic religion.

It is in fact true that a male sky god, whose name has been reconstructed as *Dyēus ph2ter, and which survive in Greek mythology as Zeus, in Roman mythology as Jupiter, and in Vedic mythology as Dyaus Pitar, seems to have been shared and inherited from a common stock of Proto-Indo-European religion. Each of these names is cognate to the others. This is not, in fact, the most widespread inherited Indo-European deity. The dawn goddess whose name is reconstructed as *aus-os- is even more widespread; she appears in Greek mythology as Eos, in Rome as Aurora, in Germanic mythology as Eostre, in Baltic mythology as Aušra, in Slavic mythology as Zorya, and in Vedic and Hindu mythology as Ushas. These names are all cognate as well. From what we can tell of Indo-European culture, there was neither a systematic bias against goddesses or a religious motivation towards male dominance greater than any other comparable culture.


The theory about earth goddesses, sky fathers, and patriarchal invaders was a stirring tale that fired various imaginations. The story was important in literature, and was referred to in various ways by important poets and novelists, including T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and most influentially, Robert Graves.

How it worked out in practice depended on which side the believers chose to root for. Belief in the sky father and the military prowess of Aryan supermen was a feature of Nazi racial ideology; the swastika was chosen to embody this belief system because it was a symbol thought to be used by the ancient Vedic religion (as well as modern Hinduism and Buddhism). Sympathy with the lost utopia of the matriarchal goddessdom arose later. Established as a recurring theme in important literature, the tale lived on among the literature faculty long after it had been dropped by the anthropology department. Its truth was assumed by several historical novelists and fantasy authors, including Mary Renault, Mary Stewart, and more recently Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, among many others.

The earliest reference to the concept of sky father,earth mother can be found in Rigveda,the Hindu sacred text(composed about 1700 years BC.It is the oldest religious text of the Hindus and even of the Indo-European language)Manthra 4,Sooktha 89,Mandala 1 of Rigveda can be translated thus."Let us be exposed to the soothing effect of plant life by the wind,mother earth and father sky.Let the stone that grinds the medicinal plants also do the same.Oh Aswins,accept our prayer for this"Here the term Aswins refers to Sun and Moon,thus invoking the entire nature to nurture men.


In their inculturation efforts, Christian missionaries have often used the name of the local sky gods to translate the name of the Christian God.

For example, among the Chinese terms for God there are:

  • Shang Di 上帝 (Hanyu Pinyin: shàng dì) (literally King Above) was a supreme God worshipped in ancient China. It is also used to refer to the Christian God in the Standard Mandarin Union Version of the Bible.
  • Zhu, Tian Zhu 主,天主 (lit. Lord or Lord in Heaven) is translated from the English word, "Lord", which is a formal title of the Christian God in Mainland China's Christian churches.
  • Tian 天 (lit. sky or heaven) is used to refer to the sky as well as a personification of the sky. Whether it possesses sentience in the embodiment of an omnipotent, omniscient being is a difficult question for linguists and philosophers.

The Liber Sancti Iacobi by Aymericus Picaudus tells that the Basques called God Urcia, a word found in compounds for the names of some week days and meteorological phenomena. The current usage is Jaungoikoa, that can be interpreted as "the lord of above". The imperfect grammaticality of the word leads some to conjecture that it is a folk etymology applied to jainkoa, now considered a shorter synonym.

See also

  • Sky deity
  • Thunder god
  • Tengri
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sky_father". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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