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Jupiter, Ancient Roman sky deity, and his relative Thetis

In comparative mythology, sky father is a term for a recurring concept of a sky god who is addressed as a "father", often the father of a pantheon. The concept of "sky father" may also be taken to include Sun gods with similar characteristics.

This article is concerned with the postulate of such a comparative type and its complement, an "earth mother".

"Sky Father" is a direct translation of the Vedic Dyaus Pita, etymologically identical to the Greek "Zeus Pater".[1] but there are numerous parallels adduced from outside of Indo-European mythology, especially Semitic sky and thunder gods (including Canaanite Yahweh, predecessor of the monotheistic "heavenly father" of Abrahamic religions), but the concept is far from universal (e.g. Egyptian mythology has a "Heavenly Mother").

"Sky Father" in historical mythology

  • Indo-European mythology
    • In the early Vedic pantheon, Dyaus Pita "Sky Father" appears already in a very marginal position, but in comparative mythology is often reconstructed as having stood alongside Prithvi Mata "Earth Mother" in prehistoric times.
    • 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." 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 son of Jupiter.
  • In Māori mythology, Ranginui was the sky father. In this story, the sky father and earth mother Papatuanuku, embraced and had divine children.
  • In Native American mythology and Native American religion, the sky father is a common character in creation myth.[2]
  • In China, in Daoist belief, 天 (tian), meaning sky, is associated with light, the positive, male, etc., whereas 地 (di) meaning earth or land, is associated with dark, the negative, female, etc.
    • Shangdi 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 Chinese 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 it. Whether it possesses sentience in the embodiment of an omnipotent, omniscient being is a difficult question for linguists and philosophers.
  • Tengri "sky", chief god of the early religion of the Turkic peoples.
  • 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, due to their ability to fly.
  • In the ancient prehispanic territory of Colombia Muisca people, (Muisca mythology), used to worship Bochica as the sky father.[3]
  • "Taevaisa" (Taevas = sky, isa = father) is the word by which adherents in Estonia of the Maausk (faith of the land) and the Taara native beliefs refer to God. Although both branches of the original Estonian religion - which are largely just different ways of approaching what is in essence the same thing, to the extent that it remains extant - are pantheistic, heaven has a definite and important place in the ancient pre-Christian Estonian belief system. All things are sacred for those of the faith of the land, but the idea of a sky father - among other "sacrednesses" - is something all Estonians are well aware of. In newer history, after the arrival of Christianity, the ideas of a sky father and "a father who art in heaven" have become somewhat conflated. One way or another, the phrase "taevaisa" remains in common use in Estonia.
  • 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.[4][5] 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.

"Nomadic" hypothesis

In late 19th 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 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.

This view was stylized as reflecting not only a conflict of nomadism vs. agriculturalism but of "patriarchy" vs. "matriarchy", and has blossomed into a late ideological in certain currents of feminist spirituality and feminist archaeology in the 1970s.Template:Huh

Reception in modern culture

The theory about earth goddesses, sky father, 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 the side for which the believers chose to root. 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.

See also


  1. dyaus in Vedic still retained the meaning "sky", while the Greek Zeus had become a proper name exclusively.
  2. Judson, Katherine Berry (April 30, 2009). Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest. BiblioLife. pp. 5–7. ISBN 0-559-06288-5. 
  3. Paul Herrmann, Michael Bullock (1954). Conquest by Man. Harper & Brothers. pp. 186. OCLC 41501509.
  4. Trask, L. The History of Basque (1997) Routledge ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  5. Jose M. de Barandiaran Mitologia Vasca (1996) Txertoa ISBN 84-7148-117-0