The sun is one of the most universally revered objects in human history. Just about every culture on the planet honors it for all the different gifts that it brings to our planet, bringing both the light and heat that make life on our planet possible.
For one, our method of keeping time is based on it, as for the majority of human history, our clocks were sundials. Most of our modern calendars (including days of the week ala Sun-day), are based off it, and lot of our major holidays originally started as solar equinox or solstice celebrations (such as Easter and Christmas respectively). Even western astrology focuses on a person’s sun signs. Needless to say, our lives revolve around the sun…literally.
Amongst Ndi Igbo, the Sun was referred to as Anyanwu (An-yan-wew). This is a combination of two different words. The first word, anya means eye. The second word, anwu, means light. Together, the phrase reads as “eye of light.”
Metamorphosing the sun as an eye is not an exclusively Igbo concept. Another famous example of this can be found in the ancient Egyptian character of Ra, who was depicted as a Falcon headed man who hand a sun disk on his head.
A modern example of a celestial eye can be found on the left side of a dollar bill. Here are some other examples found throughout different cultures:
With the multiple appearances of this “all seeing eye”, one question will naturally arise: Exactly whose eye is it and why is it portrayed in that way? The answer will be revealed throughout this post.
The sun is a symbol of both physical and spiritual awakening. In most societies, peoples sleep cycles closely followed that of the sun. They would wake up around the time the sun rose, and go to sleep soon after the sunset. Many plants and animals also follow this trend.As an agriculturalist, I have been taught that the best way to save seeds is to keep them dry and in the dark, as they will germinate (awaken) if exposed to moisture and sunlight.
When spiritual awakening occurs, its usually referred to as enlightenment. If one has a good eye, they will notice that many of the holy men and women throughout history are quite often portrayed with a sun disc behind their head. Even their titles and epithets reveal as much. The Buddha, for example, name literally means “The Awakened One.”
It is no coincidence that Alaigbo (Igboland) was referred to as the land of the rising sun. Many of the most enlightening spiritual teachings and examples in all of Africa had been found in that land in what is now southeastern Nigeria. One place in particular was so highly developed that people considered it to be one of the major cultural epicenters of modern Igbo civilization. This place was known as Agwukwu-Nri, from which I am descended from on my mother’s side.
Anywanu played a very large role in life of the Umunri. “Nri people believed that the sun was the dwelling place of Anyanwu (The God of Light and Agbala (The Holy Spirit). They believed Agbala to be the collective spirit of all holy beings (human and nonhuman). The Holy Spirit was a perfect agent of Chi-Ukwu or Chineke (The big God or the Creator God). The Holy Spirit chose its human and nonhuman agents only by their merit. It knew no politics. It transcended religion and culture, and of course, gender. It worked with the humble and truthful. They believed Anyanwu, the Light, to be the symbol of human perfection that all must seek. Anyanwu was perfection and Agbala was entrusted to lead us there.” (Anuobi, Chikodi. Nri Warriors of Peace. Page 210).
Nri people were so serious about their veneration of Anyanwu, that they would wear it on their faces. This facial scarification was called ichi. “In standard Nri scarification, the artist would carve the first line to run from the center of the forehead down to the center of the chin. They would then carve a second line to run across the face, from the right cheek to the left. The second line met the first at the center of the nose, making it a perfect cross. The second cross was drawn with one line running from the left side of the forehead down to the right side of the chin and another line running down the opposite direction. This sequence and pattern was repeated until the pattern looked like the rays of the sun. Altogether, it took sixteen straight lines, eight crosses, for a full face scarification that mirrored the rays of the sun. It was their way of honoring the sun that they worshiped. But it was more than that. It was the face and service and another way of losing one’s facial personality.” (Anuobi, Chikodi. Nri Warriors of Peace. Page 203-204).
One very important part of Nri’s mission was as the peacemakers and cleansers of abomination in Igboland. They attempted to broker peace deals and end wars, even going so far as to run onto battlefields to stop them. When a land needed to be cleansed for whatever reason, and it was beyond the scope of the ritual specialists of that area, Nri priests were sent in to do the job of restoring balance. Ironically, the sun itself is a cleansing agent, and it is capable of destroying pathogens in liquids.In alot of ways, the Nri were like the Jedi of the Igbo people. However, instead of using lightsabers, they used Otonsi rods to vanquish evil.
Anyanwu bestows many gifts to people. One gift is the one of sight. When the sun is out, things that were once in darkness are brought to light. This is meant both in the physical as well as metaphysical sense. Darkness is often used to symbolize something that is hidden or unknown, while light in this sense represents something that has been revealed.
Returning back to the previous examples of the Sun manifested as an eye, it should be clear by now that the eye that is being symbolized is YOUR OWN. It represents YOUR enlightenment, YOUR sight, YOUR vision. This is is reiterated by the usage of a hawk to represent Ra. One of the things that hawks are known for is to be birds of prey. For an animal that flys to be able to spot and capture its prey from so high up in the sky, they must have incredible vision. The Avenger known as Hawkeye is appropriately named as such because of his ability to hit targets with his bow and arrow, which requires a very sharp eye.
A former mentor of mine once told me that ones eyes are their first oracle. For this reason, he said, he was unable to consult Afa Ugili/Akpukpala (divination apparatus) if he were outside, as Agwu (the Igbo spirit of divination) would be working primarily through his eyes. In fact, in his book, After God Is Dibia Vol. 1, legendary Dibia John Umeh proclaims that “As Ose Obala, Agwu is the God of Light, Anwu, whose eye is the Sun (Anyanwu). ..As the God of Light, Agwu is an integral part of Ose Ora (Uche Chukwu), the universal Consciousness of God…which is the completeness awareness of what was, what is, and what will be…..God of Light whose blze or Divine Light disperses and/or extinguishes danger, evil or darkness.” (Page 114).
Metaphorically, this sight represents itself as insight, which is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing, and foresight, the ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future. In short, insight is the ability to see things as they really are, and foresight is the ability to see things as they will be.
There are many people who seek solutions to problems when the answers are typically right in front of their face, and the thing about your senses is that if you don’t use them, you will lose them. Have you ever wondered why despite all of the oracles that were all over Africa, none of them seemed to give an adequate solution to the coming domination by the Europeans? (Or if they did, the people definitely did not listen to them!) Why is it that the only nation that was never to formally colonized in Africa was Ethiopia? Could it have anything to do with the incredible foresight of its leader, Emperor Menelik II? Were other African people overdependent on their shrines and oracles that they forgot how to use their abilities of foresight and insight?
One also didn’t need to use an oracle to see that the present systems we have (economic, political, industrial, religious etc) were unsustainable and would eventually fail us. A major flaw of Western Civilization is the complete lack of foresight in a lot of the decisions that have been made throughout the years. Sometimes it makes one scratch their head and wonder if those in power ever consider the future consequences of their actions or if they even care.
Other examples of a Sun god granting powers of foresight and insight would be Apollo of the Greeks and Romans, whose Oracle at Delphi was the most important oracular site of the classical Greek world. Apollo once granted Cassandra the gift of foresight in order to seduce her, but after she rejected him, he proclaimed that nobody would ever believe her prophecies. She foresaw the fall of Troy due to the Trojan Horse, and even foresaw her own death, but was powerless to stop either. Pretty messed up situation to be in right?
As I stated in the Amadioha post, my personal shrine of Anywanu uses the image of the Johny Storm AKA the Human Torch. He is one of the members of the Fantastic Four, with each member representing one of the four classical elements of: earth (The Thing) , air (The Invisible Woman) , fire (The Human Torch) and water (Mr. Fantastic). However, that is a topic for another day.
Another comic book character that can be used to represent Anyanwu would be Phoenix from the X-Men. In fact, I would say that she represents Anyanwu way better than the Human Torch because of the significance of the Phoenix, which is a mythological fire bird found across many cultures that represents rebirth, immortality and renewal. Plus, the comic version also granted enhanced psionic (psychic) abilities to its host, as Anyanwu also does.
If you wish to gain access to the infinite wisdom, joy and love of Anyanwu, you can start by greeting her every morning as our ancestors used to do. If you decide to do so, ask yourself: Are you ready to be awakened?