Various forms of equilateral crosses, often radiating out from circular hubs, appear on the pottery and textiles of ancient cultures all around the world too numerous to list; in fact, there are comparatively few ancient cultures that did not utilize this universal symbol. A common coronal form when the sunspot phase is near maximum is that of a four-rayed star with the polar and equatorial streamers having similar sizes. The polar rays in particular have a tendency to fan out in a manner that clearly reflects the wedge-shaped arms of the so-called "Maltese cross."
In 'The Sun' we are informed by a turn-of-the-century professional astronomer that, "The corona shows a disposition to assume the form of a quadrilateral or four-rayed star, though in almost every individual case this form is greatly modified by abnormal streamers at one point or another." Various scientific drawings of the solar corona which were made in the latter part of the 19th century, a period when the total eclipse was gaining much interest in the scientific domain but before the widespread use of photography to record the corona, show this four rayed cross-shaped pattern of the corona in a very distinctive manner. In an engraving depicting the total eclipse of the sun of July 29th, 1878, as it was observed over the Rocky Mountains of the U.S.A., appearing in Flammarion's 'Astronomie Populaire' the coronal streamers bear a striking resemblance to a Christian cross and even more so to the much older Egyptian 'Crux Ansata' or ankh. Two bright equatorial streamers burst from either side of the black disc of the moon and an exceptionally long streamer hangs down from the lunar disc while three or four shorter rays or streamers thrust upwards from the sun's upper pole.
A stele from Kalah, Iraq, the site of ancient Nimrud, depicts Assurnasiripal II holding a long thin rod extending from the floor to the height of his chin. Over this rod hovers a "ring with wings" which contains a "Maltese cross" formed by four broad triangular wedges radiating out to the inner circumference of the ring from a smaller central hub. The space between each of these four wedges is bisected by a thin slightly curved ray. This so-called "Maltese" cross also appears on a medallion which hangs from a cord around Assurnasiripal II's neck where it is clearly a symbol of his royal authority, if not divinity.
It should be noted that the Mesopotamian version of the ancient "winged disk" symbol could be seen as a form of cross in its own right with the wings forming the horizontal axis and the tail the vertical axis of a T-shaped cross. In 'The History of the Cross' we are informed that, "Ancient Assyria developed a majestic form (of cross), known as the feroher, the principal portion being a winged globe. One famous example from Nineveh shows the deity Ashur, who fights for his people in battle. The whole figure is in the form of a Tau-shaped cross." Thus the cross is clearly associated with the total eclipse of the sun since the feroher is nothing other than a highly accurate representation of the bird-like pattern that occurs in the sun's corona when the sun-spot activity is at its minimum phase.
The natives of Hawaii drew elaborate crosses to represent their gods long before the first European explorers arrived. In a book depicting some of these ancient Hawaiian crosses the cross of the Goddess Marama is shown formed by four white lozenge-shaped arms radiating out in an 'X' from a dark central disc. Four triangles or "Maltese cross" style wedges intersect the angles of the four arms of the 'X' but do not reach the central disc. The drawing of this cross of Marama looks virtually identical to a drawing of the intermediate form of the coronal streamers which occur between the minimum and maximum phase of sunspot activity depicted in Théophile Moreux`s "Les Eclipses". The caption attached to this drawing reads, "The Goddess of the Sun was also known as the Goddess of the Moon, Marama, who watched over Tane's children while they slumbered in peace when the sun was out of the sky." This is a rather sketchy caption to say the least but it is not difficult to see that this Cross of the Goddess Marama may well have been inspired by the cross-like form that is readily perceivable in the sun's corona during an "intermediate phase" total solar eclipse.
The Cross of Tane depicted in this book has similar, though slightly thinner, lozenge-shaped arms divided by dark "trunks" each having three sprouting "stems" along its length. A veritable "Maltese cross" with flared ends also radiates out from the hub of the cross which is clearly an eye. The caption is much more explicit than that for the cross of Marama and plainly states, "The "eye," which forms the centrepiece of this cross and slants downward, is a reminder that "the Eyes of God are upon you; therefore, beware of your behaviour lest He witness your misbehaviour."" The cross of Tane clearly represents the "All-Seeing Eye of God" as symbolized by the total eclipse of the sun. The caption goes on to say, "It is interesting to note that this cross is similar to the ones which sit on top of the crowns of British royalty. Yet this pattern was drawn by Hawaiian artists centuries before the first British crown made its appearance in Hawaii. A variation of this cross was selected by the kings of the Tameha. ? . a dynasty as the foundation for their holy emblem."
Pre-Columbian examples of pottery made by the Ica Indians of southern Peru also depict various forms of crosses and again they would appear to be linked to total solar eclipses since they tend to radiate outwards from central, eye-like, concentric circles. One example in particular bears a striking resemblance to a drawing of the cross-like form of corona of the 1860 total eclipse drawn by a professional astronomer. An example of Ica pottery depicts both circular "Maltese" crosses and square crosses with eyes at the centre in a context that would tend to link these symbols to the total solar eclipse.
It is abundantly clear that various forms of the cross were used as solar symbols by numerous cultures in diverse regions of the world, and that these crosses were virtually certainly inspired by the cross-like pattern of the coronal streamers that are seen in the total eclipse of the sun between the minimum and maximum phases of sunspot activity. These crosses were quite common some millennia before the crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent adoption of the cross as the primary symbol of the Christian faith. The ancient Egyptian's used the "Crux Ansata" or "ankh" as a symbol of life and Egyptian Croix Patées or "Maltese crosses" appear in numerous ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions. The Mesopotamians similarly used various forms of the cross including the "Maltese Cross" as a solar symbol on their cylinder seals, stelae, and bas-relief sculptures. The Mayans and Aztecs of Meso-America and the Nazca, Ica, Moche, and Inca civilizations of ancient Peru used crosses for evidently identical reasons and some versions are uncannily analogous to the "Maltese cross" found in the winged disc on Assyrian bas-reliefs.
The cross, "Maltese" or otherwise, may also be used to symbolize the total eclipse of the sun for the very simple reason that any solar eclipse only occurs when the celestial path of our moon's orbit literally "crosses" over that of our sun in the skies above Earth. Stellate (i.e. pointed) and regular, straight lined, crosses are commonly depicted within the sun disc in sun-moon conjunction symbols and winged discs on Mesopotamian cylinder seals dating as far back as the Isin-Larsa period circa 2000-1800 B.C. and similar crosses appear within the sun disc motif of numerous other cultures around the world, thus lending no inconsiderable support to this straightforward hypothesis.
What is truly interesting to note is the incredible universality of the use of the "Maltese cross" symbol, not only has it been depicted on the crowns of European royalty for centuries but it was utilised by Assyrian rulers as a royal, and possibly sacred, emblem many centuries prior to its first use by any European king. It appears prominently in the sacred artwork of Mayan, Aztec, and various American Indian cultures. No doubt it crops up elsewhere and always the sun and moon and the "all-seeing eye of God" seem to be closely associated with this ancient symbol. Can there be any doubt that the "Maltese cross" and numerous other non Christian variations on this theme were inspired by, and even depict, the total eclipse of the sun?
Some additional images with explanatory captions -
This somewhat "regularized" scientific astronomical drawing of the "intermediate corona" displayed during the July 28, 1851 total solar eclipse published in Thierry Moreux's 'Les Eclipses' clearly reveals the origin of the solar cross symbol.
The polar rays and streamers of the sun's corona above and below the moon's occulting disk, combined with the "wings" of the sun's corona spreading out on either side of the moon during the July 11, 1991 total eclipse of the sun, form a kind of solar cross in the form of a bird. This reveals how the solar cross symbol gets incorporated into winged sun symbol in the Assurbanipal II stela. Both symbols are inspired by the cross-like form and bird-like form of some total solar eclipses and are synthesized into one composite religious symbol.
This astronomical drawing of a 19th century total solar eclipse observed at Creston Wyoming by Ettiene Leopold Trouvelot reveals not only the original inspiration for the winged eye symbols of ancient Egypt and other ancient cultures, but also the original source of inspiration for the solar cross symbol in general and the so-called "Maltese Cross" in particular.
The very "architectural" astronomical drawing of the suns's corona as witnessed during the May 2nd 1715 total solar eclipse is virtually identical to the Moundbuilders Indians solar cross symbol and numerous other very similar solar cross symbols. This astronomical drawing in particular demonstrates that what is actually seen by an eclipse observer differs somewhat from what gets drawn on paper or otherwise transformed into artwork. It is very unlikely that the sun's corona actually looked so much like a square cross to the observer's of the eclipse but they obviously perceived it that way and represented it that way. To quote or closely paraphrase the author of 'Canada's Stonehenge' Gordon Freeman, human beings like to make order out of chaos.
This is another example of a solar cross symbol arising from people trying to make order out of chaos, or at least showing somewhat more order than is already present in the ever changing form of the sun's corona. . . The scientific astronomical drawing of the December 22nd 1870 total solar eclipse was apparently created by someone who may not have actually witnessed the eclipse themselves. At minimum this drawing creates a very orderly four-armed "solar cross" image that is virtually identical to the Southern Cult aka Moundbuilders Indians solar cross symbol that is shown to its left, out of input from other people in the form of sketches made my other eclipse observers as well as oral descriptions of diverse eclipse observers. In any case now you know the original source of inspiration of the Zia cross symbol that is prominently displayed on the state flag of New Mexico.
Update: Someone in Hong Kong reproduced my old 'The Cross Symbol & Total Solar Eclipses' web site.