Have you ever wondered about the origins of names? I have, it is a way to understand the world better by peering into history and cutting added meanings of words with Occam´s Razor. Etymology of weekdays and length of a week is connected to capability of a human eye to observe light and mythology of ancient civilizations. By asking questions and seeking answers I have connected the dots to an extraordinary journey of how such mundane words as Monday acquired its name.
Before we jump into specific names of the seven-day week, it´s is important to understand how we arrived to the point where we have this amount of days in a week. Seven as number is a bit awkward, it cannot be divided equally and it doesn´t reflect the human body in any way, as did the ancient Egyptian and Chinese calendars which had a week that lasted ten days. Mystery of the seven-day week is resolved by looking up in the night sky, ancient civilizations and people were more connected to the Cosmos than we are today with our modern technology. This is a fact that depresses me, even though light pollution prevents urban people to gaze and amaze the Universe at night, we have now enormous amount of information and images from celestial objects and understanding of the Universe that is light-years ahead from the perspective of these ancient people.
A fun fact is that objects of our solar system are tied, literally, to every day of the week. Origin of the weekday names is in the planets (or wondering stars) that are observable by the naked eye, including our Moon and the Sun. It has been also questioned if seven days of the week are related to the lunar cycle which takes approximately 29,5 days and when it is divided with four you get almost seven. Nonetheless, seven-day week predates biblical references and it was used by Babylonian who in turn inherited their calendar from Sumerians who created it over 4000 years ago. All this can be connected to first attempts of man to explain the world, capture and calculate time, to a time when he or she was carving the days of lunation into a bone over 30 000 years ago.
Now we have the premises for digging deeper to the meanings of weekday names, first we start with a day hated by many, including that orange cat. The ancient Greeks called days of the week Theon hemerai (days of the gods), in different cultures god/goddesses associated with the Moon have influenced the names used for Monday. This day of the Moon is called monandæg in Old English, mánadagr in Old Norse, mānetag in Old High German, dies Lunae in Latin, hêméra Selếnês in Ancient Greek. Some of the deities connected to this day are Máni from Norse mythology (easily seen connection to old North European languages), Selene and Luna of Greco-Roman mythology and Chandra who is the god of Moon in Hinduism thus the Sanskrit name of Monday is Chandravāra.
Next we move further away in our solar system to a red dot called Mars, the color of this planet has probably been source of imagination when it was associated with blood and war. Tuesday was called tiwesdæg in Old English, tysdagr in Old Norse and Zîestag in Old High German. All these names are connected to god of war in Norse and German mythology known as Týr, Ziu, Tiw or Teiws. In Roman tradition this day was also dedicated for the god of war Mars, hence the Latin name dies Martis. Languages related to Latin have very similar names Mardi in French, martes in Spanish, martedì in Italian. This is the case in every day of the week other than Sunday. In Ancient Greek it is called hêméra Áreôs and Ares was of course, god of war. This pattern reaches all the way to Japan where Tuesday is also connected to Mars, name of the day is 火曜日(ka youbi) and meaning could be translated as fire day.
Wednesday is linked to Mercury but in this case description of the deity combined to this day varies between Northern and Southern Europe. The name in Old English is Wodnesdæg (Woden´s day), Wôdanstag in Old High German, this was replaced to its modern German name Mittwoch in the tenth century, Oðinsdagr in Old Norse and Onsdag in modern Swedish. Deity in question is known as Woden, Wōđanaz or Odin and he was major deity in Anglo-Saxon, German and Norse mythology. Wōđanaz was seen as a manifestation of ecstasy, associated with mantic states, fury, and poetic inspiration, he was a shape shifter, healer, god of magicians, war, victory and leader of the Wild Hunt (ancient folk myth of phantasmal, spectral group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting, horses, hounds, etc., in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it). Odin possessed similar role in Norse mythology. Wednesday in Latin is dies Mercurii and in Ancient Greek hêméra Hérmou. The Roman mythology is basically copied from Greece mythology; therefore, Mercury and Hermes have similar roles. They were both messengers of the gods and gods of commerce, they were protectors of thieves, travellers and worked also as psychopomp (guides for deceased souls to afterlife). Some similarities I found between these gods are the wings depicted in the helmets.
Oak tree, Jupiter, bull, lightning and thunder, eagle and sky are all connected to Thursday. This day in turn is dedicated to main gods of ancient Greek and Rome, Zeus and Jupiter. These Kings of the Gods were gods of thunder and sky, Latin name for this day is dies Jovis and Ancient Greek version is hêméra Diós. Symbols of these gods were thunderbolt, eagle (this was also main symbol of Roman army and it has been used by various armies after that), sacred tree of these gods was oak and bulls were sacrificed in honor of these gods. Northern counterpart of these gods comes from Proto-Indo-European religion and he had various names;Þórr, Þunor, Donar, Þunraz, Thor (later in history the rune letter Þ was changed to digraph th ). In Old English Þurresdæg, Old Norse Þorsdagr, Old High German Donarestag and in modern Swedish torsdag. Thor was the poster boy of the gods and one of the most famous gods of Northern Europe. He was protector of mankind and god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, healing and fertility. Donar´s Oak, also known as Jove´s Oak or Thor´s Oak, was a sacred tree of Germanic pagans located somewhere in Hesse region of modern Germany. When Christianity was forced on German pagans, Donar´s Oak was chopped down by Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface during the 8th century. This was neither the first nor the last time when Christianity was spread with an axe and destroyed the cultures and societies of technologically less advanced groups of people. This battle of –isms still continues today in the minds of people. On another link to Japanese language, where names of the week are named after elements of nature, Thursday´s representative element is wood or tree.
Friday is a good day to be in love as The Cure sings and the acronym TGIF should be translated as Thank Goddess It´s Friday. This is a day dedicated to Venus and goddesses of love and beauty. I have been focusing mostly on Indo-European languages since they are spoken by almost three billion people and by looking at the map (Finland would be grey if Swedish wasn’t an official language), you can see these dominate the world also geographically. This is “thanks to” 500 years of colonization by Western countries and their cultural domination over less advanced people, in a way this is natural selection of cultures and -isms.
In Old English it´s frigedæg, frîjatag in Old High German, frijadagr in Old Norse, fredag in modern Swedish. These names arise from two goddesses that might have a similar origin, Frigg and Freyja. At least the English name comes from Frigg, she is the wife of Odin and presented as a mother character, goddess of married women. She is told to have the power of prophecy but she did not reveal what she knew, as many women might still do today. Freyja was linked to love, beauty, fertility and gold but also to war and death (as many other gods, which comes to no surprise looking at human history). Interestingly her chariot was driven by two cats. The names of both these goddesses stem from a title meaning lady which can be seen in modern German word Frau. Latin name of Friday is dies Veneris and in Ancient Greek hêméra Aphrodítês in honor of Venus and Aphrodite. Venus was a Roman goddess of sexual love and beauty, beauty, prosperity, fertility and victory. Festivals of Venus were held in April (aperire ”to open”) as a reference to springtime blossoming of plants and they included drinking wine in her honor which most likely led to sex. Aphrodite had similar role as goddess of pleasure and procreation. She was born when Cronus sliced off the balls of Uranus, during another coup d’état of Greek mythology, and threw them into sea, from the sea foam (aphros) arose Aphrodite. To sum this day up, Friday is surely is a day of sexy and beautiful ladies, full of love.
The theme of Saturday is bathing, the planet Saturn and a Jewish resting day. Subject of bathing is related to an ancient Nordic custom of bathing on Saturday, Old Norse name for this day is laugardagr literally meaning bath day, in modern Swedish it´s called lördag. Shabbat is day of cessation and seventh day of Jewish week. The Greek version of it, sambaton, has influenced many languages including Old High German sambaztag, in modern Spanish sábado and in modern French samedi. However there is another form of Saturday in Old High German sunnûnâband which literally means sun eve. Old English version is Sæternesdæg, day of the planet Saturn, derives from Latin equivalent dies Saturni. In Ancient Greek it was called hêméra Krónou, thus one can conclude the names of the gods Saturn and Cronus. Saturday was named no later than the 2nd century for the planet Saturn and Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture, wealth, liberation and time, usually portrayed with a scythe. When he had ruled it was said be a Golden Age abundance and peace, a social egalitarianism prevailed, no labor was needed, this mythical age was reflected and celebrated in honor of Saturn during Saturnalia (and its Greek counterpart Kronia) held December 17th and later expanded festivities until December 23th. This included private gift-giving, nonstop partying, carnival atmosphere, overturn of social norms (slaves were served by their masters), legalization of gambling, free speech (even for slaves), wearing of pilleus (a hat worn by slaves after their liberation), outrageous overeating and drunkenness was the rule and sober people the exception. It´s a shame this most famous Roman festival has not been passed on to our day, I would like to take part in this hedonistic carnival if I could travel back in time. Later the Catholic Church moved Christmas to 25th of December which was the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus or “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun”, one of many pagan festivities celebrated around winter solace, it was suppressed by the Church together with Saturnalia.
Still few words about Cronus before we move on to the Sun. That deity sure was power-hungry, he was the leader of the Titans (divine descendants of Gaia and Uranus, Earth and sky), as mentioned before he overthrew father by castrating him with a scythe. If that was not enough, after Cronus heard from Gaia and Uranus that he would be instead dethroned by his sons, he devoured his children as soon as they were born to stop this prophecy. His sister and wife Rhea hide one of the children named Zeus and he managed to give emetic substance to Cronus which made vomit out the siblings of Zeus and this way Zeus became king of the Olympus hill.
It´s is obvious that Sunday is a day dedicated to the Sun. This might not be the case is other modern European languages such as Spanish domingo, Italian domenica, or French dimanche which could be translated as Lord´s Day, this Orwellian attempt (again) by the Catholic Church to change or destroy the words originating from the Latin word dies Solis thus cutting of the pagan ties. Ancient Greek word for this day is hêméra Hêlíou, as the Romans worshipped Sol Invivtus (Invincible Sun), the ancient Greek had Helios who was the personification of the Sun. He was usually portrayed as handsome young man with shinning aureole (radiance of luminous cloud enveloping the whole body, smaller disk around the head is called a halo, in paintings or statues of sacred personages), driving the chariot of Sun across the sky.
Sun worship is a universal phenomenon, found in various cultures across the globe. There was already a concept in Neolithic period of the Sun traversing the sky in a boat, this story was later depicted in Ancient Egyptian myths of Ra or Horus. In Proto-Indo-European religion this boat had changed to a chariot. Mesopotamian solar deity was Shamash in Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons, he was also connected to justice, Sumerians version of this god was Utu. On the other side of the world Incas were praying to their sun god Inti. It was not uncommon for kings, emperors or leaders of a tribe to claim divine heritage and announce that he/she, and only that person, is a direct descent of this god.
In Old English this day is Sunnandæg, in Old Norse sunnundagr, in Old High German Sunnûntag. In many mythologies the Moon and Sun are described as siblings, latter as feminine and former as masculine character, also visualized together. This is the case likewise in Norse mythology where Sól (Old Norse Sun) is the sister of Máni. This might consequently be the reason that these days are following each other. It´s not hard to imagine the significance of the Sun for these agricultural civilizations which venerated the radiant power of our lovely gas ball. In a way it´s the most logical religion if there is such a thing.
Quote from my travelling journals when I was visiting Kanyakumari, the end of India.
“This morning I woke up 5.30 to see the amazing sunrise. The sky changed colors from pink to orange and finally to yellow. The sun “rose” from the sea as a huge red balloon. I was not the only one watching this nature’s spectacle. The hotel´s roof was full of sun worshippers as was the shore. I was thinking about the ancient Egyptians, again, worshipping the sun god like many other religions. It is not so stupid idea after all we are made of stardust and the Sun is the provider of all life on Earth.”
It took me more than seven days to create this text and study the abundant mythologies connected to these days, I wanted to write about this for a long time and now I can rest happily after I was able to pull this information together in manageable size. One fascinating thing that stands out is the correlation of planets associated with days around the globe. Slavic languages (i.e. Russian), Arabic and others have weekday names after numbers (firs day, second day etc.), but other non-Indo-European languages in East Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Koran, Tibetan) celestial objects are linked to same day as in Europe and India. This might reflect the trade and historical connections between these countries or it could be stemming from shared consciousness of humans when they were migrating from Africa. Arrow of time is always flying forward and recording this increase of entropy or measure of disorder, was a vital survival skill for early humans first in hunting and gathering, later in sowing and reaping harvest of the year. Paradoxically measuring disorder from movement of planets brought order to the life of these people.
Whatever was the case, connection to the Cosmos is clear and you can imagine a group of people sitting next to bonfire at night, tens of thousands of years ago, gazing up to the stars, wondering what they are and coming up with these wonderful stories. I hope that mankind would rediscover this cosmic connection and reflect their place in this vast Universe more often, optimally this would reduce these insignificant quarrels we have over limited resources and instead we would focus on reaching those planets and stars we once thought to be gods.
Recap of weekdays: