by April Holloway, Ancient Origins
We speak the names of the gods on a daily basis and most people do not even realise it. Every day of the week, religious and non-religious people alike follow the old pagan tradition of giving thanks to the gods of old.
In ancient Mesopotamia, astrologers assigned each day of the week the name of a god. In a culture where days were consumed by religion, it is unsurprising that the days of the week were made in homage to the gods believed to rule the lives of mortals.
Many centuries later, the Romans, upon beginning to use the seven day week, adopted the names of the week to fit their own gods.
These were then adopted by Germanic people who also adjusted the names according to their gods. It is predominantly these Germanic and Norse gods that have lived on today in the days of the week, which are outlined below.
Sunday, as you may be able to guess, is the “Sun’s Day” – the name of a pagan Roman holiday. In many folklore traditions, Sunday was believed to be a lucky day for babies born. Many societies have worshiped the sun and sun-gods. Perhaps the most famous is the Egyptian Sun-god Ra, who was the lord of time.
Monday comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘monandaeg’ which is the “Moon’s Day”. On this day people gave homage to the goddess of the moon. It was believed by ancients that there were three Mondays during the year that were considered to be unlucky: first Monday in April, second in August and last in December.
Tuesday is the first to be named after a Germanic god – Tiu (or Twia) – a god of war and the sky and associated with the Norse god Tyr, who was a defender god in Viking mythology.
Tiu is associated with Mars. He is usually shown with only one hand. In the most famous myth about Týr he placed his hand between the jaws of the wolf Fenrir as a mark of good faith while the other gods, pretending to play, bound the wolf. When Fenrir realised he had been tricked he bit off Tyr’s hand.
Wednesday means “Woden’s Day” (in Norse, ‘Odin’), the Old Norse’s equivalent to Mercury, who was the messenger to the gods and the Roman god of commerce, travel and science.
He was considered the chief god and leader of the wild hunt in Anglo-Saxon mythology, but the name directly translated means “violently insane headship” – not exactly the name of a loving and kind god! Woden was the ruler of Asgard, the hoe of the gods, and is able to shift and change into different forms.
Thursday was “Thor’s Day”, named after the Norse god of thunder and lightning and is the Old Norse equivalent to Jupiter.
Thor is often depicted holding a giant hammer and during the 10th and 11th centuries when Christians tried to convert the Scandinavians, many wore emblems of Thor’s hammer as a symbol of defiance against the new religion.
Friday is associated with Freya, the wife of Woden and the Norse goddess of love, marriage and fertility, who is equivalent to Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Lastly, Saturday derives from “Saturn’s Day”, a Roman god associated with wealth, plenty and time. It is the only English week-day still associated with a Roman god, Saturn. The Hebrews called Saturday the “Sabbath”, meaning, day of rest. The Bible identifies Saturday as the last day of the week.
The seven-day week originates with in ancient Babylon prior to 600 BC, when time was marked with the lunar cycle, which experienced different seven-day cycles.
A millennium later, Emperor Constantine converted Rome to Christianity and standardised the seven-day week across the Empire. Rome may initially have acquired the seven-day week from the mystical beliefs of Babylonian astrologers.
But it was the biblical story of creation, God making the Heavens and Earth and resting on the seventh day that will have led the first Christian emperor of Rome to make sure it endured to this day.
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