TW Viewpoint | Who Named the Days of the Week?

May 17, 2017 | Jonathan Riley

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What day is it today? You have a choice of seven days of the week to name, but who named the days of the week?

The most common form of time keeping is the Gregorian calendar. First introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory the 13th, the calendar has been widely adopted around the world to benefit global trade. Yet this calendar is only one of as many as forty calendars used today.

In other parts of the world you may come across the Buddhist Calendar, or the Coptic Calendar, the Hindu, the Hebrew or Islamic calendars all of which pertain to particular religious events and may involve different methods of time keeping. For the most part calendars cannot be separated from their religious origin. The Gregorian calendar is no different.

Originally based on the Julian calendar, which was in turn based on the Roman calendar, which again in turn was supposedly based on one of the Classical Greek Hellenic calendars, of which there were many, the Gregorian calendar uses planetary names for each day of the week. The origin of the planetary names is based on the gods of Greco-Roman mythology. The English names of the week that we are most familiar with are derived from these same pagan gods but differ in name due to a process called Interpretatio Germanica. According to John Lindow in his book "Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs," (p. 202): "...the Germanic peoples who undertook the translation seem to have relied on the Roman gods whose names the planets bore and to have tried to equate those gods with their own. In the cases of [Sunday and Monday the translation was obvious]. The other cases however were more difficult."

Sunday in Latin, dies Solis or Sol, is probably the most obvious-it is literally the day of the Sun. Sol Invictus was the Roman sun god, the same pagan deity that is worshipped at Christmas.

Monday in Latin, dies Lunae or Luna, again is not too difficult to determine-it is the day of the Moon. Luna is a Roman goddess and was seen as the female companion of Sol.

Tuesday in Latin, dies Martis or Mars, is a bit harder to explain.

The name Tuesday is derived from an old English word Tiwesdaeg or Tiw's day. Tiw was the Norse god of war but in Latin the name of the god of war is Mars. So, the day of the week as well as the month of March and the red planet in our solar system are all named after the Roman god of war.

Wednesday in Latin, dies Mercurii or Mercury, again is not so straight forward. The name Wednesday is derived from an old English word Wodnesdaeg or Woden's Day. Woden is one of the many different names and pronunciations for Odin, a Norse god, although some archeologists have thought that Odin may well have been a historical figure. Tacitus, a 1st century AD Roman historian, identified the Germanic worship of Odin to the Roman worship of Mercury. Mercury was seen to be cunning and changeable, hence the word 'mercurial' and Odin was viewed in a similar way.

Thursday in Latin, dies Lovis or Jupiter is derived from another old English name for Thor's Day. Thor is the more well-known Norse god of thunder and Jupiter is the Roman god of the sky and thunder.

Friday in Latin, dies Veneris or Venus comes from the old English word Frigedaeg or Frige Day. Frige is a Norse goddess and wife of Odin. The etymology of her name appears to mean dear, beloved and one that is free. In comparison, Venus is the goddess of love, which would explain the association.

Finally, the last day of the week is Saturday or in Latin, dies Saturni or Saturn. Saturn was the Roman harvest god and other linguistic roots point towards the Germanic deity, Saetere, who was a harvester of people.

It is interesting to note that in many of the Romance Languages this day is actually named after its religious origin-Sabado or in Hebrew Shabbat, known in English as the Sabbath day.

In his book History of the Anglo-Saxons (p.51), Sir Francis Palgrave records an important observation on the naming of the days of the week.

"Others have erred, not so much by denying the Almighty, as by bestowing his attributes upon his creatures, to whom they have rendered the worship due to the Creator. The sun going forth in his course, the moon walking in brightness, and the starry host of heaven, have all received the honour appertaining only to the power by whom they were framed."

In the words of this author, the naming of the days of the week are steeped in idolatry. Our western culture and the religious practices that are observed by the majority, largely take root in pagan idolatry and the question we hope you will ask yourself is, are you ok with that?

I am Jonathan Riley for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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