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Pagan Gods and the naming of the days

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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 10 th and 11 th 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.

By April Holloway

Related Links

Why are there seven days in a week?

Why We Have a Seven Day Week and the Origin of the Names of the Days of the Week

Comments

I think the author is talking about how the German names became used in the days of the week. It was an example of "Interpretatio Romana": the identification by the Romans of local deities as being the names by which the Roman gods were known in those parts. These became established (see, for example Caesar's Gallic Wars VI.17), and the Roman days of the week were then used "translated" by the Germans. The Anglo-Saxons brought these day names to Britain, where they remain as part of the English language.

The process of "Intepretatio" ranges from the strikingly similar (e.g. between the Greek and Roman pantheons, though of course the Romans became very influenced by Greek mythology) to the downright bizarre (as with some of the cases you noted). However, it becomes much more interesting when you consider the shared Indo-European religious roots of these deities: the connection is deeper than a co-incidental similarity.

TLDR: blame the Romans.

Tyr is not "associated" with Mars, Odin is not "equivalent" to Mercury, Freya is not Frigg, and neither are "equivalent" to Venus.

These deities are not all the same. One mother goddess is not the same individual as every other mother goddess, any more than one human mother is the same person as every other human mother. Sharing one aspect of life or personality does not mean that two unique individuals are "equivalent" to one another.

Instead of trying to equate two deities that may have never had contact with one another, or who might not even get along if they did, you might try saying that "Deity X (who you might not be familiar with) shares A, B, and C, similarities with Deity Y (who you are probably more familiar with)"

Hearing that all deities of love, or war, or the hunt, or motherhood, or the moon, or the sun, etc. are the same deity, or "equivalent" grows really tiresome, and frankly, most polytheists find it offensive.

Old Norse – Modern English

Sunnudagr -- Sunday

Mánadagr -- Monday

Tysdagr -- Tuesday

Óðinsdagr -- Wednesday

Þórsdagr -- Thursday

Frjádagr -- Friday

laugardagr -- Saturday

From the Gylfaginning

Sunnudagr -- Sunday and Mánadagr -- Monday

“A certain man was named Mundilfari, who had two children; they were so fair and comely that he called his son Moon, and his daughter Sun, and wedded her to the man called Glenr. But the gods were incensed at that insolence, and took the brother and sister, and set them up in the heavens; they caused Sun to drive those horses that drew the chariot of the sun, which the gods had fashioned, for the world's illumination, from that glowing stuff which flew out of Múspellheim. Those horses are called thus: Early-Wake and All-Strong; and under the shoulders of the horses the gods set two wind-bags to cool them, but in some records that is called 'iron-coolness.' Moon steers the course of the moon, and determines its waxing and waning.”

Tysdagr -- Tuesday

“Yet remains that one of the Æsir who is called Týr: he is most daring, and best in stoutness of heart, and he has much authority over victory in battle; it is good for men of valor to invoke him. It is a proverb, that he is Týr-valiant, who surpasses other men and does not waver. He is wise, so that it is also said, that he that is wisest is Týr-prudent. This is one token of his daring: when the Æsir enticed Fenris-Wolf to take upon him the fetter Gleipnir, the wolf did not believe them, that they would loose him, until they laid Týr's hand into his mouth as a pledge. But when the Æsir would not loose him, then he bit off the hand at the place now called 'the wolf's joint;' and Týr is one-handed, and is not called a reconciler of men.”

Óðinsdagr -- Wednesday

“Odin is highest and eldest of the Æsir: he rules all things, and mighty as are the other gods, they all serve him as children obey a father. Frigg is his wife, and she knows all the fates of men, though she speaks no prophecy,--as is said here, when Odin himself spake with him of the Æsir whom men call Loki: Thou art mad now, Loki, and reft of mind,--Why, Loki, leav'st thou not off? Frigg, methinks, is wise in all fates, Though herself say them not! Odin is called Allfather because he is father of all the gods. He is also called Father of the Slain, because all those that fall in battle are the sons of his adopt on; for them he appoints Valhall[4] and Vingólf,[5] and they are then called Champions. He is also called God of the Hanged, God of Gods, God of Cargoes; and he has also been named in many more ways, after he had come to King Geirrödr.”

Þórsdagr -- Thursday

“Thor is the foremost of them, he that is called Thor of the Æsir, or Öku-Thor; he is strongest of all the gods and men. He has his realm in the place called Thrúdvangar, and his hall is called Bilskirnir;[2] in that hall are five hundred rooms and forty. That is the greatest house that men know of; It is thus said in Grímnismál: Five hundred floors and more than forty, So reckon I Bilskirnir with bending ways; Of those houses that I know of hall-roofed, My son's I know the most. Thor has two he-goats, that are called Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Gritter, and a chariot wherein he drives, and the he-goats draw the chariot; therefore is he called Öku-Thor.[3] He has also three things of great price: one is the hammer Mjöllnir, which the Rime-Giants and the Hill-Giants know, when it is raised on high; and that is no wonder, it has bruised many a skull among their fathers or their kinsmen. He has a second costly thing, best of all: the girdle of might; and when he clasps it about him, then the godlike strength within him is increased by half. Yet a third thing he has, in which there is much virtue: his iron gloves; he cannot do without them when he uses his hammer-shaft. But no one is so wise that he can tell all his mighty works; yet I can tell thee so much tidings of him that the hours would be spent before all that I know were told."

Frjádagr -- Friday

"Frigg is the foremost: she has that estate which is called Fensalir, and it is most glorious.”

laugardagr (sunnunótt) -- Saturday

“Most inexplicable among the Old Norse day-names is laugardagr. This can really only mean something like ‘bath’s day’, especially considering the synonymous term Þváttdagr, despite the heroic efforts of some scholars to demonstrate otherwise. Perhaps the name owes its origin partially to confusion over how to adopt the Latin term dies Saturni. This term’s connection to the pagan god Saturn would probably have been clear to classically-educated Anglo-Saxon clergymen, but probably meant little to the perhaps less well-read Germanic tribesmen of earlier centuries, as they were apparently unable to find an appropriate Germanic deity-name that they could attach to it.” Scandinavian Days: Old or New, Carl Edlund Anderson

Njordr is Freyja's father, not her husband. Her husband is Odr. You're correct about Freyja and Frigga not being the same.

No, Njord was her father. Freya was married to someone named "Od" ...

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