Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Origins of the Days of the Week...

The days of the week. Everyone is familiar with the seven day names, as we use them constantly for various reasons. They help us to schedule our lives, as we use them (among other methods) to help chart the passage of time.

("Thor", Chris Hemsworth)
Lately, I have learned that what I deemed to be pretty common knowledge, doesn’t appear to be that common at all. I, like most computer users, spend my fair share of time on Facebook. Most days (when I think of it) I will post well wishes for the day…”Have a great day”; “Happy <insert day name here>”, etc. A month or so ago, I started referencing the day name origins in my posts. These references started on a Thursday, or “Thor’s Day” to use the traditional name as influenced by the Anglo-Saxons pulling from the Norse Mythos. I posted “Happy Thor’s Day”, and uploaded a picture of Chris Hemsworth as ‘Thor’ (from the Marvel films). I’m a fan, so I figured why not? Just me sharing a chuckle with myself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that several of my friends were unfamiliar with the history of the day names. They just thought I was making a clever play on words. I was a bit surprised at first. As I said before, I thought this was common knowledge, but it appeared to be a case of me assuming that everyone knew the origins because I knew them.

The naming of the seven days of the week goes back to the ancient Romans. As with the majority of the days we celebrate, the day names have pagan origins. Originally the days were named for planets in the Latin language (ex: dies Saturni = Saturn Day = Saturday). Well, actually (if you want to get technical) they were named after a star, a satellite, and five planets. Their order was based on their presumed distance from the earth.
  • Saturday:   dies Saturni     Planet:   Saturn
  • Sunday:   dies Solis     Planet:   Sol  (Sun)
  • Monday:   dies Lunae     Planet:   Luna  (Moon)
  • Tuesday:   dies Martis     Planet:   Mars
  • Wednesday:   dies Mercurii     Planet:   Mercury
  • Thursday:   dies Iovis     Planet:   Jove (Jupiter)
  • Friday:   dies Veneris     Planet:   Venus
The names we use today are from the Germanic Calendar. It’s basically the Roman calendar with the Old English/Norse mythos of Anglo Saxon times being used instead (practice of 'Interpretatio Germanica'). Well, all except for Saturday…Saturn is the only holdover from the original calendar. What follows is a list of the days with the bulk of the historical breakdowns being based on the Norse based names. I have also included a little background on the Norse gods associated with each day. In a few of the background descriptions, I reference the Poetic and Prose Edda's. These are collections of Old Norse poems and prose that still survive. They are seen as the two primary source materials on the Norse Mythos.

(Note: All of the collages in this post were pieced together by me with items I found online. The collages are of my making, but the original elements are not.)

“Sun’s Day”
“Day of the Sun”

Old English:  sunnandaeg   
Old Norse god:  Sol (Sunna), Goddess of the Sun 
Ancient Roman:  dies Solis   
God:  Sol Invictus, Sun God


The sun personified, she was sister to the personified moon, Mani. Wife to Glenr (the one who drives the horses of the sun across the sky), she gave birth to a daughter who would carry on for her in the heavens after her death (I couldn't find anything regarding the daughters identity). A death foretold in both the Poetic and Prose Edda’s. It is foretold that she would be killed during the events of Ragnorak, by a huge wolf.

(Goddess Luna)

“Moon’s Day”
“Day of the Moon”

Old English:  monandaeg     
Old Norse god:  Mani, God of the Moon

Ancient Roman:  dies lunae     
God:  Luna, Goddess of the Moon    


The moon personified, he was brother to Sol, the personified sun. There is mention in the Prose Edda that Mani was followed through the heavens by two children, Hjuki and Bil.

(God Tyr)

“Tyr’s Day”
“Tiw’s Day”

Old English:  tiwesdaeg     
Old Norse god:  Tyr

Ancient Roman:  dies lunae     
God:  Mars, God of War


Known as the Norse God of War & Courage, and said to be son to Odin the All-father. Tyr was believed by some to be the precursor to Odin. That belief states that he stepped aside during the time of the Vikings to make way for Odin, who assumed the position of god of War.  Tyr was most recognized for the story of how he lost his right hand. A story found in the Poetic Edda. 

According to the Edda, a time came when the gods decided to put shackles on the Fenris wolf, Fenrir (known as the king of wolves). Fenrir broke through every chain he was bound with. The gods then turned to the dwarves, asking them to craft a magical ribbon that the wolf couldn’t destroy. The result was the ribbon Gleipner, crafted from the beard of a woman, bear’s sinews, the sound of a cat’s footfall, roots of a mountain, fish’s breath, and bird’s spittle. (The crafting of Gleipner is said to be the reason that none of those things now exist.)

Fenrir suspected the gods were up to something. He would allow them to bind him with the ribbon under one condition. One of them would have to put their hand in his mouth. Courageously, Tyr agreed, placing his hand in the wolf’s mouth. Fenrir was bound, and was unable to break free from the ribbon.  All the gods rejoiced…except for Tyr, as his hand had been bitten off. Tyr was then known as “Leavings of the Wolf”, which is meant as an honorable title.

(Odin All-Father)

“Odin’s Day”
“Woden’s Day”

Old English:  wodnesdaeg     
Old Norse God:  Odin

Ancient Roman:  dies mercurii     
God:  Mercury, Messenger of the Gods


The most important god of Norse mythology, Odin is a member of the Aesir, the major pantheon of the two Norse pantheons (the other being the Vanir). He is associated with a laundry list of things, some of which are war, victory, death, magic, wisdom, and prophecy. He is written about extensively in both the Prose and Poetic Eddas. Odin rules over Asgard, the city/land of the gods. It is also the site of Valhalla (the hall of the slain), where he receives the souls of those who have died in battle. Wielding his spear, Gungnir, Odin never misses his target. He has several animal (magical) companions: the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, the best of all horses; his two ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory), who fly the world by day, and report back to Odin by night; his two wolves, Geri and Freki (both meaning “the greedy” or “ravenous one”) – Odin would give all of his food to the wolves, and he would only drink wine and mead.

(Yggdrasil & the 9 Realms)
To gain his vast wisdom, Odin sacrificed an eye at the Mimir’s Well, located beneath the world tree Yggdrasil. He approached the master of the well, Mimir, wishing to be granted but one drink from the well so he, too, could partake of the vast wisdom and intelligence of the ages. Odin was granted the drink, but not until he pledged one of his eyes…which he did.

With his wife Frigg, Odin fathered many son’s. The best known son is Thor (however, Frigg is not his mother). There is quite a lot about Odin that I won’t be mentioning here, as I am simplifying things a bit for the sake of the post. His background and exploits are quite complex, and all interesting. If you find these tidbits interesting, I recommend you Google more of the tales of Odin, et al.


“Thor’s Day”

Old English:  thursdaeg, thunresdaeg
Old Norse God:  Thor

Ancient Roman:  dies jovis
God:  Jupiter, King of the Gods


Thor, one of the better known Norse gods, was also known as “the Thunderer”, as he was the god of thunder. Thor was also associated with lightning, strength, oak trees, healing, and being the protector of mankind. He was the most popular of the sons of Odin All-Father, and his mother was the personified earth, Fjorgyn. Throughout the history of Germanic civilizations, Thor features prominently. He even surpassed Odin in popularity. Married to the fertility goddess, Sif, he fathered several gods with several different goddesses.

Thor possessed various magical items, most notably his powerful hammer, Mjolnir. When thrown, Mjolnir never missed the intended target, and it always returned to Thor, acting on his commands. He also wore the belt, Megingjoro, which doubled his already massive strength; and the iron gloves, Jarngreipr, which he required to handle Mjolnir (it is said that the dwarf working the bellows when Mjolnir was being forged, was bitten in the eye by a gadfly, which was thought to be the mischievous Loki in disguise-this resulted in the hammer handle being shortened). Thor could also throw lightning.

(Tanngnjostr & Tanngrisnir)
Thor drove a chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngnjostr (Tooth-gnasher) and Tanngrisnir (Tooth-grinder). During a thunderstorm, it was said that Thor was driving his chariot across the sky. He would get sustenance by eating the goats, and then resurrecting them.

("Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent"
Henry Fuseli  c. 1790)

Like Odin, there is a lot written about Thor and his many exploits. Probably one of the best known tales of Thor is the one about his battle with the giant sea serpent, Jormungandr. Also known as the Midgard (earth) Serpent, he was so big he could encircle the earth and grab his own tail…if he let go, the world would end. There are a few meetings between the arch-enemies, with their final meeting predicted to occur during Ragnarok. (Ragnarok is foretold to be a great battle where a number of the gods would die, the world would be struck by numerous natural disasters, and it would be covered by water. That would be followed by the world being reborn, as well as the old gods. The earth would be repopulated by the only two human survivors.) It is when Jormungandr leaves the ocean to poison the sky, that Thor kills him. The god of Thunder then walks nine paces before falling dead, poisoned by the serpent’s venom.


“Frigg’s Day”

Old English:  frigedaeg    
Old Norse God:  Frigg

Ancient Roman:  dies veneris    
God:  Venus


Frigg (which means ‘Beloved One’) was wife to Odin All-Father, and Queen of Asgard. She was the only other god permitted to sit on Odin's high seat, Hlidskjalf, and look out over the universe. She held the power of prophecy, but never divulged what she knew. Frigg was mother to god, Baldr, and stepmother to a number of gods. Her appearances in Norse mythology were primarily as a wife and mother. She was the patron of marriage and motherhood, goddess of fertility and love, and goddess of the sky (the air and the clouds). 

The star pattern known as Orion’s Belt was called “Frigg’s Spinning Wheel”. She enjoyed sitting at her wheel in the Palace "Fensalir" (Marsh Hall) in the realm Asgard, spinning golden thread and colored clouds. The Norse name for Venus was “Frigg’s Star”.


“Saturn’s Day”

Old English:  saeternesdaeg

Ancient Roman:  dies saturni    
God:  Saturn (Titan), God of the Harvest & Agriculture


Saturday is the only day of the week where the original Roman character is used. Saturn was the god of agriculture, and time. Saturnalia, the holiday that Christmas is attributed to, is in celebration of him. The Romans combined Saturn with the Greek Titan, Chronus, who in turn was associated with time, his devouring of his children seen as allegorical symbolism for the passing of generations.  

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