Ancient Gods in Weekday Names

In many Western languages the days of the week are still named after ancient gods we seldom think about anymore, even though some of them have been the source of major Hollywood blockbusters recently. Think about Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in English. Three days in a row, referring to one powerful family of gods:

 

Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Renée Russo as Frigga in Thor, 2011 and Thor: The Dark World, 2013

 

Wednesday is Woden’s day, from one of the names of Odin, the most important Scandinavian divinity, god of victory and death.

Thursday is Thor’s day, from the name of Odin’s son, the god of thunder Thor, who is the equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter.

Friday is the day of Frigga, Odin’s wife and goddess of love, the equivalent of the Roman goddess Venus.

What about the rest of the week?

Tuesday is the day of Tiwaz, also called Tyr, who is the Scandinavian god of war equivalent to the Roman god Mars, and Saturday is the day of Saturn, the Roman god of Agriculture.

Tyr is the least-known of them all now, but he is famous in Scandinavian mythology for sacrificing his right hand to Fenrir, the wolf that threatens to destroy other gods, in order to tie it down with a magic ribbon:

 

Illustration from Icelandic manuscript NKS 1867 4to, 1760, Royal Danish Library

 

As for Monday and Sunday, their names do not refer to gods, but to the moon and the sun, which have always been as important as gods, and in some cultures worshipped as such.

Ultimately, the seven days of the week refer to the seven moving objects visible in the sky to the Ancients, that is to say the sun and the moon, and the five classical planets — Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn — each of which was named after a god from ancient mythology.

All these religious figures may have faded away, but their stories remain as a major part of Western cultures. We still refer to them every day of the week.

3 responses

  1. I’d heard of Woden and Thor’s Day, but hadn’t realized Friday was Frigga’s day. So why did we end up with this set of gods for our days of the week with so many gods out there? Who voted for Thor over Mars?

    • I’d say geography and cultural affinities voted for Thor.

      Most of the Germanic languages spoken in northern Europe, including English, name weekdays after the gods prominent in Germanic cultures, which have a strong Scandinavian component, while the Romance languages spoken in southern Europe name them after the gods from the Greek / Roman pantheon, using their Latin names.

      They mainly refer to the same fundamental principles, as the Greek / Roman gods have more or less equivalent figures in Scandinavian mythology. Thor’s day, for example, is Jupiter’s day in the Romance languages, from the supreme god of the Roman pantheon, associated with thunder and lightning, the equivalent of Zeus in Greece. Same goes for the other weekdays.

      Only the weekend is different, with Romance languages referring to the Judaic Sabbath in the word for Saturday (from Latin Sabati Dies, as in Spanish “sabado”) and to the Christian “Day of the Lord” in the word for Sunday (from Latin Dominicus Dies, as in Spanish “domingo”).

  2. Pingback: Everyday Symbols from Alchemy « the westologist

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