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Friday, 10 February 2012

Days of the Week

Every school-child knows that our names for the days of the week derive from the old Anglo-Saxon Gods : thus Tuesday is Tiw's Day, Wednesday is Woden's Day, Thursday is Ðunor's Day and Friday is Friga's day.
They are right but only superficially right. The real truth is much more interesting. 
(Old-English) (Old Norse)
(Proto-Germanic) (Proto-Indo-European)

It is not known if the Bronze-Age and Iron-Age Germanic inhabitants of Northern Europe had names for the days of the week. It is thought that the seven-day week originated with the ancient Babylonians, who divided the lunar month into four. They then named each day after the sun, the moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye. These were named after the Babylonian gods: Sin, Nabû, Ishtar, Shamash, Nergal, Marduk and Ninurta. (It is likely that the Babylonians borrowed this system for the Sumerians!) The Greeks then gave the system their own spin, thus: 
Selene, Hermes, Aphrodite, Helios, Ares, Zeus and Kronos, thus Selene's Day (Monday) became Hemera Selenes etc.
The Romans again translated these to their Latin equivalents : Luna, Mercurius, Venus, Sôl, Mars, Iuppiter and Saturnus, thus giving us the familiar Latin names: dies solis (Sunday), dies lunae (Monday), dies Martis (Tuesday), dies Mercurii (Wednesday), dies Jovis (Thursday), dies Veneris (Friday), and dies Saturni (Saturday). To this day, Romance languages;  French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, tend to follow these Latin names. 
The Germanic folk, however, did not. They recognised the utility of naming the days of the week but re-named them with the names of their own Gods, which did not exactly match the Roman ones; thus the link between the days of the week and the planets was lost. 
This process of identifying Roman gods with the names of Germanic deities.has been called 'interpretatio germanica'. This may have occurred as early as the 1st century CE when both cultures came into closer contact.
Thus  :
The day of Mars was translated as the day of TiwZiuTyr (Tuesday).
The day of Mercury was translated as the day of WodenWodanOdin (Wednesday).
The day of Jupiter was translated as the day of Ðunor/Donar / Ðor (Thursday), (though Thor is generally identified in interpretatio romana as Hercules.)
The day of Venus was translated as the day of Frige/Frija/ Frigg. (Friday)

It is generally considered that the names for the other days : Sunday, Monday and Saturday, are direct transliterations.

Sunday takes its name from the Sun deity. This word is basically the same in the Northern European languages with Nordic/Germanic roots. Old English this is Sunna(n)dæg and in Old Norse Sunnudagr (from Proto Germanic sunnon-dagaz "day of the sun"). (It was called Dróttinsdagr by Icelandic Christians) Unlike in the Middle East, where the sun can be harsh and the Sun-deity is male, the Germanic folk thought of the sun as female. She drove the sun-chariot across the sky by day and then travelled under the earth to emerge from a cave in the east the next morning. The Norse Sól was the twin brother of the Moon God Máni.They were said to be the offspring of Mundilfæri, whom some equate with the Germanic fire-god, Logþor

Trondholm Sun-Chariot: Late Nordic Bronze-Age artefact from Denmark

Monday similarly derives from the Moon God and again the names are very similar across Northern Europe. In Old English this is Mon(an)dæg and in Old Norse Mánadagr (from the Proto-Germanic méniniz-dagaz “day of the moon”) Máni pilots the moon disc described as a chariot when full and a ship when a crescent. 

Tuesday is named for Tiw the War-God, called Týr by the Norse. In Old English this is Tiwesdæg and in Old Norse TýsdagrHe would appear to be an ancient sky god, for his Proto-Germanic name Tîwaz cognate with Zeus and the Proto-Indo-European deywos. was the god of single combat, heroism and Law. In the Icelandic Rune Poem it says :
Týr er einhendr áss “Tyr is a one-handed god
ok ulfs leifar leavings of the wolf
ok hofa hilmir. prince of temples.”

The gods tried to shackle the wolf Fenrir but the monster broke the iron chains easily. They thus obtained a magical chain from the dwarves. This looked so weak in comparison that the wolf, suspecting trickery, refused to be bound unless one of the gods put his hand in the his mouth as a pledge. Tyr did so. The other gods bound the wolf and despite his efforts he was unable to free himself and will remain bound until the end of the world. However, Fenrir bit off Tyr's hand in the process hence Tyr is shown as one-handed in Norse mythology.  

Wednesday is named for Wóden, the principal god of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, called Óðinn in Old Norse. The best attempt at his Proto-Germanic name is Wóðinaz but oceans of ink have been spilled arguing its derivation and meaning. In Old English Woden's day is Wódnesdæg /  Wódenesdæg. In Old Norse this is Óðinsdagr
Woden is an extremely complex god; god of war, intelligence, magic and poetry. He was also, in a very real way, god of the dead, in that he was the 'psychopompos' who conducted the recently deceased to the afterworld. This was principally why he was equated with Mercury rather than Jupiter. To the Scandinavian mind, Óðinn was the god of the high-born jarl rather than the ordinary warrior, who was more likely to have a hammer-amulet hanging round his neck.
Hammer Amulet from Skåne, Sweden

Thursday is named for Ðunor, the red-bearded, hammer-throwing God of Thunder. He is better known by his Norse epithet; Þórr. The name means 'thunder' and derives from the Proto-Germanic Þunraz.  In Old English Thunor's Day is Thursdæg. Old Norse this is Þórsdagr. These derive from the Proto-Germanic Þonares dagaz.

Friday is named for the Goddess Fríge. This name derives from ancient Proto-Indo-European prih-y(a)h, being cognate with priya (beloved one) in Sanskrit. However, the situation is complicated by the goddess also having another name in Old English as well as Old Saxon : Freo, meaning 'noble lady'. Later Scandinavian mythology separated these two aspects; lover and queen, into separate goddesses; Freyja and Frigg. Frigg is the Queen of the Gods and devoted wife of Óðinn while Freyja is the sex-goddess and witch. It is ironic that the Queen of the Gods is called 'the Darling' while the witch-whore is called 'Noble Lady'.
The English while aware of these two aspects of the Great Goddess did not split her in two but linked her with the Roman goddess Venus rather than the more matronly Juno.
In Old English, Frige's Day is Frigedæg. This is formed either from Frige (genitive singular of Freo) + dæg "day" (most likely) or formed from Frig + dæg "day" (least likely). The Old Norse equivalent is Freyjudagr (Freyja's Day) rather than Frjædagr (Frigg's Day).

Saturday is, superficially at least, named for Saturnus, the Roman god of agriculture. The most interesting attribute of Saturn was the festival associated with him, the Saturnalia, the seven-day period around the time of the Roman midwinter festival (17th December) when gifts were given and normal roles were reversed, so that masters served their slaves.
It is puzzling that this day alone retained its Roman name. The Anglo-Saxon name for the day was Sæterdæg. Now Sætere is recorded (by no less a personage than King Ælfred the Great) as meaning 'waylayer, robber, spy : seditious one and seducer (the devil). 
In Scandinavian countries, Saturday is called lördag, "lørdag," or laurdag, the name being derived from the old word laugr/laug (hence Old Norse name Laugardagr), meaning bath, thus Lördag equates to bath-day. This is said to be due to the Viking practice of bathing on Saturdays. However, in the later Middle Ages, folk bathed on Saturday evening in order to be clean to go to church the next day. In the pagan period, there would be no particular reason to bathe on a Saturday rather than any other day of the week.
In other words, something is being covered up here: it seems likely that the heathen Germanics would have named this day, like the rest, after one of their gods. Some scholars suspect that this day was named for the trickster god Loki. The Nordendorf Fibula inscription gives the name Logaþore to one of the gods, which one  might conflate with the Old English Logðer (“Cunning”). It is just possible, then, that the Proto-Germanic name for Saturday was Logaþores-dagaz and the Old English, Logðer(es)dæg. This is sufficiently similar to the Old Norse Laugardagr to set the mind wondering !

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