Weekly Gods (The Myths Behind the Days of the Week)

Arkane Curiosities

The passage of weeks shape our lives in so many ways. But the story of how we settled on seven days and the names of the days dates back thousands of years. 

Why Seven Days?

The Babylonians had remarkably good astronomical knowledge. In addition to the sun and the moon, they knew about the five closest planets. Add those up and you get seven celestial bodies — one for each day of the week. 

Seven days also matched the cycles of the moon — the time it took to transition from one phase to the next. 

The names for the days of the week corresponded with different Babylonian gods, each associated with a planet. 

  • Sun: Shamash
  • Moon: Sin
  • Mars: Nergal
  • Mercury: Nabu
  • Jupiter: Marduk
  • Venus: Ishtar
  • Saturn: Ninurta

The Greek Gods Take Over the Week

As the Greek civilization grew to dominate the Mediterranean, they were influenced by the Babylonians. They, too, named two days after the sun and the moon, calling them day of the Sun (Hemera Helio) and day of the moon (Hemera Selenes). Hemera was the goddess who personified the day.

All the other days of the week were named for Greek gods, instead of the visible planets. 

  • Tuesday became hemera Areos after Ares, the merciless god of war 
  • Wednesday was named hemera Hermu for Hermes, the messenger for the gods
  • Thursday was hemera Dios or Zeus’ day, the king of the gods and the lord of sky and thunder
  • Friday was named hemera Aphrodites after Aphrodite, goddess of love
  • Saturday became hemera Khronu from Kronos, the lord of the Titans, and Zeus’s father

The Romans Rename Everything

The Romans were famous for taking what someone else had done and slapping their own name on it. They simply took the Greek gods and replaced them with the Latin name.

  • Tuesday became dies Martis (after Mars)
  • Wednesday became dies Mercurii (after Mercury)
  • Thursday became dies Jovis (after Jove, also called Jupiter)
  • Friday became dies Veneris (after Venus)
  • Saturday became dies Saturni (after Saturn). This was also a winter festival called Saturnalia, where enslaved people traded places with their masters for a few festive days

The Romans continued to honor the sun and the moon, making “dies Solis” (for Sunday) and “dies Lunae” (for Monday).

Same Days Different Gods

The folks living across the Rhine River had continual contact with the Romans and adopted many of their customs. When the Roman Empire collapsed, Germanic tribes spread out over Europe. They kept the same days of the week, simply swapping out their own Norse gods for the Roman counterparts. 

Sunday
In German, this started as sunnon-dagaz “day of the sun”. The Norse mythology called the Sun Sunna. As it migrated into English, it became Soneday.

Monday
The Germanic tribes preserved this as a moon day. The “mon” in Monday represents the Moon.

Tuesday
This day was named after the Norse god Tyr, a god of warriors and combat (the closest to the Roman Mars). Tyr’s name was sometimes spelled Tiw, giving us Tiwesday.

Wednesday
The Germanic tribes associated their chief god, Odin, with the messenger god Mercury (both traveled to earth to deliver wisdom). If it seems a strange leap from Odin to Wednesday, we need to understand he was also called Woden, giving us Wodnesday.

Thursday
Just as the Romans and Greeks honored the king of the gods, the German tribes did the same, but with Thor rather than Zeus. There were two names to this day. We have the literal thunresdæg for “thunder’s day” or thorsdagr for “Thor’s day”.

Friday
This marks the biggest shift from the Greek/Roman system and what we know in English. Instead of the goddess of love, they opted for Odin’s wife Frigg (or Freda). The day was known as frigedæg and later simply fridai.

Saturday
The Germanic tribes didn’t assign a god to this day of the week. Instead, they kept the Roman name of Saturni, shifting to sæterdæg and later saterday.

Every time you mark a date on your calendar, you’re actually honoring ancient gods and goddesses that go back thousands of years. 

Tim Kane

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Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Gods (The Morrígan)

Arkane Curiosities

The character of Jane exploded into public awareness with airing of DC’s Doom Patrol. Dubbed “Crazy Jane” (and played by the excellent Diane Guerrero), she is one of the alters of Kay Challis, a girl who developed dissociative identity disorder following physical and sexual abuse by her father.

Doom Patrol (both the comic and streaming series) does an excellent job of explaining and normalizing the mental disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder). Jane herself has no powers to add to the team of misfit heroes. But some of her alters do. When not fronting (or controlling the host body) Jane descends to the Underground with 63 other alters. 

Just as there are ancient gods to symbolized various elements of the natural world, so too do we see dissociative identity disorder crop up in a few prominent deities. To start, let’s look at The Morrígan.

The Morrígan

As a Celtic goddess, the Morrígan translates from old Irish as “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen.” She is often dubbed a trinity goddess, but this is a modern pagan view of what, in reality, is quite a bit more complex. True, the Morrígan does have three aspects, but they don’t align to the Maiden, Mother and Crone. 

The triple aspect of the Morrígan are depicted as sisters and also referred to as “The Daughters of Ernmas” (an Irish mother goddess famous for having triplet children). The first two aspects of the Morrígan consistently remain Macha (a death goddess) and Badb (a war goddess). The third aspect varies with different tales, shifting between Némain, Féa, or Anu. The organization The Order of the Crows recognizes Némain as the third aspect and the Morrígan as the constituent whole.

Badb

Némain is also recognized as a war goddess, but separate from Badb. Whereas Badb stirs up panic and fear on the battlefield, Némain embodies with frenzied havoc of war. This alone shows the subtle nature of different alters within a host. Both Némain and Badb represent war, but bring different attributes to the battle. 

The Irish noted how black birds and crows shrieked and cawed around the bodies left in the aftermath of war. As scavengers, they fed upon human carnage. Badb was known as the “Battle Crow”, representing the death and carnage of battle. In Ireland, if one were to see a crow before the battle had begun, it foretold death and disaster. This was Badb preparing to feast. 

Badb is the most well known of the three aspects of the Morrígan and may very well be the core personality. 

Némain

Her sister, Némain, can unleash a cry of terror and brings panic like an infection. The site Living Liminally, quotes Windisch, “Nemain brought intoxication upon the army there, falling in their armor and on the points of their spears and sword-edges, so a hundred warriors of them die in the midst of the encampment and at the side of that place a time of terror the cry carried from on high.”

Macha

Macha, symbolized by fiery red hair, represents death. However, she is not feared in the way other harbingers of the afterlife tended to be. The Celts saw death as a natural element of life. Macha was a welcome goddess and an omen for what is to come.

One story involved Macha marrying a mortal, Cruinnic. She warns her husband not to tell a soul of her true identity, but Cruinnic is weak-willed and runs his mouth at a chariot race, bragging that his divine wife can outrun the king’s horses. 

The King of Ulster got wind of this and summoned Macha, demanding that she race the royal horses. At the time, she was pregnant and pleaded to postpone the competition until after she’d given birth. The king was adamant and the bizarre race, a pregnant woman versus the royal horses, commenced. 

Macha outpaced the horses, but as she crossed the finish line, she wailed in pain, giving  birth to a boy (True) and a girl (Modest). In her pain and anger, she cursed the men of Ulster nine times nine generations so in times of the worst peril, they should suffer the pain of childbirth. This shows that Macha can be vengeful when disrespected. 

Ancient stories rarely talk of these personalities trading off with each other. Rather, they simply list them together, calling them sisters, and listing their names together when describing the heat of battle. 

In us mortals, dissociative identity disorder is associated with trauma. No such explanation has been recorded for the Morrígan (Macha’s birth at the race not withstanding). However, it was natural for deities like the Morrígan to bee seen as multiple aspects of the same goddess, each one emerging when needed.

In the next installment, we’ll look at Dionysus and his massive swings in emotion.

Tim Kane