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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Did Dionysus Have Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Arkane Curiosities

Mortals aren’t the only ones who can manifest dissociative identity disorder — many deities from ancient times had multiple personas. People with dissociative identity disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder or incorrectly as “split personality”) have a system of individuals all working within a single host (or body).

The core is the original child and the first identity born to the host. Some view the core as the owner of the system and is often the part with the most power. There are multiple alters (or other personalities) that fulfill specific roles, such as Protector, Persecutor, and Memory Holder. A Gatekeeper often allows the different alters to front (or take control of the host).

Different deities from across the world’s pantheons have different aspects that front for various purposes. In Celtic mythology, there is the Morrígan, who has three aspects all related to war and death. In Hindu belief, the trimurti has three gods in one body each in charge of one aspect of creation.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these personality swapping gods is Dionysus — the Ancient Greek diety of wine, drunkenness, frenzy, suffering and madness. 

Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) is known for having a dual persona. He is a bringer of joy and merriment, but sometimes goes into a blinding rage to terrorize hapless victims. 

Twice Born

Dionysus was born twice. Zeus, always the player, seduced Semele, a princess of Thebes. His wife, Hera, was naturally not pleased and planned revenge. A mortal could not view a god in their true form. Thus Hera, in disguise, convinced Semele to make Zeus prove his godliness by revealing his true form. You can guess what happened… Semele made Zeus promise to do as she wished and then asked to see him in all his glory. Zeus was honorbound to comply and revealed his true form, blasting the pour mortal woman to ashes. However, the unborn Dionysus, being part god, survived. Zeus sewed the baby inside his thigh, allowing him to gestate until birth. Since Dionysus was born from a god (in this case, Zeus) he was granted immortality. This could qualify as the traumatic event that often ushers in dissociative identity disorder. 

God of Fun

Dionysus was portrayed as beautiful and joyful. He discovered the cultivation of vines and taught others how to ferment grapes into wine. His worship is often connected with the idea of partying and having a good time (under the influence of wine, of course). He was connected to such mythological creatures as satyrs and centaurs. Dionysus was depicted riding a panther or in a chariot pulled by pumas (way to make a grand entrance). 

Terror Frenzy

Some Greek cities attempted to ban the wild rites of the maenads (followers of Dionysus). The most notorious case came with King Pentheus of Thebes (written about by Euripides). The king attempted to imprison Dionysus, but the prison doors would not close and the shackles simply slipped off. 

Despite fearing this new worship, the king was also fascinated by it and wanted to learn more. His own mother, Agave, had been lured in by the rites of Dionysus. The wine god allowed Pentheus to observe the secret rituals firsthand, but only if the king disguised himself as a woman. Pentheus did as instructed and spied on the maenads from behind a tree. 

Dionysus had driven the women into a frenzy and they seized upon any small animal they could find, ripping it apart. Soon they discovered the king and, thinking he was a lion, the maenads tore him limb from limb. Even his mother, Agave, carried off his head thinking she had slain a lion. Thus the Thebans were punished for having resisted the rites of Dionysus. 

The terror-frenzy that Dionysus creates in his followers feels very much like the protector alter of the dissociative identity disorder. A Protector might lash out to defend the host from physical or other kinds of abuse. 

Dionysus remains a complex deity with many facets. He was beloved by the Greeks and went on many more adventures. Whether the Greek myths utilized him as a way to explain individuals with different personas remains to be seen. One thing is certain, if you upset Dionysus, you would suffer the consequences.

Consider the last lines of the Homeric Hymns to Dionysus

“And the Nymphs followed in his train with
him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry…”

Tim Kane

Let Horror Clense Your Soul

While traversing my masters in English, I stumbled onto a fact that clicked with me: The Greeks believed that Tragedy was cathartic for the soul. In other words, seeing other folks going through hell, releases the viewer’s personal demons.

This could explain our collective yearning to view horror films. Ghoulies and nasties abound. Even though my daughter is going through the typical fear of things going bump in the night, she still clings to her stuffed werewolf and Lego monsters.

The same cathartic release appears in bullrings. I witnessed a bullfight in south Spain twenty years ago (I was going through my Hemingway phase). Although it was brutal (and plenty bloody) there was this strange sense of unity with the crowd. Just before the killing blow, they all chanted and stomped to a rhythm. It seemed to hypnotize the bull.

Could the same thing have happened in Roman gladiatorial competitions? It’s well known that patricians like Julius Caesar put on many events to amuse plebeians (presumably so they wouldn’t riot). Yet, maybe it also sucked out their fears, letting the gladiators act them out.

One horrific sight I recently stumbled upon was a zombie-like behavior from the audience. Eating fresh liver was believed (by the Romans at least) to cure epilepsy. The liver had to come from a healthy specimen. What better than a gladiator? Consequently, when a gladiator fell, there was a mad dash to tear open his gut and gulp down the liver. Can you picture this? It’s like Romero movie, but for real.

Feeling a little stressed and weighted down? Maybe some adrenaline and screaming will help. Either hop on a roller coaster to slip in a horror disc. Either way, screaming may lead to peace of mind.

Tim Kane