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Days, Months and Seasons

A Brief History of Time Measurement

longcase
Longcase clock by Luke Smyth of Yoxford, England c. 1790

The doctor told me to run 10 kilometres a day to lose some weight.
After one week, I was 70 kilometres from home!

Ever wondered why there are seven days in a week?

Our calendar originates from a mixture of pagan1 and mythical beliefs, including:

It is convenient for followers of a religion to conform to society norms, even when there is no religious connection. For example, our way of measuring time (see hours, minutes and seconds) are based on an early Babylonian system, and our modern calendar is based on pagan practices and astrology.

But whether we are 'religious' or not, we do not think of the calendar as a pagan thing; it's merely a means to measure time, using things called 'days' and 'months'.2



Origins of our day names

The days of the week are based on Greek mythology. The original Greek and Roman naming has changed over the years to match the equivalent gods of north European mythology. (Similar names are used in other European languages, such as French, German, Italian and Spanish.)

the seven celestial bodies
The seven celestial bodies

the japanese view
Japan has a similar system - see Rokuyo

But first, let's go back to the Egyptian astronomers who identified seven celestial bodies: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. They believed these revolved in Heaven about the fixed earth and stars.

Having determined these bodies were pretty mysterious and therefore important, they had little to do other than amuse themselves by sitting on the banks of the Nile, look up at the sky (as Sherlock Holmes did), contemplating the concept of 'time'. They divided the daylight time into 12 hours; a Zodiacally convenient number which divides cleanly by 2, 3, 4 and 6. The night time was also divided by 12, but the length of day 'hours' and night 'hours' would differ according to the season.

(Today, most of us use the decimal (base 10) numeral system, which is easy to count using our fingers. But the ancient astronomers were more 'scientific' and used two numeral systems: duodecimal (base 12) and sexagesimal (base 60).3)

They named each hour after a particular celestial body:

1st hour: Saturn
2nd hour: Jupiter
3rd hour: Mars
4th hour: Sun
5th hour: Venus
6th hour: Mercury
7th hour: Moon

The 8th hour would recycle to the Saturn hour, as would the 15th and 22nd. Following this pattern, the 23rd hour would be Jupiter, the 24th Mars, and the 1st hour of the next day would be the Sun.

From this method, the first hour of each day was named after:

1st day: Saturn
2nd day: Sun
3rd day: Moon
4th day: Mars
5th day: Mercury
6th day: Jupiter
7th day: Venus

Each day was consecrated to the celestial body of its first hour, which has resulted not only in us having seven days a week, but also the names of those days.

The first day of a week was Saturn's day (Saturday), but on their flight from the Egyptians, the Jews changed this and made Saturday their Sabbath, the last day of the week. (Christians later moved observance of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as part of their theological and historical split from Judaism, even though they respect the Hebrew Scriptures4.

So following the Jewish day numbering system, with the last day of the week being Saturday, the first day of the week became:

  • Sunday: Day of the Sun

    the Sun
    A day without sunshine is like, err... night

    Latin: dies solis - Helios, god of the sun

    Saxon: sunnandaeg - god of the heat and light ball in the sky.

    Sun worship has always been popular and for obvious reasons - the sun gives us the warmth and light essential for survival. Some believe that the halo seen in Christian icons, the sun-shaped Eucharist wafer contained in the Catholic monstrance, and several other instances, look very much like pagan sun worshipping. (See also Sun Cross.)

    Sunbathing
    Modern sun worship

    Ancient Sun worship
    Ancient sun worship

    Flag of Argentina

    Hinomaru

    Flag of Namibia

    Flag of Uruguay

    The sun features in many national flags, most notably Argentina, Japan, Namibia and Uruguay. And like the Star Spangled Banner of the United States, national flags are often objects of worship.

  • Monday: Day of the Moon

    the moon

    Latin: dies lunae - Luna or Selene goddess of the moon

    Saxon: mona - god of the light ball in the night sky, and tide maker. (See also Moon Cross)

  • Tuesday: Day of Mars

    Mars

    Latin: dies martis - Mars or Aires, god of war

    Saxon: tiwesdaeg - etymologically related to Zeus (see Thursday). Tiw lived on a high mountain and guided warriors who worshipped him. If a warrior died in battle Tiw would come down to earth with his angels and take the dead warrior to heaven. (The French for Tuesday is Mardi, as in Mardi Gras.)

  • Wednesday: Woden's day

    Mercury

    Latin: dies mercurii - Mercury or Hermes, messenger of the gods. (Rather curious that mercury is liquid at room temperature, yet it's a large solid lump when orbiting close to the sun!)

    Saxon: Wodnesdaeg - Woden's day (King of the gods). Woden was the god who controlled all the other gods. His number-one mission was to gain all knowledge and wisdom. He visited all four corners of the world to gather information. Nothing could be hidden from him. In fact(!) he even wore out one of his eyes from seeing so much wisdom.

    To cover the rather messy dead eye, he wore a large floppy hat and compensated for his sightlessness with blackbird on each shoulder. These birds were his extra eyes and could fly off to spy on people, and then report back to Woden. In this way, Woden knew everything that was going on and people had to be very careful how they behaved in case Woden was watching. After all, as king of all gods, he could wreak havoc on dissenters in any way he chose. (See also Woden's Cross.)

    Let's rename Wednesday as Webday. The World Wide Web god controls all the other gods. Web's number-one mission is to gain all knowledge and wisdom. He visits all four corners of the world to gather data. Nothing can be hidden from him. In fact he even sacrificed face to face conversations to see the wisdom through virtual forums.

    To cover the rather messy bits and bytes, he wears a Macintosh and Windows, and bears Mozilla and Explorer on his shoulders. They are his eyes that spy on people, and then report back to Web. In this way, Web knows everything that is going on and people have to be very careful how they behave in case Web is watching. After all, as king of all gods, Web can wreak havoc on dissenters in any way he chooses.

    But don't worry - like Woden, the web has no supernatural power. The web is an idiot-savant who retains countless bits of information yet understands nothing.

  • Thursday: Thor's day

    Jupiter

    Thor's Hammer
    Thor's Hammer

    Latin: dies jovis - Jove or Zeus, god of thunder

    Saxon: thuresdaeg - Thor's day (god of thunder). Thunder was the sign that Thor was angrily throwing his large hammer across the sky.

    It's a good idea not to annoy this god. When he comes storming after sinners, the sparks of his chariot wheels create the lightening we see. (See also Thor's Cross.)

  • Friday: Fria's day

    Venus

    Latin: dies veneris - Venus or Aphrodite, goddess of love

    Saxon: frigedaeg - Freya's day (goddess of love). Frigg was a kind and beautiful Norse goddess and wife of Odin, the most powerful god. Their job was to oversee everything that happened in the world and Frigg's specialty was love and marriage. (Interestingly, 'frig' is a modern coarse euphemism for 'sex'.)

  • Saturday: Saturn's day

    Saturn

    Latin: dies saturni - Saturn, god of agriculture.

    Greek: Astronomical symbol ♄ represents a sickle.

    Saxon: Seterne's day (god of agriculture). People believed that the god named Saturn controlled the weather and hence the success or failure of crops. Sacrificing a farm animal to Saturni would increase the chances of pleasing the god, resulting in favourable weather and a good crop.

    Modern: We seem to have lost faith in Saturn providing us with a good crop and like all the other planets, generally treat them whimsically. All the mountains on Saturn's moon Titan are named after peaks in the Lord of the Rings.5

Although our days are named after gods, the names were not regularly capitalized until the 17th century.6

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Origins of our month names

No word in the English language rhymes with month, proving that there are lots of useless facts on he internet.

The word 'month' stems from 'moon', and 'calendar' stems from calare (to call out), just as the ancient priests did when they announced a new moon. The month names we use were chosen to celebrate Roman deities and emperors. (Similar names are used in other European languages, such as French, German, Italian and Spanish.)

  • January: Roman god Janus was the god of doorways, entrances, gateways, thresholds and beginnings, and therefore used for the opening of the New Year.
  • February: This used to be the last month of the Roman calendar. On 15th day of the month was a Pagan festival of purification called Februa and so this month came to be known as Februa's month. The day before that, and the day after (ides), was a holiday to honour Juno. The goddess Juno was the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses, and also the goddess of women and marriage. Was it coincidence that the nasty Emperor Claudius II arranged for a priest named Valentine to be clubbed to death and then beheaded on this day? See St. Valentine's Cross.
  • March: The Roman god Mars, god of war and guardian of the state. This was the first month of the ancient Roman calendar.
  • April: Considered a sacred Roman month for the goddess Venus. The name 'April' is probably from Apru, an Etruscan borrowing of Greek Aphrodite, a fertility goddess. Alternatively, it may stem from the Latin aperire (to open), as so many buds and blossoms open in this month (in the northern hemisphere).
  • May: This is from Maia a Roman goddess of earth, honour and reverence. She was wife of Vulcan, mother of Mercury by Jupiter and daughter of Atlas. It became a popular girl's name in English.
  • June: The chief goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter and queen of the heavens and gods. June became another popular name for girls, as did:
  • July: Named after the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC to deify and immortalize his name. Gaius Julius Caesar was born in this month, which was formerly Quintilis (fifth) month of the Roman calendar.
  • August: Named in 8 BC after Augustus Caesar, the adopted heir of Julius Caesar and the first Roman emperor (31 BC - 14 AD). A synonym for the adjective 'august' is 'venerable', and the emperor was known as the Venerable Caesar. Quite a contrast to the month's original name, 'Weodmonao', which means 'month of weeds'. Today's gardeners would agree with that.

The last four months are just based on a mundane numbering system. The year used to begin in March, so September through to December were months 7 to 10. A numbering system is still used in many cultures today for the whole year. Modern Japanese, for example, has 1-gatsu, 2-gatsu, 3-gatsu ... 12-gatsu. Similarly in Chinese: 1-yuè, 2-yuè, 3-yuè ... 12-yuè.

(Curiously, when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar system in 1582 and established the Gregorian calendar with January as the first month of the year, he did not rename any of these months. December, for example, could have been changed to acknowledge Advent or Christmas with Advenber or Chrisber.)

  • September: This name comes from the Latin septem, meaning 'seven'. (See The last four months.) September marks the start of the summer sales in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of the winter sales in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • October: This name comes from the Latin octo, meaning 'eight'. (Octopus – an 8-sided cat?) (See The last four months.) October is the month when people start thinking of Christmas and New Year parties. Amaze your friends by telling them the day of the week for Christmas Day and New Year's Day; these days are always the same weekday as 2 October.
  • November: This name comes from the Latin novem, meaning 'nine'. (See The last four months.)
  • December: This name comes from the Latin decem, meaning 'ten'. (See The last four months.)

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Origins of our season names

  • Winter: No mythical god ... just cold! The season of wind and white snow, hence the name 'winter'.
  • Spring: The time when new plants spring up after a harsh winter.
  • Summer: From Old Norse 'sumarsdag', the time for lots of sunshine.
  • Autumn: The time for reaping and harvesting the main crops of the year. The old English name for this season of 'harvest' was replaced by the Latin autumnus in the 16th century. Also known as 'fall' in America, as this is the time the temperature falls and leaves fall from the trees. (And you've probably noticed that already.)

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As mentioned earlier, these mythical and pagan ideas have absolutely no meaning to a monotheistic believer like a Christian. The Christian doesn't care one iota that his months are named after 12 mythical gods, when they could easily be named after the 12 Apostles. Neither does he care that the four seasons are agriculturally related and not consecrated to the four evangelists.

And that is very fortunate for the rest of the world.

Imagine the utter confusion if we all adopted different standards. As humans, we can see the sense and logic of accepting such things. Why then, cannot we accept other differences? Why, in this 21st century, do some Christians and Muslims fight? Why do some Protestants and Catholics fight? All we need is a tiny extension to the tolerance that we have so readily given for pagan objects of worship.


1: By 'pagan', we are taking the widest definition of anything that is not monotheistic
2: When we see on the church notice-board: 'Sunday Worship', it doesn't mean that people will gather on that day to worship the sun.

Church-goers do not put their faith or trust in the sun or any other pagan thing to gain favour of the gods. They do not worship the Christmas tree, and the Christmas tree is not necessary to celebrate Christmas. If someone believes a Christmas tree has some mystical power, it is the value that person has placed on it. The same goes for the Bible, the cross, and all the other items adopted by Christians that have a pagan origin.

3: There are a few theories about why the Egyptians used 60 (sexagesimal) as the base for their counting system. Here are a couple of the more popular:

Most of the world now uses the decimal system, ten being the number of our fingers and thumbs. Very handy.

We doubt the Egyptians had 60 fingers and thumbs, but nevertheless, it is likely they used their digits for counting. Each finger (not the thumb) has three bones. By using the tip of the right thumb, you can count by pointing to the each of the three bones of each of the four fingers of the right hand, totalling 12. Having counted up to 12, raise a finger on the left hand, then start counting again to 12 on the right hand. After raising all four fingers and the thumb of the left hand, you have reached 60 (3 x 4 x 5).

Alternatively, they might have counted the average resting heart beat at 60 pulses per minute, and 60 of those, times 24, took exactly one day. What patience!

We think the finger-joint counting method is the most likely.

See A 60-second guide to 60 minutes

4: Deut. 5:12-15
5: 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin (Faber & Faber £9.99)
6: Relating this prosaicism will do you no favours during dinner conversation, unless your companions are drunk.