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.)
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. (Minutes and seconds were set in multiples of 602.)
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 Scriptures3.
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
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.)
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
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
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
Latin: dies mercurii - Mercury or Hermes, Messenger of the gods
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
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
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
Latin: dies saturni - Saturn, god of agriculture
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.
Although our days are named after gods, the names were not regularly capitalized until the 17th century. (Relating this boring fact will do you no favours during dinner conversation, unless your companions are drunk.)
Why does no word in the English language rhyme with month?
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 next 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 Christ-month or Jesus-month.)
- September: This name comes from the Latin septem, meaning 'seven'. Since March was the first month in the Roman calendar, September was the seventh.
- October: This name comes from the Latin octo, meaning 'eight'. Since March was the first month in the Roman calendar, October was the eighth. (Octopus – an 8-sided cat?) This 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 2nd October.
- November: This name comes from the Latin novem, meaning 'nine'. Since March was the first month in the Roman calendar, November was the ninth.
- December: This name comes from the Latin decem, meaning 'ten'. Since March was the first month in the Roman calendar, December was the tenth.
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 disciples. 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.