Would an observant student of history, considering the names of our weekdays, be justified in believing that we worship the sun, moon, and stars?
By George Carter
On Woden’s day (Wednesday, January 1) the Western world advanced with much fanfare, fireworks, frolic, and hope—or quiet resignation as the case might be—into the year 2014. But who was Woden, you may ask? We use the names of weekdays almost without thinking, but what do they mean?
Most people will readily recognize that Sunday means sun’s day, and that Monday is simply moon’s day, and they may suspect—quite correctly—that it goes back to worship of the sun and moon by polytheistic people of times past. In Roman times, sun worship was shown by using a halo to represent the sun behind or over a worshipper’s head, symbolic of Helios the sun god. Worship of the sky gods went back at least to ancient Egypt. When God took Israel out of slavery there, He warned them against worshipping the sun, moon, and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19). But they continually went back to such false worship. For instance, about nine centuries later, King Josiah had to command that objects used in the worship of Baal, Asherah, and the sun, moon, and stars be removed and destroyed (2 Kings 23: 4-5).
Vestiges of those ancient practices are still with us today. We still name some of our days after the sun, moon, and planets. The first day of the week is Sunday, and the second day is still “Moonday” in English-speaking countries, just as it was “dies Lunae” for the Romans. In English, we prefer not to use the Latin “Luna” for Monday since we associate that word with “lunatic” and “lunacy”. The Italian, French, and Spanish people still use it as Lunedi, Lundi, and Lunes, respectively.
We also have named some of our weekdays after pagan deities of antiquity. Tuesday derives its name from the Teutonic god of war, which was Tiw in the Old English language. As with other days of the week, it ultimately has roots in the names of Greek and Roman gods. Plutarch said that the Greeks named the days after the planets and what they , Sun, Moon, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronus. The Romans retained that order, but changed the names to their Latin equivalents as Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jove, Venus, and Saturn. The same gods had different names in different languages and since Tuesday would have been “dies Martis” (Mars’ day) to the Romans, it took on the Old English name of the god of war, which was Tiw, hence Tuesday.
Wednesday was Mercury’s day according to the Romans. He was the god of the wild hunt, and of travel, science, and cunning. The Anglo-Saxons called him Woden, which is the same as the Scandinavian Odin. The Dutch likewise chose Woden and named the day Wodensday—much the same as our Wednesday. German folks gave way to a more practical bent and called it Mittwoch—midweek—that is exactly right, but then they go back to the gods for the rest of the week.
Thor was clearly the god of Thursday, “dies Jovis” or Jupiter’s day for the Romans, but he was the mighty Thor in Scandinavian mythology, standing with hammer in hand, and among other things he was the god of thunder. So, in the Norse languages it is Torsdag, but the Germans and Dutch were more impressed with the thunder, as in Donnerstag and Dondertag. In fact, Thursday used to be Thunresdaeg in Old English for the same reason.
The Norse goddess Frig (or Freya) provided the name for Friday. She was the Teutonic goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. She was Odin’s wife and leader of the Valkyries, the maidens who in legend hovered over the battlefields ready to take slain warriors to Valhalla, their idea of heaven. Freya is just another name for the Roman Venus (the Greek Aphrodite) and so for them, it was “dies Veneris.” Venus and Aphrodite correspond to Isis, Ishtar, and Astarte from whom we get Easter and the associated rabbits and eggs symbolic of fertility. According to Alexander Hislop’s “The Two Babylons”, many names of these goddesses originated almost unbelievably from one person in the old Babylonian mysteries which circulated worldwide after the dispersion from Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Suffice it to say that she became one of the most influential women in all history after her death.
The true God of the universe finally enters the picture
The seventh day was called “dies Saturni” by the Romans: Saturn’s day. That translates from the name of the Greek god Cronus—the god of agriculture who was said to have ruled Earth during the age of happiness and virtue. This then became Saturdaeg to the Anglo-Saxons, and Saturday to modern English-speaking people. However, the seventh day was the Sabbath according to the Bible, and the only named day of the week noted in the Old or New Testaments (Exodus 20:8–11). The Sabbath as a day to worship God is remembered as such in over a hundred languages today. Most Bible-based churches have erroneously substituted Sunday for the Sabbath. To this day, Italians still call the seventh day Sabato. Sunday is clearly not the biblical Sabbath Day; Saturday is the seventh day of the week and, therefore, must be the Sabbath.
Incidentally, there is no other logical reason for a seven-day week in all man’s recorded history or writings beyond God’s original command that it should be so: there were simply six days for work followed by the day of rest. Halton Webster, in his book Rest Days, says that early Christians at first adopted the Jewish numbered weekdays, but by the end of the third century began to use the planetary system named after pagan gods.
Various attempts to change the names and/or numbers of days of the week (and the months in a year) have been made in the past and perhaps others will be made in the future. Ancient Israel would tend to follow the ungodly pagan practice of the nations around them. At times Israel would name their children after pagan gods or use their names to swear by, as a form of honoring those pagan gods (Joshua 23:7). That will most certainly change when Jesus Christ returns to lead mankind.