Time and Meaning… of Light, War and Gods

The Sun
The Moon
Light, War, and Gods
Fury, Knowledge, and The Gallows
Sound, Thunder, Storms and Strength
Love, Freedom, and Friends
Time, Planting, and The Harvest

These are the days that rule our lives.

So let’s talk about these days and about the calendar in general and then get to meanings…

Our calendar is a pagan affair.  The Seven Day Week originated with the Babylonians and it had seven days for the seven persistent wanderers–planets–that the Babylonians observed moving against the background of the fixed set of stars.  These wanderers were the Sun and Moon (most obvious), but also Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Other planets that we now know about now were unable to be observed from earth back then..

In any case–besides this ancient decision to have seven days in a week (the ancient Roman Calendar had 8 days originally, and was gradually supplanted by the Seven day one…)–the names of most of the days in English are directly tied to a complex of interactions between different sets of pagan pantheons.

Looking at the meanings above, which underlie our standard English names for the days of the week, one can reflect, of course, upon the interesting background stories that come from such cross-cultural mediations and interactions.  Specifically, while the names for Sunday(Sun) and Monday(Moon) are consistent between the Roman/Greek world where they originated and the Germanic language world that we now inhabit, most of the rest of the days–which were tied to different planets/deities show interesting divergences in importance and meaning.

Tuesday, for example, comes from Tiwaz-daeg or Tyr’s day–and it came into existence as a day for the Germanic tribes as they matched up one of their deities–Tyr (The god of single combat, valor, and heroic glory)–with the Roman Mars (Tuesday=Mardi in French and Martedi in Italian) and to a lesser extent the Greek god Ares (The southern Germans–Bavarians in particular–used the word “Ertag” for Tuesday as they had been influenced by the Goths who had brought with them the Greek god names and “Ertag” was short for Ares-daeg ).

Now–the connections and conflicts between these deities are quite interesting and I will try to outline a few of them here:

1. The Roman god Mars was considered the second most important deity after Jupiter.  Originally, he appears to have been a god of cattle, fields, and boundaries and was a protector god.  This god was important for the early Romans, as they were all mostly farmers, but it became even more important after they became warriors and conquerors and so Mars became their god of war. The word “Martial”–as in martial or military law–comes directly from the name Mars.

2. Interestingly enough, after the Romans went and conquered places closer to and then including Greece, the Romans came to connect Mars with the Greek god Ares–but the two gods were very dissimilar in nature.  Whereas the Roman god was all business and an efficient and orderly fellow bent on conquest, the Greek god was really an asshole who was all about bloodlust and slaughter.  The equivalent Greek god to Mars would have been Athena–by temperament and nature–and she was more of a god of defensive and intelligent war–more like Mars. Of course, the Greeks and the Romans were misogynists par excellence, and so athena didn’t get a day named after her.

3. Comparatively, then, you have a linkage between gods in three different cultures.  On one end, you have Tyr–an extremely selfless god who sacrifices a hand to bind the Fenris wolf (who would eventually slay Wodin/Odin/Wotan)–who is connected to Mars by dint of war and order–who, himself, is then further connected to the bloodthirsty, vain, and violent Ares–again by war.

These connections are interesting not in what they tell us about the gods, but in what they tell us about early perceptions of warfare and combat.  For the early Germanic tribes, warfare was about honor and combat, and perhaps selflessness in a certain sense (but only a certain sense, since the Germanic tribes and then especially the later Vikings were also all about taking slaves…), which was not all that far off from a Roman conception of war as defense and order.  Between the Romans and the Greeks, however, you have two very different conceptions of war with the violent internecine warfare of the Greeks that brought weakness and ruin upon them (continual conquest and domination by outside forces including the Persians, Macedonians, and then the Romans) contrasted with the more orderly, consistent and successful use of warfare first as defense, but then as a means of imposing order and civilization upon the surrounding cultures by the Romans.

Interestingly enough, this Roman strategy of warfare was fairly successful in their local environment up until it tried to go deep into Germanic territory.  The best reasoning that I’ve seen for the failure of Rome to push (or, more sympathetically–their wise decision not to really bother going) further into Germanic speaking areas was that both the means and the ends of the Romans weren’t suited to these areas.  In particular, most of the areas that the Romans had great success in conquering and holding were filled with relatively decent sized villages/cities–at least at semi-regular intervals–and this was the kind of thing the Roman conception of war was good at conquering and imposing order on.

In a very real way, warfare for Rome was about order–and not only was it carried out in an orderly fashion and not only did it help to impose order on the areas around Rome (first local Latin tribes, then all of Italy, and then the Mediterranean, and then beyond..), but it also actually required a kind of orderliness to the areas that it was subjugating to be successful.   The Romans, it might be noted, also failed to go into the highlands in Britain, or into Ireland, or undeveloped Slavic lands.

Thus, it is interesting to see how these different conceptions of war–although tied together by personifications into mythological figures–also had direct material and historical relevance.

Moving along… what about the other meanings–namely “Light” and “Gods?  These are etymological connections that, in English (but not necessarily in other languages…), revolve around the actual components of Tuesday.

Again, Tuesday came from Tiwaz-daegDaeg–which obviously became “day”–is from an indo-european Root *dhegh- meaning “to burn.”  This referred to the part of the day where there was a burning thing around–namely the sun–and at first did not refer to the 24 hour period, but rather only the 12+/- hour period of light.

Tiwaz–from which Tyr also came–is from the root *dyeu, which, interestingly enough, is at the root of the Latin word for “day”–“dies” (the end part of Marte”di” ), but which also basically means “to shine.”  This root is also the foundation of the latin word “Deus,” which literally means “the shining one,” but also came to mean “god” and then “God” in the Christian era.

Thus, our Tiwaz-daeg is all about War, but it is tied, in the root of the word, to light, shining, and the supernatural.

One might reflect about how the Germanic tribes made this connection.  Tyr, unlike Mars and very unlike Ares, was about honor, glory, and single-combat–and it was about making a sacrifice for the group.  Such a conception does have a certain kind of “shine” to it, whereas imposing order and bloodlust rather less so.

Finally, one hint towards a later post–this same root–*dyeu–shows up again in other god/planet names, and specifically, it is at the root of Latin–Iupeter from Indo-European *dyeu-peter, which meant “Divine-Father”.    Thus, to the Romans, it was Jupiter who was the shining one… perhaps due to his connection to thunder and lightning… but more on this when that post escapes from my head, through my fingers, and into this blog..


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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6 Responses to Time and Meaning… of Light, War and Gods

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