Time and Meaning Three–Tearing the Day to Shreds…

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

These are the days that rule our lives.

A careful observer will note a slight alteration of these descriptions from previous posts on Time and Meaning… and that’s because I discovered a lot of interesting stuff about the last day of the week, namely Saturday.

Today is not Saturday–it’s War-day, but I’ve been meaning to write this post since Free-Day, and I finally had a long enough block of time to get something substantial down. In any case, at first I thought there might not be all that much to go on for Saturday, but a bit of poking around found that beneath the simple surface of Saturn’s day, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on.

To begin, Saturday is quite obviously a contraction of Saturn’s day, and that result is only a bit surprising for English speakers in that it is the only day of the week that did not change from its Roman God into an equivalent Germanic Deity for a day name.  It is thought that the lack of this change may be because the early Germanic tribes lacked any particular counterpart to the Roman God Saturn. It is interesting, however, that only in English and Dutch does it appear that Saturn was retained as the name for this day.  In German speaking countries, the name of the day is Samstag (or Sonnabend) rather than something like “Saterstag.” Samstag comes from sambaztac, which was derived from a greek word that originated in the Hebrew word for Shabbat–i.e. it was the day for worship. “Sonnabend” was a northern and eastern German thing, and it has a clear derivation from “Sonntag Abend”==>evening before Sunday, which was a common way of designating days in Germanic countries–seeing that the old Germans reckoned days from the beginning of the night rather than from sunrise.

Interestingly enough, various places in Germany did similar types of things for other day names–often on religious grounds–as they tried to wipe out the pagan gods.  Intstead of Wotanstag==>Wednesday==>Odin’s day, Germans currently have “Mittwoch”==Mid-week.  In addition, there were places in Germany that called Tuesday “Aftermontag”==>After Monday, in an attempt to remove the various pagan gods from that day, but which is really comical if you know German well, because the word “After” no longer has the meaning of “after”==>”subsequently” that it does in English, but instead is the technical term used for “Anus,” as it is sort of the “last part” of the body…

In any case, in English, we retained Saturn as the basis for this day, and it is worth doing a bit of poking around to figure out just who this Saturn figure was.  Again, it is probably not surprising that there is a correspondence between the Roman Saturn and a Greek figure, Cronus, and that this correspondence is not always perfect in terms of meanings and understandings.

The Roman god Saturn was the god of agriculture, of dance, of Justice, of the harvest, and of strength.  He often held a sickle as well as a bundle of wheat.  He was also viewed rather positively, for the most part, in that he was linked to a past “golden age” when he reigned with peace and prosperity.  The winter solstice festival of “saturnalia” was linked to ideas about this prior golden age and it was a time of carnival and much feasting.

All of this would not be particularly interesting except for the fact that Greek ideas about the equivalent character of “Cronus” are very different.  While it is true that Saturn and Cronus’s stories were often linked and clearly associated with each other–for example, Saturn was the father of Jupiter just as Cronus was the father of Zeus–Cronus was not generally viewed as a very positive figure in Greek mythology.  He was a Titan and he devoured all of his children and it was only through trickery in the Greek stories that Zeus was able to overthrow him and bring about the reign of the Olympians.

In any case, by delving a bit deeper into the complex and ambiguous linkages here between Saturn and Cronus, a lot of interesting elements start to appear.

1. Saturn and Cronus have the same origin story.  Both were the child of Mother Earth and Father Sky.  In Greece, they were Gaia and Uranus, while in Rome, they were Terra and Caelus.  In both of these stories, Uranus/Caelus & Gaia/Terra tended to have monstrous children that Uranus/Caelus didn’t approve of, so he banished them and/or imprisoned them, thus angering Gaia/Terra.  (One might contemplate Joseph Campbell a bit here and think about how this all relates to Indo-European male Sky gods coming to conquer the existent earth-goddesses, just as the nomadic Indo-European herding tribes conquered the existent/settled agriculturalists…)  Gaia then conspired to set her children free and only Saturn/Cronus was willing to help, and he eventually attacked his father with his sickle, and either castrated him–giving rise to this wonderful story–or cut him into many different shreds..

2. At this point, it is also not unhelpful to point out that there is some conflation and confusion in the Greek system about just who Cronus was.  In particular, there appears to have been another supernatural Greek character named Chronos, who emerged from primordial chaos and supposedly was the embodiment of time itself.  At least, that is what some are arguing.  It is unclear to me that there really were two separate entities, because most early mythological characters are often so ill-defined and ambiguous that they often not only had multiple names, but they come with a variety of different shades of meaning and are the composite of many different storytellers and stories.  Thus, while the aforementioned article posits that Chronos was the personification of time, whereas Cronus was merely the Titan of Time, it’s not necessarily clear that these are anything more than two different avatars/analogues of the same basic anthropomorphism of the fundamental aspect of reality known as time.

In any case, what is clear is that this entity was clearly associated with the wandering star that we call by the Latin name of Saturn, and which the Greeks had named Khronos.  Timewise, his planet had the longest recurring cycle–about 30 years–and therefore it was not surprising that it became the “keeper of time.”

3. As is my habit, I have also delved a bit more into the etymology of the name Cronus itself, for that is often much more telling about our fundamental understandings of reality than people realize.  Interestingly, it seems like the most recent research links Cronus to a basic indo-european root *(s)ker-, which means “to cut.” This root is found in all kinds of words.  Most obviously for English speakers, it is the root of the word “shears,” but is also the basis for the word “short” and for the word “curt” (cutting someone short).  It is also, most interestingly, (in an extended form “-kerp”=to cut, gather, pluck) the root for the word, “Harvest,” which came from haerv (to cut/pluck) fest (feast). This might seem unclear, but Indo-European “k” became an “h” in early Proto-Germanic, and that’s how you get the root “h*r” from indo-european “ker” as well as “sh*r” from “sker.”  (One can note here that “curt” came into English by means of Latin, and thus the “k” was not transformed.  Additionally, while we have “curt” in English to refer mainly to how someone is acting or speaking, the same word was borrowed in German early on and became “kurz” which became the general term for “short” with reference to temporal situations.)

In any case, it is also not that surprising, in hindsight, that the term “Harvest” would be related to “cutting,” seeing that the main function of the harvest is to cut the grain and fruit from the earth and collect it.  It is, however, interesting, to find that the root word for the name of “Father time” is also the root word for “harvest” and that there has long been a clear link between the physical harvest of food and the progression of time as seen in the fundamental tool of the Scythe/Sickle that appears in both instances.

4. Here it also serves to elaborate a bit more on how intimately intertwined the concepts of  “cutting” is with the concept of “time” in Indo-European language, culture and mythology.  Specifically, however, the myth of Cronus cutting “the sky” (his father Uranus or Caelus for Saturn) seems to have a number of analogues in Indo-European mythologies (although its origins seem to come from other groups, such as the Hurrians) and it also seems to be associated directly with the ability of time to occur and progress.  For example, the Hittites (Indo-Europeans) had a number of texts about the Hurrians, who had a story about how the sky god Anu is castrated by his son Kumarbi (actually Kumarbi bit off his genitals!).  Later stories appear in which the “sickle” that had been used “to separate the heavens and the earth” is employed in other battles.  Similar such stories also appear in Vedic (Indian) mythologies involving Indra.

This connection between “to cut” and “to make/create” also seems to be found embedded in Indo-European languages–specifically Indo-Iranian–where the reflex of the “*-ker” root is “-kar,” which means “to make, create.” (In other words, “to cut itself”==> to make, create…)  This “-kar” root is found in the more familiar word of “karma.”

5. At this point it might be helpful to actually think about the word “time” itself and to see how it connects to these other concepts.  Within the Germanic languages, time is connected to “cutting,” but it also binds in much that is of a more cyclical nature.  Specifically, the word “time” comes from a Proto-Indo-European root,  *di-mon-, that itself came “from the base *da- ‘to cut up, divide.‘”

In German, however, the word for “time” is Zeit, which is etymologically related to our word “tide” and which comes from a Proto-Germanic root *tidiz that meant “division of time.” These terms for the complex and changing phenomenon of time are interesting in how people chose to understand and apply them.  “Tide”–in English–originally meant just “time” or a “definite point in time,”–and originally came from a root that meant “cut/division” (in the day)–but “tide” came to be associated with a natural process that could be used to divide up the day, but which also had an inherently fluid and repetitive quality.  This association with the ocean for the word “tide” became ever more present in the use of the word as it spread to further meanings like “to tide”==> to flow to and fro/to carry like the tide, and “to tide over”==> To get over, to survive/ride out a hard situation.
Other meanings of tide, however, have more of the original meaning of “timely,” like in the words “tidy”==>methodical, neat, clearly divided, or “tiding”==> The announcement of an event (a period of time).

Fascinatingly, the root *-da (to cut/divide)–and the basis of time and tide–shows up in a number of interesting places and words.  It is, for example, at the root of Greek “Demos”==> people/folk, which obviously is part of our words Democracy and Demagogue.  In this context, the root meant something on the order of “district” or “division” of society.  This demarcation was also created with reference and in contrast to “hieratic,” which meant to be of the priesthood/sacred and which is also obviously related to the word hierarchy==>sacred ruler.

A second important offspring of this root is the word “Demon,” which came from Latin–where it meant evil ghost or devil–but which originally came from Greek “Daimon”, where it meant something more on the order of “supernatural/godly power, might, fate.”  In this sense, the Daimon was the distributor of one’s fate.

Thus again, with the etymology of the word time itself, we come back to the concepts of cutting, fate, and supernatural powers.  One might also be reminded here of the Greek Fates, who cut the threads of life at the appointed time.

In the end, all of this leads me back to a Peter Gabriel lyric in his song, Rhythm of the Heat. This Song is supposedly about the experiences in Africa of C. G. Jung (disciple of Freud early on and the creator of Psychological types that form the rough basis of the MBTI system that I refer to here and here and here amongst other places…).

Within the song, there is a place where there is a kind of anti-modern revolt. The lyrics state:
Smash the radio
No outside voices here
Smash the watch
Cannot tear the day to shreds
Smash the camera
Cannot steal away the spirits
The rhythm is around me
The rhythm has control
The rhythm is inside me
The rhythm has my soul

What interests me is that, after all of this discussion of Saturn/Cronus, it seems pretty clear that the Indo-European conception of time is, QUITE LITERALLY, about tearing the day to shreds

Time exists for us as a way to cut up the sky, to create an opening for the sun and the moon and stars and other heavenly phenomenon to pass through and create the cycles of life that we depend on.  Time, early people realized quite quickly, is important because without a way to measure it, we could not know when to gather the crops or bring in the herds that became more and more essential for our survival.

On the other hand, it is fascinating to me also how the “problem of time” seems to crop up in various places–such as Zeno’s paradoxes–in that time is directly and fundamentally involved in the idea of change.  Change, as we perceive it, cannot happen without time.

This may seem obvious, but it also becomes very, very weird, when you start thinking about the issue of origins and beginnings, especially with regard to fundamental things like the material universe.  Trying to comprehend “what” exactly reality is before the material universe existed–before there was anything to cut up or divide into distinct and different segments–is problematic for a lot of people and may be something that our meat just isn’t cut out for..

And with that, I wish you good tidings and urge you to enjoy your cut of reality and to contemplate just how you slice up your daily routine….


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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3 Responses to Time and Meaning Three–Tearing the Day to Shreds…

  1. Pingback: Information, Filters, and Power | The Philosophy of NOM

  2. Pingback: Time and Meaning Four: Thunder and the Personification of the Sky | The Philosophy of NOM

  3. Pingback: Time and Meaning Five–The Poetry and Ambivalence of Mind | The Philosophy of NOM

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