Thursday, the Day of Thor

August 6, 2009 at 4:20 pm (7 Wonders of the Ancient World, Ancient Greece, Astronomy, Cartography, Christianity, Linguistics, Modern World, Mythology, Paganism, Scandinavia, The Ancient World) (, , , , , , )

Irrational Geographic is so often concerned with notions ancient and arcane that, in this novel entry, I’ve decided to take an opposite approach. Today is Thursday, the 6th of August. So as to remain as temporally present and as commonplace as possible, I have decided to make an inquiry into Thursday itself. One seventh of our shared existence is spent inside of this designated period of time, so its origins, both as an entity and as a word, are of undeniable interest.

calendar

An artistic representation of the months and seasons of the modern Gregorian calendar, here juxtaposed with the ancient Hebrew calendar.

Thursday is designated the fifth day of the week according to the Gregorian calendar, which is currently the Western standard for the temporal demarcation of the year (There are, of course, other calendrical systems currently in use, including the Jewish and Hindu calendars, and that of the Nigerian Igbo with their curious four-day week). This is only the case due to the fact that Sunday is widely designated as the week’s first day, an honor bestowed upon the day, named after the year-defining sun (from the Old English word Sunnendaeg, “Day of the sun”), by Judeo-Christian calendrical tradition. Some nations including The United Kingdom, on the other hand, still consider Sunday to be the week’s seventh day, making Thursday the fourth. The Chinese word for Thursday, in fact, means fourth. The ancient Greeks and Romans would have taken issue with this, however, each designating their equivalent of Sunday as the week’s first day, associating it with supreme divinity.

The legendary Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, depicted Helios, the Greek sun god, for whom the first day of the week was named.

The legendary Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, depicted Helios, the Greek sun god, for whom the first day of the week was named.

Despite the fact that Thursday sits on the opposite side of the week from Sunday, its namesake is certainly a source of great historical power and significance. Its moniker originates in a culture very different than that of Sunday. Thursday takes its name from Thor, simultaneously the ancient Norse god of thunder and Germanic god of protection.

”Thor’s Battle Against the Giants” by Swedish painter Marten Eskil Winge, 1872.

”Thor’s Battle Against the Giants” by Swedish painter Marten Eskil Winge, 1872.

One of the oldest recorded deities of Scandinavian polytheistic culture, Thor (also referred to as Donor in some Germanic linguistic traditions) served as a symbol of Pagan resistance and cultural pride in the face of the monotheistic Christian encroachment upon Scandenavia beginning in the 8th century. Perhaps the fact that remnants of Thor grace our modern calendars (Thursday having taken the place of Dies Iovis, the ancient Latin “Day of Jupiter”) suggests that this resistance was never fully quelled despite the fact that, by the 12th century, Christianity had all but beaten Paganism out of the region.

A Medieval map of Scandinavia.

A Medieval map of Scandinavia.

Like the evergreen tree decorated with candles and ribbons displayed during the Christmas celebration, the prominent inclusion of Thor’s name in a predominantly Judeo-Christian calendar is an instance of the hybridization of Pagan and monotheistic traditions that has survived into modern times. While the Christian crusaders of the Middle Ages may have aimed to bend the world to their will, they themselves received some cultural battle scars that are still visible today. Our word for Thursday is just such a scar, scratched approximately fifty two times across the face of every modern Western calendar.

Some Further Reading:

A look at the Igbo calendar as it relates to the notion of a spiritual cosmic order

A simple breakdown of the Hindu calendar

A tool that allows for the conversion of dates between the Gregorian and Jewish calendars

An essay that discusses the origins of the Christmas tree and its Pagan connections

A Wikipedia entry including some excellent charts comparing day nomenclature cross-culturally

A timeline of the Christian conversion of Scandinavia

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5 Comments

  1. Jen said,

    I know it’s two years after the post but I stumbled on your site while looking up hebraic symbols for angels, believe it or not, and I while flipping through the topics you’ve covered I and landed on this. I was just watching the THOR 2011 movie trailer the other night and realized I knew very little about Thor and that I should get some rudamentary background before going to see it. This was awesome introduction…I also never knew what the Colossus of Rhodes looked like…all in all you have a REALLY COOL SITE! The stuff on here is awesome, and I can really appreciate all the work you put into it, especially where the time it took to research the links for further reading. So, as dorky as this sounds, thanks for building this site and posting all this cool stuff!

  2. Jen said,

    And please excuse my typos above…UGH! It’s so hard to proof-read these stupid comment boxes…any way thanks again.

  3. irrationalgeographic said,

    Dear Jen,
    Your kind words really make me smile. I started this site a few years ago during a period of unemployment as an exercise to keep my essay writing skills sharp, and just because I’m so intrigued by historical oddities and lost bits of cultural information. But boy did these articles take a lot of effort! So while Irrational Geographic is certainly not a “completed” project, I haven’t gotten around to updating it in ages. But hey, given the economic climate perhaps I’ll lose my job and new articles will result!
    Cheers,
    Andrew Flint

    • Anna Malena said,

      I’m another late visitor to this site. I stumbled in here because I wanted to borrow that map of medieval Scandinavia and ended up reading about pykrete and watching bits of chimpnzee documentary – long live unemployment ;)…
      I just had to go in and comment on this post, though. You’re probably aware of it already but the whole week in most european languages is named after pagan gods and thursday isn’t really named after thor but after jupiter – it was the romans who “exported” their week to northwestern europe and they tried to translate the days’ names by inserting the names of what they saw as the corresponding deities in germanic culture. They didn’t find a corresponding deity for poor Saturn, that’s why English speakers have a saturday :). I have vague recollections of a lecture in language history where the lecturer said that naming a day after the sun and one after the moon may be traced very far back in time in all indo european languages but of course I’ve forgetten what examples she gave us – Sanskrit was probably in there somewhere, it usually is :). So, as a result of my search for a map of medieval Scandinavia I will now go and google sanskrit names of days!
      Wishing you just enough employment to be comfortable and write some new interesting stuff now and then,
      /Anna Malena

  4. lucky mlombo said,

    Yes I like this history !

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