There are only 7 objects in the sky that appear to move (the word planet derives from the Greek term for "moving"), relative to the background stars. Of course the Sun and Moon are two, and the remaining five are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The ancients were well aware of this and that these points of light were much different than the stars in the firmament.
Under the Earth-centered (geocentric) model of the solar system, all 7 "planets" revolved around the Earth. Of course now we know that this is an optical illusion due to the Earth's daily rotation, and that the Earth and all the planets actually move around the Sun (heliocentric). But this literal model of the solar system, while being scientifically "correct," is not as useful as the geocentric one. Symbolically, there is much more to gain from the Ancient way of looking at the cosmos. And, some scholars believe that even back then, select people actually knew the planets went around the Sun, they still kept the original for it's esoteric value.
So why use the Ptolemaic, Earth-centered version if we know that it is outdated and technically wrong? A lot of this has to do with a form of Astro-theology, or a religious viewpoint and worship of the stars, planets, and particularly, the Sun. This is a huge subject and will be explored in future posts, but for now, just take a look at the old diagram and imagine the rings, or spheres, of each planet that encircles the Earth as being layers - like a Russian nesting doll - with each one fitting inside the next and the Earth at the core. Astrotheologists believed that to come into the Earth and live here, our souls have to first pass through each level and it's corresponding planet, and with each one, we put on another layer of materiality to survive the physical Earthly experience. Then, when we die, we shed each layer to get to the Eternal beyond, returning to the realm we originally came from.
OK, so that's just a bit of Astrotheology, but knowing this, we can understand the importance the ancients put on the planets, and that's why the 7 Days of the Week are named after the 7 planets. In most languages (but not all) and cultures, the 7 days of the week correspond to the same 7 planets. Here we'll take each day and identify the corresponding planet:
This one is obvious - the Sun. Known as Ra (or Re) by the Egyptians (as in the sun's rays), the Sun has been worshipped and respected by all cultures throughout time. Even the word itself has significance - Jesus was the Son, and the Sun's technical name, Sol (as in Solar or Solstice), can relate to the human Soul as well.
Monday is actually Moon day. The ancients knew the Sun and Moon were different than the other 5 planets - not just because of their size, speed and intensity but due to a certain quality they possess.
Tiw is the Nordic God of War, equivalent to Mars in the Roman pantheon, so the Day of Mars (dies Martius) is really Tiw's Day. The French for Tuesday is Mardi (Mardi = Mars), as in Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Another Norse God, Odin, was called Wodan (Woden) by the Anglo-Saxons and both related to Mercury, from the Roman. Woden's Day (Day of Mercury) became Wednesday, and if you've ever wondered why we spell it that way (instead of Wendsday, which is how it sounds), this is why the "d" comes before the "n."
Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, relates to the Roman Jupiter, who was also the God of Sky and Thunder. So, the Day of Jupiter, became Thor's Day, sounding very similar to Thursday.
The Norse God of Love was Freya, and the Roman was the Love Goddess Venus, so the Day of Venus, became Freya's Day, or Friday. The Italian word for Friday, Venerdi, sticks closer to the original Latin, Venus.
Not really sure what planet could relate to this day, but through process of elimination, we are only left with planet Saturn, so it is the Day of Saturn, or Saturday, as this is the one English translation that comes directly from the Latin source.
Now all this is interesting and might get you a correct question on Jeopardy!, but there is more to it than just trivial information. By recognizing the 7 naked-eye "planets" and their corresponding days of the week, we are connected with an Ancient past that is shared by most cultures across the globe.
Since then, science has removed the mystery of the planets and filled us with facts and figures about temperatures, gravity pull, geological composition and precise orbital computations instead. The Gods and Goddesses that once dazzled us with awe and wonder in the spectacular night sky, have now been replaced by inert gaseous and rocky orbs that hurl meaninglessly around a rather average central star.
Even though we "know" more about the solar system and planets than our predecessors, we have lost the symbolic meaning behind the planets, Moon and Sun. But evidence is all around us that reminds us of our long symbolic heritage, even in something as mundane as the days of the week. You don't need a book on astrology or mythology to appreciate the Gods and Goddess from which the planets were named, just a simple acknowledgement that there is a celestial namesake for each day.
So when you look at your calendar from now on, you can "see" there is much more to a name than meets the eye. You can gain strength from connecting with a common source that is both ancient and current. And, even though our modern telescopes can see into the far reaches of the Universe, it is the same bright objects, these 7 "wandering stars" are the same ones seen by our ancient kin, and still the only 7 we can see today with the unaided eye. It is this ability to recognize the symbolic meaning in everyday things that will help you connect with the Ancient Wisdom and help re-enchant the world once again.
© Chris Sheridan