Friday, March 15, 2013

The Myths Behind Friday

"If you must have motivation, think of your paycheck on Friday." - Noel Coward

Well, I'm not sure where that dark mood I was sporting around yesterday came from, but it's gone now.  It's Friday!

Friday is usually an awesome day of awesomeness, but this one is especially so.  Today we're planning to leave town a little bit early, drive up to Pennsylvania, and spend the weekend with family.  And if that isn't exciting enough, this weekend is both St. Patrick's Day and my li'l baby brother's 40th birthday.  A pub crawl, then, is definitely called for.  Two, even. 

Speaking of Friday, it surprised me to learn in a gathering yesterday that over half of the people at the table didn't know where the names of the days come from.  "Friday" comes from the name of the Norse goddess Frigg, sort of.  Several sources, including the online etymology dictionary, suggest that it also sort of comes from the name of the Norse goddess Freyja.

Now, don't confuse the two--Frigg was the wife of Odin, queen of Asgard, female half of the leadership of the Aesir, and, being a good Norse woman, wasn't really known for much else.  Freyja was the leader of the Vanir (the other faction of deities, who fought the Aesir long, long ago and--well, they kinda lost, sort of).  Some legends also have her as the commander of the Valkyrie, and anybody who can hold that post is da'schnizzle in my book.  Frigg is seen as the queenly, wifely icon of eternal love, while Freyja is the shamanistic goddess of love, beauty, and fertility--and, as I just noted, bad-assness.

Meanwhile there are scholars who suggest that Freyja and Frigg are actually two avatars of the same goddess.

Confused yet?   Me too.  Keep in mind that much of what we "know" of Norse mythology was handed to us in the writings of a 13th Century Icelandic politician/lawyer/historian named Snorri Sturluson.  No, I wasn't making that up when I mentioned him a couple of times in Return of the Gods--he really existed, and he was the author of the Prose Edda, which basically serves as the hitchhiker's guide to Norse mythology, and a few other works.  Of course there are other source documents, including the Poetic Edda, and there's also the ongoing stream of folklore, but keep in mind that folklore changes over the years and sometimes poetry is written more to sound good than to carry truth.  Just--sometimes. 

So yeah, I don't really know either.

Incidentally, that sorta funny, sorta heinous thing that Venus accuses Mars of doing in Deception: Return of the Gods is exactly what I'd do if I were immortal, but you probably already knew that about me.  Specifically, I'd find the most naive historian-ish person around, get him drunk, listen to his stories, and then feed him lines of crap like "hey, that's really good stuff, man.  You should totally write that.  Write it, write it!  And have you heard the story about the great big vat that Thor couldn't retrieve for himself but had to get Tyr's help?  Oh, sure, of course, you have.  ...hey, did you hear about when Heracles captured the guardian of the underworld?  Yessir, the hero went right down there and faced the, um, three--yes, three!--three-headed, um, dog.  No, it was a dog, and a great big one at that!  ...of course there was a burning bush.  You think an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-everything God couldn't light a bush on fire?  No, really, I read seven eye-witness accounts of the bush-burning, way back when I passed through the Middle East.  Certainly, I wish you could read them too, but they were destroyed in the Great Flood of, um, Obeewankenobee, about ten years ago.  I'm not surprised at all that a famous historian like you hasn't heard of a little regional flood, as busy as you must be answering all of your fan scrolls and working on your next exciting work of greatness.  No, no, see, he only thought he was alone in the wilderness; surely a well-traveled man of the world like you has seen those wildernesses down there, right?  Of course you have.  They're nothing like the wildernesses up here, so crowded it's amazing anybody can even think.  Horrible places, those...."

Yeah, I'd so do that.  I can't imagine any more fun way to screw with an entire civilization than to craft some really strange stuff into the myths that form the foundation of their religion.  

Back to topic, though, my friends at the OED suggest that since the Greeks and Romans were fond of identifying this particular day of the week with Venus/Aphrodite, and since Freyja is (roughly speaking) the Norse equivalent to Venus, there's some validity to saying that today is Freyja's Day.  Apparently that version is documented in some early Icelandic writings with a day name that I probably can't pronounce but sounds a little bit like somebody bringing up phlegm while saying "Thank Odin it's Friday."

...not with a Scottish accent, I must add.  Norse adults, as you know, only speak with Scottish accents in blockbuster cartoon movies.

The British, meanwhile, apparently just took the Germanic name "Frigg's Day" and shortened the guhs out of it. 

Whatever.  Either way, you get Friday, and Friday is a grand day, indeed.

Some day soon I'll go over the other days.  They're less confusing individually, but the strange mix of Pagan, Germanic, and Roman influence is--well, strange.  We're talking four Norse gods, two pagan icons, and a Roman god strange.  Strange at a level that suggests an immortal sitting in a bar saying, "Hey, your suggestion that we name this day after Saturn....  You remember making that suggestion, don't you?  I do, and it was great.  Saturn is one cool god, I don't care where he's from." 

Have a great Friday!


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