The Cult of Seven Days

Published in Nexus Magazine in 2004

When understanding the origins of human knowledge, we tend not to look into the everyday aspects of life such as the calendar, our numbering systems and how these could have developed. However, these components of everyday life hold surprising clues to the past.

An example is the seven day week which we all slavishly follow today. It has been said that seven makes a good number of days for a week and this convenience argument often given for the existence of weeks.

Having a week allows one to know what day of the week it is for the purposes of markets and religious observances. It is an informal method of counting based on names rather than numbers. Beyond this however, a useful week length should fit well with the organisation of the year (i.e. the Sun), or the month (i.e. the Moon) or other significant celestial or seasonal cycle. But the seven day week does not fit in with the Sun and the Moon.

The Week and the Year

Whilst some historical cultures ran a 360 day year, within which a 10 day, 6 day, 12 day or even 8 day week would fit, seven does not divide into 360. Neither does it divide into 365, the number of whole days in a solar year.

Seven would divide into a year of 364 days as the familiar 52 weeks in a year, only exactly instead of one day out. This is why our own 365 day year leads to days of the week moving forward one day every most clear when birthdays and Christmas are on different weekdays. The seven day week’s “fit” to a 364 day year leads to some familiar numerical logic, for there can then be 13 months of 28 days, each month then having four seven day weeks. In such a calendar, the days of the week within the year are kept synchronised by having a special extra day. More important, with a 364 day year there is then some justification for having a seven day week.

We know that this calendar of 364 days must have been practiced within living memory for the expression “King for a year and a day” hails from the time when society was centred around women rather than men. It is quite clear that matriarchy and not patriarchy once ruled domestic and tribal politics. This natural fact of life, emerging out of the stone age, ran into the Neolithic: As humankind developed a more settled agrarian economy the “gatherers”, within the hunter gatherer partnership, were the home builders and the creators of new humans.

There is a connection between the seven day week and this age of different sexual politics shown by the archaic use of a “Saturnian” calendar in Crete.

The Origin of the Week

In the modern age there are always attempts to say that four weeks of seven days is a lunar month, but the month is twenty nine and a half days long according to the Moon’s phases and not twenty eight. The lunar orbit of the Earth (a hidden aspect) is twenty seven and one third of a day long and it is unlikely the ancients “rounded up” that invisible time period. In other words, there is no fit between the lunar month and the week,and yet this wrong idea is quite widespread. The origins of the seven day week are not with the Moon’s periodicity.

Figure 2: “This contemporary mask from Mexico depicts both the sun and the moon, two of the seven (astrological)‘planets’ known to the ancients.”   [The  leaves are the planets]

Another accepted premise for the week is that the Babylonians and possibly the Sumerians before them used it. These cultures of the fertile crescent hosted one of the earliest city state cultures and they were keen astronomers, but surely that just means that they would likely have an astronomical reason for having a seven day week.  In those days, astrology was indistinguishable from astronomy and the five visible planets were added to the Sun and Moon to obtain seven, leading to the “astrological” week with planetary day names.

Two accepted historical channels for receiving a seven day week from the Babylonians are:

  1. The Greeks brought back the seven day week from the conquests of Alexander the Great and gave it to the Romans. The Romans moved from a ten day to a seven day week with their assimilation of Christianity, which itself was partly a Greek system of thought.
  2. The Jews adopted the week from the Babylonians after their captivity. Theirs was a different version however since planetary deities could not represent the days (Saturday = Saturn’s day) as with most of the other cultures that have this week. The number seven was especially sacred in the Jewish tradition.  For instance the Babylonian epic of a seven day creation starts the Bible as one of the earliest stories of the original Pentateuch and the sacred measures (in cubits, etc) often expressed the number seven.  Seven in the Jewish week was sacred but not planetary like that of the Greeks.

In the undocumented times we call prehistory, traditions like the week could have been the “diffusion” of something innovated in a single place like Sumaria. On the other hand such ideas can also come from a common experience such as the astronomical observation of time periods. When the latter is the case, arguments for diffusion only look good until we find the same tradition, but out of the required timing for diffusion to have taken place. It looks as though the seven day week did not need to have come from the East; it was already in the Mediterranean in bronze age Crete. 

The Week from Above?

To find an astronomical cause appears initially difficult because, as stated above, the periods of Sun and the Moon, the year and the month, do not divide by seven days and neither does Venus, the most visible planet.

And why should any astronomical length of time, such as the day on Earth, fit any other astronomical periods anyway? The whole premise of modern science is that the planetary system merely “settled down” into a set of planets and that, within certain limits, there can be no detailed order relating the rotation and orbit of the Earth with the periodicity, seen from Earth, of another planet. However this is exactly what is found, and there are such exact relationships between celestial periods seen from Earth: This is the subject of my book Matrix of Creation, Sacred Geometry in the Realm of the Planets (Inner Traditions, Vermont, 2003). What follows is new and complementary material to Matrix of Creation {only partially found in my second book on Sacred Number and the Origins of Civilization in 2007}.

Traditionally it is the planet Saturn that is associated with the number seven, and of course the Jewish Sabbath is Saturn’s day or Saturday. Also interesting is the fact that the Jewish calendar is lunar throughout, as is the Islamic, and so the arrangements of seven days into a four week month of twenty eight days seems perfect, so much so that the Nazarenes are reputed to have had four such weeks, ending in a sabbath at the end of each major phase of the Moon: New, Half waxing, Full and Half waning, so as to make seven work with a month longer than twenty eight.

In Matrix of Creation I point out that in 29 Practical Years of 365 days there are 28 synodic periods of Saturn,where a synodic period is the time taken for Saturn to again be opposed the Sun seen from Earth, like a full moon but seen as a loop of Saturn every year in the sky. So 28 is found within the behaviour of Saturn but not yet in a way that yields a 7 day week. However, larger numerical coincidences are, as we shall see, based upon the numerical interrelationships found between smaller periods of time.

The evolution of sky observation into a calendar and our week is perhaps as simple as counting itself.

Counting and the Calendar

Alexander Marshak in The Roots of Civilisation illustrates many examples of stone age markings, often on bones, that appear to be keeping a tally of the Moon’s phases. The counts typically run over two lunar months, probably because the month is itself 29 and one half days long: a double count gives a whole number of 59 days and is quite accurate. Since the processes of the sky are essentially circular, returning to the same condition to rejoin the beginning of the cycle then the natural tendency, when the medium will allow it, is to draw the cycle as a circle of marks.

Figure 3: One of Marshak’s Lunar Counting Bones
Figure 4: Marshack’s schematic version of the Count

Such counting is a measurement from which a number emerges associated naturally with the celestial cycle in question. It marks the achievement of knowledge but not necessarily the ability to use it. To synchronize life to a celestial cycle, beyond observation in the sky, requires that the new knowledge be translated into a model on Earth.

Now we know that from Megalithic times and into the bronze age, many large models of calendric knowledge were being built throughout Europe. Many of these were directly observational, such as stone circles and their alignments with solsticial sunrise, sunset, and lunar maximum. These seem to form a continuity with the bone count measurements, yet they also form an operational calendar. Something new then became possible, a calendrically based building that could contain observances connecting to the gods of celestial time phenomena.

The creation of numerical rings would then allow a further possibility: that a numerical ring could simulate celestial phenomena and, to a degree, become detached from the sky as an abstract system more akin to a clock. If and when a series of celestial cycles were found to be interrelated, these would have allowed the creation of an orrery or planetarium which outputs the condition of a number of different celestial phenomena through the relatively simple activity of counting smaller time periods.

Our clocks today have evolved from such roots by employing gear wheels as numerical rings and the activity of counting is automated in the form of a spring-driven escapement, that produces a regular advancement of the gears according to the numerosity of these cogs, rotating in circles. Thus, a clock or an orrery is based upon the relative counting of cogs cut into wheels but is essentially no different to what can be achieved by the manual movement of markers in rings of holes moved in time with a regular celestial cycle, with the day being the simplest choice.

If the ancients wanted to create an orrery, their best option was to use a ring of holes and indeed this has been suggested as one of the uses for the circles of post holes, most notably the Aubrey Circle of 56-holes around Stonehenge. Fred Hoyle showed how the Aubrey Circle could be driven as an orrery to accurately track the Sun, Moon and eclipse nodes around the ecliptic stars, using a procedure further refined by Robin Heath.

Figure 5: Robin Heath’s version of a 28 hole
Moon and lunar node simulator

In fact a bronze device using gears has been found from no later than 80 BCE, near Crete. It is a planetarium designed to simulate multiple celestial periods, called the“Antikythera Clock”, and it used advanced mathematical knowledge of “continuing fractions” (reported in June 1959 Scientific American, p.60-7, see first page below.) It remains an anomaly that undermines the consensus view that clock mechanisms were a product of our industrial revolution.

{this device has now been formalised by an institute and in a book telling the story of its analysis, as probably a late Pythagorean device from Sicily}

The main point here is that the use of numbers to model the movements of celestial objects, relative to each other,should not be seen as unlikely back in the bronze age or even within the later Neolithic period, that encompasses the Megalithic. There are objects displaying the capacity and desire of those peoples to do just this. A counting device only requires the identification of a time period that divides well into one or more larger time periods, as a whole number of counts. It will be shown that the day and week are just perfect for this purpose – a fact since forgotten inits applications but retained as our seven day week associated with Saturn, The King of Time.

A Cult of Saturn-Chronos on Crete

When visiting Crete, the southernmost Island of Greece and home to the Minoan Culture between 2500 and 1450 BC, it is obligatory to visit the Heraklion Museum filled with Minoan artefacts. In the final room relating to Knossos, the famous Minoan complex, one comes across item 2646, a “perforated utensil” of a sort that might be interpreted as an incense burner/diffuser from the period.

As seen below, it is made of spun pottery, painted with a seven-fold wave pattern and covered in circles of holes. When counted, the number of holes count 1:15:22:38:62, and the holes seems to have been punched into the clay in a slightly ragged way. I will spare the reader a longer discussion of this disk’s construction, available elsewhere here, and get to the point that concerns us here, the origin of the week of seven days.

Figure 7:The Disk of Chronos
Item 2646 is a “Perforated Utensil” possibly for use with incense.
New Palace Period: Advanced and Final Phase of the Palace of Knossos
Gallery V, The Heraklion Museum

The central motif is “seven-rayed” which seems to point towards Saturn. Looking first at the 15 hole ring, I discovered that the ratio of the lunar year to the Saturn synod is 15:16. This is surprising new information since Jupiter has a ratio of 8:9 relative to the lunar year and, most significantly, these two ratios are both musical and correspond to a pure major halftone and tone respectively. The unit of time involved in the 15:16 ratio is exactly 4/5th of a lunar month, as can be seen by dividing 378 days by 29.53 to get 12.8 or 12 and 4/5th lunar months.

The 22 hole ring seems obscure but the 38 ring hole, at 2 times 19, is reminiscent of the Saros cycle of 19 eclipse years between the recurrence of lunar and solar eclipses, lasting 223 lunar months or just over 18 years. In fact the decoration around these 38 holes is appropriate to indicating eclipses. The reason for 38 and not 19 holes was that the eclipse year is made up of two eclipse seasons. An eclipse season is the time between the crossings of the Moon’s orbit, by the Sun, the only time at which eclipses can occur during “seasons” lasting 34 days. [whilst solar eclipses are rare, there is usually one lunar eclipse per year]

If we divide the eclipse season period of 173.31 days by 22 we get a period of time 63/7 days or 7 days plus 7/8th day. This period is exactly one third of 4/5th lunar month, and so there is the implication that the 22 count contributed to tracking the eclipse seasons and that the 15 count showed in some way a relationship between Saturn and the Moon.  (The 7 7/8th day period is in a whole tone relation of 8:9 to the seven day week.) But if so, how was the counting done and what unit was being counted?

The remaining 62 ring seems very close to the number 63 found in 63/7. Indeed, if the 378 days of Saturn’s synod is divided by six, the result is 63 days. It seemed therefore that the unit of time, 63/7 days might be related to the outer ring of 62 if the central hole is included in the count to make 63 holes.

The outer track of holes can simply count days.

Figure 8: The counting in the 62+1 hole ring can be read like a 24 hour clock face to yield the 7 7/8th day periods accurately

If the period sought had been 8 days rather than 7 7/8th days, then 64 holes or days would give 8 periods, but the sought after period is 1/8th of a day less than eight full days. By including the inner hole, the outer ring can count 63 whole days which, after one round would contain eight periods of the required length. Such a use of the central hole symbolises the end of one-sixth of the Saturn synod, a day that may have been special in this Saturn calendar – hence the central hole.

After eight days, i.e. 8 holes, the count should have lost 1/8th of a day and by counting in an anticlockwise fashion, the time of day of this “falling behind” can be tracked exactly as if reading a 24 hour clock face. Figure 8 shows how after starting the count, the period of 7 7/8th days looked for will end very close to where the marker now stands on the “24 hour” clock face. The marker will deviate from perfection in this regard but will generally always be showing in which three hour period the end of the 7 7/8th day period occurs. This means there would be no need to show this explicitly in the decoration since it could be read accurately in this direct way. It also means that, theoretically, this ring can, with the central hole, measure the required periodicity within three hours without any further techniques or technology. Incidentally,this is an ingenious version of the Vernier technique, invented in 16th century by Pierre Vernier, in which two slightly different scales interact to yield a more accurate reading.

The Saturnian Calendar

This disk thus leads directly to a very complete and accurate calendar (see Figure 10) that can track the motion of Saturn, the Moon and the eclipse seasons. The calendar employs the simplest unit of measure available on Earth, the Day. It also employs units based upon the week, because Saturn’s period divides perfectly by seven days, that is

Our present seven day week would be the natural choice for people operating the Saturnian calendar.

This explains the seven day week’s adoption, both practically, as a calendric device, and evidentially, as an historical reality predating classical Greece. We know this calendar would have been contemporaneous with Egypt and other parts of the Minoan sea-trading network. It also connects to biblical history since Moses and Aaron could have encountered it in Egypt, and this could have lead to its adoption by the Jews alongside other knowledge including Jewish sacred measures and building techniques.

Figure 9: Another exhibit in the Heraklion Museaum with 21 petals which,
if petals equal days within its symbolism,
expresses the unit of 21 days or three weeks that
divide the synods of Saturn and Jupiter into the ratio 18:19

Other cosmic relationships appear within this new calendar (see Figure 10), relationships quite surprising in that they indicate that time on Earth is simpler that it should be. The main rival of Chronos, Zeus, the planet Jupiter, is shown to have a new relationship since their 378 day and 399 day periods have the ratio of 18 to 19 units of 21 days. This unit is exactly three weeks of seven days. (see Figure 9)

The chance of the only giant planets visible to naked eye observers both having periods that divide by seven seems unlikely and hence this would have seemed a significant fact to ancient peoples. The adoption of a seven day week would naturally be confirmed as a logical part of a sacred calendar.

The Birth of Zeus

In the mythology of Zeus, Chronos is accused of swallowing his own children and perhaps we can see in this a reference to a system of time that, if followed, effectively denied (swallowed) all the other celestial cycles/ planets. In fact the ancients could have “got hung up” on such a simple system of time. Zeus, a child of Chronos, is saved from such a fate by his mother and is brought up in a Cretan cave hidden from his father who might hear his cries. This implies that the drama is one being played out in Crete, with Chronos just down the road rather than in some heaven and routinely omniscient.

Most significantly, Zeus grows up to depose his father and become the god of the classical world from which western culture has largely evolved.

This calendar, implicit in the Disk of Chronos, evidently fell out of use and was replaced, probably with those for which there are historical records. It therefore seems likely that the overthrow of Chronos by Zeus was related to these calendrical practices and that Chronos was related to some fixed religious regime associated with the older Saturnian calendar. Since the calendar is simpler than it “should be”, that is, because time periods should not match so simply (in days) the periods of Saturn, the Moon and eclipses, then no further development of time was likely when living under such a calendar. The God of Time would have dominated thought and the religious precincts of the bronze age, until deposed and replaced.

Matrix of Creation

All of this confirms the basic tenets, expressed in Matrix of Creation, that there was an ancient science that employed numerical arts to discover order in the world and also build monuments relating to their discoveries and that science. Lying behind it all was a world view that numbers actually defined how the world was built.

Such a belief in numerical creation could have been “seeded” in the fabric of the solar system as the numeric relations that are to be found, seen from Earth. In other words, our ancient awakening to the numerical relationships in the world could have been a cause for the evolution of human understanding itself. In the presence of an apparently designed world, a religious sentiment would have been a natural one. The original meaning of the word “religion” is, after all, not based upon beliefsbut on reconnection, presumably to the truths of the cosmos.

It is obvious that there must be many artefacts and monuments with further facts to transmit to us from the past, facts that would restore our connection to the whole as Cosmos, and cause little understood traditions such as the week to become re-rooted in their original context.


For seven day week, try

For a great book on calendars, try

  • Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History by E.G. Richards, Oxford, 1998

For more on the significance of numerical astronomy, read my book

  • Matrix of Creation: Sacred Geometry in the Realm of the Planets   Inner Traditions Press, Vermont 2004

 Appendix: Accuracy of the Calendar Disk

A Synod is always a repeat cycle time relative to the Sun, see from Earth. The Saturn synod is 378 (378.09) days whilst that of Jupiter is 399 (398.88) days.

  1. If the basic time period of 63/7 is being counted, then the Saturn Synod of 378.09 days is achieved as 6 times 8 times 63 divided by 8 as 378 days yielding an accuracy to the Saturn synod of 99.976%
  2. The Lunar Year of 12 lunations is then tracked as 15 times 3 times 73 divided by 8 equalling 354.375 days versus 354.367 days giving an accuracy of 99.998%
  3. The period between Eclipse Seasons is tracked as 22 times 63 divided by 8 or 173.25 days versus an actual period of 173.31 days giving an accuracy of 99.965%
  4. The eclipse season is plus or minus 17 days and 17 days corresponds to two holes of the 22 holes used for counting its periodicity. This means that the eclipse season can be expected in the area of fulfilment of the counting in  the 22 hole ring, plus or minus two holes of the end of the count. If a lunar eclipse should occur with the marker outside this range, then the 22 hole marker could simply be moved to the nearest in-range hole, making the system self-correcting on the basis of simple observation.
  5. As stated in the text, the 63 hole count automatically gives an implicit reading of how many 1/8th days should be removed from the whole day, advancing the time of day at which the count is actually progressing. This does not effect the actual movement of the day marker, but indicates to high precision of a few hours, the exact moment referred to by all the markers in their different track rings.
  6. Three periods of 7 7/8th days equal 4/5th of a lunar month to the very high accuracy of 99.998%, repeating the result in 2 above.

We have to ask “Would this type of accuracy be useful?” and the answer appears to be that it would have been. The simplicity of it means that, once established,the level of skill required to track time, focused on the chosen time periods, would have been on a par with skills compatible with our knowledge of other bronze age activities.