Solar System Planetary Mythology

Saturn Mythology
This captivating natural color view of the planet Saturn was created from images collected shortly after Cassini began its extended Equinox Mission in July 2008. (Saturn actually reached equinox on August 11, 2009.)

As part of the planetary bodies series, we took a look at how the different planets were viewed by different cultures and their mythology. An interesting look that often gets shown is how each planet gets described by cultures in the view of each planet, but rarely do these views get compiled together. Therefore, we are going to put together a list using that data of how ancient cultures viewed the different planets. As Uranus and Neptune were discovered by recent scientists using telescopes, rather than being visible in the night sky for thousands of years, these planets are not included in this list.

Mercury

The ancient civilizations knew Mercury by different names, depending on whether it was an evening star or a morning star, which would change the related mythology. When the Assyrians observed the planet ass early ass the 14th century BC, they would eventually designate Mercury as “the jumping planet.” Babylonian records of Mercury date back to the 1st millennium BC, at which time thy would name the planet Nabu, after the name of the messenger god in their mythology.

Nabu was worshiped by both the Assyrians and Babylonians, who worshipped Nabu as the patron god of scribes, literacy, and wisdom. He was also the inventor of writing, a divine scribe, the patron god of the rational arts, and a god of vegetation. As the god of writing, Nabu inscribed the fates assigned to men and he was associated with the scribe god Ninurta. As an oracle he was associated with the Mesopotamian moon god Sin.

The Romans named the planet after the swift-footed Roman messenger god, Mercury, which they equated with the Greek Hermes, because it moves across the sky faster than any other planet. The Roman god Mercury was considered the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld.

In ancient China, Mercury was known as “the Hour Star”. It was associated with the direction north and the phase of water in the Five Phases system of metaphysics. The system of five phases was used for describing interactions and relationships between phenomena. After it came to maturity in the second or first century BCE during the Han dynasty, this device was employed in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as Yi jing divination, feng shui, astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy, and martial arts.

Hindu mythology used the name Budha for Mercury, and this god was thought to preside over Wednesday.

The god Odin, or Woden, of Germanic paganism was associated with the planet Mercury and Wednesday. The Maya may have represented Mercury as an owl that served as a messenger to the underworld.

Venus

Venus is a primary feature of the night sky, and so has been of remarkable importance in mythology, astrology and fiction throughout history and in different cultures.

Inanna is an ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, war, justice, and political power. She was originally worshiped in Sumer and was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians under the name Ishtar. She was known as the “Queen of Heaven” and was the patron goddess of the Eanna temple at the city of Uruk, which was her main cult center. She was associated with the planet Venus and her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star.

In Chinese the planet is called Jīn-xīng, the golden planet of the metal element.

In India, Shukra Graha, “the planet Shukra”, which is named after a powerful saint Shukra. Shukra which is used in Indian Vedic astrology means “clear, pure” or “brightness, clearness” in Sanskrit.

Modern Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures refer to the planet literally as the “metal star” based on the Five elements.

The Maya considered Venus to be the most important celestial body after the Sun and Moon. They called it Chac ek, or Noh Ek‘, “the Great Star.”

The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed Venus to be two separate bodies, a morning star and an evening star. The Egyptians knew the morning star as Tioumoutiri and the evening star as Ouaiti.

The Greeks used the names Phōsphoros, which means “light-bringer” used to name the element phosphorus, or alternately Ēōsphoros meaning “dawn-bringer” for the morning star. The Greeks also used the name Hesperos, which means “Western one”, for the evening star. 

Mars

The ancient Sumerians believed that Mars was Nergal, the god of death, war, destruction, and plague. During Sumerian times, Nergal was a minor deity of little significance, but, during later times, his main cult center was the city of Nineveh.

The Hellenistic Greeks also called the planet Πυρόεις Pyroeis, meaning “fiery”.

Literature from ancient China confirms that Mars was known by Chinese astronomers by no later than the fourth century BCE.[286] In the East Asian cultures, Mars is traditionally referred to as the “fire star,” based on the Five elements.

Jupiter

The planet Jupiter has been known since ancient times. To the Babylonians, this object represented their god Marduk. Marduk

The Romans called it “the star of Jupiter,” Iuppiter Stella, as they believed it to be sacred to the principal god of Roman mythology, whose name comes from the Proto-Indo-European vocative compound *Dyēu-pəter, which means “Father Sky-God”, or “Father Day-God.”[1] 

In turn, Jupiter was the counterpart to the mythical Greek Zeus, also referred to as Dias (Δίας), the planetary name of which is retained in modern Greek.[2] The ancient Greeks knew the planet as Phaethon, meaning “shining one” or “blazing star.”[3] As supreme god of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter was the god of thunder, lightning and storms, and appropriately called the god of light and sky.

The astronomical symbol for the planet is a stylized representation of the god’s lightning bolt.

The Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese called it the “wood star”, based on the Chinese Five Elements. Chinese Taoism personified it as the Fu star.

The Greeks called it Φαέθων, meaning Phaethon, which can be defined as “blazing.”

In Vedic astrology, Hindu astrologers named the planet after Brihaspati, the religious teacher of the gods, and often called it “Guru”, which literally means the “Heavy One”.[4]

In Germanic mythology, Jupiter is equated to Thor, whence the English name Thursday for the Roman dies Jovis.[5]

In Central Asian Turkic myths, Jupiter is called Erendiz or Erentüz, from eren (of uncertain meaning) and yultuz (“star”). There are many theories about the meaning of eren. These peoples calculated the period of the orbit of Jupiter as 11 years and 300 days. They believed that some social and natural events connected to Erentüz’s movements on the sky.[6]

Saturn

Saturn has been known since prehistoric times, with its earliest known recordings being related to the mythologies from various cultures. Babylonian astronomers systematically observed and recorded the movements of Saturn.[7] In ancient Greek, the planet was known as Phainon, and in Roman times it was known as the “star of Saturn”.

In ancient Roman mythology, the planet Phainon was sacred to this agricultural god, from which the planet gets its modern name from. The Romans considered the god Saturnus the equivalent of the Greek god Cronus; in modern Greek, the planet retains the name Cronus—Κρόνος: Kronos.

In Hindu astrology, there are nine astrological objects, known as Navagrahas. Saturn is known as “Shani,” which judges everyone based on the good and bad deeds performed in life.

Ancient Chinese and Japanese culture designated the planet Saturn as the “earth star.” This was based on Five Elements which were traditionally used to classify natural elements in the world around us.

In ancient Hebrew, Saturn is called ‘Shabbathai’, with its angel being Cassiel. Its intelligence or beneficial spirit is ‘Agȋȇl and its darker spirit is Zȃzȇl. Zazel has been described as a great angel, invoked in Solomonic magic, who is “effective in love conjuration.”

In the languages of Ottoman Turkish, Urdu, and Malay, the name of Zazel is ‘Zuhal’, derived from the Arabic language.

Further Reading

Check out the Planetary Bodies Category for other articles on the solar system planets.

Sources

[1] = Rogers, J.H. (1998). “Origins of the ancient constellations: I. The Mesopotamian traditions”. Journal of the British Astronomical Association108: 9–28. Bibcode:1998JBAA..108….9R.
[2] = Harper, Douglas (November 2001). “Jupiter”Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved February 23, 2007.
[3] =  “Greek Names of the Planets”. April 25, 2010.
[4] = Hulbert, Homer Bezaleel (1909). The passing of Korea. Doubleday, Page & company. p. 426.
[5] = “Guru”. Indian Divinity.com
[6] =  Falk, Michael; Koresko, Christopher (2004). “Astronomical Names for the Days of the Week”. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada93: 122–33. arXiv:astro-ph/0307398. Bibcode:1999JRASC..93..122F. doi:10.1016/j.newast.2003.07.002.
[7] = Sachs, A. (2 May 1974). “Babylonian Observational Astronomy”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London276(1257): 43–50. Bibcode:1974RSPTA.276…43S. doi:10.1098/rsta.1974.0008. JSTOR 74273.

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