Of Deities and Emperors


Fifth day, 13th, Eleventh month, 2014.

Do you understand this? Some folks call this Quaker-speak. This is normally written Thursday, November 13th, 2014.

I recently became administrator of my Meeting’s (this is what Quakers call their congregation) website. In reviewing the format of the website I was faced with choices. For example; what day of the week does the week begin on? The default is Monday but Quakers historically call Sunday First day. In opposition to the dominant culture the early Friends refused to name days of the week after deities that they didn’t worship. Hence First day (Sunday) Second day (Monday), etc.

As well, I had to choose a format for the months; January, February, etc. or numbers; 1-12. I didn’t have the option of using ordinal numbers as the early Quakers did. They wanted no part of honoring more deities; January – May, or Roman Emperors; July and August. September through December were okay being named after the 7th through 10th months but the Roman Emperors knocked the order out of whack by inserting 2 extra months, so the last four months no longer corresponded to their names in meaning. What was an early  Quaker to do? Using First through Twelfth months was their solution.

This series of questions made me wonder; why were the early Quakers so peculiar? So willing to stand in opposition to the way their culture normally did things? And why do we still carry the remnants of these concerns with us today? I say remnants because, outside of Quaker specific meetings or events I rarely hear Friends avoid days and months named in the vernacular. So goes tradition…

Who decided that this was no longer an issue to the Society of Friends? Or other traditional modes like plain speech (using thee and thy in place of you and your), or plain dress (bonnets, hats, etc.)? It seems that the Society had ceded some of it’s corporate decision making weight to the individual. Could it be with so many new Quakers coming from non Quaker backgrounds there was a dilution of tradition or is this just modernism at work?

Besides, are you really honoring Janus by using January? These names have lost their meanings over the past 2000 years and have become placeholders. Some Friends adhere to the traditions for tradition sake or for personal reasons, but I circle back to my question; Are Quakers still willing to be peculiar for a concern that pits them in opposition to the dominant culture? I know some that are.

How peculiar is thee?