Here we are, and it’s January again.
(Image Sunset Filey Beach 1st December 2020 ©Shullie H Porter 2020)
Janus am I; oldest of potentates; Forward I look, and backward, and below I count, as god of avenues and gates, The years that through my portals come and go.
I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men. *
The month of Janus
Middle English Januarie
Latin Januarius “of Janus”
Latin Janu(s) “Janus” + –arius “ary (pertaining to)”
Latin Januarius mensis “month of Janus“
Janus is a Roman God, though the Romans also saw him as having Thessalian origins and they believed him to be one of the original gods of the aboriginal people of Italy[ possibly the Etruscans ]
They believed Janus to be the God of ‘gates and doorways’, of ‘endings and beginnings’.
The name Janus derives from the Latin word for door, that is ianua, and as it is the first month of the year within both the Julian and Gregorian Calendars , her and his namesake are seen as that door to the new year, and of course to the past year.
He, like us, stands in a liminal space in this month between one year and the next.
Between and betwixt what has passed and what is to come.
Macrobius said of him…
“… Some claim that Janus is shown to be the sun and has his two-fold nature because both heavenly doorways are in his power, as he opens the day by rising and closes it by setting; and further that when some god’s rite is being celebrated, he is called upon first so that he might open the way to the god to whom the sacrifice is being made, as though sending suppliants’ prayers on to the gods through his own gateways. Hence, too, his likeness is commonly represented keeping the number 300 in its right hand and 65 in its left, to indicate the measure of the year, which is the sun’s chief function… ” (Saturnalia, Book 1, 9.9-9.10, trans. Kaster, Loeb Classical Library)
As Janus was the God of gateways, and openings, and of the liminal it has also been suggested that he is similar to Mercury or Hermes, that is as a ‘daemonic entity’ and that he would carry messages from the mundane to the divine.
Because Janus holds many similar epithets of both Gods and Goddess, some images show a duality of gender, with faces of both male and female.
Fasti is a collection of poems based upon the Roman Calendar. Book 1 is, as once can expect, January, Metamorphoses,
‘Then suddenly, sacred and marvellous, Janus,
In two-headed form, showed his twin faces to my eyes.
Holding his stick in his right hand, his key in the left,
He spoke these words to me from his forward looking face:
The ancients called me Chaos (since I am of the first world):
Note the long ages past of which I shall tell.
The clear air, and the three other elements,
Fire, water, earth, were heaped together as one.
When, through the discord of its components,
The mass dissolved, and scattered to new regions,
Flame found the heights: air took a lower place,
While earth and sea sank to the furthest depth.
Then I, who was a shapeless mass, a ball,
Took on the appearance, and noble limbs of a god.
Even now, a small sign of my once confused state,
My front and back appear just the same.’
Janus is also again linked with Chaos (F. 1.103), and in Tristia, where it is implied by the geminae frontes (“twin faces/ends”) of Ovid’s book-roll, Tr. 1.1.11).
Janus says, omina principiis… inesse solent
(“beginnings are often omens,” F. 1.178).
Ovid also mentions Janus in connection to Hekate
Listen to the other reason for the shape you query,
So you know of it, and know of my duties too.
Whatever you see: sky, sea, clouds, earth,
All things are begun and ended by my hand.
Care of the vast world is in my hands alone,
And mine the governance of the turning pole.
When I choose to send Peace, from tranquil houses,
Freely she walks the roads, and ceaselessly:
The whole world would drown in bloodstained slaughter,
If rigid barriers failed to hold war in check.
I sit at Heaven’s Gate with the gentle Hours,
Jupiter himself comes and goes at my discretion.
Every doorway has two sides, this way and that,
One facing the crowds, and the other the Lares:
And like your doorkeeper seated at the threshold,
Who watches who goes and out and who goes in,
So I the doorkeeper of the heavenly court,
Look towards both east and west at once.
You see Hecate’s faces turned in three directions,
To guard the crossroads branching several ways:
And I, lest I lose time twisting my neck around,
Am free to look both ways without moving.’
If you are interested you can find more about Fasti here
So we are in good company when we stand at the doorway with Janus.
Yule/Christmas has passed and all that is left is the pile of paper from the feverish wrapped delights, an empty bottle from the night[s] before, more inches on our waistline and all that we have to look forward to is usually the coldest and darkest of time of the year.
So it comes as no surprise that TV advertisers at this time start to fill our screens with images of summer holidays, while the diet and cosmetic industry try to get us to buy in [once again] to their promises of Eternal Youth.
Yet, for our not so distant ancestors, here in the northern hemisphere, it was still, very recently, a time for ‘bucking down’, of getting through, of surviving.
For many here until the mid 20ths century, once Yule/Christmas had passed through the promise of life, i.e the sun/son had been reborn, they still understood that the following weeks would be very hard.
You only have to visit an NHS A&E ward in the depths of January to see why. More people still die in January than in any other month here in the UK.
January is the 2nd month of winter and usually the coldest month of the year.
Like the image below shows, what most of want to do, is keep warm, and stay by the fire. Sadly modern-day life won’t let us. And I like many go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. It’s not surprising that many people suffer from ‘SAD’
Our Anglo- Saxon ancestors called it Wulf-monath (meaning wolf month), for good reason. The scarcity of food meant that the wolves became hungry enough to bold enough to come into the villages.
So as I/we stand here, at the doorway, looking forward into the darkness, knowing that there will be hardships, but also still able to look back at the past year. I/We see our triumphs, our challenges, those worries which at the time that seems insurmountable have passed into small molehills.
I/We see the harvest of our actions, our hopes, dreams and expectations, for some it is fulfilment, for others, it could be famine.
I/We can look back and see where things have changed and where there is a need to change.
I/We can see the road we have travelled on; all of its glories, beauties, splendours, all of its moments of love, laughter, joy – but I/we can also see its tragedies, the adversities, missed chances and downright sorrow and pain; the hopes and dreams and those moments of utter despair.
Yet January/ Janus gives us hope to walk through that door, and while we walk, still in darkness, [s]he offers up hope. [S]he holds a key to the future [sound familiar to anyone].
[S]he offers us endings, we are able to close the door if we need to, and start again. We can make changes if we want, we can take a new path. [S]he offers us new beginnings, a fresh page, new hopes and dreams and aspirations.
We can choose to leave the door ever open, and to look back, sometimes, with joy and sometimes with sorrow. We may have made wonderful memories, shared movement of ecstasy, made new friends, new loves, as well as experienced the deepest of pain. But while that door is open, so are the ties to it. Always looking back.
What I find more hopeful is that we can close the door, we can carry all that and those with us if we wish, [as [s]he carries his staff] or we can lay them down, leave that which we do not wish to carry forward behind us, and behind that door.
How Magical is that?
[S]he holds the key to new beginnings, new adventures, and a new chapter in our lives, we can continue to look backwards, or walk forward.
[S]he can lead us down and through those passages, and out the other side. We can see the future, we can move forward or we can remain in the darkness, remain in the shadow, in the cold and in fear – awaiting the wolves to come and eat us up!
(Man walking on Filey Beach 01.01.2020 ©Shullie H Porter 2020)