Meet the Gods: Janus


(Image by Samantha Sullivan)

Merry meet.

January is named for Janus, the Roman God of Gates and Doors. His name comes from the Latin word ianua, which means door. Gates and doors divide two places. Going through them, you leave one space and enter another. That makes it fitting that Janus presides over New Years Day, when we close the door on one year and open the door to another.

The god Saturn bestowed upon Janus the ability to see into the future as well as the past, thus it is appropriate that he is depicted as having two faces one looking behind looking at what has happened and one looking forward to see what will happen in the future. While the term “two-faced” is meant to be derogatory, there is great wisdom in being able to see both directions simultaneously.

Originally, one of Janusfaces was bearded and the other was clean-shaven, perhaps to indicate youth and maturity, but as time passed, he was most often depicted with a beard on each face. The faces are not always identical. Sometimes he holds a key in his right hand.

He is the guardian of entrances and exits, and as such, the Romans considered him the God of Beginnings. Originally, he was honored on the first day of every month, in addition to being worshipped at the beginning of the planting season, and again at the beginning of the harvest season. Respect was also paid to him at times of birth and marriage. As the god, too, of bridges and passageways, which also symbolize beginnings and ends, Janus represents transition, such as the time between youth and adulthood. Romans prayed to him for advice, especially in respect to new enterprises. He can also be turned to when choices need to be made. One source mentioned his role as the porter of heaven.

While there were no temples built in his name, there was an arched passageway with massive gates that could be closed (but rarely were, because the Romans were always engaged in war, and it was believed Janus left through the gates with the army to preside over its welfare). All the gates of cities were dedicated to him.

Knowing this, you may turn to him on wisdom as you ponder 2016 and look ahead to 2017; you might dedicate your front door or the door to your sacred space to him; or call upon him in times of beginnings.

Merry part. And merry meet again.