creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Relevance of Janus Geminus

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While underrated in modern times, one of the most important ancient deity’s for us to recognize and contemplate the relevance of is the Roman God known as Janus. This deity is most distinguished by having two faces, thus often referred to as Janus Geminus, with one face that looks backward and the other forwards. Sometimes both faces are bearded older men, but often he is depicted as having one bearded older face looking to the past and a clean-shaven face of youth looking toward the future. In some depictions he even has one face of a man and the other a woman, signifying the unity and duality of male and female essences in each of us. In some depictions he even contains four heads - looking in each direction.

He was known as the god of beginnings and transitions, and thus all manner of doorways, passages, portals, entrances, gateways, change, movement, endings and time. It was essential to honor Janus at the start of every endeavor, from calendar dates, to spring plantings, military actions, marriages, and each new dawn. He was the first god to be invoked before all others to help during all manner of rituals, rites and prayers. He was the god of liminal spaces, guardian of transitions from youth to adulthood, barbarity to civilization, countryside to city, outer space and inner space.

From Janus is where we get the word January, for it became the first month of the calendar, Janus was highly honored on New Year’s Day - but also at the beginning of each day, each month, and several other special dates throughout the year. Our modern day concept of the old man of the past year and the new baby of the coming year likely comes from Janus’ two faces.

The word janitor also comes from Janus, as he was associated as the custodian of all entrances, doorways, gateways, arches, and thresholds - and a janitor was a term used for a doorman or porter, and later adopted to include many other services. There are also certain rites and rituals that were performed with Janus in order to cleanse soldiers when they returned home from battle to reintegrate them into society. The Emperor Numa Pompilius (ruler from 715-673BCE) built a giant temple in Rome called the Ianus Geminus with large archways that served as a passageway and used ritually. In times of peace the doors were closed to keep war contained, and in times of war it was opened to welcome its soldiers back home. The Roman Empire was usually at war, and thus  the doors were rarely ever closed other than during 43 of Numa’s peaceful reign and during a ban on the ancient rites after 390 CE/AD.

Janus is very much associated with money, coins, and financial enterprises. The first coin of the libral series (a Roman pound) bares the two-faces of Janus, and thus he in modern times he is mostly known for The Janus Coins.

Two other important symbols for Janus are the rod (staff or scepter) and keys. The keys were not only symbols for unlocking doors (as he was the god of passages), but to unlock the secrets of the mysteries. He was considered the guardian of mysteries and it was through him that one was initiated into the various mystery cults at the time. One key was gold for the major mysteries, the other silver for the lessor mysteries.

The origin of Janus comes likely from him being the first king of the Latium (before Roman), who perhaps was a very wise ruler who, like many other historical figures, was transformed into a deity after his death. He was likely a man who looked upon past experiences to postulate the future, therefore becoming known as the two-faced god with one face looking back to the past and the other forward into the future. It was possibly under King Janus that coins were first produced, and thus the monetary connection.

Two-faced deities exist in many other cultures around the world, most notably in Sumerian and African, so it is possible there is a connection between Janus and many other religious beliefs. Janus may be connected to the Etruscan deity Ani, where the English words annual and anus are derived. Afterall, the human body has a beginning and an ending, with the mouth and anus - two portals that point in different directions. Janus is also connected with the Ouroborus, the snake eating its tail, and a symbol of the cycle of life and death, new beginnings and rebirth.

What Western culture fails to recognize is that the Latin language and most modern European languages have origins in Sanskrit from India. Much of the wealth in the Roman Empire was used to purchase goods from India. It is possible that Janus is connected to the Hindu god Ganesh, who is guardian of gates and invoked before other gods as the remover of obstacles.

Regardless of the origins of Janus, he is a fascinating deity to contemplate in modern times, particularly during the new year, and definitely as we transition from 2012 into 2013. Janus is the god of the ReBegin. The Mayans calculated the rotation of our galaxy, and based on the alignment of the earth, the sun, and the center of the Milky Way, see Dec. 21, 2012 as the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. To them, the sun was aligned inside the dark center, or birth canal of the Milky Way, and thus, we are entering a time of rebirth and renewal. So embrace Janus Geminus, custodian of time and transition, who can cleanse us and guide us into a new era of peace and prosperity!

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