An Introduction to Janus

Amanda Aremisia Forrester

My house seemed brighter than a moment before.
Then holy Janus, an amazing sight with those two heads,
suddenly met me face to face.
Frightened out of my wits, I felt my hair stand on end
and suddenly an icy chill gripped my heart.
With a staff in his right hand, and a key in his left, the god
uttered these words from his forward mouth:
“I am called Janus the doorman!”

-– Ovid, Fasti 1.97

Janus has no Greek counterpart. He is the God of doors and gateways. That may
not sound very important, but few Deities received the honors He did. Because He
presided over symbolic gateways as well as literal, He is a God of endings and
beginnings, whose sacred days were both the first and last days of the year.
Janus also has an agricultural aspect; he rules over the sowing (the beginning)
and reaping (the ending) of crops.

As God of beginnings, Romans would pray to him at the start of every day, month,
and year, and offer incense and wine to him at the start of any new venture or
project. He was first to receive incense or wine at any sacrifice, as Janus
guarded even the gateway to the greater Gods.

When Julius Caesar added two months to what had been a ten-month calendar, he
named the first month after Janus, God of beginnings — January. Janus is shown as
having two faces going in opposite directions – literally having eyes in the back of his head. He held a staff in his right hand and a key in his left.

Frances Bernstein, Ph.D., author of Classical Living: Reconnecting With the
Rituals of Ancient Rome, tells us about Janus’s teachings:

“We learn from the God of Beginnings and Thresholds that change is not something
we should rush into without reflecting on where we have been. It is essential to
draw upon our awareness of the past and expectations for the future. This is a
critical time when we must be conscious of the past and where we have been,
those things we had done or thought, the experiences that are over – lessons
learned.” 1

Bernstein goes on to talk about the symbolism of the door and threshold, which
the Romans saw as “highly charged and magical transition points; they are
boundaries between two worlds. … Crossing over the threshold and walking out the
front door was leaving the safety of private space and moving into the public
world. Departing on a journey and passing through the town gate was equivalent
to leaving the civilized world and entering the wild and untamed countryside.”

Have you ever wondered why it is tradition for a groom to carry his bride across
the threshold of their new home? As a powerful portal that marked transition,
the doorway was laden with omens and spirits. Even the door hinges had a
protecting Goddess: the nymph Cranae, consort of Janus. To trip while walking in
a doorway was a bad omen, especially during an important ritual. This was the
first time a bride passed through the doorway into her husband’s home; hence, he
carried her to prevent a stumble that could offend the household spirits and curse the marriage.

We no longer see the home and the outside world as completely separate realities. Perhaps this is in part because of the advent of communication technology such as cell phones and computers. We are constantly connected. And it’s not always a good thing. When we can be reached anytime, anywhere, by anyone, it becomes difficult to relax.

An Ancient Prayer to Janus

Offer a sacifical cake to Janus with these words: “Father Janus, in offering you
this sacrificial cake, I make good prayers that thou be kind to me, my children,
and my house and household.”

Afterwards, offer wine to Janus thus: “Father Janus, as I besought thee with good
prayers in offering this sacrificial cake, let me honor thee for the same purpose with sacrificial wine.”

– Cato. De Agricultura 134

1. Frances Bernstein, Ph.D. Classical Living: Reconnecting with the Rituals of
Ancient Rome. Page12-13.

2 Responses to An Introduction to Janus

  1. Pingback: Some of my writings « Temple of Athena the Savior

  2. Jessye Jess says:

    Louvado seja o Deus Janus!

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