I mentioned a few days ago that our writing group topic this month is ‘Janus’. I chose it because January named for Janus the Roman god is my birthday month. So I feel the pressure is on my having chosen something quite tricky to write about… in fact I have found it very tricky, but I’ve also become fascinated by Janus the god of doorways and passages.
This is a very, very rough first draft:
I am Janus, I am the spirit who presides at doorways, who stands at entrances, who straddles archways. I stand at the beginning of the journey and I wait at the end, the journey across place or space, the travel through time. I look forwards, but I also look backwards, I look to the future, I see the past.
Before the Romans named me for their januae – their doorways, and their jani – their archways and gateways, I was there at the entrances into the dwellings of the people who were there before. Looking from within, I guarded the way from the warmth and comfort of the hearth, to the outside world. I am the magic of the way in, and the mystery and the good fortune of the way out. I look at the world beyond, and the home within.
When the warriors marched, when they went forth to confront their enemy, war magic commanded they should leave by the proper ways and routes were made, and sometimes structures built to walk beneath, and I was in those ways and above those structures… looking forward to the battle, looking backwards to home and hearth. Sometimes I presided over running water, water flowing from a place, and flowing to another place. And there were charms and amulets, and talisman, prayers and spells, spells and prayers.
My shrines were built; they were fashioned of bronze with double doors at one end and double doors at the other end, the way in and out, the way out and in. In times of war these doors were open; in times of peace they were closed. There were temples and grand edifices, but with a simple doorway, a simple entrance… and exit.
I was one of the first of the Roman deities, and the Romans took me and gave me alters and shrines, they built ceremonial gates and gateways which stood alone, no walls on either side and they took care that they chose the correct fashion to pass through my gates and arches, my exits and my entrances.
I am at the beginning, the god of all beginnings; sometimes they show me two-faced, looking forward, looking back… looking forward to the new year ahead, looking back over the past year that’s been. I am January, the first month. The year has changed, the old year has gone and the new year is now, and I am January. The Romans, the superstitious sons of Romulus, feared even numbers, my thirty days would see inauspicious for this first month, and so I have the other day, my days are thirty-one.
The Romans… they gave me a mother to my son, the nymph Camasene bore me Tiberinus, whose death in the waters of a river gave their city the Tiber.
Doorways and entrances, gates and exits, beginnings and endings, change and transition – change from one place to another through journey, transition from one state to another through time, a passageway a passing of time, going forwards, going backwards, what is here and what is not – what is gone or missing… All that you humans do – experiencing birth, growth, change, procreation, decline and passing, I am there. I have no priests, I have no rites or rituals, I have no temples. My shrine is the door, the arch and the gateway.
… I am Janus
Thanks to the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc for this picture of a sesterce from the reign of Nero. 54-68 AD. Showing the Temple of Janus with ornate roof decoration, latticed window on the left and with a garland hung across the closed double doors to the right.
You might recognise my featured image, it’s the entrance into West Kennet Long Barrow – the spirit guarding this would not be Janus, except by another name.