Agonalia Londinensi

Agonalia Londinensi

f2There is something appealingly Pratchettesque about festivals that are so old that nobody remembers what they were for… and yet they continue anyway.

(This isn’t a post about weddings.)

This is January, the month of Janus, and today is one of his feast days. The Agonalia.

An agonalia is one of those archaic festivals that persisted despite its original purpose being lost to the mists of time. The name of the festival, however, clearly derives from ‘sacrificial victim‘.

These fuzzy origins seem quite appropriate for Janus because, despite his ‘pater’ title, he does not sit atop a divine family and appears to be an ancient import. The general consensus being that he originated somewhere in the Near East. His similarity to Isimud, a messenger figure of Enki, has not gone unnoticed.

To that I would add that ‘bringing bird-headed figures’ before Ea, combined with his evident popularity among sailors and foreigners in Roman ports may speak to an older provenance still. Possibly even Neolithic. Janus is just sort of… there. In the pantheon. Interestingly, Hekate is also out of place at her family reunions (on an esoteric level, much of her power comes from pre-dating Olympus which means she is not subject to the upstart Zeus’s diktats) and the two of them share a hymn.

Janus appears to fulfil a ‘gate opening and closing’ role in a manner similarbutnotthesameas, say, Papa Legba. He sees into both realms and forwards and backwards in time, becoming a conduit for divine energy and a patron of lies, actors and spies. Speaking of, this happened today.

Each January I make sure to mark his month in some way, as even when divine attention isn’t wholly beneficial -and it rarely is- then at least it’s interesting. Feel free to do the same. Janus is not my first choice of conduit or psychopomp, that continues to be Hermanubis. His swipe card gets me into more of the places I prefer to go, and his ‘shadow cousin’ relationship to Horus has much to recommend it.

But Hermanubis doesn’t have a month named after him. And this year, I’ve been organised enough to have the house to myself for the Janus festival that actually falls in January. Typically, this is a lazy combination of wine, incense and a variant of the Salian hymn, which is technically from March, hence the reference to the cuckoo, which flew back over the Mediterranean at that time of year:

Come forth with the cuckoo! Truly all things dost thou make open.
Thou art Janus Curiatius, the good creator art thou.
Good Janus is coming, the chief of the superior rulers.

Mayor Boris, however, beat me to it.

On January 9th in Ancient Rome, under the auspices of Janus, a sacrifice was made to the guardian gods of the state. And today we woke up to the news that Boris is closing ten firestations in London, including the oldest one in the country. These 550 firemen are literally a state sacrifice. (Please allow the Artist Taxi Driver to express my outrage. May Janus open new doors for them all.)

Now, Mayor Boris studied Rome at Oxford, has presented television programmes on Roman history, and makes frequent allusions to Rome when talking about London. If you asked him, he would know what an Agonalia was. His London history could do with a bit of a touch up it seems, as the first thing everyone else remembers about the place is it burned to the frikking ground.

One of the places now at increased risk of fire briefly had a Temple of Janus:

King James made his first public entry into his royal City of London, with his consort and son Henry, upon the 15th of March, 1603–4. The king was mounted upon a white genet, ambling through the crowded streets under a canopy held by eight gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, as representatives of the Barons of the Cinque Ports, and passed under six arches of triumph, to take his leave at the Temple of Janus, erected for the occasion at Temple Bar. This edifice was fiftyseven feet high, proportioned in every respect like a temple.

March 15 is within a few days of Janus’s main festival, indicating that the King who gave us the Bible and a personally written book on demonology and witch-finding was amusingly surrounded by wizards.

For whatever reason, it strikes me as particularly resonant that the day of Janus is marked by a public shutting of doors in a city that once considered itself the New Rome. The television coverage actually comments on the closed, locked, roller-doors. Actual symbols of Janus.

2014 will be a year of significant state ritual. To begin it thusly is… interesting. If we can make any macro observations of Roman ritual at all, it is that they usually began with Janus and ended with Vesta. Vesta’s symbol isn’t the doorway, of course.

Vesta’s symbol is the fire.



Add yours
  1. 1

    Marshmallows all round then?

    Seriously though. Playing around with wizard eyes a sec – the Great Fire kicked off a variety of stuff, not least cleansing the city of Plague. Vesta is goddess of the hearth flame. Wiki describes the vestal virgins as surroguate housekeepers.

    So…whats horrid and infests most of Europe and needs a little housekeeping?
    VI´s last blog post ..Beyond Our Ken: Navigation is Mandatory

  2. 3
    Simon Tomasi

    Yup, it’s going to be a year of fire. But not before more rain, snow and storms.
    There’s a tradition that owning a copy of Sefer Raziel HaMalach protects from fire, might be time to invest in a copy.

  3. 5
    Andrew B. Watt

    Another hymn to Janus, for those who feel like they need a bit more.

    On these east coast shores, it’s interesting that Chris Christie’s scandal involving the George Washington Bridge (a bridge is a kind of doorway, isn’t it?) has broken at this time. A double Christ (“I am the way the truth and the life”) closing the way to the Father of our Country (“Admit no entangling alliances”), and now the truth is coming out? Hmm.

    Today, the 11th, is the Roman Carmentalia, a feast in honor of the muses. A good time for getting creative: we’re going to a museum today.
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Tai Chi Y2D302: The Social Commitment

  4. 6
    Cory Panshin

    Andrew – Interesting observation. Janus is described as the god of both gateways and doorways, and the George Washington Bridge is often described as the Gateway to New York. The town of Fort Lee (in proper Janus-headed style) is referred to as both the Gateway to New York and the Gateway to New Jersey. Perhaps the message of the scandal is what Dylan wrote so many years ago: “Don’t stand in the doorways, don’t block up the halls, for the times they are a-changin’.”
    Cory Panshin´s last blog post ..Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

  5. 7

    A little late to the comments section, but I thought I’d add a few things.

    First, a quick browsing of wikipedia for Janus brought up some research pointing to him originating as a solar deity, tracing back to Sumerian temples adorned with twin pillars, each marking the sun’s rising on the summer and winter solstices. These pillars eventually evolved to become a single pillar with a set of twin heads on top. Back up to the twin pillars, though, and we have the obvious beginnings of a gateway; a gateway that also marks the back and forth of our seasons, and through which would pass all of Time.

    Twin pillars, new beginnings, marking of time, starting of rituals…

    Secondly, and back to the Year of Ghosts post, CNN’s website has these headlines as of 11:30 tonight:
    – Holdout WWII (Japanese) soldier dies
    – Obama honors oldest (US) WWII Veteran
    – WWII-era bomb blows up in Germany

    And a little further down the page:
    – Putin says gays can feel safe at Sochi

    Here we are in 2014 and one of our largest news outlets has front-page headlines that highlight both The War and a list of Axis & Allies. Note that the Russian headline stays in theme with the 1940’s idea that they are our allies, but not to be trusted; Olympic Games with a hint of Eastern-Bloc paranoia. Trust us. You are safe.

    Is it of further note that the previous Games was held in London? Ah, another Ally, but one a step behind and a cycle out of date. Sorry, chum, old news in the world.

    Regardless of any of this, I’ve enjoyed reading and contemplating. P.S. I’m not a wizard of any kind and found this site quite by accident. Cheers!

  6. 8
    Cory Panshin

    I’m still chewing over the Chris Christie scandal — which has now predictably been dubbed “Bridgegate,” thereby bringing in the “gate” meme from a completely different direction. It’s also starting to strike me that at least in the US, political scandals tend to acquire oddly mythic names that sound as though they should be dungeons & dragons locations — Watergate, Whitewater, Bridgegate.

    And for what it’s worth, there’s a new Christie scandal this morning, with the mayor of Hoboken claiming that Christie’s people tried to shake her down by withholding Hurricane Sandy recovery funds unless she approved a redevelopment project that had been configured to strongly favor the Rockefeller Group — the firm that originally built and still manages Rockefeller Center. So one for the hardcore conspiracy theorists, I guess.
    Cory Panshin´s last blog post ..Fans, Hackers, and Invisibles

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