(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.