Friday, January 9, 2015


In Roman mythology, Janus is depicted as a two faced god and is the god of beginnings and of doorways. By two faces, I mean one looking forward to the future and the other looking back to the past.

During the festival known as the Agonalia, which was celebrated on January 9, May 21, and December 11, honoring different deities. On January 9, that deity was Janus.

Typically the officiating priest would sacrifice a ram. Offerings of barley, incense, wine, and cakes called Januae were also common. Since I am a vegan, instead of killing a ram, I'm going to suggest perhaps a really nice seitan pot roast. Served with a nice glass of wine, and maybe a cupcake for dessert.

Burning incense is pretty cool, too.

According to the encyclopedia, Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome, honored Janus by dedicating the famous Ianus geminus, the arcade at the northeast end of the Roman Forum, to him. It was believed that passing through this arcade brought luck to soldiers on their way to war. Hopefully we won't see any soldiers going to war any time soon.

According to Ovid:
Janus must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the God's sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should, Agatne? and won't unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
'Of the lambs', dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature's agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, Rex Sacrorum,
Must appease the Gods with the mate of a woolly ewe."

Gruesome, right?  Probably because one of the suggested meanings of the word translates to *sacrificial victim*. <shudder>

I choose to view this another way. Since the day is intended to honor Janus, I would rather honor what he represents. According to Wikipedia, "Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange, and in his association with Portunus, a similar harbor and gateway god, he was concerned with travelling, trading and shipping."

As we look back on those noble resolutions we made for the new year, today is a day to look back over that list, and see if we have truly begun to put them into practice. Have we walked through the door and made a real and actual start? Have we closed any doors to conflicts in our lives and worked toward peace? If we haven't, today reminds us to make that effort. If we have started, today reminds us to not look back and keep going forward.

And pot roast and a glass of wine are still a very fine thing.

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