Janus and the New Year

Beginnings, endings, and transformation

It’s almost new years eve, and to celebrate we’ll be talking about the Roman god Janus and the the origins of this festivity.

Let me tell you a story about transitions…

Romans were very fond of their festivities, and among their most important ones was new year. Romans believed that the way in which something began was an omen for how good that something will be. For this reason, the first day of the year was of a festive quality, with people exchanging gifts, and pleasantries all around, much like we do today. This was also a festival of transitions, when the past year flows into the future one, the old becomes the new, and black becomes white.

Like most cultures, they had a figure to which they attributed all these mystical properties they perceived as occurring during this day. This anthropomorphic personification they called Janus. Here’s the blurb from his Wikipedia page

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces. The month of January is named for Janus (Ianuarius).

Portrait of the god Janus

Janus presides over “all beginnings and transitions, whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane”. Something that’s not obvious is that his role as master of change and transitions also gives him mastery of time itself (which is an integral component in any transformation process). It is said that with one face he looks to the future, and with the other towards the past.

Another interesting aspect is his name

The name of the god Iānus, meaning in Latin ‘arched passage, doorway’.

In his most basic form I guess we can say that he facilitate passage from one reality into another.

Now that we got the introduction out of the way we can start asking some questions.

The first is this concept of transforming from A to B, or as said above, from one reality into another. Whatever it is that is changing does not stop being during its transition, instead it flows from one state to the other. The concept of beginning or ending is from a human point of view, but cosmically things only ever just flow, from top to bottom, from cold to hot, and there is really no thing to start with. I guess the same could be applied to the Ship of Theseus thought experiment. (Side note, this reminds me of Alfred Whitehead process philosophy , you should check it out if you find this idea intriguing).

I also find the gateway imagineering really interesting. Especially, what happens when you find yourself in the dead center of a doorway that connects two rooms? Do both rooms become one?

Janus standing in a doorway, looking at himself

If we agree that is the case then we might say that Janus also represents the concept of duality. By allowing something to become something else he enables the universe to have opposites. Black can also be White, or any shade of gray in between. Maybe the distinction here is just apparent when seen from the human point of view, but cosmically it’s again all flow.

Anyway, interesting food for thought.

Happy new year everyone!

PS: If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend you check out this page .

See also

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