Weekly Deity: Janus


Janus, the Roman two-headed god of beginnings, endings, gates, crossroads, bridges, and entryways.  He could see both the past and the future, and the month of January is named for him.

Attributes

Janus was often depicted as a two-headed bearded man, with one head facing one direction and the other head facing the opposite.  Normally it is just his head that is shown, especially in bust form placed at crossroads, bridges, and the doorways of buildings or pictured on coins.  However, there are times when his full body is shown, and then he is sitting holding a staff in one hand and a scroll or key in the other.

Mythology

Despite the supposed importance of Janus in Roman religion, very little has survived to tell of Janus’ origins, and he doesn’t figure prominently in any myth in the way that other popular gods do (such as Jupiter or Diana).  For a god who had a month of the calendar named after him (a very high honor, considering that Julius Caesar was given the month of July and Augustus was given August named after them in Augustus’ reign), there is little to speak of him or his personality.  There was in the Forum a gateway which belonged to Janus.  It was opened at times of war, and closed at times of peace.  During wartime, sacrifices would be given inside the gates of Janus (Ianus geminus) to forecast the outcome of wars and battles.

In one undocumented myth, Janus supposedly shared a kingdom in Latium with Camese, with whom he had many children.  Tiberinus was supposed to be a son of Janus and Camese.

Light and Dark Side

On the downside, Janus can only see the past and the future.  He cannot see the present, and does not live in the present.  He would not be a god to aid in current troubles.  Questions of the future would be more in his domain, and this was how the Romans conceptualized him as well.  On the positive side, he doesn’t seem to be a cruel or malicious god.  He seems rather passive, which can be both a positive and a negative trait in a person.  There is a duality to Janus because he is the god of beginnings and endings, the positive new beginning and the sometimes negative ending.  Without further information on how the Romans viewed him in the context of their religion, it’s difficult to say much about the Light or Dark side of Janus’ personality.  However, it is safe to say that he is not a god of the present, which means he is not a god for pressing issues of the current time, only for past issues or future questions, if that makes sense.

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2 responses to “Weekly Deity: Janus

  1. Is there, like with many of Roman Gods, a Greek counterpart?

    • Janus, to my knowledge, had no Greek counterpart. He was an ancient Italian deity that the Greeks either didn’t know what to do with, or didn’t want to incorporate into their culture when the two religions intersected and traded ideas.

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