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New Beginnings and Mythology: Janus, the Romans’ God

The two faces of Janus representing new beginnings and mythology
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Imagine a person from another time in human history, from any region, race, gender, or religion. No matter the place, time, or status, you will find differences from your present situation. However, one thing remains unchanged: the need to begin again, to follow new paths and to move forward.

If we look at it through the beliefs of ancient times, we realize that the concept of new beginnings is present throughout the history of human beings. For this reason, I explain the relationship between new beginnings and mythology. Because by looking at the past we can better understand the future.

In the ancient Rome, they did not escape to this need either. They had their own god to whom they used to pray to give them hope and protect their efforts to start afresh.

The Hierarchy and Importance of the Gods

In ancient times many deities were worshipped and each one had a role or position. Just as there are hierarchies in today’s societies, there were also hierarchies in ancient Rome, even for the gods. At that time, the gods were divided in three categories:

  1. The major gods
  2. The minor gods
  3. Heroes or demigods

The major gods were 22 and were also divided into 2 groups: those of the celestial council and the chosen gods. The celestial council consisted of 12 divinities who could deliberate and make decisions. While the other ten chosen gods could be carved in gold, silver, and ivory. In this group of 22 gods we can find Saturn, Apollo, Jupiter, Juno, Venus, the Fates, Bacchus, among others.

The minor gods: were those gods that were related to the marine, the countryside, domestic and allegorical. For example, Faun, the Nereids, the Rivers, Fortune and Freedom.

Heroes or demigods are those who are the result of the union between a god and a mortal. This group also included those mortals who, by their actions, deserved access to heaven. Some of them are Prometheus, Hercules, and Orion.

Janus belongs to the so-called major gods in the group of the chosen. In this last category are, besides Janus, other 9 gods like the Muses and the Fates. By looking more closely at Janus, you can see the relationship between new beginnings and mythology through one of the most revered gods.

The Romans' God Janus: Two Faces of New Beginnings

The ancient Romans worshipped Janus. A Roman god in essence and nature that has no equivalent with the Greek gods. Nor with any other divinity from cultures that influenced the Roman one. He is the god of new beginnings, of portals and transition in all its forms: entrances, exits, interim, beginnings and endings.

He was the guardian of the gate and the heavens. For that reason, he was the first god to be invoked during religious rituals, since through him the other gods were reached.  

Janus was originally a king of Lazio (a region of central Italy) who instilled values of justice, love, and generosity. He was deeply religious and pious and for this reason divine powers were granted to him.

It is said that Saturn lived in Lazio when he was expelled from heaven and was invited by Janus to rule this region with him. Therefore, Saturn granted Janus the ability to see the past, present and future. Hence, he is represented with two faces: one that looks at the past and one that looks at the future.

Janus is also depicted with a key in his right hand and a crook in his left. A clear symbol of being the guardian of the gates and the paths.

Ancient Symbolism Transformed into the Present

The symbolism and meaning associated with the Roman god Janus are still relevant today. You probably would not see the similarities at first glance, because our era is more changeable and with a faster pace than the one in ancient Rome. However, consider that the Romans were in a constant expansion that forced them to change and go through paths unknown to them.

New beginnings are as valid now as they were in ancient Rome. Its importance can be seen even in the name of the first month of the year: January (ianuarius in Latin). This month – according to many scholars – is named after the god Janus (Ianus), which comes from the Latin word ianua meaning door. A month that represents the beginning and the door of a new year. A period that goes and stays in the past, and another that begins by looking to the future with hope, like the two faces of Janus.

The Roman god of new beginnings is also the god of transition, the midpoint between dualities, such as beginning and end or war and peace. That is why Janus is also the god that was invoked during the wars. The doors of his temple would open at the beginning of a war and only close when it was over. In peacetime, the temple remained closed. As you see there is a close connection between new beginnings and mythology through this god, especially in times of war, where winning or losing meant starting over.

Today, the Janus cult can be described as a search for hope. A hope that helps us to overcome the inner conflict that is to travel along a new path, through the uncertainty of the future and the changes. That is what Janus represents. The beginning of a new chapter that starts by daring to take the step and go through the door that will lead us to our goal.

If you are interested in mythology, you can read the post about the Phoenix Myth and Reinvention.

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References and links:
  1. Janus. Ancient History Encyclopedia, the 6th of February 2015.
  2. Mitología griega y romana. Jean Humbert. Publisher Gustavo Gili 2017.
  3. Mitología para Dummies. Christopher W. Blackwell. Publisher Grupo Planeta 2018.
  4. Jano. Wikipedia.
  5. Who was Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings? The Conversation. The 31st of December 2017.