Today – ish – is one of the various dates through the Roman calendar called ‘Agonalia’. These were festivals in honour of various gods and generally involved animal sacrifice.
Under the old Roman calendar, before Gregory came along and Gregorianed us up, there were three main significant dates in each month. The first was the Kalends, from which we take the word calendar, which occurred on the first day. Then the Nones on the ninth day, and the Ides on the fifteenth, or roughly the halfway point. You’ll be familiar with the ides of March as the day wannabe-tyrant Julius Caesar ate two brutes and Rome was saved from dictatorship – or would’ve been if they didn’t just hand it straight over to Julius Caesar II, the former Octavian, who immediately set himself up a throne and got right in with the dictating.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Back to the Agonalia. Because of the change in calendar these dates no longer line up exactly, but for want of more precision – and lacking the need for more precision – I’m calling today the day of the Agonalia, and in January it’s a sacrifice in honour of Janus.
Don’t worry, I’m not sacrificing anyone; or anything unless you count my lunch which again isn’t as veggie as it should be. Sorry. But no, I’m just observing the date, is all.
Janus, more properly Ianus (and pronounced YAN-us, as for Romans I and J were the same and both sounded like Y), is one of the older gods, and has dominion over many things. But he’s most famous as the god of doors and portals, arches, corridors, entrances and exits, thresholds and transitions, beginnings and endings.
It’s for this reason that doors are named for him in Rome (‘ianua’) and the first month of the year named for them: the door to the new year.
He’s often represented as a man with two faces – one looking forwards and the other back, as he stands on the line between old and new, death and rebirth.
According to medieval scholar Macrobius, Janus is strongly associated with Diana, the goddess of the wilds, wild animals, hunting, the moon, women and feminine matters. And, as I’ve touched on before, if viewed in his aspect as a sky god, Janus and the triune Diana-Luna-Hecate form an ancient Roman analogue of the modern god-triple-goddess concept central to many modern witchcraft traditions.
Janus was the subject of additional, arguably more prominent, festivals in March and June, as well as rites performed throughout the year. He was invoked at any time anyone wished to embark on a new venture – such as a marriage, a business, a project; and he was honoured at the beginning of any religious rite performed, whomever the rite was primarily focused on. In this he accompanied the goddess Vesta, who was conversely invoked to end every rite.