From the Oak: Let’s hear it for the God!
Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.
Janus, God of...Libraries?
I started a new job this week. It is a job that I’ve always wanted. I work in a library. Responses from my friends have been highly amusing. Anything from “that is the perfect job for you!” to “that’s like putting an alcoholic in charge of a bar”.
I started wondering what god has libraries in his purview. My first thought was Hermes but I connect him more with the internet and buyer/reader beware. My second thought was Thoth or Seshat but neither of those felt right. So I did some googling and stumbled across a blog suggesting Janus as a modern symbol for libraries. Now that is an interesting thought.
Janus is a Roman divinity with no counterpart in Greek mythology. He is the god of beginnings (and endings for what is an ending but a new beginning?), only later was he associated with gates and doorways (janua means door). The Romans believed that the success of an enterprise was dependent upon a good beginning. So if some undertaking did not succeed, it was attributed to some fault in the manner of beginning it and so they would scrap everything and start over from scratch. Janus protects the beginning of all occupations and actions including human life. While Jupiter (Zeus) sanctions any undertaking, its beginning depends upon the blessings of Janus. So the ancients frequently invoked them together. This is not to say that Janus was superior or more powerful than the other gods, just that his blessings were the first ones sought.
January is named for him. His primary festival day is the first day of the year but he also receives offerings on the first day of the month and the beginning of each day. However he plays a role in any important event whether planting or harvest time, marriages, births, deaths, etc. Janus is depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, typically east and west. Sometimes the faces are male (Janus/Dianus/Sol/Apollo) and female (Jana/Diana/Luna/Artemis), angry and happy, shaved and unshaved, or young and old. (Maybe the Western version of the ying/yang symbol?) Occasionally he is represented by four faces as in the Nerva forum. He is often seen holding keys and his offerings are usually sweet in nature such as figs and honey cakes.
There was a passage dedicated to Janus which was opened in times of war so that he could assist Roman efforts and closed during times of peace so that Janus could not escape Rome. The passage is commonly thought of as a temple but this is incorrect, though it was seen as a sacred place. It had two entrances near the Roman forum and was probably used during processions before and after war. A temple was built in the time of first Punic war, restored by Augustus and dedicated by Tiberius.
So why associate him with libraries and librarians? To enter a library, one must go through a doorway to seek knowledge. Many enter the doors: males, females, the young and the old. All are seekers in starting something new whether it be books, computers, CDs or DVDs. Librarians are the gatekeepers, guardians and guides of all that passes through that doorway. Janus presides over transitions or anything that is double edged such as ignorance and knowledge or primitive and civilized. One may be looking toward the future by searching for information to make your life better or looking backward to history to learn from the past. Maybe one is looking for entertainment, the comedy and tragedy masks certainly call Janus to mind.
“The library is a place of perpetual beginnings, with every page turned and screen viewed.” Devin
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