Category Archives: Duality

Mictlantecutli

Pronunciation: Mict-lan-te-cuht-li

Alternate Spelling: Mictlantecihuatl

Other names: Chicunauhmictlan (“King of Mictlan”)

Etymology: “Lord of Mictlan”

Mictlantecutli is the Aztec deity who is the Lord of the Dead and ruler of the Aztec Underworld known as Mictlan. Which is exactly what Mictlantecutli’s name translates to, “Lord of Mictlan.”

Just to get it out of the way, Mictlantecuhtli’s wife is Mictecacihuatl, who is also the ruler of the dead.

Attributes

Animal: Bat, Dog, Owl, Spider

Direction: North

Element: Earth

Month: Tititl (Aztec)

Patron of: Death, the Dead

Planet: Pluto

Sphere of Influence: Death

Symbols: Bones, Skeletons, Paper

Time: 11th Hour

Aztec Depictions

Mictlantecutli is often represented as either a skeleton or a human figure wearing a skull. His headdress will often have owl feathers on it. When shown as a skeleton, Michlantechutli’s headdress will have knives in it to represent the wind of knives that the souls of the dead must pass through on their way to Mictlan. Michlantechutli when shown as a skeleton may be shown covered or splattered in blood and wearing a necklace of eyeballs or wearing paper clothing. Paper being a common offering for the dead. As human, Michlantechutli would have human bones serving as ear plugs that he wears.

Additional depictions of Michlantechutli show him wearing sandals to symbolize his high rank as the Lord of Mictlan. Michlantechutli could also be shown with his arm held out in an aggressive pose, showing he was ready to tear apart the dead as they came into his presence and realm. There is also an Aztec Codice that shows Michlantechutli as having his skeletal jaw wide open to take in the stars into him during the day.

What’s In A Name

Mictlantecutli’s name translates to “Lord of Mictlan” in the Nahuatl language.

Family

Parents – Not really, Mictlantecuhtli was created by Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli when they were busy creating the universe and world.

Spouse – Mictecacihuatl, the Queen and Ruler of the Dead. Another spelling I have for her is Mictlantecihuatl.

Aztec Cosmology

Suns – This is a big one in Aztec Cosmology, the Aztecs believed in a cycle of suns or periods of creation. The fourth sun ended with a great deluge or flood that drowned everyone and that the current age is the fifth sun.

There were a number of different paradises or afterlives in Aztec belief. The manner of a person’s death would determine which of these paradises they got to enter. Any person who failed to get into these paradises would find themselves destined for Mictlan.

Fairly common in many world beliefs, the Aztecs divided the cosmos into three parts. The Heavens or Ilhuicac at the top with the Earth or Tlalticpac, being the land of the living found in the middle. Mictlan, the Underworld would be found below.

Depending on the manner of one’s death, would depend on which after life a person to. Mictlan was pretty much seen as the place for all souls who couldn’t get into one of the paradises.

Cosmic Origins

In the Aztec Creation story, there were Ometecuhtli and his wife Omecihuatl who bore four children Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli.

And…. Nothing really happens for about 600 years, so the four children decide that they will set about creating the universe. That of course includes creating the Sun, the first man and woman, maize, and calendar. Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, the Lord and Lady of Death would be created last.

Lord Of The Underworld – Mictlan

With the Christian mindset, the Underworld, any Underworld does not sound like a happy fun place to be or go.

Not quite in Aztec beliefs, most everyone who died, went to Mictlan. When a person died, they would be buried with grave goods that they would carry with them on their travels to Mictlan. These goods would be offered up to Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl.

As the newly dead started their journey to Mictlan, they would be accompanied by a small dog who guided them. Mictlan was known to be located somewhere far to the North. Much like in other world myths and beliefs, the Realm of the Dead is pretty much just neutral, not necessarily evil. Mictlan is divided into nine different levels or layers that the dead must travel through and a series of tests they must do on a four-year journey down to Mictlan. We are talking having to run from various monsters, icy blasts known as the “winds of obsidian,” traverse a mountain range where the mountains crash into each other, and to cross the nine rivers of blood guarded by jaguars. Once the soul arrived, they would dissolve, vanishing forever.

Home Sweet Home – While Mictlan is divided into nine different levels, Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl live in the last few levels. One legend holds that there is a place of white flowers that was forever dark and served as home to the gods of death.

The actual house or dwelling place that Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl live at in the Mictlan is reputed to have no windows.

Vaticanus Codex – In this Colonial codex, Mictlantecutli is identified and labelled by the Spanish as “the Lord of the Underworld, Tzitzimitl” and equated with the Christian Lucifer.

Mictlampa

This is the name the Aztecs used for the northern direction associated with Mictlanteculhtli. The northern direction is where the Aztecs believed the land of the dead to be. This would be a region of the earth that was a dark, barren and cold place that was eternally still and quiet. Which makes sense for the Artic. Sometimes, Mictlanteculhtli could be associated with the south, just as equally likely if one were to make it to Antarctica, that’s pretty cold and lifeless the further inland you get.

Souls Of The Dead

The Aztecs recognized three types of souls and Mictlantecutli governed over all of them.

  1. People who died of normal deaths as in old age and disease
  • People who died heroic deaths such as in battle, sacrifices and childbirth
  • People who died non-heroic deaths, accidents and suicides

While this sounds like every soul ends up in Mictlan, a soul could end up in another place. For example, if someone died violently drowning or lighting, they would end up in Tlalocan (a realm in the Heavens), for the Tlaloc, the water god.

Aztec Calendar

In the Aztec Calendar, Mictlanteculhtli is associated with the tenth day sign Itzcuintli, a dog. There were twenty such signs in the Aztec calendar. On the day that a particular deity is associated with, that deity was were responsible for providing the souls born on that day.

In addition, Mictlanteculhtli was the source of all souls born on the sixth day of a 13-day week. That is an exceedingly long weekend to work towards.

Mictlanteculhtli presided as the second Week Deity for the tenth week of a twenty-week calendar cycle.

Aztec Gods

Of the Aztec Gods as a whole, Mictlanteculhtli is the fifth out of nine Night Deities.

As a Night God, Mictlanteculhtli would be paired up with the Sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the duality and dichotomy of light and darkness.

He was also the secondary Week God for the tenth week of the twenty-week cycle of the calendar, joining the sun god Tonatiuh to symbolize the dichotomy of light and darkness.

Dualities – Light & Dark

While we are on this subject, where Mictlantecutli and Mictecacihuatl represented Death; they are the complements and opposites to Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl who represented Life.

Fertility – Life & Death

By modern, Western aesthetics, Mictlanteculhtli is not the only Aztec deity to be shown with skeletal imagery or bones. For the Aztecs, skeletons and bones were symbols of abundance, fertility, and health. You couldn’t have one without the other.

Bats

As they only come out at night and often from caves, bats have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli and the Underworld.

Dogs

Due to the tenth day sign Itzcuintli, a dog, they are also associated with Mictlanteculhtli. It also seems fairly coincidental enough too as even in Europe, dogs as in Black Dogs are often associated with death and being psychopomps to lead the souls of the dead to the afterlife.

Owls

In Aztec beliefs, the owl is associated with death and thus one of Michlantechutli’s animals. Michlantechutli is often shown wearing owl feathers on his headdress.

Spiders

Another animal associated with death and darkness; they too have been associated with Mictlanteculhtli.

Ritual Sacrifices

A good portion of the Aztec belief system involved a lot of ritual blood sacrifices. Mictlantecuhtli was no different. Sacrifices made to Mictlantecuhtli were performed at night with a person being a stand in or avatar, representative for the god of death. They would be sacrificed at the Tlalxicco temple, whose name means “navel of the world.”

The flayed skins of humans would be offered up to Mictlantecuhtli and it is said that ritual cannibalism was done at the temple too.

Fun Fact – When Hernan Cortes landed on the shore of Central America, the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II thought that this was the deity Quetzalcoatl who had arrived. Thinking that this was the end of the world, Moctezuma II increased the number of human sacrifices believing that this would allow him to appease Mictlantecuhtli and avoid the torments of Mictlan.

Aztec Creation Story

In Aztec myths and beliefs, the world has been created and destroyed a few times.

In this case, the gods Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl had just finished with restoring the sky and earth when they decide that they need to create people to populate this new fifth world. Since Michlantechutli has all the bones, Quetzalcoatl travels to him to inquire about getting some bones. Michlantechutli agrees to the condition that Quetzalcoatl travel around the Underworld four times while sounding a conch shell horn. The catch is that Michlantechutli gives Quetzalcoatl a shell that doesn’t have any holes drilled into it.

Quetzalcoatl fixes this problem by summoning some worms who drill holes into the conch shell and then having bees fly into the shell. When Michlantechutli hears Quetzalcoatl blowing the conch horn, he is obligated to fulfill his end of the agreement. However Michlantechutli decides to go back on his word to keep the bones. Quetzalcoatl is forced to flee, taking the bones with him and Michlantechutli sends his minions, the Micteca after the other god. The Micteca dig a deep pit and as Quetzalcoatl is running, a quail jumps out, startling Quetzalcoatl so that he falls into the pit and dies with the bones all shattering. This is why people will be different sizes.

One retelling has the quail tormenting Quetzalcoatl before he seemingly dies and then gnaws on all the bones, making that the reason why humans will be in different sizes.

Quetzalcoatl does eventually revive, being a god and takes the bones to the goddess Cihuacoatl who grinds up the bones and puts them into a special container. The other gods now gather around this container and cut themselves to shed blood into it. From this mixture, the humans of today came forth to populate the earth.

Variation – One version of the myths I came across is that it is both Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl who come to claim bones from Mictlantecuhtli and that these were the bones of previous deities who had lived and died.

Hueymiccaylhuitl

An Aztec holiday, the “Great Feast of the Dead” was celebrated for the recently deceased and to help them on their journey to Mictlan. Hueymiccaylhuitl would be celebrated in the Aztec month of Tititl where an impersonator or stand-in for the god Mictlantecuhtli would be sacrificed.

When someone died, the Aztecs would cremate the remains. It was believed that the soul would than undertake a four-year journey to Mictlan through the various levels of the Underworld and needing to pass a series of trials. Those who succeeded would make it to the lowest levels of Mictlan.

Hueymiccaylhuitl was also celebrated as an annual celebration as it was believed the dead could return to the lands of the living and visit. Plus, it was a way for the living to help those on their journey as the living could communicate with the deceased souls.

When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, bringing Catholicism with them, the traditions of Hueymiccaylhuitl transformed, becoming known as Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Families still leave offerings of food and goods for the dead to take with them on their journey.

Under more modern and current celebrations and influence from the Catholic church, Día de los Muertos coincides with All Saints’ Day or Feast of All Saints on November 1st. It is a celebration that combines imagery from Aztec beliefs with an air of carnival and festivities with families gathering at cemeteries to share a picnic meal with deceased loved ones and sugar skulls in the image of Mictlantecuhtli.

Syno-Deities

Santa Muerte – Mexico

A female deity, early images of her started off as male. Santa Muerte is a folk saint whose worship and popularity has been increasing since the start of the 21st century in Mexico and has been spreading. Devotees of Santa Muerte may or may not be disenfranchised with the Catholic Religion and many turn to her for healing, protection and a safe passage to the afterlife.

Ah Puch – Mayan

Also known as Yum Cimil, the Mayan god of Death, seen as similar to Mictlantecuhtli.

Coqui Bezelao – Zapotec

Another god of Death similar to Mictlantecuhtli in Central to South America.

Kedo – Zapotec

Another god of Death that Mictlantecuhtli has been equated with.

Tihuime – Tarascan

Another god of Death similar to Mictlantecuhtli in Central America.

Elegua

Pronunciation: uh·leh·goo·uh

Etymology: “Master of Force” or “Messenger of the Gods”

Other Spellings: Eleggua (Cuba), Elegu, Elegua, Elewa, Elegba

Other Names and Epithets: Legba, Club Bearer, Eshu-Eleggua

Elegua is a noted trickster and Orisha in Yoruba traditions from West Africa of Benin, Nigeria and Togo. It is an area known as Yorubaland that is a collection of some twenty plus groups with overlapping traditions and beliefs. Which means that trying to pin Elegua down is going to be rather tricky and I’d say precisely what Tricksters enjoy. These numerous groups mean that there will numerous variations to the stories and even spellings for Elegua’s name.

He is the first Orisha created by Olodumare and was present to witness the rest of creation. Elegua is a divine trickster who is seen as both young and old at once. The Orisha of the crossroads, he provides numerous opportunities and choices wherein he will enjoy sitting back to watch the chaos unfold.

Attributes

Colors: Black, Red

Day of the Week: Monday, Sunday

Element: Spirit

Feast Day: January 1st, June 13th, November 2nd

Number: 3, 21

Patron of: Doorways, Justice, Messengers, Tricksters

Sphere of Influence: Crossroads, Doors, Time, Trickster, Mischief, Mayhem

Symbols: Cement or Sandstone head with eyes and mouth formed of seashells, Hooked Staff (painted red & black), Keys, Whistle

Taboo: Pigeon (no food offerings of this please)

Depictions Of Elegua

Because he represents both the beginning and end of life, Elegua can often be shown as either a young child, an old man or both simultaneously. He is frequently shown wearing black and red clothing, either traditional or jester’s attire. Elegua often takes on the role of warrior and protector as noted when shown carrying a club. He represents the endless wanderer who often appears in the guises of a beggar or crazy person.

What’s In A Name?

Studying Elegua as a separate entity from Eshu can get a bit confusing. Some traditions hold the two as brothers, other traditions say they are one and the same. That the name Elegua is one title for Eshu representing the light half with Eshu being the dark or shadow half.

In Cuba, where the spelling is Eleggua, it is generally thought that this name is a mispronunciation of Elegbara, one of Eshu’s many caminos and manifestations in Africa. That the name Eleggua is probably the Hispanic form of Elewa for Eshu meaning: “Handsome One.”

With enough sources discussing the two, Elegua and Eshu as separate, Eshu will get a separate entry later on.

Modern Day Worship

Elegua is venerated throughout Latin America and Nigeria, especially in the Candomblé, Quimbanda, Santeria, Umbanda and Youran religions.

Statues of Elegua are kept behind the front entrance to a home. Elegua’s alter will be kept either behind the front door of the house or outside, directly to the left of the door. Additionally, Elegua’s alter is always kept on the ground and never at a human height.

Elegua has a beaded necklace or eleke that has a repeated red and black pattern. These colors of red and black represent the duality of life and death, war and peace, health and sickness and so. In Santeria, is well understood that you want to be on Elegua’s good side as he is the one to help things go smoothly or cause the mishaps that life can throw at a person. He is very much so at the crossroads and a part of every decision that a person can make in life for good or ill.

Offerings To Elegua

Elegua will extend his protection and help to those who give offerings of candy, cigars, coconuts and rum.

Like many Orishas, in the Santeria religion, it is important to properly propitiate Elegua; for as often as he will provide opportunities, he is just as likely to toss challenges and obstacles in one’s way.

For food offerings, Elegua will eat almost anything but pigeon. The young, child-like manifestations of Elegua often receive offerings of candy and toys. Older manifestations lean more towards the hard candy, popcorn, smoked fish, bush rat, goat, and rooster. Elegua is especially found of black & white hens and she-goats as offerings.

Orisha

Elegua is a member of the Orisha, the first one created by Olodumare. The Orisha are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruban religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. The Orisha act as messengers and go between for humans, answering the different prayers and requests as Olodumare is seen as being too busy to answer or do everything.

The Orisha are not perfect and like humans, will have many different good and bad traits. They also function as a family and the different relations and stories about how different Orisha relate to each other are known as Pataki, much like a fable or parable. The story doesn’t have to be true in that it actually happened in a historical sense but is made true in the telling.

With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Elegua was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America and South America.

In places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, the various aspects of an Orisha are called caminos, meaning road or path.

In Nigeria, every city has a patron Orisha. Eleggua’s city is Ketu.

The First Orisha – Elegua is the first Orisha that Olodumare or Olofe created. As such, Elegua existed before the rest of creation and was present to witness everything else come into being.

However, there are other Yoruban traditions that state that Elegua is the youngest of the Orisha and the most powerful after Obatala. Elegua did come to be venerated and fed first in ceremonies after he successfully healed Olodumare. Like anyone could, getting to be first has gotten to Elegua’s head and he can cause a lot of mischief, mainly with ceremonies not going right if he isn’t appeased first. Just as Elegua must be called on first in ceremonies, he is also called upon last when closing them out.

Parentage & Family

There are a few different stories for the origins and parentage of Elegua.

Mother Oya is given as the mother of Elegua.

Father – This part isn’t clear as Oya herself has a couple of different consorts. Either Chango or Ogun.

Other sources and myths will list Elegua as the son of Obatala and Yemmu.

Siblings

Following where Obatala and Yemmu are his parents, Elegua’s siblings will be Ogun and Orunla.

As an Orisha, one could argue that ultimately, they are all brothers and sisters.

Messenger

Elegua is the messenger orisha for Olofi, one of the three manifestations of the Supreme god in Yoruban religion. As a messenger, Elegua has the power or Ashe (Ase) to make things happen or get things done.

Divine Judgment

As messenger, that also puts Elegua in the position to mete out justice to wrong doers. Anything from financial losses. To accidents and even jail. Naturally, Elegua can also bless those whom he favors too.

Trickster

Due to his nature, Elegua is seen as a trickster in Santeria as he is present everywhere. He was the first to witness creation, he is witness to all of humankind’s events and history. Elegua provides both opportunities and obstacles in a person’s life. If you’re particularly lucky, you might even get a second chance with him.

God Of The Crossroads

A trickster, Elegua is known for opening the crossroads in the Santeria religion. Elegua is also associated with doorways and will protect a home from any danger or ills entering. Especially for those who have made the right offerings.

Within the Santaria religion, before starting any ritual or ceremony, Elegua must be called upon first, getting his approval at the beginning of every ceremony and to ensure it will proceed in an orderly manner. By the same token, Elegua will be called on last to close out a ceremony too.

As an Orisha of Crossroads, Elegua rules over different “roads” or caminos. Elegua is believed to have 101 (some traditions say 21) different such caminos or aspects. Some traditions, these caminos are also called “Eshu.” There is Eshu Alawana, the one who wanders alone in the wilds, Eshu Larove, the talkative one and Eshu Olona, the owner of the road. These are just a few of the different aspects or caminos that Elegua can take on.

As a god of the crossroads, he is the guardian of not just the crossroads, but marketplaces, curved streets and thresholds to houses. With this aspect, also comes providing choices and options, for a person to decide which direction they will go or to make mistakes in the process as Elegua stands back and watches.

Divination

Elegua is not an Orisha of Divination. However, due to his nature of facilitating the flow of energy and crossroads, Elegua does hold close ties to Orunmila, who is the Orisha of Divination. It makes sense given that Elegua has the keys to time to see the past, present and potential futures.

For general readings, Elegua’s diloggun or cowrie shells are used as he is considered to speak for all the Orishas.

Keys Of Time

There is a Pakati or story within Santeria where Olodumare gives Elegua the keys to the past, present and future. It is from this story, that Elegua is sometimes shown holding keys.

In the traditions where Elegua is the youngest of the Orishas; Olodumare had fallen extremely ill and lay sick in bed. All the Orisha gathered around and in turn, each one tried their best to heal Olodumare to no avail. Finally, Elegua arrived and offered to try healing Olodumare. The other Orisha scoffed at this, for how could Elegua, a mere child accomplish what the others, adults couldn’t do? Undaunted by the others, Elegua tried his hand and successfully healed Olodumare. In gratitude, Elegua was made the first Orisha to be called upon in every ceremony.

Variation – Other versions will say that it is Obatala who fell sick that Elegua healed. In thanks, Olodumare or Olofi then gives him the keys to all doors.

An Argument Among Friends

This is one story involving Elegua that I came across in full.

Elegua heads out one day on a Monday wearing a hat that is red on one side and white on the other. As he’s heading to the crossroad, he passes between two friends. One only sees the side of the hat that’s red and the other, the side that’s white.

Later on, the two friends comment about the stranger that walked past them earlier in the day. One friend comments on the red hat while the other says he is wrong, it was white. They get into such an argument about who is right and who is wrong, that it comes to blows.

Elegua had been watching the two from a hidden spot. He laughed at the two as he strode over to separate the friends and chastise them for fighting over the color of a stranger’s hat. He points out how his hat is red on one side and white on the other. That the two should be ashamed as their clothing is now torn and that there are more important matters to argue about.

In some versions of this story, the two friends apologize, while in other versions that two are so furious with each other that they continue their fight to the point of destroying their village.

Eshu – Synodeity

Elegua is also associated with Eshu (Echu). In many traditions, the two are seen as brothers while in others, they are one and the same. In Santeria, Elegua’s energy is tamer and more constrained compared to Eshu whose energy is wilder and more unpredictable. Basically, light and shadow.

In Brazilian traditions, Elegua is known as Elegbara and is just one of the titles that Exu or Eschu is known by.

Among the Yoruban practitioners of Nigeria, Eshu is just another name for Elegba or Elegua. Here, Eshu is a protective spirit who serves the chief god Ifa as a messenger.

Legba – West Africa/Haitian

A trickster deity and Loa found among the Fon people and Voudon religion, he is often equated as being the same figure as Elegua, especially variations of Eshu-Eleggua.

Janus – Roman

Given that Janus is the Roman god of portals and crossroads, shown to protect doorways, symbolism with keys and was invoked first in Roman rites, I see a lot of similarities between Janus and Elegua.

Catholic Saints

There are a few different Saints that Elegua has been equated to and it varies by the religion. Often the connections are fairly superficial.

Anima Sola – Not exactly a saint, but this is the Lonely Soul in Purgatory that is popular in Latin America in Catholosism with the Saint Cults. The Santeria religion in Cuba makes this connection of Elegua, more specifically Eshu with this figure.

Holy Child of Atocha – As in the infant Jesus, he is a popular folk image among Hispanics and as a protector of travelers, has easily been syncretized with Elegua.

Saint Anthony of Padua – One of the beloved Saints in Catholism, Pictures of Saint Anthony often show him carrying the Child-Jesus and a lily. The connection to Elegua is made as he is sometimes shown as a child.

Janus

Pronunciation: ˈjaːnʊs or jayn’-uhs

Alternate Spelling: Iānus (Latin)

Other names: Bifrons,Ianuspater (“Janus Father”), Ianus Quadrifrons (“Janus Four-faced”), Ianus Bifrons (“Two-faced Janus”), Dianus, Dionus

Other Names and Epithets: Ianitos (Keeping Track of Time), Iunonius, Consuvius (‘”The Guardian of the Beginning of Human Life”), Cozeuios, Conseuius the Sower, Patultius (the Opener), Iancus or Ianeus (the Gatekeeper), Duonus Cerus (the Good Creator), Geminus (Double), Rex King, Father of the Gods (or part of the Gods), God of Gods, Pater, Patulcius, Clusivius or Clusius (Closer of Gate), Κήνουλος (Coenulus), Κιβουλλιος (Cibullius), Curiatius

Etymology: “Arched Passage, Doorway” (Latin)

Janus is quite simply, the Roman god of Beginnings, Gates, Transitions, Time, Duality, Doorways, Frames, Portals, Passages and Endings. To the ancient Romans, Janus is one of their primordial deities who was there at the beginning of time and all existence. While Janus has an important and prominent role in the Roman Pantheon, he is not the Sovereign Deity of it.

It should be noted that there is no Greek equivalent to Janus. However, I should note, that some later Greek authors would place Janus as having been a mortal from Greece. Plutarch specifically, says that Janus was from Perrhebia.

Attributes

Day of the Week: The first day of every month

Element: Chaos/Void

Month: January

Number: 300 & 65

Patron of: Transitions, Travelers

Planet: Sun, Moon

Plant: White Hawthorne, Olive Tree

Sphere of Influence: Transitions, Giving form to Chaos

Symbols: Keys, Staff, Two-Faces, Doors, Archways, Gateways, Portals

Time: Morning

Roman Depictions

Given the many aspects that Janus presided over, many of which are abstract ideas and concepts for duality, Janus is often shown as having two faces. One looking forward to the future and the other looking back towards the past. Additionally, one face is bearded while the other is not. Later, both faces would be bearded. In Janus’ right hand, he holds a key and a staff in the other.

The double-faced head is found on many early Roman coins. In the 2nd century C.E., Janus is sometimes depicted with four faces.

Renaissance Era

During the Renaissance, the two-faces of Janus not only represented the past and future, but wisdom as well.

Worship

Janus had no flamen or specialized priests dedicated to him. However, the King of the Sacred Rites, the Rex Sanctorum, would carry out Janus’ ceremonies.

There are several rites for Janus. All prayers, regardless of which deity was to be invoked, didn’t start without Janus first being mentioned, regardless of which deity was being invoked. For that matter, every day, every week, every month began with invoking and calling on Janus. Incidentally, every prayer and rite ended with invoking the goddess Vesta.

Military Season – For the Romans, the start of their military season began with March 1st with the Rite of Arma Movere and ended on October 1st with the Right of Arma Condere. The first rite is also known as the Rites of the Salii. The aspect of Janus as Janus Quirinus would be invoked on the anniversary of the dedication to Mars on June 1st that corresponds with the festival of Carna. Another festival was held on June 29th which had been the end of the month under the Julian calendar for Quirinus.

The Military Season also marks something of a seemingly paradoxical connection between Janus and the war god Mars. The peace-loving King Numa sends out the army to ensure peace while later, it’s the warmongering King Tullus in his battle with the Sabines who sees Roman Soldiers coming home to peace.

It’s a connection that makes sense that for the Romans, having been attacked once, vowed that peace would come when everyone else around them was subdued. This creates a couple other epitaphs for Janus of belliger and pacificus, depending on which role he is in. As Janus Quirinus, the deity brings the closing of the Rites of March at the end of the month and then later in October as soldiers return victorious.

Temples

Janus doesn’t seem to have many prominent temples for worship. We do see that the covered portaculis and areas over gates to a building are called iani. There is an altar, that later becomes a temple for Janus near the Porta Carmentalis that leads to where the Veii road ended.

The gates of the Argiletum were called Ianus Geminus. This gate yard was built by Numa around 260 B.C.E. after the Battle of Mylae. Other names for this passageway are Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus, and Porta Belli. These gates would be open during times of war and closed during peace, something that didn’t happen often with Roman history. A statue here dedicated to Janus shows him with the symbol for 300 in the right hand and on the other hand, the number 65 for the days in the solar year. There were also twelve altars, one for each month. In the Christian religion, early Christian clerics claimed that these gates were closed when Jesus was born.

There is also the Porta Ianualis that protected the city of Rome from the Sabine that were all thought to be places where Janus was present. Janus was also seen as having a presence at the Janiculum leading out of Rome towards Etruria and the Sororium Tigillum that lead to Latium.

What’s In A Name?

In Latin, Janus’ name is spelt as Ianus as their alphabet has no letter “j.”

Jansus’ name translates from Latin to English as “Arched Passage” or Doorway.” In turn, there’s a root word from Proto-Italic language of “iānu” for “door” and another from Proto-Indo-European of “iehnu” for “passage.” There is also a cognate word found in Sanskrit of “yāti” meaning “to go” or “travel.” Another cognate in Lithuanian of “jóti” meaning “to go” or “ride.” And lastly found in Serbo-Croatian is the word “jàhati” meaning “to go.”

Some modern scholars reject the Indo-European etymology though others see in the word “Iānus,” an action name that expresses movement. My favorite though is how the word “Janitor” derives from “ianua” and Janus.

Among the ancients, there are a few different interpretations that all tie into the nature of Janus as a deity. The first is Paul the Deacon’s definition that connects Ianus to chaos. As seen in the phrase: “hiantem hiare” to “be open,” indicating the transitional state of this deity.

The second definition comes from Nigidius Figulus where Ianus would be Apollo and Diana. That the “D” in Diana’s name has been added as it has a better sound. It would be related to Diana’s name to the word “Dianus” with the Indo-European root of “dia” or “dey” for day. This idea is somewhat flimsy and not usually, widely accepted as being accurate. It seems to be what happens when you’re stretching and trying to connect everything back as all originating from one deity.

The last proposed etymology comes from Cicero, Ovid and Macrobius, where they explain that the Latin form of Janus for “to go” refers to Janus as the god of beginnings and transitions. That one feels a little more on the money with how many people view and interpret Janus’ name.

Parentage and Family

Parents

As a primordial deity, Janus isn’t given any parentage. If any are mentioned, it is:

Caelus (The primal god of the Sky) & Terra (The Earth)

Siblings

The gods Camese, Ops and Saturn are given as Janus’ siblings.

Consort

Camese – Depending on the version of the myth (Greek in this case,) they become Janus’ sister and wife.

Jana – A Moon Goddess

Juturna – Goddess of Wells & Springs

Venilia – Goddess of the Winds & Seas

Children

Canens – A nymph and personification of song.

Fontus – Son of Janus and Juturna

In a Greek version of the myths, where Janus is mortal and marries his sister Camese, they have the following children: Aithex, Olistene, Tiberinus

Primordial Gate Keeper

You could say that Janus is the Ultimate Gate Keeper, even possibly the Custodian of the Universe and probably the only one we should have. This connection makes Janus a Liminal Deity, guarding boundaries and passages.

Janus guarded the gates of Heaven. Doorways, Gates, any passageways, Janus presides over these as well. As a Doorway is the literal transitioning, moving from one area to another. Nothing changed, transitioned, moves, or altered it’s/their states without Janus’ presence and influence. Even the abstract ideas of going from war to peace and back, from birth to death and rebirth, to journeys, exchanges, barbarism and civilization, the start of and any ending of conflicts, their resolutions. Janus presided over all transitions.

Key – Janus is often shown holding a key that symbolized his protection over doors, gates and thresholds of many kinds. Both physical and spatial boundaries. The key symbolized that a traveler would be able to find a safe place or harbor to trade their goods in peace.

Staff – This symbolized Janus’ guiding travelers on their paths.

Order Out Of Chaos

If, in the beginning, everything is a primordial ooze and chaos, Janus is the being who brings order from it all, as everything transitions from one state to another. Modern science will have fancy technical terms and jargon for everything and how everything forms and comes into being. For the ancient Romans, this is all explained as Janus being responsible for the formation of the elements and harmony from Chaos and getting the whole shebang going.

Liminal Boundaries

Janus’ functions denote that he is a liminal deity who watches the borders. As rivers are frequently natural borders and boundaries, Janus presided over these along with the bridges that cross over them. Four of Janus’ altars and temples were built along rivers.

Dualities

Janus is a god of dualities, representing numerous abstract and literal concepts for beginnings and endings. The very transitioning from one state to another. Janus was present at the very beginning and start of the universe before any of the gods existed.

Hindsight Is….

With Janus being depicted as having two faces. One face facing towards the future and the other towards the past, Janus is said to have held the gift of prophecy. Omens and portents were very much so the domain of Janus as he could see all.

A Solar Deity & Divine Twins?

This idea comes from Macrobius who in turns cites Nigidius Figulus and Cicero. The idea is that Janus and Jana (a variation of Diana) are a pair of deities worshiped together as Apollo & Diana; the sun and the moon.

Adding to this is one A. Audin who connects the solar motif back to the Sumerian cultures. They mention two solar pillars that are located on the eastern side of temples and denote the direction of the rising and setting sun and the solstices. These two solstices would connect to the idea of the Divine Twins often seen in mythology, particularly the myth where one twin is mortal and the other is immortal.

Morning Time – The start of the day or morning is thought to be Janus’ time, when men awoke and began their daily routines and activities. Janus is called Matutine Pater, meaning “Morning Father by Horace. It is thought this association with this time of the day is what links Janus with being a solar deity.

Winter Solstice – In keeping with the solar connection, under the Roman calendar, the Winter Solstice was held to be on December 25th, a remarkably familiar date that carries over to Christianity for when Christmas is celebrated. Where solar deities are revered, the Winter Solstice is often when these deities are said to be reborn and their power grows again.

Month – January

It is generally accepted that the month of January is named for Janus (Ianuarius) and why, with the Gregorian calendar, it is the first month and beginning of the calendar year. Under the ancient Roman calendar, their year began with March as the first month, incidentally when Rome would begin its war and campaign season.

For further, in-depth history, we can credit Numa Pompilius, the second of seven kings who ruled Rome before it became a Republic. In the 6th century B.C.E., Numa added the months of Inauarius and Februarius to ten month “Romulus” religious calendar. Under this new calendar, Inauarius would become the first month starting in 200 B.C.E. of the Roman Republican Calendar. Inauarius, pronounced as Januarius means the “Month of Janus.”

One interesting thing to note, when looking at the translations of old Roman Farmer’s Almanacs, the goddess Juno is who presided over the month of January initially, not Janus.

Calendar Time

Since we’re on the subject of time and dates… as a god of beginnings, the very concept of time even starts with Janus. In one of the few temples dedicated to Janus there is a statue of him where the position of the hands signifies the number 355 for the number of days in a lunar year. Later, this number becomes 365 to symbolize Janus’ mastery over time.

New Year’s Day

Another calendar date that carries over from the Romans to modern day in much of Western culture, January 1st marks the start of the New Year. For the omens, the beginning of anything was an omen and would set the tone for the rest to follow. It was customary to greet people with well wishes. People would exchange gifts of dates, figs and honey. Gifts of money or coins called strenae were also exchanged.

Additionally, cakes made of spelled and salt were offered up to Janus on his altars. These offerings or libums were known as ianual. There is likely a corresponding connection to another offering of summanal on the Summer solstice for the god Summanus. However, these offerings would be made with flour, honey, and milk, making them sweeter.

Agonium

This is another festival held on January 9th for Janus. A ram would be sacrificed at this time.

Tigillum Sororium

This is a bit of an oddball festival for me. It was held on October 1st, during the month that Rome’s War Season is ending, and soldiers are returning home.

It’s a purification rite that commemorates Marcus Horatius making atonement for the murder of his sister. The representative for Marcus has their head covered as they pass beneath an archway. The ritual seems to be used as a purification rite for soldiers returning from war to cleanse them from the taint of war as they return to civilized society.

This rite has also been connected to a pairing of Janus and Juno through the epitaphs of Janus Curiatus and Juno Sororia. Janus in his role as a god of transitions and Juno in her role as a protectress of young soldiers.

Roman Coins

Several early Roman coins depict Janus on them. With one face being clean shaven while the other is bearded.

This connects Janus as the founder of financial commerce and trade systems as humans transitioned from an age of barbarism to civilization. Roman myth holds that Janus was the first to mint the first coins.

Wedding Rites

There is a rite or custom where a bride would oil the posts to the door of her new home with wolf fat when she arrived. While this rite does not specifically mention Janus, it is a rite of passage connected to the ianua.

King Of Latium

As old as Janus is, predating the Roman Pantheon, it is very likely that he was a real person at one time.

In a story told by Macrobius, Janus had been exiled from Thessaly and sailed to a place known as Latium with his wife Camise and their children. They settled in a place along the Tiber river that would be named after his son Tiberinus.

Where Janus and his family settled, they built a city called Janiculum. After his wife died, Janus ruled in Latium for many years. After his death, Janus became deified.

Janus’ rule in Latium is part of the Golden Age in Roman mythology that saw a lot of wealth and agriculture come to the region. This era would be what caused Janus to be associated with trade, streams, springs and a sky god.

Variations: Hyginus in his retellings, Camese is male and Janus succeeded him as ruler of the kingdom.

Greek authors place Camese as Janus’ sister and spouse and that they have a son by the name of Aithex and a daughter by the name of Olistene.

Janus & Saturn

In Ovid’s Fasti, the god Saturn welcomes Janus as a guest and eventually shares his kingdom with them in return for teaching the art of agriculture.

Another slight variation to this, is the custom of Roman to depict their gods as having been mortal and ruling the city of Latium during a Golden Age of Peace. Janus as the ruler of his own Kingdom, welcomed Saturn in after he had been expelled from the heavens by Jupiter.

Janus & Romulus

In this myth, Romulus, as in one of the legendary founders of Rome; with the help of his men, kidnapped the Sabine women. In response, the Sabine men retaliated, trying to get their daughters back. Luck was with the Sabine men as a daughter of the city guard betrayed her fellow Romans and let the Sabine men slip within the city.

When the Sabine men tried to make their way up the Capitoline Hill, Janus is credited with causing a hot spring to erupt, causing a mixture of boiling water and volcanic ash that forced the Sabine men to turn back.

It’s from this myth, that the Romans and Sabines would later form a new community and the gates being open during war and closed during peace to keep in would come from.

Janus & Canens

A story found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis; Janus is the father of Canens with the nymph Venilia. Canens was the personification of song and married to Picus. When Picus spurred the love of Circe, she turned him into a woodpecker.Canens searched for six days for her husband before throwing herself into the Tiber river where she sang one final song before dying.

Janus & Carna

Also known by the name of Crane.

Carna was a nymph of the sacred grove in Helernus. Whenever Carna found herself being pursued by the unwanted advances of a young man, she would call out to the young man only to slip away to hide in various crags and other places. Janus saw her hiding and of course, what ancient Roman wouldn’t, Janus rapes Carna.

By way of apology, Janus gives Carna a whitethorn branch so that she may guard all thresholds and doorways, making her a goddess of hinges and then becomes known by the name of Cardea. As a goddess, Cardea would be responsible for protecting and purifying thresholds and doorposts. Incidentally, she also protects newborn infants from stirges. That… is really interesting given the connection between Vampires and not being able to cross thresholds.

That, however, is a post for another day…

I think it is also possible, given how old this myth is, that Janus and Carna had consensual sex and not rape. It would explain giving the hawthorne as a gift between two lovers and Janus elevating Carna from a nymph to a goddess with close to the same powers and abilities as he does with guardianship over thresholds.

Janus & Juturna

A minor myth is that Janus and Juturna, a goddess of wells give birth to Fontus, the god of wells and springs. Comment has been made that Fontus or Fons is another name for Janus. This myth is more likely used to explain why two festivals, Juturna on January 11th and Agonium of Janus on January 9th were so close together. Plus, further explaining why there is an alter for Fontus or Fons near the Janiculum and the connection to spring and beginnings.

Janus & Vesta

Janus presides over the beginnings and guards the doors and entries. Janus would be invoked first in rites and Vesta would be invoked last. It has brought some curious observations. The presence of Vesta shows that there was importance for the hearth, its life-giving fire and thus the home. A community couldn’t survive or thrive without the safety of the household. To be able to exit the untamed and unknown wilds to the safety of the community and civilization.

Catholic Saint

As has been the case with many deities, Janus was made a martyr and then later the Saint Januarius by the Roman Catholic Church.

Janus was also made a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church and later became known Saint Januarius.

Medieval Icon

During the Medieval or Middle Ages, the Italian city of Genoa used the symbol of Janus or Ianua. Many other European communes also used the symbol of Ianua.

Indo-European Pantheon

For those interested in tracing an Indo-European religion and pantheon of gods that links the European deities with those of Vedic origins. There’s been a lot of study into it. As a god of beginnings and transitions, a primordial deity, Janus has been connected to the Vedic Vâyu. Most notably in the works of G. Dumézil. There certainly was a cross-pollination of ideas and religion when you see how much further east Greek culture was at one point and trade routes.

Portunus – Syno-Deity

Portunus is a similar deity to Janus. The difference is that Portunus presided over harbors and gateways in regard to traveling, commerce, trade and shipping. Like Janus, the key and staff are also one of Portunus’ symbols. Portunus’s festival day was held on August 17th.

Janus the Sailor – Because of how similar Janus and Portunus are, there is a hypothesis put forward that Janus may have originated as a god of winds and sailing, brought to the communities by the Tiber river. The connection has more to do with when Saturn sailed to ancient Latium and was welcomed by Janus.

Aditi – Hindu Goddess

The Vedic goddess of Infinity, Aditi is depicted as having two faces. She is seen as the feminine form of Brahma. Like Janus, Aditi is invoked at the beginning of ceremonies and she concludes them as well.

Ani – Etruscan God

In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Ani is the god of the sky and sometimes shown as having two faces. This has led some to conclude a possible connection between Ani and Janus.

Belinus – Chaldean God

Also called Baal-Ianus, a William Betham has made arguments that Janus’ cult would originate from the Middle East with the Chaldean culture.

Brahma – Hindu God

The imagery of double or four-faced deities in Hinduism is common. Brahma is the god who created the universe.

Culśanś – Etruscan God

In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Culśanś has been identified as being the counterpart to the Roman Janus. This connection seems more likely given Culśanś’ role as a god and protector of doorways and his depiction of having two faces.

Heimdallr – Nordic God

As guardian of the Bifrost bridge, the functions that Heimdallr has for standing in a place between time and space have been noted to be similar to Janus.

Isimud – Sumerian God

Also known as Usimu in Babylonian. A deity featuring two faces appears several times in Babylonian art. Isimud is the messenger of Enki.

Greek Connection – Which brings us to another point. However much the ancient Greeks and Romans tried to claim that Janus had no Middle Eastern connection, and that Janus is solely a Roman deity, there are some much later writers who would equate Hermes with Janus, especially so during the Hellenistic era of Greek culture.

Svetovid – Slavic God

Depicted as having four heads or faces, Svetovid is the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance.

Janus In Astronomy

On December 15th of 1966, the astronomer Audouin Dollfus discovered and identified, orbiting around Saturn, a moon that would later be called Janus. This moon is also known as Saturn X. It would take a little over a decade before it was recognized that Janus was one of two satellites or moons occupying close to the same orbit. The other is called Epimetheus. These names would become official in 1983. Janus also has two craters on it named for the characters of Castor and Pollux in mythology.