Winter and Beginnings

On this last Wednesday of the month, we’re finally getting around to January, whose root is Janus, the Roman god of doorways, beginnings and endings, and transitions. His face appeared on either side of a door, so that he could look both in and out. He looks ahead to 2023 and backwards toward 2022, as we are also doing.

The Roman door, ianua (pronounced yah’-niu-ah), derived from Janus, which the Romans spelled Ianus. A janitor was originally a porter or doorkeeper, developing into the caretaker mode we recognize today.

My students sometimes wondered why boring doors needed a deity. Janus was certainly not as exciting as Apollo, god of the arts, or Mars, the god of war. No interesting or scandalous stories about him remain. But I’d propose thinking about doors opening onto opportunity or closing a phase of life behind. Thinking about movies focusing on a door. There’s the arrival home of the wandering hero, the bride being carried over the threshold, the slamming door, the creepy turning of the doorknob as the babysitter watches anxiously. Columbo was known for almost exiting the door before he turned and asked the key question that would nab the killer. Remember Dorothy and her friends banging on the great door of the Emerald City?

And who can forget Jack Nicholson breaking down the door in The Shining? You can bet Shelley Duvall was praying to some deity or other!

Doors are rich symbols. Doors have a metaphysical vibe. They’re holy, or at least woo-woo. The Romans weren’t crazy to ascribe a supernatural being to them. While you’re thinking of more movie examples, I’ll share this Ursula K. Le Guin poem, which my friend Mara recently posted on Facebook.

January Night Prayer

Bellchimes jangle, freakish wind
Whistles icy out of desert lands
over the mountains. Janus, Lord 
of winter and beginnings, riven
and shaken, with two faces,
watcher at the gates of winds and cities,
god of the wakeful:
keep me from coldhanded envy,
and petty anger. Open
my soul to the vast 
dark places. Say to me, say again
nothing is taken, only given.
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5 Responses to Winter and Beginnings

  1. Kathy says:

    Sarah: I also loved After Sun.

  2. Kathy says:

    Sarah–Seeing Aftersun Friday night. Thanks for the word of the day info.

  3. Kathy says:

    Roger–You’re welcome!

  4. Roger Talbott says:

    Wow! This is powerful! Thank you.

  5. Sarah Becker says:

    Rave review for the new movie Aftersun. Leading actor and internationally unknown Paul Mescal is nominated for an Oscar; you’ll see why. Look for the door at the end of the movie. Moving story of a father and daughter on vacation in the cheesiest motel in Turkey.

    BTW, do you know about the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Day? Go to and on the right you’ll find “Sign up for word of the day.” Today’s word is skyrgalliard. Ever heard of it? No one else has either! Lots of fun and food for thought.

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