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.