Also known as: Bifrons
Earliest recorded mention: Depends on how far back you want to identify a two-faced god with Janus. Some scholars trace the worship of Janus all the way back to ancient Sumer, c. 4500 BCE.
Major texts: Cicero, De Natura Deorum; Publius Nigidius Figulus, De Diis
Janus is one of the oldest and most important of the Roman gods, with authority over thresholds — gates and doorways, entrances and exits, transitions both literal and metaphorical. "January" comes from Janus, as does the word "janitor," in the sense of a doorkeeper.
One story says that Janus was originally human, a king of Latium, the region of Italy that later became the site of Rome. According to this legend, Janus offered sanctuary to Saturn after his defeat at the hands of Jupiter. He also introduced agriculture, money, and laws. He became a god after his death, and in that capacity, served as protector of Rome. His temple gates were open when Rome was at war, so that Janus could offer his protection to the city.
Years ago a therapist offered me the observation that change is always loss. In my mid-20s, I had never formulated this into words, but it comforted and reassured me in a way that was almost physical. Because if change is always loss, loss is also simply change. We trade people, things and experiences for other people, things and experiences, or maybe for their absences. Janus is often described as the god of beginnings, but his two-headed nature reminds us that every beginning is also an end — and vice versa.
I feel cautiously optimistic as 2012 begins, with no real resolutions other than to be more present in my own life, and keep closer track of myself, for myself. It is a little startling to find myself deep in mid-life, since it feels — when I look backward — that I was a kid just a couple of days ago.
Happy new year, everybody.