The Kalends of January

Happy New Year and Kalends of January. The Kalends of January are associated with three deities in Roman lore:

Cardea [goddess of hinges] is associated with two otherwise unknown deities who preside over doorways: Forculus, from fores, “door”, plural in form because double doors were common on public buildings and elite homes (domūs); and Limentinus, from limen, liminis, “threshold” (compare English “liminal”). … Modern scholarship has pointed out that this particular set of divinities belongs to rituals of marking out sacred space and fixing boundaries, religious developments hypothesized to have occurred during the transition from pastoralism to an agrarian society. Among Roman deities of this type, Terminus was the most significant.

Stefan Weinstock conjectured that these three doorway deities had a place in cosmology as the Ianitores terrestres, “doorkeepers of the earth”, guarding the passage to the earthly sphere. In the schema presented by Martianus Capella, the Ianitores terrestres are placed in region 16 among deities of the lowest ranks, while Janus, the divine doorkeeper par excellence, is placed in region 1. This arrangement may represent the ianuae coeli, the two doors of the heavens identified with the solstices. Isidore of Seville says that there are two ianuae coeli, one rising (that is, in the East) and one setting (the West): “The sun advances from the one gate, by the other he recedes.” In addition to the meaning of “door hinge”, the cardo was also a fundamental concept in Roman surveying and city planning. The cardo was the main north-south street of a town, the surveying of which was attended by augural procedures that aligned terrestrial and celestial space. The cardo was also a principle in the layout of the Roman army’s marching camp, the gates of which were aligned with the cardinal ( a word derived from Latin cardo/cardinis) points to the extent that the terrain permitted.” (Wikipedia)

So here we have the idea that the plan of a city, and even the plan of a military camp, should echo the design of the heavens: the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm. This seems to be a key idea in ancient Pagan and animist thought, that harmonious living involves the ritual repetition of cosmic themes. This the reason that we cast a circle and call the quarters in Wiccan ritual: to create a harmonious microcosm in which we can perform our magic.

Also noteworthy is that a janitor was originally a doorkeeper, and that the solstices were the two doors of the heavens (because this is the place in the yearly cycle where the sunrise appears to stand still – it rises in the same place for three days – and then start moving northwards.

We can also see the principles of animism in this description of the door deities and spirits – there’s a deity of the threshold, the hinges, the door, and the doorway. Animism is the view that everything has a spirit, so why not a spirit presiding over each aspect of the door and the doorway?

Janus is the god who looks both forward and backwards at the New Year (back to the Old Year, and forward to the New Year), so he is the doorkeeper of the year, and the god of doorways more generally:

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus (/ˈdʒeɪnəs/ JAY-nəs; Latin: Ianvs is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces. The month of January is named for Janus (Ianuarius). …

Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The gates of a building in Rome named after him (not a temple, as it is often called, but an open enclosure with gates at each end) were opened in time of war, and closed to mark the arrival of peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange, and in his association with Portunus, a similar harbour and gateway god, he was concerned with travelling, trading and shipping. …

While the ancient Greeks had no known equivalent to Janus, there is considerate overlap with Culśanś of the Etruscan pantheon. (Wikipedia)

Honouring the New Year deities

There are many traditional practices associated with the New Year, including house-cleaning and tidying, taking stock of the old year, letting the old year out of the windows at midnight, and making New Year’s resolutions.

We could also honour Cardea by oiling the hinges on our doors, Limentinus by sweeping our threshold clean, Forculus by polishing the doorknobs, and Janus by going for a walk on New Year’s Day. And Janus can be honoured all year round.

I find these minor Roman deities very interesting, perhaps because they represent an intricate mythological representation of the cosmos, but also because of the possibilities for developing an animistic world-view.

A photo of a statue of Cardea holding a fistful of hinges, against a background of blue sky.
A statue of the goddess Cardea holding a fistful of hinges.

Also published on my Substack


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