Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of December 29th, 2000 - January 4th,  2001

Keeper of the Gates

Columns Archive


   There are many myths that surround New Year's. This is the season of Capricorn and its ruler Saturn. As archetypes, these symbols may assume different masks, as Lord of Karma or Father Time and his sickle. In popular culture, he is the sashed old man with the long beard who at midnight is magically transformed into a chubby cheeked child now in an identical sash, plus one. It's a long line.

   The Winter Solstice is the cornerstone of time upon which the New Year ultimately turns. We have two holidays which stand guard over these gates and their rituals. First there's Christmas, which traditionally looks back over the year just passed, and the times gone by. Like the three ghosts which come to visit Scrooge, it is a holiday to take stock of what we have, and have not, done. Originally a pagan, Yuletide festival, Christmas claims its place in the final week of the year, every year.

A coin showing Janus

Janus on a Roman coin

   New Year's, one week later, anticipates the glow of promise and hope of times to come, of the future and it's as yet untarnished ideals. It is the new beginning, with both its potential and perfection. It is a virgin birth. On this day of the year at least, we have not yet done any wrong. We begin again.

   Capricorn represents the height of tradition, power and ritual. It is both the line of coronations which have occurred since 1066 in Capricorn England, or the remembrance of rituals so old that we have lost touch with their true source.

   Janus represents a myth whose origins are lost in the forgotten legends of the past. He was a Roman god with one head, but two faces, which looked in opposite directions. The name itself, according to Livy, means a gate. For cities, these were often free standing arches, as can still be seen in Rome. They were used to mark the initiation of any new enterprise for the city. When the troops marched off to war, they were very careful to observe the rituals which the priests indicated, together with the timing of the entire enterprise. In this manner, to appropriate the god, the power of Janus was invoked.

   It is from Janus that the name of our first month of the year is derived: January. To the Romans this month was known as Ianuarius. If there were a list of gods, which was often the case for official functions, his name was always read first, even before Jupiter.

A drawing of a younger Janus

Bearded Janus

   This year has an even larger significance, as we watch the millennia years turn over. Whether you believe that 2000 or 2001 marks the true start of the next thousand years, they meet on December 31st at midnight. We have witnessed the power of this past year with its increased uncertainty in various ways. This will be a year in which some of the fundamental principles of our Constitution will be significantly challenged. The prices of basic commodities, such as food, fuel and clothing, will rise. The level of local, community involvement will largely determine how well the area gets along. Some of the same passions which we saw being aroused around the election will return through 2001, but in different ways. Those who now seize the reigns of power will find themselves attempting to control some runaway forces. It will not be an easy road ahead.

   These are some of the things that Janus sees, as he celebrates the New Year, and as we anticipate the birth of a new era, in the upcoming decade.


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