Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of January 11th - January 17th,  2002

Guardian of the Threshold

Columns Archive

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   Astrology in antiquity reached its pinnacle
Map of Greece

The Greeks were the conduits to Europe
through their seafaring trade connections

during the Pax Romana of the early Empire. Here, from its humble beginnings, this tree of knowledge had grown, it's roots inexorably entwined with the beginnings of mathematics, medicine, language and the calendar. These roots may be traced back to the Etruscans and Greeks, but they run even deeper than that. Phoenician traders had conveyed the wisdom of the Babylonians, Sumerians, and Egyptians to their fellow sailors the Greeks in various ports of call, wherever trade routes overlapped. In previous columns we have seen how dragon rituals often formed a part of New Year's festivities for many of these cultures, because the center of creation, the axis around which all of heaven turned, had to be correctly observed to accurately determine the circuit of heaven. From that point the calendar could choreograph religious holidays, the spiritual framework for each of these peoples.

   It should come as no surprise then that during the classical period, the thread of astrological design was woven into some of the most prominent works of the time. It's obvious that the myths of these cultures often entwined with the stars, but what is not so obvious is that astrological design is also to be found hidden in works such as the Bible, Homer's Iliad, and even the works of Ovid.

   After the Metamorphosis, Ovid's Fasti was probably his most famous work. It is a poetical treatment of half the Roman year. It discusses the days of the calendar in chronological order, beginning January 1st and ending abruptly on the last day of June. It's uncertain whether the last six months were never written, or whether they were lost. In one of his later poems to Augustus, Ovid states he had written the Fasti in twelve books, each dealing with a separate month.

Janus

Janus, who guards the threshold

   The year opens with Ovid being schooled by Janus, after whom the month of January is named. Whenever invoking the gods, Janus was always summoned first, and first offerings went to him.

   "Two-headed Janus, opener of the softly gliding year, thou who alone of the celestials dost behold they back..." Janus himself then tells us,

   "Now learn the reason of my shape... Every door has two fronts... so I, the porter of the heavenly court, behold at once both East and West... It is through me, who guard the thresholds, you may have access to whatever gods you please."

   "Whate'er you see anywhere- sky, sea, clouds, earth- all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole... I sit at heaven's gate with the gentle Hours; my office regulates the goings and comings of Jupiter himself." He then informs us why beginnings are so important:

   "Omens are wont to wait upon beginnings. At the first word ye prick up anxious ears; from the first bird he sees the augur takes his cue. On the first day the temples and ears of the gods are open, the tongue utters no fruitless prayers, and words have weight."

   Herein, too, lies the essence of astrology. From these first beginnings, as from the moment of a person's birth, their entire life map may be read. In the same way, so the beginning of any enterprise marked its fate from the first seeds sown.


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