Out of the Broomcloset
As we drift towards the New Year, it seems like old times. Irate individuals or groups are taking to the streets, causing mayhem and death in support of a political faction, partisan leaders promise relief from their current circumstances. Meanwhile, an ineffective government apparatus play these factions to personal benefit, more concerned with feathering their friends’ nests, and presenting each other with accolades for a job well done than actually doing the job. Of course, I’m referring to Rome, in the last stages of it being a republic. What did you think I was referencing? Our country’s founders, aware of this tendency, did their best to short-circuit it, bless their hearts, and whether the ship of state will right itself — or when — we will know, in time.
We did also keep the Roman calendar to mark out all these events, and so here we are, facing December (the 10th month, don’t you know; don’t ask why, it’s complicated) and January, two good, solid Roman months. One thing the founding fathers didn’t extract from their close reading of history were the holidays contained in these months, the Saturnalia, when social order was inverted for a time, and the honoring of Janus on January 1st.
In modern occult circles, Saturn gets something of a bad rap, being associated with hindrances, limitations, and inertia. In a magical working, if you want to bind, or thwart someone or something, utilizing the qualities of Saturn is surefire. The Romans held a different view, Saturn being the father of Jupiter, and ruler over a Golden Age where the bounty of the Earth was given over easily to the benefit of all — and it doesn’t hurt when your partner in all this is Ops, or wealth.
His temple in Rome was also the state treasury, so, to quote the cool kids, he was money. At his festival, around December 17-23 or so, first came a sacrifice to him and a meal for the public (free barbeque). Afterwards his statue, usually bound around the ankles with wool ropes, was unbound. Then, the sober, ordered, dour world of the Roman elite was overturned for the rest of the week. No business was conducted, everyone wore the cap of a freed man (Liberty cap to you), homes were decorated with wreaths and garlands, and the days passed in an endless round of parties, gift-giving, and gambling.
What made it all the more special was it was all presided over by the “King” of Saturnalia: the lowliest member of the household would have the power to boss you about, to do their bidding. They might need to wait on you hand and foot, they certainly would often hear what was really thought of them, and they were expected to take it. How this liberty was responded to after things went back to normal is anyone’s guess. As the celebrations persisted for a thousand years, the reprisals, if there were any, must have been tolerable. But just imagine, speaking up to power, and they having to take it good-naturedly, what a concept.
Along with Saturn, Janus oversaw the flow of time, more particularly the passage from one moment to the next, the start of things. In ritual, no matter who was the beneficiary of it, Janus was first invoked with an offering of wheat cakes and salt to ensure that things began correctly, and were executed perfectly. Romans couldn’t abide sloppy ritual (or at least the Deities could not); screwing up required starting over from the beginning, after a penalty sacrifice. It was best to start things properly then.
So was the case with a calendar year. January 1st was sacred to Janus, and so the first sacrifice of the year was made at his sacred enclosure, a walled space with a door at either end, the hope being that he would assist in having the year begin properly. In times of peace, the doors were left shut, and left open in times of war to allow things to unravel in their own messy way.
Between these two deities, their attributes and symbols, our culture does maintain one memory, one image; that of an old man, carrying an hourglass and scythe, seeing out the old year. For you, dear readers, may the New Year find the doors shut against strife, and our “Bosses” put back in their proper place, serving us.