De Saturno & Jano Tractatus

(c) 1995, John Opsopaus

Saturn and Janus are especially honored in the months of December and January; the following essay (which is based mostly on Macrobius' Saturnalia, I.7-10) explains why.

  1. Saturn and December
  2. Janus and January

Saturn and December

I begin with Saturn, whom the Greeks call Kronos, which is almost the same as their word for Time (Khronos), and so from the earliest ages they have said that He is the God of Time. He is the Son of Heaven and Earth, Uranus and Gaea, and became King of the Gods when His mother gave Him the sickle to castrate His father, for the work of generating the Elements and other eternal things had been completed; there was no further reason for the mating of Heaven and Earth, and so it was necessary to separate Them forever. When the deed was done, Saturn allowed the gonads of Heaven to drop to earth, which shows that the seeds of all things come from Heaven. They landed in the sea, and Venus was born of the froth churned from Heaven's seed, and so from that time all generation has been according to Her law, that is, by the intercourse of male and female. So also with the reign of Saturn, Father Time, the cosmic order and history as we know it began, for before Him was Chaos, but with Him came the measurement of Time, the seasons and the years.

When the time came for Saturn, in turn, to yield the kingship of the Gods, He resisted and swallowed each of His children. Well known is the story of how His wife Ops tricked Him, saving Jupiter, who later caused Him to vomit forth all the others. This myth shows how Time creates, destroys but then recreates all things. Further, the story of the defeat of Saturn by Jupiter shows that in Time the old must yield to the new, though it may resist doing so.

Although Saturn had to relinquish the kingship, He took on a new role as Wise Old Man, for He sailed to Italy, where He was welcomed by Janus, who was king there and by whom He was made a king. He taught the people many useful things: animal husbandry, the cultivation of fruit trees, how to fertilize fields, the use of honey, indeed how to cultivate and gather all the fruits of the earth. In this way Saturn led the people from their gloomy barbarous existence into the light of civilization.

It is said that His name is connected with the word satus, which means "sowing or planting." Similarly, the name of His wife, Ops, means "bounty," for life is nourished by Her bounty, or it comes from opus, which means "toil," which is needed to bring forth the fruits of trees and fields. Thus when we pray to Ops we make sure to touch the Earth, for She is the mother of everything mortal.

Saturn's reign was a Golden Age, a time of happiness and plenty, in which there was no servitude or theft. Indeed there was no private property at all, nor did people mark the boundaries of fields. Because He protected the common property of the people, in later times the state treasury was placed in His temple. Therefore also, in the Saturnalia, which is temporary return to the Golden Age, it is an offence to the God to punish a criminal or begin a war.

Saturn's sickle or scythe is a sign of harvest, which means that everything must be cut down at its proper Time, as He cut short His father's generative activity, and as in turn His reign was cut off by Jupiter. As a king in Italy He was older and wiser, and when His Time came again, He knew it, and secretly left the land. It is said that to this day He lies in a magic sleep on a secret island near Britain, and at some future Time (perhaps in the Reign of the Virgin), He will return to inaugurate another Golden Age.

After Saturn disappeared, Janus instituted the yearly Saturnalia in gratitude and in His honor. It is in December because in the old calendar it was the tenth month (Decem-ber), for that month brings forth all things. At that time all the fruits of the earth have been gathered. So also, the baby, which has been in the womb for nine months, is born and claims its life in the tenth.

The Saturnalia is followed immediately by the Opalia, which is a festival for Ops; it is preceded by festivals for Tellus (Mother Earth) and Consus (God of the Storage-bin). It is a time of thanks for fruits of the Earth.

The statue of Saturn in His temple is bound with wool to represent, concretely, the stalks tied up in the fields, but more abstractly the immutable law which interconnects all things in Time. During Saturnalia, the statue is unbound to show that in the tenth month the seed and their fruits are released from "heaven's gentle bonds," but also the loosening of the universal law during this festival.

The Saturnalia is a joyous festival in which children and adults exchange gifts. Adults exchange wax candles, some say because Saturn led humanity out of gloomy barbarism into the light of civilization and first taught the seven liberal arts. Thus we see images of Saturn, Old Father Time, carrying an hour glass or lantern in addition to his scythe or sickle (cf. the tarot trump commonly called the Hermit, but originally called Time or the Old Man). Also, in later times, a Roman tribune made a law that only a candle could be given to a richer person by a poorer person, because the habit of giving lavish Saturnalia gifts was impoverishing the poor (and enriching the rich). Indeed, in Saturnalia the master waits on the servants, because Saturn protects those who toil the hardest, no matter how lowly. Further, during Saturnalia all people are equal, so everyone dresses casually, and anyone may be Saturnalicius Princeps (Master of the Saturnalia), who acts as the Lord of Misrule, for this festival is a return to the Golden Age, before the current cosmic order.

Janus and January

January is named for Janus, the Twofold God, who looks both ways: to the inside and the outside, to the past and the future, to the old year and the new year, to the old order and the new order (e.g. Saturnian and Jovian).

He was the first to build temples and to ordain religious rituals (such as the Saturnalia), so He is the first to be called upon by name in rituals. He proclaimed the inviolability of the house, the entries and exits of which are dedicated to Him; He is the Divine Gatekeeper.

There is an alchemical mystery in the nature of Janus, for the ancient physicists said that He comprises both Apollo and Diana (Sun and Moon). To see this it's necessary to understand that by the laws of phonetic variation Diana, Jana and Iana are all equivalent. (So we discover that Diana was the ancestor of the Janae nymphs, that is, the Giane of Sardinia and Aguane of Italy.) So also, Dianus, the solar counterpart of Diana, is the same as Janus and Ianus.

Further, Janus, who is a guide on the roads, corresponds to Apollo Aguieus, the Guardian of Streets, the counterpart of Diana Trivia, the Guardian of the Crossroads. Thus we have the solar spirit of the straight path and the lunar spirit of the fork in the road.

The two faces of Janus represent the two Gates of Heaven (the rising and setting places of the sun), and as Gatekeeper of the Gods, He must allow entry of all prayers and sacrifices. So also He is the Gatekeeper of both Heaven and Hell. Indeed He is often portrayed Quadratus, with four faces looking to the Four Quarters of the World.

As solar God, Janus measures the year, and so He shows 300 with His right hand and 65 with His left, and He has 12 altars and authority over the Kalends (first day) of each month. Beyond this He is the rotating heavens, which always return to the place where they began. Thus the Phoenicians portray Him as the Ouroboros Serpent, the snake swallowing its own tail. In the Hymn of the Salii He is called "God of Gods."

Alchemically He is the universal solvent for, as Marcus Messala explained, Janus "fashions all things and guides them," and He is the agent of unification that brings together the naturally heavy elements (water and earth), which are cold, with their opposites, the naturally light elements (air and fire), which are hot. In this way the Quintessence is synthesized.

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Last updated: Mon Dec 23 15:39:22 EST 1996