Mysteries of Janus (Revised)
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Author: Iain Quicksilver
Posted: March 29th. 2009
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1: The Mysteries of a God
In the Old Testament, which is chock-full of pagan religious conceptions (especially when it is honestly translated) , the word used for "knowing" a god is the same as that used for a man "knowing" a woman. In the rare cases of Anchises with Aphrodite, or unfortunate Semele with Zeus, this usage may be taken literally, but it need not always mean carnal knowledge. The way in which one comes to know a god, goddess, or lesser spirit, depends a lot on the nature and offices of that deity. But in every case, it is an intimate knowledge, not the sort that can be put in words and published in a book of mythology.
Every complete being contains a world, his or her or its view of the surrounding cosmos. This includes gods, demigods, elemental spirits, men, women, even some animals and plants (in the last case, psychoactive plants) . The world of a being is shot through with the colors and forms of that being's personality, thoughts, feelings, predilections and aversions. Thus, in an intimate relationship I am initiated into the mysteries of my beloved, and she into mine. The same is true of unequal unions like that between a human devotee and a deity. The deity's consciousness is extended, to a small extent, by that of the devotee, and the devotee's is engulfed by that of the deity.
The difference between pagan or nature deities and certain anti-pagan beings is that the latter are 'jealous gods' and wish to absorb their worshippers completely and permanently; whereas nature deities are willing to share with each other and do not require lifelong service. One can see the same attitude with respect to human unions in pagan vs. anti-pagan cultures. We are free to become pagans once again in our culture because human unions like marriage are no longer required to be permanent, and the sanctions against infidelity are much relaxed now in society. Now we are free once again to enter into the mysteries of the nature spirits.
The mysteries of different deities are very diverse from each other, but each offers possibilities of personal growth and exploration of a new world. The cosmos is thus at least potentially multi-faceted, like the eye of a bee, and it is the prerogative of a pagan to explore as many facets as he or she likes.
2: Our Two Souls
Numerous ancient and indigenous cultures posit two or more souls. In ancient Baltic religion, these were called the vele and the sielas. In Chinese folk religion, they were the hun and the p'o. In Mongolian shamanism they are called the ami and suld. The Mongolians add a third soul, the suns, which seem to be derived from Tibetan influence. Michael York, in his study Pagan Theology, calls these the life-soul and the dream-soul.
The life-soul (siela, p'o, suld) is close to what we call the conscious personality. When the body dies, it stays by the grave and, in former times at least, was the recipient of offerings. It passed the subtle essence of these on to the dream-soul (vele, hun, ami) , which after death went into the Otherworld to sojourn with the ancestors until it was time to be reborn, at which time it re-united with its life-soul. In order for offerings to "feed" the dream-soul through the life-soul, the connection between them had to be sturdy, and the same condition determined whether or not the dream-soul would find its former life-soul upon returning to the Earth to reincarnate.
In order to understand how offerings can nourish these souls, we must first of all get rid of the post-pagan notion (which seems to have started with Plato) that spirit is immaterial. For the ancients and indigenous cultures, spirit is a subtler form of matter, called the astral body in yoga. It permeates the material body as water permeates the interstices of a sponge. It is both within the material body and extends beyond it, in the form of an "aura." Offerings of food and drink likewise have an astral kernel, which can be passed on to the dream-soul in the Otherworld via the subtle cord joining it with the life-soul.
Spirit being a subtle form of matter, self-consciousness is due to the sharing of awareness in tandem by our two souls. We require an inner companion, a sort of feedback signal, to accompany us through life so we can feel our own existence. As life-souls are generally not aware of their accompanying dream-souls except in special circumstances, this echo-effect is provided by talking to ourselves mentally. At the same time, mental chatter distracts the life-soul from the possibility of noticing the presence of the dream-soul; inner silence must be cultivated in order for the life-soul to become aware of its silent companion. The dream-soul, on the other hand, experiences material life through the eyes of the life-soul and loses its self-awareness until there is sufficient inner silence. The dream-soul does not speak; it communicates in silent images. The life-soul has to shut up before the dream-soul can wake up.
3: Janus and the Sacred Household
I said above that every complete being contains a world, a cosmos in miniature. By 'complete' I meant that all the features and laws pertaining to a cosmos (generally speaking) are present in the being. All such beings, up to and including the cosmos itself, are capable of evolving and seek to evolve. This is one reason psychoactive plants are addictive: they grab onto their human hosts in order to evolve through absorbing certain energies from the human psyche.
The hermetic teaching on this is expressed in the words "As above, so below; all that is over, under shall show." 'Over' and 'under' refer to beings on different scales, as a human being exists on a different scale from, and contains, beings on the cellular level.
Households in antiquity and even in pre-history were designed to reflect the features of the greater cosmos, and later on early cities were similarly designed. The world was observed to revolve, * and so ancient and indigenous peoples concluded it must have a pillar to rotate around. The central supporting pillar of a yurt, cot, or hall corresponded to the World Pillar, and the human spine, with its subtle inner passage (called by yogis the sushumna) , corresponded to both on a smaller scale.
The hearth or stove corresponded to the heart and was the place of memory, where ancestral spirits were contacted and where offerings to them and the gods were made in the hearthfire, and carried thence by the hearth guardian (Hestia for the Greeks, Vesta for the Latins, Gabija for the Balts, etc.) .
The principal doorway and windows corresponded to the eyes and ears and other senses on the human level. Janus, in addition to guarding the entrance into the New Year and other time periods, served also as the door or threshold guardian. He had two faces, and looked out and in at the same time. The life-soul and dream-soul are meant to look out and in, psychically speaking, at the same time as well, and can do so when there is sufficient inner silence so that they become aware of each other and themselves. When this occurs in a dream, the dreamer realizes he or she is dreaming and can take free action in the dream, which often leads to waking up but can also provide an entrance into dream-journeys (hence York's name for the dream soul) .
When this occurs in waking experience, the life-soul acquires a heightened sense of its own existence through the "feedback signal" of the dream-soul. It feels more solid and can act in the world with greater confidence and a sense of inner peace.
But the life-soul is habituated to mental chatter and finds it difficult to stop, as it is used to deriving its sense of solid existence from inner talk. In the fourth and final section I will describe some techniques that provide a substitute for the feedback signal so that inner talk can cease, allowing the dream-soul to wake up to its own separate existence.
* That is, they could see that the heavens apparently revolve. From this they concluded that the heavens must revolve around an axis, which many called the "World Pillar".
4: Standing in the Doorway
For most of us in everyday life, the life-soul, that focal point of our awareness that thinks in words and talks to itself and other people, is unaware of the presence of another identity that stands behind it. This identity, called by Michael York the ”dream-soul, ” is that soul that can go on dream-journeys if it awakens to a sense of its own existence as separate from, though linked with, the life-soul. This can only happen either by accident (as in some lucid dreams or spontaneous waking visions) or by long cultivation of inner silence. The rest of the time, generally speaking, the dream-soul looks out through the eyes of the life-soul and identifies with it.
Certain substances that contain within themselves cosmic properties (and thus can affect consciousness) can cause the dream-soul to wake up for a while. This happens when the drinker has had "just enough" and is "beautiful." Fritz Peters, who attended the mystic Gurdjieff’s school at Fontainebleu in France in the ’20’s, gives an interesting account of this. As a teen-ager he was assigned the task of waiting on guests, and Gurdjieff had him drink a shot of Armagnac brandy to prove to some of the guests that the drink was harmless. In fact, Peters became quite tipsy, but managed to go on serving, noting
”I only did so by staggering around the table and shoving the platters at them, feeling giddy and completely unconcerned. I had never experienced such a sense of carefree well-being in my life. I thought it was particularly comical when Gurdjieff, each time I arrived near him, would direct attention to me and my complete sobriety. I remember having a strange sense of separateness as if I had actually departed from the confines of my own body and was able to watch myself, as if from a distance, tottering gaily around the table with the heavy platters in my hands.” [Peters, pp. 124-5.]
Later on Gurdjieff remarked that this very interesting state of self-awareness could be achieved while actually sober, and could even help prevent drunkenness. Peters had reached the second position of observation and acquired a form of second sight. This second position of observation is the dream-soul.
When someone died in antiquity or in indigenous cultures, relatives and friends would gather for a wake. They would drink, breathe hemp fumes in a fume-pit, or otherwise change their consciousness through psychoactive substances, then chant, pray and sing to the deceased. [Herodotus, p. 307.] The original purpose of the wake was to guide the separated dream-soul of the deceased to the road that would lead it to the world of the ancestors; otherwise it might get lost and linger about middle-earth as a ghost.
In order to do this, those attending the wake knew they had to achieve a separation between their own life-souls and dream-souls, so that the two souls were aware of each other. Then the chants of the life-soul could be conveyed by the dream-soul to the dream-soul of the dead person.
Our habit of inner talk, as mentioned earlier, tends to distract us from our dream-souls. In dreams, this inner talk is replaced by the plot of the dream-story in which the dreamer is immersed. A moment of inner silence is necessary for the dreamer's dream-soul to bestir itself and stand back from the dream-story, questioning why it should go down that path or open that door in the dream, and choosing instead to take a different action in another direction.
Janus can help us silence inner talk and acquire the double-face, so that we can look out and in at once, looking out with the life-soul and in with the dream-soul. It helps to establish a threshold shrine, hanging a shelf by the main doorway of the home and offering salt, water, incense and a burning candle on it to the threshold guardian at the beginning of the week or month or some enterprise. The god can be represented by his double-face hanging over the shelf, or the single face of a satyr or the Green Man can serve as a substitute (in which case one assumes he penetrates the wall, with his outer face on the other side) . Entering or leaving the home, step over (never on) the threshold and touch the doorframe as you do so, greeting Janus aloud or silently. Jews still do this with the mezuzah, which replaced a representation of the door guardian when their ancestors ceased to be pagans.
My invocation to Janus goes like this:
”Honor and thanks to you, O Janus, for guarding the entrance to my home. May only harmonious beings enter here, and may the discordant depart! Open this day (week, etc.) for me on blessings, and teach me the double-face, so I can look out and in at once as you do, thus guarding the threshold of my inner home; for I, too, am a threshold guardian.”
By giving Janus a conspicuous place in the home, we allow the god to remind us to practice the double-face by standing in the doorway (or archway) , as he does. There are a number of ways of doing this. When in company, if we bear in mind the rather obvious fact that people cannot read our thoughts, this can help to put us in the doorway. It does so by drawing the attention simultaneously to people and to our private thoughts, thus placing the observer on a boundary between the two, looking out and in at the same time.
Whether in company or alone, a more potent method is to realize that, in terms of perception and in the absence of a reflecting surface, I have no head (see Douglas Harding’s excellent book on this in the bibliography) . If the attention is drawn to the perception of one’s headlessness, that is, to all one can see of the head without a mirror – a blur for the nose, eyelashes when I blink, etc. – then once again the attention is anchored in a position midway between inner thought and outer perception, instead of fitfully alternating between the two as it usually does.
Janus is the god of beginnings, and we must begin with the doorway again and again, training our minds to stay in this intermediate position. But beyond this, we can move to the hearth and practice the mysteries of Vesta, which liberate memory and allow us to travel down our inner world pillar. This requires another article, but briefly, if instead of using memory to associate on present sensations, we simply echo the sounds we are hearing in the present moment, as perhaps animals do, memory itself will be liberated from the associative process and begin opening up in a free flow. If we maintain our double awareness, we can follow this flow down into our past and beyond, into far memory. The key is to maintain inner quiet.
Inner quiet is almost infinitely extendable. The deeper our inner quiet, the deeper in our own inner world pillar the dream-soul can descend.
Chuang Tzu, The Book of Chuang Tzu, Penguin Classics (the hun and the p'o souls) .
Farrar, Stuart and Janet, Eight Sabbats for Witches, Custer, WA, Phoenix (the descent of the Goddess) .
Herodotus, The Histories, Loeb Classical Library (on the Getae) .
Rose, H.J., Ancient Roman Religion (Janus) .
Sarangerel, Chosen by the Spirits, Inner Traditions (the Mongolian ami and suld souls) .
Trinkunas, Jonas, ed., Of Gods and Holidays, Vilnius, Lithuania (the Baltic vele and sielas souls) .
York, Michael, Pagan Theology, New York, NYU Press (the dream soul and the life soul) .
Copyright: Articles copyright Milton A Elliott 2008 (Ian Elliott is my pen-name) .
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