The myth of Janus and Cardea

What an ancient myth can still teach us about life

 Photo courtesy of Kevin Laminto

Photo courtesy of Kevin Laminto

There is a myth about the Roman god Janus. He was the god of locks, which symbolized the comings and goings of all things.

He was characterized by a two-faced head which represented his ability to see what had passed (the past) and what was coming (the future). Because of his omniscience, however, he was able to see the painful end to every beginning. As a result, it was said that the other gods did not envy his power since he found no pleasure in anyone or anything and spent eternity guarding the past and bracing against the future. 

(At this point, I will take poetic license with the remainder of the myth by retelling a version that best suits the purposes of this blog).

It was said that there was one thing that Janus could not see coming; a goddess named Cardea. When Cardea arrived, however, Janus fell madly in love.

While others could not see what drew Janus to Cardea, Janus could see them in vivid color.

In Cardea, Janus could see something that he had never allowed himself to see before...so consumed was he with the past and the future. In Cardea, Janus could see the present.

Upon their marriage, Janus became the god of three faces rather than two since Janus could now see the past, future and present. But only Cardea saw the third face. For in this face, Cardea could see the fullness of Janus as he experienced life with all of its love and joy and goodness and happiness and peace.  

In return for this gift of the present, Janus gifted Cardea with what he could of the past and the future. On the first day of each month, Cardea was to be honored. This act would symbolize the end of what had been and the beginning of what will be. 

As such, they would forever be known as Janus, the god of locks and Cardea, the goddess of hinges.

I love this myth for the power of its symbolism. It was only in living in the present that the fullness of life and the full power of Janus could be experienced and realized. Living as he did prior to CardeaJanus suffered forever in the realm of anticipating the inevitable end to all new beginnings.

While Janus could see the beginning and end of Cardea, he was able to flourish in the present with her with little regard for the past or future.

It was through Cardea and his love for her that Janus finally understood that it is only in the present and in the what is, right now, that life can be fully lived in all of its imperfectly perfect beauty.

Everything else is suffering.