Janus: The God of Beginning

January is all about new beginnings and I, among others, have beat the goals and resolutions drum loudly and with gusto. But, have you ever thought about where the word January comes from?

Until recently neither did I. That was, until I ran across an article about Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. Seeing as history holds it’s own special magic, today we will explore the history of how January got it’s name.

Both Rome and Greece both celebrated many gods, each with a very specific purpose. The majority of these gods were shared between the two cultures, each with their own specific name. The Roman Jupiter is the Greek Zeus and stands and the King of the gods. Neptune is Poseidon and is the god of the sea. Venus is Aphrodite and is the goddess of love and beauty.

Janus, in contrast, is purely Roman with no Greek equivalent and is the only god with that distinction. In ancient history, Janus was the god of beginnings and endings and presided over entrances and exits. To represent this role, his is often depicted as a two-faced god, or a god who can look in both directions.

Bearded Janus at the Vatican Museum
By Fubar Obfusco – Foto taken himself, upload to English wikipedia by Fubar Obfusco, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=177247

Unlike other Roman gods, there is evidence that Janus actually lived. One of the myths declares that he ruled alongside the Roman king Camesus and was exiled to Thessaly. His children included Tiberinus, which is where the name of the Tiber river originates. He built a city on the west bank of the Tiber named Janiculum.

Shrines to Janus are generally located near river crossings or bridges and are themselves passageways to enter and exit places of reknown, the most important of these being the shrine near the Argeletum entrance to the Forum. This shrine had bronze doors which were kept open in times of war, and closed in times of peace.

Arch of Janus, Forum Boarium, Rome
Located on the Tevere river
Image attribution: Wikimedia Commons – artist unknown

According to Roman historian Livy, these gates were only closed twice between the 7th and 1st centuries BCE due to the Roman tendency to always be at war.

Many modern day sources will attribute Janus in the naming of January. To my surprise, I found this isn’t technically true. There is an older attribution to Juno, the queen of the gods. While it makes sense to honor her in this way, I will hold with modern sources that persist in tying January to Janus.

January marks both the end of an old year, and the beginning of a new one. It is the doorway marking the entrance of the earth into another cycle around the sun. Janus is the guardian of the same. It simply fits better.

Sources:

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“Always the Journey” podcast

Last week I joined Jason Woodland on his podcast “Always the Journey.” We had a great time talking about everything from favorite movies, to the influences of travel, to the color that represents my work. Be sure to check it out!

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Magical Places: Mont-Saint-Michel

Castle and monastery, church and fortress, Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France has been a bit of everything over its thousand-year plus history. Which is what makes it perfect material for a post here on the blog, where I seek to find magic everyday.

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Mont-Saint-Michel at Sunset

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love ancient castles and churches. My Instagram is loaded with gorgeous pictures of them because they stir my imagination and tell so many stories.

 

I visited Mont-Saint-Michel when I was a young naive teenager. At the time, it was just another wonderful place to visit in a series of interesting places I’d been on a long trip through France. Looking back, I wished I had taken more time to soak in the history. I’m making up for that now.

The earliest history of the island extends back to the 8th century, when the island was called Mont Tombe. “Tombe” meaning grave in Latin evokes the feeling of a graveyard or a final resting place. There is a secondary, and far more fitting, translation as “mount hillock” meaning a raised place. For anyone who has visited the island, it fits this description well. From base to tip, the island rises over 260 feet out of the ocean, and all of it rocky unforgiving granite. I remember my legs burning as we trekked up the steep streets toward the monastery.

According to legend, in 708 AD Archangel Michael appeared to Aubery, bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church in the Archangel’s honor. The bishop repeatedly ignored this heavenly visitor, a truly bad idea, until Saint Michael burned a hole into the bishop’s skull with his finger. The church was built October 16, 709 and devoted to Saint Michael. Mont-Saint-Michel literally means “Saint Michael Mount.”

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Saint Michael Iconography

The location of the island is unique as it historically it could only be reached during low tide and was surrounded by silty sand that was prone to becoming quicksand. This made the island easy to defend as the assailants couldn’t continue their fight for risk of drowning.

 

It was also halfway between the two power Duchies of Normandy and Brittany during the early Middle Ages, which made it the target of the two powers and through the ages it changed hands frequently. At one point it was invaded by Vikings.

Fast forward to 1204, the Breton Guy de Thouars, an ally to the King of France, tried to take the island in a siege. In the process, he accidentally set the main buildings of the monastery on fire, destroying the very same buildings he wanted to occupy. The King of France at the time, Philip Augustus, or Philip II, was horrified that a holy site was damaged in connection to him and offered funds for a major restoration and expansion which included many of the Gothic style buildings we see today.

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Courtyard with Gothic arches

Throughout the following hundreds of years the island continued to be an area of dispute. Each successive conqueror added and destroyed parts of the island’s structures until we reach the present day. For more history, there are references below.

 

Modern day Mont-Saint-Michel can be reached by a long bridge built specially to allow the flow of tidewater underneath. Thrill seekers are still allowed to approach over the sand during low tide, however there are signs everywhere warning of the dangers of quicksand.

Do you have a favorite castle or magical place? Share about it in the comments below and I might do a feature on it in the future.

References:

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Update

I swear I’m not teasing you about doing a cover reveal. It will happen, and it looks like it might be by next week’s post. This week we pinned down a few more needed pieces to create the advance review copies for distribution. If you love reading epic fantasy, and even better, love giving reviews, please send me a note!

Also, I’ll be at the Eagle Mountain Writing Conference this weekend. If you are there, come say hi!

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To Bear a Stone

For the longest time I’ve struggled with a perfection complex. If it’s not a perfect fit with what is “supposed” to be done, I get crazy anxious and most of the time end up not starting. This might explain why this novel has taken so long, and why I don’t post here as often as I should. Go figure. It’s my stone to push, which leads me  into what I’d like to talk about today.

The other reason I haven’t posted for a while is that, until recently, I haven’t figured out what my message is, or in industry speak, my brand. Thanks to the amazing and talented J.H. Moncrieff and this years Quills Conference hosted by the League of Utah Writers, I finally think I get it.

If you like noble but dark stories, beautiful Gothic architecture, interesting history tidbits, magic, and finding the best in the worst circumstances – you’re going to like it here.

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Today’s history lesson

Within the boundless reaches of Greek Mythology (Greek! – sorry, inside joke) is the story of the sinner Sisyphus who was condemned to push a boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down day after day. Sisyphus was a cunning trickster during his life. When he died, Hades came for him. Instead of going peacefully, Sisyphus “tested” his new handcuffs on him and tossed him in a closet for a couple of days. I’d be a bit peeved too.

Shenanigans ensued. No one could die because Hades had gone missing. When Sisyphus freed Hades, the cunning trickster was promptly ordered to go to the underworld for his eternal assignment. But – he had another trick up his sleeve. Through a series of bureaucratic loopholes involving a missing coin and an improper burial, Sisyphus managed to sweet talk Persephone into letting him return to his wife and set things straight – and then cheated death until Hades hauled him back to the underworld a number of years later.

For his crimes, and for royally annoying Hades, he was sentenced to to hard labor of the most frustrating kind – rolling a boulder up a hill for no good reason for eternity.

Hades gif.gifTo this day, when people have a frustrating and/or pointless job to do, the story of Sisyphus comes to mind.

What is a Stonebearer?

In the Stonebearer’s Betrayal universe there is a society formally called the Stonebearers of the Khandashii. These are the magic users. Simply put, those belonging  to this society possess a power that enables them to manipulate the world around them and grants them relative immortality. They can still be killed, but they will not die of old age or disease. The term “Stonebearer” comes from the stone they wear that enables them to use their power safely. The Khandashii is the name of the power itself – and is a brilliant topic for another post.

Having the power means enduring the responsibility of being a guardian of mankind, regardless of the prejudice and superstitions mankind have curated to hate any one who demonstrates supernatural abilities. This, paired with a centuries long life, is often more of a burden than a blessing. Like Sisyphus, to many it seems like an endless frustrating punishment.

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Discussion

What are some of the frustrating things you’ve had to do? For me, it’s got to be trying to make a bed when a toddler wants to play on top of it. Or laundry … there’s ALWAYS more laundry, it’s never done! Or … working with flaky people who don’t know how much they don’t get it.

Share your frustrations down in the comments!

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Writing Update

Stonebearer’s Betrayal is entering the final stages of production and we’re steadily getting ready for its November release. Currently we are refining the details on the cover.  I can’t tell you how excited/terrified I am to reach this point. Everything is so, so real.

Also, awesomeness has been happening over at my blog for writers. (Seriously though, go check out the suite of presentation notes I’ve been creating, they rock.)

Other publishing news – If you like dragons, I will be part of a dragon themed YA anthology coming out earlyish next year. If you’re at FanX, one of my flash fiction pieces will be read at the Immortal Works Flash Fiction Friday LIVE podcast, Friday, Sept. 7th at 6pm (255a).

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Stonebearer’s Betrayal comes out November 2018 through the amazing people at Immortal Works Press and will be available on Amazon.

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Resources:

Fantasy in Real Life: Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the few sights of the Fantasy in Real Life Series that I’ve actually visited.  Located in the marina district of San Francisco, this stunning structure is a magnet for photographers and artists alike.

The Palace was originally built as a part of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, a world fair that ran from February 20th to December 4th in 1915. This particular fair was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and also showcase San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

The Palace of Fine Arts was one of ten separate palaces that dotted the over 600 acre exhibition, the other nine palaces were for education, liberal arts, manufactures, varied industries, agriculture, food products, transportation, mines and metallurgy, and machinery.

The exhibition was not built to last, the Palace of Fine Arts was built primarily of wood and then covered with a mixture of plaster and burlap-type fiber.  The original intention was for all the palaces to be torn down at the end of the fair, but the Palace of Fine Arts was so popular that the Palace Preservation League was formed before the end of the fair.

Despite their best efforts, the Palace fell into ruin and fell to vandalism.  In 1964 the original Palace was torn down save the steel structure of the exhibit hall, and rebuilt using newer more durable materials, like lightweight poured-in-place concrete. In 1969, the exhibit hall became home to the interactive museum, the Exploratorium.

To learn more about the Palace of Fine arts, check out these links below:

For more of the Fantasy In Real LIfe Series, Click here!

Petroglyphs at Parowan Gap

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The clan. You can see some of the petroglyphs on the rock on the left.

For a moment this weekend the past and present collided as my family visited the petroglyphs over in Parowan, Utah.  This remote place has been essentially untouched for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  No one is sure what the meaning behind the pictures are although some have made guesses.  They could be instructions to hunting grounds or nearby settlements.  They could be accounts of important events. Parowan Gap Zipper Petroglyph

Whatever they are, they must have been significant and special.  There are miles and miles of rock in the area and yet the petroglyphs are only found in this one very localized place.

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I can’t help but think what stories are hidden within these cryptic drawings.  It gives me all sorts of cool ideas for my own stories.