Mar 1, 2023
“All gods are two faced…and that’s not blasphemy!”
Mythology is literally littered with two-faced gods: Janus (Roman), Duir (‘Thor’, Nordic), Hercules (Greek), Llyr (‘Lear’, Anglo-Saxon). Being two-faced, these gods function as time-binders. They look back on the past and forward to the future, simultaneously. That simultaneity is what we call the present. God is Presence and, therefore, Godhead is omnipresent.
Two-faced gods are best thought of as ‘doors’: Duir (Old Norse) = Door (English). Hercules is the ‘doorkeeper of the gods’. These gods bind past and future in the present; but as ‘doors’ they also regulate the flow of ‘traffic’, i.e., of time. They set its pace, opening wide to allow the past to flow into the future, then closing a bit to slow down that flow and to prevent ‘regurgitation’, aka time travel.
Think of the Godhead as a sophisticated grid of traffic lights, data driven to optimize the flow of traffic, moment-by-moment, in some major metropolis. NYC could sure benefit from a taste of the Divine…perhaps in more ways than one.
Note: Christians especially should be comfortable with this metaphor. After all, Logos (Ancient Greek) = ‘grid’ (English).
‘Divine doors’ are usually portrayed as males, but they are very often partnered with goddesses who function as their ‘divine hinges’. Janus, for example, is associated with the goddess Cardea, aka Eurynome, aka Rhea (in Crete). Janus is the door through which the old must pass in order to become new; Cardea is the hinge that enables and regulates Janus.
Conjecture: Perhaps, ab initio all gods are two - faced. It may be a defining characteristic of Godhead, and that’s not blasphemy! Even YHWH binds time: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3: 6)
Today, much is made of the so-called masculinity of God. There is a persistent thirst to locate a feminine element in the divine. The ancients had that problem licked with their door-and-hinge model.
Llyr (above) is the ‘Lear’ of Shakespearean fame, the father of Cordelia, a goddess in her own right. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Cordelia buried Llyr at Leicester, a site sacred to the Roman god Janus (above), after Cordelia had obtained “the government of the Kingdom”. (Geoffrey writes happier endings than William.)
Doors and hinges are inextricable. One cannot function without the other. Yet doors and hinges are very different from one another. The function of the door is to enclose, protect, defend; the function of the hinge is to open, to allow possibility to enter the world…but not chaos.
The functions of the door require it to be in motion most of the time; the functions of the hinge require it to be immobile, all the time. This is an important reversal of typical Western ‘male dominance’. The hinge, immobile itself, is the source of all motion; timeless itself, it is the source of all time.
Note: This reverses the scholastic’ ontological argument for the existence of God (i.e., if there is any ‘good’, then there must be something all Good.) Mythology says, “If anything is in motion, something else must be at rest. If anything is temporal, something else must be eternal.” (Perhaps a future ATM/TWS article will reconsider these arguments in light of Einstein’s Relativity…but that future is not now.)
20th century Process Philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, often sites a single verse from a popular Anglican hymn as a summation of his work: “Abide in me, fast falls the eventide.” That work is focused on the paradoxical co-existence of permanence (hinge) and flux (door) in the phenomenal world.
Modern cosmology accounts for the phenomenal world via a series of complementarities, like particles and waves or permanence and flux. Ancient mythology accounts for the world via its own version of complementarity, a door and a hinge. Either way, the concept of complementarity, supposedly a 20th century ‘discovery’, is seen to be alive and well and living the life of Zorba somewhere on the coast of the Mediterranean, several millennia before Whitehead.
Doors move (“open, shut” as a one-year-old grandson never tired of saying); hinges enable doors to move while they themselves remain immobile. Hinges are the fixed points around which doors, and everything else, revolve.
In Roman mythology, Janus (masculine, ‘the door’) is married to Jana (feminine, ‘the hinge’). According to Robert Graves (The White Goddess), these two rustic gods are actually countrified versions of Jupiter and Juno (Zeus and Hera). Therefore, the very essence of mythological Godhead is to be two-faced, a door and a hinge.
Janus and the other two-faced gods of mythology are often associated with the New Year. At the turn of each year, God looks back on the past and forward to the future, all at the same time, i.e. ‘in the present’. At the stroke of midnight, as the ball descends in Time Square, the past and the future are co-incident.
In reality, though, every point in time is simultaneously a beginning and an end, or more broadly, the culmination of the past and the launch of the future. Today is not the first day of the rest of your life. This moment is! “Now and at the hour of our death,” means now is the hour of our death.
Model: Universe is a google-size set of tiny, narrow necked ‘hourglasses’, each of which opens up to the entire past and the entire future of the Universe. To be is to be the neck of such an hourglass. To be is to be the entire Universe, experienced from a particular vantage point (the neck).
God bridges the ontological gap between past and future and constitutes a single timeless, motionless moment ‘where & when’ the entire Universe, past and future, can just be present. God is Presence.
So we are the image and likeness of God. We, too, bind time, we too create a present, we, too, prehend the entire Universe (past and future) in a single act of being. But we do so from one particular vantage point within Universe. God doesn’t know from points! God prehends the Universe from the anti-vantage of being “all in all”. (Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians 15: 28)
Again, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the wizard Merlin prophesied to King Vortigern, “After this, Janus shall never again have priests. His door will be shut and remain concealed in Ariadne’s crannies.” According to Graves, ‘after this’ refers to the coming of Christianity and ‘Ariadne’s crannies’ refer to the Corona Borealis, aka the ‘Castle of Arianrhod’, a small constellation in the northern sky.
Presciently, Merlin saw Christianity as a threat to pagan traditions; but had he read more closely the Nicene Creed and the Gospel of John, Merlin might have understood that Christianity was really a restatement of his own core beliefs, albeit at a deeper level.
Imagine how different the course of history might have been, if Merlin had been at the docks to welcome Augustine upon his arrival in England!
In our map of the Universe, Earth and the firmament that surrounds it remain separated by a vast topological gulf. Our moon shots and deep space probes are feeble attempts, at least so far, to bridge the gap between terra firma and the stars.
In this respect at least, earlier civilizations were way ahead of us. In Nordic mythology, for example, there is no essential discontinuity between ‘heaven and earth’. Sky begins where Earth leaves off. Their cosmos is radically continuous, so no special feat is required for Janus to play hide and seek among the stars. All the kids are doing it!
We are tied to the notion of an ‘orientable’ Universe. Therefore, according to our model, earth and sky are as separate and distinct as the obverse and reverse sides of a strip of paper.
Ancients understood that Universe is ‘non-orientable’. Earth and sky are simply opposite orientations on a single continuous surface. This explains why celestial forms (e.g. constellations) are thought to mirror terrestrial forms and why celestial events are believed to influence terrestrial counterparts. Turns out, our ‘strip of paper’ (above) has a twist in it; turns out, it’s a Möbius strip!
Where earth ends, sky begins. Therefore, when the cult of Janus is banished from Earth, it naturally reappears as a celestial phenomenon. Hiding in the stars is better than wandering through Hades…though perhaps a bit chillier.
In the ‘Castle of Arianrhod’ (Aranrot) there is a silver wheel, the mill on which the entire universe turns and at the center of which lies an immovable pivot, a hinge! Does this have anything to do with contemporary cosmology or theology? Only everything!
According to the Standard Model of Cosmology, time is a vector that is infinitely, or almost infinitely, divisible. Therefore, any past is separated from any future by an infinitesimal point, which we mistakenly call ‘the present’. This model is sufficient to account for all most all physical phenomena, but it cannot account at all for the phenomenon of experience.
Turns out, each of us is two faced. (If that comes as news to you, get out more!) Like Janus, we bind past and future in a real present, but unlike Janus, we also look outward at the world and inward at our experience of that world. We operate with a 2nd set of coordinates: polar coordinates. We are aware of what is (outward), and we are also aware that we are aware (inward).
We are Janus on steroids. We are not well represented by a mechanical model (door and hinge). Our experience requires something more organic. As such, we are best modeled as membrane, permeable to the flow of time but also resistant to it; that resistance is presence.
Are we not forever trying to hold on to the present? Memory, language, and the arts (including architecture, sculpture, and photography) have evolved, physiologically and/or culturally, to help us conserve and savor what is (or what has just passed).
Along the universal timeline, the present looks back on the past and forward to the future. Within the present, time does not exist. The present is an immobile pivot around which time itself revolves. Itself immobile, it enables all motion. Timeless, it is the source of time (time = motion).
All of cosmic history hinges on this hinge. (See what I did there?) This two faced but ever constant Presence is what human beings for tens of thousands of years have called “God”. Without this God, nothing exists; nothing can exist.
The past does not exist; it is past. The future does not exist; it is future. All that exists is the present and according to physics, the present is an infinitesimal point with zero informational content. Therefore, nothing can exist; but something does…
As ‘two-faced’, God incorporates both the past and the future in the Present. As ‘door’, God provides the continuity that connects past and future. As ‘hinge’, God makes the Present possible, lifting what is out of the rushing river of perpetual perishing, aka time (lie quiet Heraclitus), and making it real. Or perhaps God is just auditioning to be a character (“Two Face”) in the next Dick Tracy movie.
Image: Statue representing Janus Bifrons in the Vatican Museums.
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.