by Kirby Benson, former MKP-I Elder Chairman
What does the Roman god Janus have in common with the Elders of The ManKind Project? Furthermore, why even consider this connection? For some unexplained reason, Janus, and what he represented in the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses, has intrigued me for many years. It has been only in the past few years, as I began my journey into Eldering within The ManKind Project, that some clarity of his archetypal significance has been revealed.
Janus is depicted as a two-faced god as he looks in opposite directions. Visualize, for a moment, the image of two faces or masks back to back, and you will get some idea of how he appeared. It was common for this configuration to be installed on gateways and doorways in the ancient Roman Empire. According to one source, Janus eventually became “the god of all going out and coming in to whom all places and entrance and passage, all doors and gates, were holy.” The month of January is named after this god. At times he was depicted as carrying two keys, one silver and one gold to unlock the seasonal gates of the winter and summer solstices. As we contemplate this concept of Janus, it becomes possible to begin to understand that here indeed, is the interplay and connection of opposites or polarities.
There are three aspects to consider with Janus and his archetypal energies: the past, the present and the future. It is here that the polarity of the past and the future become fused into the present moment that we cannot actually experience cognitively because as we pause to consider it, it has already gone. And locked within this concept is one of the great mysteries of all life – that everything occurs within a simultaneous moment. We have our memory of the past and we have our beliefs about the future. It is the fusion and balance of these two that opens the third way or path to spiritual awareness. We continually strive to balance many dualities within our lives in order to find the truth about reality.
The ManKind project has created a place for men who have lived many years, that is, five decades or more. Looking back to the past it was seen that indigenous peoples found a revered place for those who carried many years of living. They called them ‘elders’ and utilized their wisdom and the collective awareness that comes only from the pain and joy of experience. The ManKind Project Elders are men who have lived within those two faces of Janus and the archetypal play of opposites he brings forth from within each of us. As men who have sought union through the Lover, fought the battles of the young Warrior, and carried the Magician energy as they maneuvered the developmental stages of life, they now can stand behind the King to advise, guide and protect the realm. In one sense, Janus permeates everything we do and experience within this duality we call life or reality. However, it is the Elder that has the responsibility to find and demonstrate the third way, the interface between the two faces of man – the place within us where opposites truly blend and unify into a greater awareness and understanding of the spiritual nature of all things. Janus is depicted as the gatekeeper, the one who protects the comings and goings of those who move from one dimension of awareness to another. It is the Elders within The ManKind Project that have the responsibility of ‘holding’ the leadership and the citizens of this realm.
In another sense, Janus can be seen as looking within and without with his two faces. This is the point of Elder balance, the fully functional life of mature masculine awareness. If we become overly connected to either one there is the risk of becoming unbalanced in our interactions with others and ourselves. With over emphasis on the ‘within’ we disconnect from external reality and the requirement to become involved with meeting the common demands and needs of life. Too much emphasis on the ‘without’ and there is the danger of becoming overly concrete and unavailable in the psychic and energetic feeling sense. Again, it is the Elder that is consigned to demonstrate a healthy balance between these two faces of reality that others may emulate and follow.
Another aspect of Janus that has significance for The ManKind Project is his stature as the god of beginnings. Again, the power of Janus as the gatekeeper, the one who looks ahead and back is seen in his role as the overriding force as we move through the various gates and doorways of our lives, often leaving an old or habitual way of living for a new and challenging one. Trevor Stewart maintains that according to Cicero the word Janus has the same root as the verb ‘to initiate’. We have already gotten a hint of this from his standing as the caretaker of the old year to the new and his association with the month of January. It was the Elders in many of our older cultures that undertook the process of initiating the boys into manhood and a full tribal or cultural member. As we go about the commission of initiating men into a new way of thinking, being and doing it is not difficult, if we but pause a moment, to feel Janus moving through our lives.