Unseen Folklore of Dia de los Muertos – Storytelling for Everyone

By Bailey White

When I was involved in my high school’s Spanish club, our biggest event was the Dia de los Muertos celebration. Dia de los Muertos, or better known as Day of the Dead, gave us an opportunity to prepare Mexican food, decorate the school, and dress up in colorful Hispanic garb. To my unintentionally ignorant peers, Dia de los Muertos was just seen as two celebration-filled days that honor deceased family members and friends in Hispanic culture.

What my schoolmates did not know was that underneath all the celebrations and festivities that occur during Dia de los Muertos, there are several underlying messages that Latin Americans have been trying to convey for thousands of years. Through the celebration of death, Hispanics have discovered what life is really about: family, equality, and tradition.

Despite Dia de los Muertos primarily being a commemoration for deceased loved ones, the underlying folklore of the holiday cherishes diversity and unification through traditions, such as ofrendas.

In Hispanic culture, family is one of the most important and cherished aspects of life. Being from a large Hispanic family myself, I can attest to the notion that we will find any reason to commemorate a living family member or ancestor. Family is so extremely valued and honored in Latin American culture that death makes our relationships with each other even stronger.

This inseparable bond of loved ones through life and death is what spurred one of the most iconic traditions of Dia de los Muertos: ofrendas. Ofrendas are elaborate, vibrant altars that often boast large arches and offerings that honor a passing of a loved one.

The four elements of the Earth are an essential tradition of an ofrenda:

Water is served in a clay pitcher or glass to quench the spirit’s thirst from their long journey. Fire is signified by the candles that are lit. Wind is signified by papel picado (tissue paper cut-outs). The earth element is represented by food, usually pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Alongside the Earth elements, friends and family shower spirits with memorable photographs, incense, fruit, assorted flowers, and personal items. All of these offerings contribute to the overall goal of honoring loved ones and sending the simple message of: I will love you and remember you always.

This loving tradition began ages ago; it first dates back to the Mesoamerican times, when the Aztecs believed that once the physical body died, the soul would continue to live in another realm of the universe. In those days, many would use ofrendas to summon back ancestors’ souls and lead them back home. Due to colonization of what is now modern-day Mexico and the European influence on the Aztec culture, the altar’s purpose has changed radically, but the main idea has not.

Ofrendas and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos is one of the few Mesoamerican traditions that successfully slipped through the cracks of the Spaniard’s religious control of Mexico. Although the Spaniards learned to understand the tradition of the ofrendas, many cultures are still unaware of their purpose today.

In order to dig deeper into the misconceptions of ofrendas, I used qualitative research techniques to understand others’ opinions on this holiday more thoroughly.

I interviewed Mexico native and old friend, Majo Rodriguez, on how Americans view traditional ofrendas. “In modern day Mexico, ofrendas are used as a way to say ‘We miss you dearly.’ But people who do not celebrate Dia de los Muertos misread it as us trying to summon spirits and see if they will eat the food that is displayed on the altars. Many I have encountered have it all wrong.”

Despite what other cultures may think, this ancient tradition is a way to bring families closer, and honor those who have passed on. The core of the ofrenda is to remember those who are important to you, and that family is one of nature’s greatest blessings.


Source: White, Bailey, “The Unseen Folklore of Dia de los Muertos” (2018). Jessie O’Kelly Freshman Essay Award. 1. https://scholarworks.uark.edu/englfea/1

This Essay is brought to you for free and open access by the English at ScholarWorks@UARK. It has been accepted for inclusion in Jessie O’Kelly Freshman Essay Award by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks@UARK.

Author adminPosted on November 1, 2021November 1, 2021Categories Folktales, History, Legends, Personal Story, SeasonsTags Aztec, Dia de los Muertos, hispanic, Latinx, Mexico

Personal Stories – Storytelling for Everyone

We are facing many challenges in our current crises today: personal, health, economic, and social. Due to the pandemic and the downturn in the economy, many of us are dealing with isolation and even privation. With the harsh spotlight on existing racism in our country, we can all protest that unacceptable reality and work against it.

One way to connect with one another is to tell our personal stories of challenge and invite others to share theirs—to listen with an open heart. We all can relate through stories.

Trials take the measure of us. No matter how experienced or prosperous we become, we continue to face challenges. Even if we’ve achieved most of our life’s goals, something will come up to sorely try us. We can be thrown back on ourselves, sometimes to the core.

Though trials make life difficult, they create the best stories. The appeal of any story is conflict: the more challenging, the better. We want to know how you survived, your way out, and what you learned.

One might even say that the entire purpose of the ancient, oral tradition is to show the way out of trouble, told with an overriding belief in a positive outcome: the “forever after” happy ending. The message in most folk and fairytales seems to be to cheer us on—urging us with wise advice for our journey. Kindness, compassion, honestly, humility, courage, industry, persistence, all win the day. These traditional tales see the heroic in daily life and enrich ours with meaning.

Life offers many challenges—not all are the same size or type. Whatever a particular challenge meant to you, you faced it down, and became the wiser. Whenever you tell that story, you hope to teach a life lesson, a moral, and empower others to avoid the same conflict and learn how to overcome it. Some trials are personal and ongoing, such as attacks against one’s identity. Others are born out of external crises, perhaps financial, physical, disaster-related, or a trauma.

Personal stories of challenge help us to understand that each one of us is a hero in our own, unique journey. We can identify, empathize, and applaud one another as we walk in the others’ shoes.

Challenge & Hardship

To find your story of challenge:

  • Recall a time when you had to work your way out of a crisis or hardship
  • During that critical time, select a few scenes that depict the problem and its challenging tasks
  • Allow us to experience the challenge with you, through sensory images and key details
  • Keep to the main action
  • How was the crisis resolved?
  • What did you learn?
  • How do you hope to change your listeners by telling this story?

Avoid “telling” listeners the meaning you made of the challenge. If you weigh down your hardship story with commentary, they will not be able to experience the lesson and learn it vicariously.


This is a personal story of mine, in my eighteenth summer, when I was told to earn my tuition back to my college in Chicago in time for the fall semester. Desperate and new to California from Texas, I went to the California State Department of Employment county office to apply for a summer job, something I later discovered most teenagers did not do. The unique experience I gained that summer was worth much more than the pay. What do you think?


Cupertino, CA -1960

“Starting up!” The guy on the high platform yelled loud enough for every worker in the barn-sized workhouse to hear. He turned on the conveyor belt with a clank and a lurch and dumped the first crate of apricots through an array of sprinklers—fresh off the orchard trees just outside the canning shed doors.

As a jumbled heap of apricots rolled towards me, the first station on the belt, I clenched my paring knife in one hand and used the other to sort through the fruit. Scanning the mess, I grabbed twigs, leaves, green ‘cots, and other debris that went into a bucket on my left side; looked for rotten fruit that went into a bucket on my right side, along with any brown or bruised spots I trimmed with my knife.

That first day on the job, there were about fifteen workers stationed along the catwalk on either side of the belt. Bent to the never-ending blur of ‘cots with a steady focus, I still noticed a tall, dark man with a pencil thin mustache, wearing well-pressed khakis, slink behind us on the narrow ledge.

The second day, there were only seven of us. Unknown to me, a rookie at seasonal canning jobs, the foreman and floor lady had watched for speed and accuracy and kept the fastest workers. At the morning break, I learned about that drill from my fellow Latinas. The only Anglo on the belt, and the only English speaker, I was proud I’d passed the test against more experienced help. I retied my splattered, plastic bib apron, ready to prove my worth again, and earn the much-needed tuition for my sophomore year in college.

The third day, I woke with every muscle aching and rashes on my arms from the acidic fruit.The thought of facing that endless stream of apricots was almost unbearable.

My mother stood in the bedroom door, knowing it was past time for me to rise. “It’ll be harder to get up tomorrow,” she said, in a flat tone.

Not needing another prompt, I raced to get ready; grabbed my cleaned, plastic apron, and began the mile-long walk to the canning shed. I crossed Stevens Creek Road, and soon I was running down the gravel lane through the orchards, breathless. When the corrugated aluminum shed appeared through the leafy groves, I saw the floor lady outside the barn doors, waiting for me.

“I wondered if you’d come today,” she said smiling, and handed me my timecard to clock in.

The fourth day, I was on the catwalk on time, ready to work. Just before the conveyor belt started up, I saw a Portuguese woman next to me make the sign of the cross. She told me that her work was a prayer. Humbled, I was never late to the canning shed again that summer. When the last apricot crate was picked and canned, the job was over.

The ladies on the line asked me, “¿Vas a Libby’s?

I would’ve liked to work the tomato crop at Libby’s Cannery in Sunnyvale, but it was too far from Cupertino. My heart swelled with pride because they’d asked me, included me as a comadre in the harsh cycle of seasonal canning. I’d made rank!  

But I never acquired a taste for apricots.


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Storytelling Creates Common Ground – Storytelling for Everyone

In our fractured world today, broken not only along political lines, but cultural identity as well, stories can bring us back together. We’re not like “Humpty Dumpty,” even though we might think so at times. We are actually made of the same stuff, a common humanity that can connect through our personal stories. When we tell one another our experiences with a good story, our listeners walk with us.  

Storytelling has been around as long as humans have. The ancients of every culture told stories to make meaning of life, to remember their history, and to entertain. A lot has changed since then, but stories haven’t. Some of the oldest stories ever told are still with us—because it’s in our nature to both tell and listen to them. 

In today’s noisy, techie, automated world, storytelling is not only relevant, it’s vital. Without stories we cannot connect to each other. We lose something important; our humanity gets lost in technology. Storytelling fills a crucial need in society by providing a direct, personal connection through its art and engaging oral tradition.

Our stories don’t exist on a printed page, but in the images we’ve stored in our minds. These pictures are fluid, holographic, the instant replay loops of our experiences and dreams. They are powerful: Stories define us and create the narratives that construct our lives.

Personal stories are universal: They illuminate our common ground and connect us in compelling ways when we share them. The art of storytelling helps us communicate with others, discover ourselves, inspire and embolden us. By telling the pivotal stories of our lives, we invite transformation.

One way to share stories that resonate with a wider audience is to pair like stories with someone of a difference culture. For example, I workshopped with a fellow author, Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte, to write similar stories of childhood memories growing up in the South during Jim Crow, from a Black and White perspective. We are excited to be able to tell them in a LiveStream this Sunday, July 19th.

Please join us with a Six Feet Apart Sunday Night Stories production, Stories in Black and White.

Click here to view live or replay this FREE event: https://youtu.be/6uDUYuuTwDg

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Author adminPosted on July 15, 2020July 15, 2020Categories Personal Story, TechniquesTags Black Stories Matter, blacklivesmatter, cross-cultural

Arthur Watts’ Barbecue – Storytelling for Everyone

Black History

Pictured: Arthur Watts at age 106

One could literally say a full century’s worth of effort—and then some—has gone into the refinement of his sauce, Old Arthur’s Barbecue.

Arthur Watts was born a slave in 1837, and his primary task from the age of six was tending the cooking fires on the estate that bonded him. From this early age, Arthur continuously experimented with the freshest natural ingredients available to him to perfect his sauce to complement the meats he prepared over an open pit.

When freed at the age of twenty-seven by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order (January 1, 1863), his recipes were the only possessions of value that he took with him out of bondage.

Arthur very likely continued working for his former owner as a freeman until he could strike out on his own. Arthur married his wife, Laura, in the mid-1870s; they continued to live in Missouri near where they had been enslaved, and had five children there. Arthur left the South and settled in Kewanee, Illinois.

Once Arthur and his family moved to Kewanee around 1901, there is an abundant history of their vibrant life in the growing city and economic engine of Henry County, known as the “Hog Capital of the World.” 

Living in Wethersfield, Arthur farmed on his land just south of Division Street and Chautauqua Park in the Blish Addition. He also periodically worked in Kewanee’s factories. He, Laura, and the children were active in the Second Baptist Church.

But Arthur was best-known for his skills in cooking meat over an open fire barbecuing. He learned to barbecue in slavery and continued honing his skills for the rest of his life. And those skills were unsurpassed.

Relying on the popularity and demand for his renowned sauce, Arthur took great pride in earning his keep with it until the time of his death at 108 years of age in 1945.

Arthur cooked for picnics, church events, celebrations of all varieties large or small. Whenever there was an outdoor gathering of people where food would be served, there was a good chance that Arthur would be leading the cooking.

By 1916, it was estimated that Arthur had been in charge of over 200 barbecues. His reputation continued to grow and was not confined to just Kewanee.

For instance, in 1919, Arthur led the preparation of a barbecue for a massive Fourth of July celebration in Neponset, serving an estimated 11,000 people. The Daily Star Courier called the day the greatest event in Neponset history, and proclaimed that “the greatest particular feature of the day was the barbecue, . . . one of the largest and most successful . . . ever held in this vicinity. Arthur Watts Sr. was in charge of the cooking pits … who has for years been in charge of large barbecues . . . .”

Arthur passed on his barbecue skills and secret recipes to his children. In 1954 during the five-day Centennial celebration of Kewanee’s birth, Arthur’s son, Eudell, led a crew of more than 300 volunteers all night and into the next day, endlessly turning the five tons of pork over and over on the two 150-foot-long grills to make sure it cooked evenly.

My Family History in Kewanee

My father’s people immigrated to Kewanee in 1870, after the Civil War to escape the Franco-Prussian War of 1970-71, that was fought in their German borderland. My ancestors worked in the Kewanee coal mines, as merchants, in real estate, and enjoyed some success.

When I was a child, we often visited my grandparents in Kewanee and stayed for months at a time when we had no other home.

My fondest memory of Kewanee is of a small town community sharing its delicious food, the simple pleasures of farming and gardening, of corn fields and hog farms. My grandmother’s pride in her kitchen garden, of her skill in canning, cooking, and baking is part of my legacy that continues to nourish me.

It’s a thrill to know that Arthur Watts and his family lived in our farming town in Illinois and contributed to its festivals and celebrations with open pit barbecues at the same time my immigrant family lived and worked there.

Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that bind us and keep us close.
~Kate Fischer Farrell


With special thanks to my cousin, Dean Karau, who researched and wrote this featured article in the Kewanee Star Courier in honor of Black History Month.


Old Arthur’s BBQ Sauce recipes are preserved over six generations and for sale across the country:


Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce – 160-Year-Old Family Recipe

Storytelling with Kate Farrell – Storytelling for Everyone

Podcast by San Francisco Writers Conference

Podcast host Matthew Félix asked Kate about the importance of stories, based on her book, Story Power. He also asked about the history of oral storytelling, as well as the resurgence it has enjoyed since the 1970s.

Kate explained the difference between telling a story orally and writing it down, highlighting the role that a live audience has as co-creator in the experience. She also discussed how storytelling foments change, both for the audience and the storyteller themselves.

Storytelling is not just for the stage, but also has practical, day-to-day applications, as illustrated by three types of stories: defining, signature, and personal branding, which Matthew and Kate discussed.

Kate explained the benefits of having a repertoire of stories at the ready for different circumstances and shared ways of gathering stories, as well as how to choose which ones might best be suited to storytelling.

Matthew asked Kate about the features essential to every story, and they reviewed the seven steps to preparing a story to be told—Kate emphasizing that stories should not be memorized.

Kate shared key things to keep in mind while performing, including important aspects of vocalization and the importance of making eye contact with the audience.

Matthew asked Kate about what she referred to as the cutting edge of storytelling: weaving or braiding archetypes with personal narratives.

Podcast by Matthew Félix

Enjoy the entire interview!

Listen here or on: iTunes | Stitcher | Spotify | Google | TuneIn | Amazon | 
Player FM | Deezer

Watch on YouTube

Check out San Francisco Writers Conference 2022!

For more about storytelling and how to tell your stories, order the award-winning Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories in eBook or paperback, available at all retail outlets:

IndieBound.com | BN.com | Amazon.com |  

“Telling unforgettable stories will feel easy after reading the advice various contributors give in this book. Each contributor shares their secrets for how they tell memorable tales. Stories define us, and Story Power embodies the power storytelling has to help everyone discover themselves and better the ways they communicate with others. ”
            -Reviewed By Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite

Kate Farrell, a graduate of the School of Library and Information Studies, UC Berkeley, has been a language arts classroom teacher, an author, a librarian, a university lecturer, and a storyteller since 1966. She founded the Word Weaving Storytelling Project, and she has published numerous educational materials on the art of storytelling. Kate edited the anthology, Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother, and co-edited two others: Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ’60s & 70s and Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence. She is past president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and a presenter for the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Learn more about Kate Farrell: https://katefarrell.net/

Author adminPosted on January 18, 2022Categories Folktales, Personal Story, TechniquesTags Matthew Felix, San Francisco Writers Conference, story power, storytelling

Storytelling Techniques in Memoir – Storytelling for Everyone

There are many ways to approach writing a memoir: one of them is that of the storyteller. The oral tradition offers time-honored techniques in the construction of story, whether a folktale or a personal narrative, so that it is universal and engaging. The three most effective techniques in the enduring, oral art of storytelling for memoir are:

Role of the narrator
Structure of story as a narrative arc
Importance of voice

Narrator in the Oral Tradition

The role of the storyteller is omniscient, knows it all, interprets the characters, emotions, meaning, and frames the story. The traditional teller is like the black robed musician in the symphony orchestra, invisible, the instrument that allows the music to fill the concert hall with its drama, emotion, power. So, the storyteller becomes invisible and allows the story to take over, so that listeners can become lost in the story, engage, and find their own meaning.

Marie Louisa Shedlock in her classic work, The Art of the Story-Teller (1915), defined the essence of art with stunning clarity. Shedlock described storytelling performance as an “inside out” process that is both powerful and simple.

Many of the storytelling guides today, either published or online, tend to construct stories from basic elements, such as: story structure, narrative arc, emotional charge, or timing. By crafting stories from the “outside in” one can develop good story lines, but they won’t reflect the essence of the art or engage the listeners in the same way. This is also true for memoir writing.

This is how Marie Shedlock describes the role of the teller:

“It would be a truism to suggest that dramatic instinct and dramatic power of expression are naturally the first essentials for success in the art of story-telling, and that, without these, no story-teller would go very far; but I maintain that, even with these gifts, no high standard of performance will be reached without certain other qualities, among the first of which I place apparent simplicity, which is really the art of concealing the art … The fault in the artist which amounts most completely to a failure of dignity is the absence of saturation with his idea. When saturation fails, no other real presence avails, as when, on the other hand, it operates, no failure of method fatally interferes.”

The role of the storytelling narrator is neutral—even though the story might be full of emotion, catharsis, passion, the teller must remain at enough of an emotional distance to be “saturated” in the entirety of the story, taking all the parts, knowing the inside out of all its characters, holding the story within an all-embracing awareness.

Gaining this emotional distance and detachment can be useful because the writer is shaping raw experience into a story to share with others, who will then identify and make of it what they will.

Simple Structure: Narrative Arc

In the folktales and fairy tales that have survived millennia, one immediately imagines a framework, the conventional beginning, middle, and end, ‘Happily ever after.” Implicit in that structure, is the role of the storyteller, the mastermind of the piece, ever present, but not visible, the impresario.

Stories in the oral tradition that have survived have a simple structure, often with a repetition of the main action, such as the three bears, or the three wishes. We enjoy the predictability that also allows for rising tension that comes with each repeated act.

If you can select one action scene from your memoir or personal narrative and adapt it for storytelling, doing so can provide a number of benefits: role of narrator, structural shaping, repetition, clear resolution, and emotional distancing.

Creating effective scenes, using an outline to track its narrative arc, or a storyboard. If your action scenes have a clear structure, they will engage readers, and allow for the neutrality of the narrator, who can step aside, and let the story take hold.


The oral tradition relies on the spoken word to convey all meaning. The same can be true of memoir. Here are a few practical ways to develop your awareness of voice and to use the spoken word to deepen your understanding of your story.

Recording the story: Practice telling the story until it comes naturally. There are any number of ways to practice telling a story. You could play the recorded story and join in with your live voice until there is no hesitation in the flow of words. Recruit your family, friends, or pets for a live audience—often the best way. Tell it to a mirror without notes and watch your facial expressions and hand gestures. Videotape your telling and play it back on Zoom or Facebook Live or another app.

Listening to the story: Deepen your connection to the story by isolating the truth in the story and relating it to your own truths. Spend time doing some research to verify the accuracy of your personal story. Consult with friends or family members who were there or had similar experiences. Even though you might not add the details you research or learn from eye witnesses to the tale, they verify what you have remembered. You might then listen to your recording of the story and close your eyes, at a time when you are most relaxed. Think about what the symbolism of the story means to you. Your understanding of the layers of meaning in a story greatly adds to the telling of it. This is the subtext: It tells what cannot be said.


All three of these storytelling techniques taken together, create neutrality by encouraging empathy within the teller and the writer of memoir: Acceptance  of all events, each character, and the final outcome.

Mexican Curandera – Storytelling for Everyone

By Charles E. Moritzky

As you may know, there are Brujas Blancas (white witches) and Brujas Negras (black witches). The white witches do good and the black witches cast spells for which spiteful or envious people pay them. During the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions, witches could be put to death for their practices.

Most Mexican witches also practice as curanderas, or practitioners of herbal medicine and home remedies. Neither the witch or the curandera is likely to put out a sign announcing their profession as do medical doctors. But if you drive down a street and see a line of people outside a house, you can figure someone is either selling tortillas or it is the house of a curandera.

Whether or not you believe in witchcraft is a personal thing, but there are stories that make one wonder:

Joel is a cousin of my wife, Chela. When Chela was a little girl, Joel used to hang around with her dad, helping him with his produce business and was like one of their family. Joel is a nice guy. Until recently he hauled lumber for his patron, chauffeured him around, and I guess did odd jobs for him. Joel is slender, somewhat handsome, with wavy hair, light complexion, and has blue eyes. He is a good father and husband; that is, he takes care of his family.

Less than two years ago, Joel became ill. He spent a great deal of time in bed and spent a lot of money on doctors and medicines. The doctors were apparently not able to diagnose his sickness, and in the meantime, he was losing weight and, at times, could hardly get out of bed. When he tried to drive the truck, sometimes he would have to pull over to the side of the road because of dizziness.

After a year of this progressively worse condition, his brother suggested that he see this curandera who also practiced witchcraft. At first Joel, being a somewhat rational and religious person dismissed the idea as foolishness. However, as his condition worsened he finally gave in.

When they visited the curandera, she said that a doctor could not help him, that a neighbor was the problem, probably paying someone to cast a spell on him. Joel found this difficult to believe because he knew of no neighbor who might do such a thing. She said he had to wear red socks and underwear, both inside-out. Although the brother had a lot of confidence in the bruja, Joel did not.

However, he bought the red socks and shorts and wore them. She also prepared a cruz de caravaca (a double-armed cross) especially for him, and told him to hang it from his neck with a red cord. He did as he was told and began to feel much better, walking, working, and eating.

Then, on a visit to the local produce market he began to feel horrible. He had trouble breathing, like he was being choked. He called his brother because he was not able to drive. His brother brought the curandera to the market. He tried to explain how he felt. She could not figure out what was wrong.

“Are you wearing your red socks?”


“Are you wearing your red shorts?”


“Do you have the cross?”

“Yes, here it is.” He took hold of the cord and pulled it from inside his shirt.

She cringed. “Why are you using a black cord when I told you to use a red cord?’

“The red cord broke and I didn’t have another red one.”

She made him remove the cross and took it from him. She began to order the ‘bad spirits’ to abandon him as in some sort of ritual. Joel’s throat began to loosen up and he began to breathe normally and felt much better.

“Do you want me to transfer the spell to the one responsible for casting it?”

Joel, being a nice guy, replied, “No, I only want to be well.”

However, a short time later, a close neighbor died. Joel wondered if the bruja had anything to do with it. Anyway, that was the end of his illness.

Chela is something of a tease, and when she sees Joel, she asks him if he is still wearing his red socks and underwear.


Source: Charles E. Moritzky

The Two-Faced God – Storytelling for Everyone

In ancient Roman mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus, his most apparent remnant in modern culture, his namesake, the month of January.

Janus was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, and of one universe to another. Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as marriages, births and other beginnings. He was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities, and youth and adulthood.

According to some, he was the custodian of the universe but, to all Romans, he was the god of the beginnings and the ends, presiding over every entrance and departure, and because every door and passageway looks in two directions, Janus was seen as two-faced or Janus bifrons—the god who looked both ways. He was the gatekeeper; his symbols were a porter’s staff or virga and a set of keys. To illustrate his importance, his name was even mentioned before Jupiter in prayers.

He protected the start of all activities. He inaugurated the seasons. The first day of each month was considered sacred to him, and the first month of the year. Early Romans coins featured his image, showing him as two-faced, one bearded and one clean-shaven. Later, during the Renaissance, this image of two faces would represent not only the past and future but also wisdom.

The images of Janus are strange and evocative; they seem to combine time and place with an uncomfortable intimacy. We tend to think of the present moment as the most real experience: the past and the future are unknowable or distant.

Yet, if we think about the hinges of our own actions in the moment, we do move in a constant cause and effect motion—past experiences influencing the present, then a future outcome. The more aware we can link the opposites, the more we can find our way with conscious results.

Notice the way that the combined hair of the old and young Janus in the image is braided, woven. Yet each individual face seems oblivious of the other. How do we become the weaver, the one who sees the patterns of change?

As the new year begins in the month of January, what is your Janus story?

What door are you opening, and how does it hinge on the past?

What is an experienced truth that the older Janus could share with the younger OR the younger Janus with the elder?

Explore the experiences and the truths you’ve learned and the goals that lie ahead, as we all transition to this new year and decade.

Author adminPosted on January 23, 2020Categories Myth, Personal Story, SeasonsTags Janus, Personal story, Roman