January is named after the Roman god Janus whose two heads allowed him to simultaneously look backwards and forwards. Entryways and exits were sacred to him, and his position at the turn of the calendrical year is founded on this threshold power.
Here we are. Behind us are the end of year holidays that many spend with kith and kin, and these first few days of the New Year bring that feeling for a fresh start, with aspirations and plans for what is to come over the many months. Past and future intermingle like Janus’ two faces espying what has been and what is to come.
In a passage by the great Jungian analyst and writer Marie-Louise von Franz[i] the importance of our attitude in these threshold times is brought to the fore. von Franz had gone to visit old relatives, experienced as “old horrors”, whom she made fun of in her mind on her way home. That night she had a “catastrophic dream”, wherein she knew the unconscious was saying to her, “this is really dangerous.” Recounting the visit and dream to Jung, she recalls him saying to her,
"Yes. If one does not constantly walk forward, the past sucks one back. The past is like an enormous sucking wind that sucks one back all the time. If you don't walk forward, you regress. You have constantly to carry the torch of the new light forward, so to speak, historically and also in your own life. As soon as you begin to look backward sadly, or even scornfully, it has you again. The past is a tremendous power."[ii]
Astrologically, that which has us walk forward is symbolized by Mars. This is why Mars’ sign of Aries is the first sign of the zodiac because it is the quality of consciousness of beginnings whose instinctive need is movement.
Cosmic syncopation—the New Year began with Mars at 0 degrees Aries, firing up this consciousness of beginnings.
Aries is also the first fire sign of the zodiac, and fire starts with a spark. It is this spark that is needed to light the torch Jung describes. And this torch of light is a metaphor for the spark of consciousness. Mars is connected to the articulation of consciousness in many deep ways. His territory includes our will, how we defend what we value and the courage we have to move forward in life based on our principles.
Mars is that torch we must constantly carry into our life, which, though rooted in the past needs to illuminate what’s ahead. Let’s imagine this as a fire in the mind. For the Romans, Mars’ power manifested itself, “in fertility and in strength and fierceness and which was associated with an appearance of fire in the head.”[iii] Hence the woodpecker picus Martius was believed to be sacred to Mars because of the scarlet streak of feathers on its otherwise black head.
With Mars currently in Aries the message is very clear, we must tap into the courage to move forward consciously and with an enthusiasm for what unfolds, all the while with due respect for the past.
With fire kindling care.