h Phoenix Qi: February, month of the dead

Monday, April 2, 2007

February, month of the dead

Janus, god of doorways.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture of Februus, the god of the underworld, but read on....these two are very interrelated.

This might have been a bit more timely a couple of months ago, but some interesting information has come to light regarding the god Februus and the month of February as it relates to death, and rebirth/reincarnation.

First, a bit of background. In the ancient Roman calendar, the first day of the New Year was on the Spring Equinox, and there were only 10 months which I will list by their current names:

March – the first day was the Vernal Equinox



June – the first day was the Summer Solstice

July (renamed for Julius Caesar; was Quintilius which meant 5 or 5th)

August (renamed for August Caesar; was Sextilius which meant 6 or 6th)

September (which meant 7 or 7th) – the first day was the Autumnal Equinox

October (which meant 8 or 8th)

November (which meant 9 or 9th)

December (which meant 10 or 10th) – the first day was the Winter Solstice

They just didn't account for the days between what is now approximately January 21 and the New Year Vernal Equinox on March 21. I believe they considered these to be "days of the dead." The reason is the number of days included in this span of time.

The number of days contained in each of the ten named months varies with the reporter; some say each month had 30 days, some say it alternated with 30 and 31 days.

I believe it alternated with 29 and 30 days and here is why: this was a lunar calendar based on moon phases (any other lunar cycle would have produced months of 27 to 28 days). (The reason July and August both ended up with 31 days is because the two Caesars had to be equal and have the same number of days in their respective months.)

From New Moon to New Moon, called the Lunar Synodic Cycle, is 29.53 days. Technically speaking, it can be anywhere between 29.27 and 29.83 days. Given that this was a lunar accounting of months, and the cycle is 29.5 days, each month would have to span the synodic cycle and alternate between 29 and 30 days or the calendar would be out of phase quite quickly.

Taking the ten months from March to December, if five months have 29 days (145 days) and five months have 30 days (150 days) that accounts for only 295 days out of a 365 day year. How many days are left unaccounted for? 365-295=70 days.

I find this especially intriguing because in an earlier article, "How long does a phoenix live ," I explore the Egyptian symbolism surrounding death and rebirth: the star Sirius "died" for 70 days each year – it's morning visibility was obscured by the sun for 70 days. There came to be a parallel with the death and rebirth of Sirius with the death and rebirth of the human spirit due to the 70 days that it took to complete an embalming. (An embalming was the preservation of the body so that the spirit could leave the world of the dead and return to the world of the living. The preserved body was the spirit's anchor to earth; without it, the spirit could not return.). The morning star Sirius "died" for 70 days then returned, and it took 70 days of preparation before the spirit of the dead person could return to the earth.

The months of February and January (in that order) were tacked on to the end of the Roman calendar to account for the 70 days between the last day of December and the first day of March – the Vernal Equinox – and the start of a new year.

It rings true that the 70 days after December, February and January, were dedicated to the dead because it was winter, the time of year for the land to be dead as it rested for spring planting. So, even though the 70 days of death were at different times of year, two separate cultures, Roman and Egyptian, connected a span of 70 days to death and rebirth.

The name and meaning of February is often attributed to the Latin Februa (purification) or Februalia, a time during which sacrifices were made to atone for sins. However, other sources say the name February is fashioned after the name of the Etruscan god of the Underworld whose name was Februus. If indeed the 70 days of February and January was the time of year associated with the dead, it certainly seems that the first month of the 70 days of death would be named after the god of the Underworld, Februus. Where does a spirit go when it dies? To the Underworld!

I believe that it was much later, after February and January changed places in the calendar, that February became associated with purification and sacrifices. It would make sense that when February preceded March, sacrifices would be made to the gods just before the spring planting to ask for a bountiful crop for that year. However, I believe those dedications were originally made to Janus.

Janus (originally Ianus) was the two-faced god of gates and doorways (L. for door is ianua). He was often worshipped at the beginning of the planting times, so naming the month preceding the March spring plantings makes sense.

The other important clue to the origin, name, and order of February and January is Janus himself. As the god of the doorway and the gate, he ruled over the gateway of return to the earth of the spirits who had spent the previous month in the Underworld land of Februus.

From the beginning of February to the end of January, then, was the 70 days of the year dedicated to the dead, first the days of the dead in the month of Februus, and then the days of renewal and ultimately rebirth at the close of the month of Janus, the beginning of the new year on the Vernal Equinox in March.


Many depictions of Janus, from coins to statues, show a two-faced man with beards. However, there is another form that may have contributed to the symbolic Old year/New Year, old man and young man (baby). In some statues Janus has a old, bearded face looking to the left, and a young, un-bearded face looking to the right. Presumably this represents looking back to the past and forward to the future, but may also have been the origin of Father Time and the New Year Baby.

Eventually, the calendar was changed again. In 452 BC, February moved to its current location, between January and March. In 153 BC (or 46 BC?), New Year moved to January 1. According to some historians, Julius Caesar moved the date of New Year to 1 January. However, since he was assassinated shortly after his calendar reforms, I believe his change didn't stick. The civil calendar changed of the date of New Year to 1 January in 153 BC to correspond with the date the Roman consuls began their term in office.

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