Wednesday, January 1, 2020

‘Weird Fact Wednesday: Masonic Janitors’

Courtesy Jeopardy!/Sony Pictures Television
As seen on the broadcast of Jeopardy! last Monday. Who is Janus?!?

Like the previous installment of Weird Fact Wednesday, this one does not reach the legal definition of weird. This, I’ll say, simply sounds weird to the American ear.

An office in Freemasonry named Janitor.

When I first found mention of this in the aforementioned book from 1909 Sidelights on Freemasonry: Craft and Royal Arch, I assumed this referred to the chapter equivalent of the lodge’s tiler/tyler. And I was right, which is weird in itself, but I was right for the wrong reason. Remembering ye olden tymes, when the lodge tiler (that’s our New York spelling) would draw in chalk the lodge upon the floor of the meeting space in the tavern and then mop it away after the meeting, I pictured the chapter janitor on clean-up duty also.

But that ain’t it. In American-English usage, a janitor is a caretaker, a custodian, a maintenance worker, one who keeps a facility neat, clean, and orderly. But, as is usually the case, the British-English primary usage is literal in nature, so it requires a look at the word’s etymology to understand why their Royal Arch chapters employ janitors. Excerpted:

janitor (n.)
1580s, “an usher in a school,” later “doorkeeper” (1620s), from Latin ianitor “doorkeeper, porter,” from ianua “door, entrance, gate,” from ianus “arched passageway, arcade” (see Janus).

Keeper of a doorway—in an arched passageway. All right then.

With January here today, I think I will “see Janus.”

ancient Italic deity, to the Romans the guardian god of portals, doors, and gates; patron of beginnings and endings, c. 1500, from Latin Ianus, literally “gate, arched passageway,” perhaps from PIE root*ei- “to go” (cognates: Sanskrit yanah “path,” Old Church Slavonic jado “to travel”). He is shown as having two faces, one in front the other in back (they may represent sunrise and sunset and reflect an original role as a solar deity). His temple in Rome was closed only in times of peace. Related: Janian.

Janus, beardless, on a Roman coin. Britannica says: Janus, in Roman religion, the animistic spirit of doorways (januae) and archways (jani).

In January, we certainly do look forward while still eyeing the past.

Remaining a little stubborn, I wondered if janitor is used in English Royal Arch Masonry today, so I queried the ML group, where any question can be answered quickly, accurately, and patiently. Companion Gerald, one of my co-moderators who is way out in East Anglia, replied 35 minutes later:

Indeed in English R.A., the Janitor remains at his post; swords are not apparent.

Essex Past First Principals Chapter

The jewel of office of the English Royal Arch Janitor.

So that’s it for today. Happy New Year!