Two faces

Hello dear readers. A number has ticked over and we find ourselves again in a new year.

The light here at the beginning is leaden over the peninsula. The moon grows above a dense blanket of clouds, and that mass of snow brought by December’s generously big storm has largely melted beneath the intervening springlike rains. It’s all a bit disorienting.

Yes, January now. The month of Janus, the Roman god whose two faces look to the past and future at once. Appropriately, this letter marks the completion of another cycle of Polylith, the fourth since we began in 2019. Some of you have been reading since then, and I am grateful.

From among the dead stems of grass and dormant leatherleaf, in the shadows beneath bits of icy snow, there is a patch of light-colored moss. Its soft scaly leaves branch densely and pleasantly. This is a patch of moss to lay the back of one's hand against for a moment.

Early January can be a barrage of performed optimism and beginning. We’re each expected to promise more this year than last, more on top of what we’re already doing, more at any cost; a single face stares forward.

The performance strikes me as an attempt at a magical operation — a kind of collective sympathetic magic — whereby we make a yearly offering to the goddess Beginning. We humbly imitate you and forsake your opposite. Come down to us! But it cannot work. What we fail to acknowledge in the operation is that Beginning, like Venus (and indeed Janus), has two faces. She has no opposite, but is in fact inseparable from End, her other aspect. What then? Call her Beginning–End, Threshold, Becoming.

Perhaps something is ending for you here at the beginning of a new year, as it is for me. I am writing this in solidarity with you. Remember that the nights are still quite long, and despite the rains, spring is some way off yet. We don’t need to rush the season; just to keep warm and hold the gaze inward when we can. Will we find End’s other face there, rising just before dawn? I hope we do, and that another beginning comes for each of us in time. As Heraclitus says,

It rests by changing.1

So yes, rest. This brings the fourth cycle of these letters to a close. We’ve covered some ground this year, treading circles among topics of initiation, the tension of opposites, recollection, dream, thresholds. I feel good about the treading, like we completed what we set out to do in this fourth cycle.

And four is after all a completion itself — four seasons, four elements, four walls. We might see five then as a new beginning, starting over again at one. I don’t know yet what form the fifth cycle of Polylith will take, but it will begin (per custom) in February after a bit of rest.

Until then, dear readers, my truest gratitude for your luminous attention and imagination. Take care.

Leelanau Peninsula
Full moon, early January 2023

  1. Fragment 52, translated by Charles H. Kahn. One last fragment for you — how could I resist?