The God Portunus – Keeper of Time and No-time

By Phoenix the Elder – When things drop in my lap, my soul tends to fly with them because they fulfill a personal need on my path to stay within awareness. That is the nature of walking a symbolic path, mostly because dreaming is my first language.

Today I wanted to share the God Portunus with you, who is an ancient Roman God and originally an Etruscan Deity who holds the keys of the gates of time. Later, the Roman Portunus was the old prophylactic deity of doorways, harbors and doors. His name is also written as Portumnus.

The Temple of Portunus is one of the most ancient in Rome, dating from the era of the Republic in the first century bce. The Temple is sometimes called the Temple of Fortuna Virilis (‘manly fortune’). He is a youthful god associated with water crossings and seaports.

Portunus God

The symbols of this deity are the key, doors and doorways and the god of passage (not passages). Opening pathways and doors is a major symbol in anyone’s spiritual journey, including mine. Without opening doors and gates and taking those risks in life, we do not mature spiritually. We must walk through them when life opens them up. Sometimes we get synchronicity clues before that happens. I know I certainly do as a symbolist and mythologer.

In the Latin adjective importunus his name was applied to untimely waves, weather and contrary winds, and the Latin echoes in English opportune and its old-fashioned antonym importune, meaning “well-timed’ and “badly-timed”. Hence Portunus is behind both an opportunity and badly-timed solicitations.

Linguist Giuliano Bonfante argues that in Latin the words porta (door, gate) and portus (harbour, port) share their etymology from the same root meaning ford, wading point. And in Latin limen means ‘threshold, entrance’ (of uncertain origin) is appropriate to a harbor entrance.

To folklorists, mythologists and mystics its easy to see this Deity rules inbetween this world and the others in the oceanic aspects of the soul, or collective soul. If Hades is the guardian to the Underworld, Portunus is responsible for as the Guardian of the middleworld, especially the oceanic middleworld entrances.

In the Portunus festival on August 17, keys would be thrown into the sacred Fire to be blessed for ones homes or one’s safe passages through the doorways of life and also for good luck. He is also the guardian of the Tiber estuary, the main access by Sea to the city of Rome. As the twelve other deities which each has his own Flamen (a priest serving a particular deity), Portunus is a local god of Rome and certainly a River’s entrance to the Sea, God.

Palaimon was one of the variety of Greek deities that provoked calm waters and safety and who is identified with the Roman Portunus. Portunus also appears to be closely related to the god Janus, with whom he shares many characters, functions and the symbol of the key.

The Seasons by William MorrisIn these tiles of art by William Morris, the first image represents March in the yearly season. It shows Janus (masculine) and Janu (feminine), who are versions of art and sculptures of mythology. This is the equivalent of the masculine side of the God Portunus. In the art image he is holding the Key to the Doorways (portals) of where the land ends and the ocean begins (the harbor). The other symbol is the Wheel in his left hand, which represents time and no-time, that he controls it here and in dreaming (or across the veil, the netherworld).  

MARCH by William Morris
(from the Earthly Paradise)

Slayer of the winter, art thou here again?
O welcome, thou that bring the summer night!
The bitter wind makes not thy victory vain,
Nor will we mock thee for the faint blue sky.
Welcome, O March! whose kindly days and dry
make April ready for the throstle’s song,
thou first redresser of the winter’s wrong!

Yea, welcome March! and though I die ere June,
Yet for the hope of life I give thee praise,
Striving to swell the burden of the tune
That even now I hear thy brown birds raise,
Unmindful of the past or coming days;
Who sing: ‘O joy! a new year is begun:
What happiness to look upon the sun!’

Ah, what begetteth all this storm of bliss
but Death himself, who crying solemnly,
E’en from the heart of sweet forgetfulness,
bids us ‘Rejoice, lest pleasure-less ye die.
Within a little time must ye go by. Stretch
forth your open hands, and while you live
take all the gifts that Death and Life may give.’
Portunus Temple of the God Portunus

He shares some characteristics with Janus, the god of the houses and doors (“janua”), while “porta” means gate, or town-doors. Both have as emblem the keys, offered on August 17, during the celebrations of the god Portunus, the Portunalia, to bless homes.

Portunus was an ancient Roman god, already on the archaic religion scene, to whom a completed initiate is granted keys to the Gates (porta), the River Harbors (portus), and more precisely itself, the River. The harbor of Rome called portus Tiberinus, near the Forum Boarium where today stands his temple. Harbour in its etymology meaning, means a place of shelter.

Portunus also is depicted with an anchor representing the water aspect of the Sea or the anchoring of time in water and land. Portunus is the son of Mater Matuta (Aurora), the Goddess who protects elder women and is honored during the Matralia Festival on June 11.

Mater Matuta was assimilated into the Greek goddess Leucothea (The White Goddess), the former Ino, who was the mother of the ocean deity Palaemon. The antiquity of Portunus, his early character into the cults of the city and his originality are inferred from his name, his yearly festival and his flamen were celebrated on Portunalia on August 17th, and the portus Tiberinus is still standing.

Sources: Hesperia; Labours of the Months. c.1862, Burne-Jones, Morris, Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Webb hand-painted on tin-glazed earthenware tiles William Morris GalleryWiki;

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