Today we are asked to offer devotion to Janicot…but who is this figure? If you run a Google search, you won’t really turn up much in the way of reliable information. You won’t really find much if you try to search for images or myths regarding Janicot. To be honest, just about the only thing I can reliably find about this name is that there are a number of French families with this surname (and they pronounce it Shan-i-co).
Unfortunately for us, some of the best information linking Janicot with any form of veneration comes from the 15th-century French demonologist and witch-hunter, Pierre de Lancre, who earned his place in history by presiding over the 1609 panic in Labourd, a part of the Basque region, where he has been credited for centuries as sentencing 600 people to death, though the more recent scholarship of Gustav Henningsen and Nicole Jacques-Chaquin has placed the number between 50-80 persons. De Lancre wrote of his experience in Labourd in his 1612 work Tableau de l’ Inconstance des Mauvais Anges et Démons (often translated in English as ‘Portrait of the Inconstancy of Witches’).
I am not able to secure a copy of this to see what exactly it is he says of Janicot, but Dr. Margaret Murray makes note of some of it in her 1931 book, The God of the Witches:
According to [Pierre] de Lancre the name of the Basque god was Jauna or Janicot. The latter he regarded as a diminutive and says that it means “petit Jean”, and was applied by the witches of the Basses Pyrénées to Christ; a man-witch at Orleans also spoke of the host as “un beau Janicot.” It may however not be a diminutive, but a form of Jauna with the ending Cot “God”, as in the Northern Irmincot. In modern times the god, who has now degenerated into a sprite, is known by the Basques as Basa-jaun, the equivalent of Homme de Bouc, Goat-man which brings the whole of the early religion of the Basques into connection with the Horned God.
Incidentally, later in the same book, Dr. Murray also invites her reader to draw a parallel between Little John of the Robin Hood tales and Janicot, simply by comparing their names (this, however, would require a reader to decide that Janicot meant “petit Jean” or Little John).
Of course, Dr. Murray’s scholarship regarding witches has been called into question, and I think that might well be true here with the leaps she takes regarding Janicot’s name. It is a fact that today in Basque, the root word for “god” is jainko (and that word has many different endings depending on its application!). With this in mind, it certainly seems likely that the Basque people of Labourd were simply giving de Lancre the name they used to refer to the Christian God, since the Basque region had been thoroughly Christianized for centuries prior to this point.
In fact, it is the complete Christianization of the Basque region that makes placing the name “Janicot” so difficult. Christianity came comparatively late to the region, with Vasconists broadly agreeing that it arrived in the fourth or fifth century, but that serious activity began in the ninth century and escalated after that. The overall process of Christianization, despite being a little late, was very thorough, and now there is very little evidence left of what the pre-Christian Basque peoples believed. The mythology of the region is essentially obliterated, and what is known is the smallest of fragments based on extensive study such as analyzing legends, place names, and the few historical references to Basque pagan rituals.
A rendering of Basajaun and his female version Basandere.
Murray, however, was right in that there is a Basque mythological figure called “Basajaun”, but he is no goat man. Rather, he’s almost like Bigfoot-esque: a huge, hairy, humanoid creature who dwells in the woods. The Basajaun, however, additionally protect flocks of livestock and teach important things like agriculture and ironworking to humans. Interestingly, the word or prefix basa in Basque means “forest” and jaun means “Lord”. If this is so, then Basajaun quite literally means “Lord of the Foreds” or even “God of the Forest.” In the Basque region and in northern Spain today, however, the Basajaun is not viewed so loftily. In fact, he is basically just the Spanish Bigfoot.
In Wicca, I believe we focus on Janicot as a deity because of the early influence of Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner. I am unsure whether or not Gardner used the name in any of his non-fiction published texts, but it does make quite an appearance in High Magic’s Aid. Eventually, it is the name that the character Jan takes after his initiation, but Gardner first establishes that it is the name for the Witches’ God:
The gathering was held in a secret place, a different one being used each time. We were sworn to secrecy and conducted there blindfolded by a masked guide. When we drew near we were bidden to put our staves between our legs and to ride them like hobby-horses, and so on to the dancing ground.”
“Why this?” asked Jan.
Because their god, whom they call Janicot, is the god of all the crops and cattle and the god of fertility, demanding that all perform this act of worship before him.
The God of the Forest
Given that the Basajaun is credited with teaching humanity to tend crops and herd animals, I find that the same essential attribution to Gardner’s Janicot to be very interesting. That interest compounds in a later description of Janicot’s priest: “There was a rock or other great stone set up as an altar on which sat the chief priest of Janicot, clad in a hairy skin. He wore a mask, horned, and a lighted torch was set between the horns.” Truthfully, this put me in mind of a statue I’d come across of the Horned God, which is pictured right. The artist called it “The God of the Forest”, and I have to admit…it looks pretty similar to the picture of the Basajaun above, which I found through Wikipedia. (The same artist’s “Earth Goddess” reminds me of the Basandere, too.)
I have to admit, I’m starting to think I might be onto something here. It definitely seems a little odd that a Basque name would come to have importance to a British magical system…but then again, maybe not. Studies based on mapping the Y chromosome have found a strong genetic relation between the Basques and the Celtic Welsh and Irish peoples. In fact, Stephen Oppenheimer from the University of Oxford has used genetic studies to hypothesize that the current inhabitants of the British Isles have their origin in the Basque refuge during the last Ice age. Celtic culture also was part of northern Spain at one time, and it appears that vestiges of that time still remain in Spain. Even today, for example, Spaniards in Galicia play a bagpipe–the gaita–that is very similar to those still enjoyed in Scotland. If vestiges like this remain, why might not have some myths from this area gone back to Britain?
It is important to note that this line of speculation is one I’ve stumbled into and isn’t exactly the Wiccan party line. The most we know about the Janicot figure is recorded by Doreen Valiente in her book The ABC of Witchcraft (1973). She devotes four pages to him here, and spending half of it discussing what de Lancre wrote and what Murray supposed. Valiente continues her own suppositions and aligns the name Janicot with the Roman deity Dianus or Janus, who she says was known as “King of the Wood” and who was particularly connected with the oak tree. As Janus, Valiente writes that this god “was the god of doors, both literally and figuratively. His image, with two faces, was set up at doors” and that “the Latin janua, a door, is derived from his name.” Valiente also hints that he opens Diana’s door, so to speak, for “the god of the woods is the male spirit of life typified by the phallus, the opener.” Of course, being the two-faced god, Janus opens the door of death as well as that of life.
Knowing all this, perhaps now I can turn my attention to Roderick’s devotion:
In honoring Janicot today, make an altar that includes his sacred symbols. Cast a magic circle and then slowly intone this old Basque rhyme:
In nomine patrica,
Equidae ipordian pot.
Imagine the image of Janicot entering your sacred space until you feel or sense his presence with you. Once he has arrived, spend some time contemplating what it might mean to serve this aspect of deity. Take time to ask Janicot what it would mean to live life through his energy. Contemplate the sacred dimensions and principles of the lingam: action, movement, passion, drive. When you are finished, close the circle as usual.
Spend the day honoring this god by taking action while keeping in mind the big picture (meaning your overall goals, or perhaps even your community or the world).
I think I’m going to skip out on the rhyme and just intone Janicot’s name as I have for the other devotions. Valiente shares this same rhyme in her ABC, but she shares the fact that it came from de Lancre’s text. He “had the impression that this was used instead of Christian words when the witches made the sign of the cross; and they told him that it was translated ‘Au nom du Patrique, petrique d’Arragon, Janicot de Castille, faites-moi un baiser au derrière.’ This seems to mean, ‘In the name of the Father, the father of Aragon, Janicot of Castile, give me a kiss on the backside.'” This refers to the osculum infame, which was a witch’s ritual greeting upon meeting the devil: kissing his anus, or his ‘other mouth’. Valiente hints that the Basque witches de Lancre interrogtated described ‘the Devil’ as possessing two faces, like the Roman Janus, with one in the usual place, and the other as a mask upon his buttocks.
Roderick says that some of Janicot’s symbols include the spoked wheel (like the wheel of the year), the phallus, and black and yellow birds. His tools include the wand, priaptic wand, and the athame, and his essences are similarly masculine: musk and patchouli. His directions are the south and the east, and he rules the ability to see the big picture and the true nature of all things and to understand the rhythm of life. His animals include the goat and the black bird, and his sacred foods are phallic-shaped things (sausage links, carrots, etc.). His stones include the ruby and turquoise. I guess I certainly have a neat selection from which to create my altar!
My Janicot altar
I created my altar with a plaque I have of the wheel of the year and a smattering of black and yellow bird Christmas ornaments. Off to the side I have a couple phallic crystal wands, and I also have a couple rocks: turquoise and ruby in fuschite. I cut a sprig of newly-leafed forsythia, since that seemed incredibly phallic to me, and finished everything off with a pair of black and white candles anointed with patchouli oil. Given yesterday’s contemplation, I felt the polarity represented by the candles was important.
The meditation I performed in front of this altar was interesting. After a short while, I felt this incredible stillness. The energy was potent, but completely centered. It knew its place in the world and “walked the walk”, so to speak, every single day. It felt kind, too, and very trustworthy. In retrospect, I realize that is the same sort of energy I’ve felt from the really great teachers I’ve had in the past. I felt like he would bring me to new connections. I think that living life through this sort of energy would be among the highest callings I can imagine.