What is a threshold guardian and what is its purpose?
The threshold guardian is a guard that defends an area against unauthorized parties. In contrast to a threshold that is not alive, a guardian is a vital force that we can confront and ally ourselves with. Symbolically, the threshold guardian can be the keeper of a great amount of taboo areas reaching from moral to spiritual.
A “threshold guardian” is a personification of a psychic barrier.
Example: You fear to enter an new area of knowledge or experience. Because you are confronting yourself with the topic it will appear in a dream one day. In the dream you see a barrier in front of the entrance to another area (threshold) (f.e. closed door, concrete wall, river, mountainside). Now it could be that you are not willing to be stopped by this barrier. In this case (sometimes right away) the psyche places a threshold guardian in front of the threshold – this may be a giant, a monster, a demon, a black dog, a knight, a death mask and so on.
A threshold as barrier is a passive obstacle of the psyche.
A threshold guardian is an active obstacle of the psyche – a force that is ready to fend off your actions (not only making it harder for you to move forward like the threshold). Therefore threshold guardians are fears that became active, moral or religious taboos, conventions and regulations that are trying to prohibit the endeavor.
"I come to a flat rock basin that is filled with completely clear water. The water is getting deeper near a scarp. At the deepest point of the basin a dark cave leads inside the face of the rock. Full of joy I jump into the wonderful water. It washes off all the impurities. Subsequently, the guardian of the rock basin – a small child – appears and prohibits the entrance to the lake to everyone that is not pure. I hear a rumbling from inside the cave and welters issue from inside it. I let myself carry by the smoothed waves that reach me.
As the cave stops emitting waves I enter through the rocky gate. I have the feeling that this is the entrance to the netherworld – to the world beyond. I end up in a gigantic, bleak cave. Inside I find humanoid being with black shells on which there are reliefs of bones. None of these people seems to be hostile towards me. Then I see the goddess of the underworld Kali arriving with a huge wagon. She is very beautiful, adorned with blue and cyan gems and has huge, dark and arched eyes. As I come closer to her my sleeve touches an elaborated peacock which is fully covered in turquoises. Due to my touch it comes alive. I offer my arm to it and the godly bird of Vishnu climbs on it without hesitation. I join Kali on her wagon and the vehicle begins moving faster and faster. I go the backside of the chariot where I see numerous people that are clinging to a bamboo latticework. They are holding on tightly so they do not fall from the wagon while it is moving. I do the same thing. The ones who fall from the chariot are being reborn. The place where they land becomes their gate to reincarnation. The longer one can hold on to the wagon the better are the offered opportunities for the new embodiment. I want to stay until the end tho...
While doing so I dreamed many dreams – each one a lifetime. One dream is important in particular. I must not forget it...”
Some manifestations of the threshold guardian
- The Grim Reaper
From a letter: "It was like that: I called out for the grim reaper and he came. I asked him to teach me and he said yes. He put his hand on mine and a strong feeling came over me. I can hardly describe it. It is positive and very strong but I also fear it because I cannot control it and feel like I am at its mercy. Well I said he put his hand on mine but that's not quite correct because I didn't see a hand, nor a face or something else. There were no bones either. He was just a brown hooded cloak and this strong energy and had this voice I described to you last time. I asked him if I was going to die now. He laughed and said no. He said that it's true that he is a helper. He said he protects life so that the rest can die. I was unable to make head nor tail out of that phrase. I told him that.”
The amour is a hint on invulnerability and the sword implicates intended defense.
“I went down a rocky path which lead between rock walls. The surroundings radiated something mysterious. As the path bent I stood in front of a bridge with rocky staircases behind it. These staircases lead to a heavy closed doorway that lead directly into the face of the rock. On the bridge stood a knight that blocked my path. I drew my sword and fought with him. I got to the staircases while fighting and managed to get past him. The assailant surrendered. Then I opened up the door and entered.”
The giant is an exaggerated threshold guardian. These don't threaten you with their looks or with weapons and claws but with their tremendous size and strength. Here it is like in fairy tales: “Fortune favors the brave.” But the courage in dreams has something special to it: if you are aware of dreaming it is easier to be “brave” because you know that nothing bad can happen to you. In dreams it is the level of consciousness that opens all the doors.
“The misty giant”: “A path looping through a rocky landscape led to the distant silhouette of a gigantic temple. It was the entrance to the netherworld. Even from a distance I could feel that the temple was imbued with knowledge and dread. As I came closer to the temple a giant that was approximately ten meters tall appeared on the path. He stood there motionless and straddle-legged. In spite of that I walked towards him and surprisingly the giant became more and more transparent as if he was only an illusion. He turned into mist and I walked right through him. The way to the temple was cleared. A long corridor led inside. On its walls hung mirrors in which one could see the transgression of life. They appeared to be big and accusatory. The corridor was not the end of the mirror gallery. There were several halls that had more of these mirrors on their walls. It was a pattern of silent noticeable accusations which became more vivid when being looked at. It was only after a passage of memories that the way to the netherworld was cleared.”
In ancient Greek mythology Charon takes the dead over the river Acheron. If the ferryman appears in this mythological context the dreamer is a humanistically educated person which derives the symbolism from mythology.
Friedrich Hebbel, “Tagebuch, 24. März 1860” (“Diary , 24th of March 1860”)
“Mrs. von Engelhofen is with us. She told us that her husband had the same dream for eight nights in a row before he became sick. In the ninth night he had the same dream again but it was an alternative version.
He is in a scenery unknown to him. He sees a broad and bright stream in front of him. The other side of the river is foggy. A boatman stands at the riverside. When he comes close to the ferryman and offers him money to get across the river the boatman rejects him with a cloudy expression on his face. In the ninth night the boatman becomes friendly and lets him come on board his bark. He brings him to the other side of the river in no time. As he arrives there everything becomes clear and bright and an impressive palace appears. His deceased father comes out of the building and bids him welcome.
- He interpreted this dream with a journey but on this ninth day he became sick and died within a week.”
As a threshold guardian the snake is often looking lofty. It appears as a single individual and not in groups or in large quantities (like in the symbolic meaning of instinct and desire) what emphasizes its uniqueness. A threshold guardian is often someone like the emperor of a sphere and therefore wears symbols of power (f.e. the scythe of the grim reaper). The symbols of power of snakes are an extraordinary pattern, holding the head high, sometimes a crown and a relation to jewels and treasures.
“Approximately 200 meters in front of me I saw an elongated temple that had this mighty gate. I knew that it lead to the world beyond. The path was blocked by an incredibly huge snake that was refusing mankind admittance to pass through. In a distance I positioned myself in front of the snake in the magical stance of the Man-Rune. I let my upper body sway back and forth like a fakir with his flute. The snake lost its anger and became more calm. Also it started swaying. Then it became really indulgent and let me enter.”
- Black cat
The cat is said to have magical powers (see nine lives, cats as companions of witches, “Puss in Boots” etc.) and is known for its unpredictability. Together with its color (especially the black ones) and as a predator that prefers nighttime it is often being identified with the dynamic aspects of the unconscious.
“It is nighttime. I walk through a bizarre landscape with meadow together with yogi A. and S. We come to a mighty wrought-iron gate that leads into a garden. As we come closer to the gate a giant dark cat appears right in front of us. It puts its forelegs onto the archway and hisses at us with its flashing eyes wide open. This is a raging beast that prefers human flesh. If we want to enter the garden and the house we are facing a difficult task. Despite the fact that I am partly aware of dreaming I am not feeling save at all. With some magical tricks we manage to enter the house while the cat circuits the building hissing angrily. It puts its paws through windows and door and tries to get us. Without knowing what is going on I certainly know that we have to fix something in the house. We switch on the lights – maybe that was the core. In the end dawn breaks and the beast turns into a caramel-golden cat. The cat purrs and lets us pet it.”
For thousands of years dogs have been used as watchdogs. It suggests itself that the dog has the same function in our dreams. The rank of the dog is lower then the rank of the human. It watches over areas that belong to lower states of development. In Greek mythology it is Cerberus with three heads and a dragons tail. It watches over the entrance of the Hades.
“On my way through a city a very large official building caught my attention. In front of it was a square that emphasized its importance even more. I went to it and had to pay ten shillings to enter. I passed through the gate and noticed that after entering no one could leave because next to the impersonal cashier sat a huge shaggy dog. The dog was snarling at everyone that dared to take even one step backwards. As I went further the path forked and became a maze of shady corridors that led slightly downwards. On the floor lay exhausted people. In the end I came to a balustrade on the edge of a huge cave. Many corridors diverted from that cave. This subterranean cavity was even worse then what I had seen so far. The people down there had furry animal-like faces. Next to me stood a guard that wanted to send me down a sloping path to the other people. I felt a strong force inside of me and hold my ring (that I wear as the chosen successor of my yoga teacher) towards him. The ring started glowing and all the doors opened so that the people could leave this horrible place. However, most of them headed for the building again right after.”
© Alfred Ballabene (Vienna) translated by Seth