Threshold Symbols


What is a threshold symbol?

The transition from one state of consciousness to another or from the "world of the living" to the "world of the dead" is not possible with a certain inner effort. So to speak we need to reverse our own polarity. With the help of this reversal we cross the border between two inner dimensions. If there is a sudden transition we are confronted with a short threshold like a door or a window. If a gradual transition is happening we go on a journey and "travel" for some time to the other state of consciousness.


What kinds of thresholds are there?

1. Threshold between material and transcendent

"I come to a gate. I open it and pass through it. I reach another closed door which I also open up. As I pass through this second gate I find myself standing infront of a third door. Behind it I can see a wonderful, endlessly expanded light. I want to open this door too but then I here a voice saying: "Not yet"."

2. Threshold between past and future

3. Threshold between conscious and unconscious (buried memories)

    As I run from a chaser I come to a deep archway. I pass through it and something strange happens. I feel like I wake up, my thinking reaches an unusual degree of clarity and my feelings get more intense. I walk into a wide court which is surrounded by high, elaborately decorated buildings. This decoration contains different sculptures. I gaze upon them and they come to life. They turn their faces to me and become more and more colorful and plastic.”

4. Threshold between childhood and maturity

5. Threshold to repressed memories and emotional areas

The confrontation with thresholds which separate repressed memories from consciousness is often accompanied by all sorts of fears. These thresholds seem to be dangerous and insurmountable. Often they are guarded by an aggressive “guardian of the threshold” due to the fact that this area is a taboo area. To enter this area, barriers of morals or conventions have to be overcome. If we face these thresholds with courage, we become capable of renewing the attitude (which is often connected to a specific event) that is responsible for the repression. The horror of the threshold and the aggression of the guardian vanish.

6. Thresholds between paradigms and different ways of life

Here a dream where “India” as the longed holy and religious world waits beyond the threshold (in contrast to the every day life):

S.: “I walk under a blue sky and bright sunlight upwards a slightly rising hill. I am fulfilled by sacred vibrations as I see a light blue bridge after a sudden path change to the right. The bridge leads over a mighty stream. A small, happily dancing child comes up to me and guides me over the bridge. The river that separates the two lands from each other seems to be as wide as the sea. On the other side lies India. Expectantly, I entered this new land. The child leaves me and I come into a small village on the foot of a gigantic mountain chain.”

7. Thresholds between sleep and awakening

Often I find myself sitting in a train while being in such a transition phase. There I sit and wait and sometimes talk to my fellow passengers about some kind of triviality. While still in the train or shortly after getting out I wake up.

8. Thresholds while falling asleep

Sometimes when I fall asleep again in the morning I find myself in a transition phase. In this phase I am sitting in the train to the “dream land”. There is no guardian for this kind of threshold because these are very natural states. Sometimes a conductor comes around to look if everything is alright.

Some reports:

I stood at the beginning of a bridge that appeared as I slowly sank into the state of doze. My consciousness faded as I walked on the bridge. I passed the bridge without thinking.”

I was in doze and recognized that I was under water. I could breath anyway. Everything around me was colored in blue. I wanted to get out of the water so I floated upwards. As I reached the surface I entered a new, more airy world. But I was still floating upwards until I reached another kind of water surface. I broke through this one too. This whole process happened again and again. Floating up, breaking through a surface, floating up again... until I finally felt asleep”

"It is the fourth day after my operation and it's approximately 4 in the morning. I slept well, had no pains and therefore I am in a good mood. I close my eyes, relax and drift away.

I find myself in a train station where I recently left a train wagon. At the very same moment I become half-conscious. I see many people walking by but I am not able to orientate because I get carried away by an undertow. I float towards a person of who I know that it is S. Right before I reach him I wake up due to a sound made by a patient next to me.”

9. Thresholds from wakening to trance

Here we find indirect threshold guardians which prevent us from a deeper sinking into trance states. F.e. intensive itching that one can barely stand. Some also tell about fear of the unknown (even tho they were ready to face such fears while being awake).

A common symbol is the tunnel (mountain studs, manhole etc.) The tunnel is not only a dream symbol, but also an image used in shamanism and for initiating OBEs (= out of body experiences) because it is very suitable as an entry for trance techniques.

"I was doing a dream exercise in which I tried to fell asleep while staying fully conscious (initiating a lucid dream). Suddenly, a shutter opened and a rectangular, dark manhole appeared in front of me. I knew that my exercise would succeed if I entered the hole, but I was so surprised that I woke up abruptly."


Listing of threshold symbols

  • Boundaries

doorways, doors: The area behind the doorway is within one's grasp. The door is a barrier that can be overcome by a human. It is possible to open it up (if one knows how).

- open and closed doors: allowed resp. forbidden

- semi-open doors: half-conscious resp. half-suppressed

- opening of doors: the way we open the door gives us a hint on how we deal with the problem (by thinking, by force, by intuition [key])

I have the task to open doors in a house. The first lock (on a wooden door) is easy to pick. The following doors I open with a different method. I open them from the side. These doors are glass doors which can be easily opened with a crowbar. I am confused about how easy and fast this method is. I know that these glass doors lead to a jeweller store. There are probably lying a lot of expensive gems.”

- appearance: solidity = strength of restraint; height = accentuation of importance

I was in my apartment and wanted to leave through the glass door to check out my hallway. The door was locked and I was confused. I looked through the glass and saw a huge iron door on the other side of the hall. It was protected by strong iron chains and I heard frightening moans coming from behind this door. I was curious about what was lying behind the door but obviously it wasn't friendly and something wanted me to stay away from it. So I saw sense and stayed away from it.” (Seth)

- several doors: accentuation of the threshold. Here the number symbolism becomes important (f.e. 3 or 7 = magical numbers of the absolute – see fairy tales)

A lucid dream: “I entered a building with seven halls. Every hall contained another kind of danger. I knew that I must not look to the left nor to the right. I must only look straight forward. I did that even tho I heard frightening moans and recognized dark specters from the corner of my eye. I crossed all of the seven hallways. At the end in the last hall I opened up a door. Behind this door lay a beautiful and peaceful landscape.”

  • Images

An image is like a peephole. It enables us to see into another area but often does not bring us understanding. Therefor we need to look at it with interest and need to become connected with it.

"The portrait in the abbey": "I enter a building that reminds me of an abbey. In this building I look at different artistic objects like portraits and statues. Suddenly, I see an image of Ramana Maharishi on a door. I am astonished and ask myself how this picture got here. It is not an ordinary image but it seems like it was made out of polished and colored glass. A corona of rays surrounds the face of Maharishi like a mandala. At the same time this image is kind of a doorway. I do not think about where this door may lead to.”

  • Windows

The window is similar to the image but the seen area is closer to us. This area therefore is not "illustrated" but "real". While the door enables us to act in an area, the window allows to us to recognize in the sense of seeing, not in the sense of understanding.

"The panorama window": "I sit in an arena-like, semicircled room in front of a giant panorama window. Behind it lies a beautiful landscape with green and blue hills in unearthly colors. I see a hill in gentle shades and smooth lights. A deep peace fulfills me. (I was in a state of high consciousness.)"

- impaired pane: impaired cognition (dim consciousness)

“Cleaning of the windows”: “I clean the windows. After the first try of cleaning them they still are milky and opaque. I polish them again and they become clean and transparent. I look through them and see a podium where there is a theater performance going on. The actors wear manifold costumes and I think the people that reside here have a nice place to live, because they can watch the performances through their windows.”

  • Curtain

The curtain is something that hides but also can easily be pulled aside. Sometimes the curtain also occurs as grand drape which is not only a threshold symbol, but also emphasizes the following “dream theater”.

“Curtain of Time”: “While dreaming I look through a window. I look outside and see a tram passing by. I don't hear no sounds what makes me wonder. Suddenly, a magnificent, heavy curtain swings into the scene. Shortly after the curtain rises and I see a totally different scene. Men in uniforms of the conquistadordes are fighting. I see a young man falling to the ground screaming. I still don't hear anything. I am half-conscious and try to memorize every detail. The curtain draws and rises again and I see another scene. It is an even more ancient time but I cannot remember any details."

  • Eye

Is a threshold symbol in magical practice and sometimes occurs while visualizing. I would advise against going into such a spirited eye because the eye is the symbolic doorway to another conscious mind.

  • Fog
  • Wall

The wall is a solid, earthy obstacle which can only be overcome with a door (solving of the difficulty) or by overcoming gravity (flying, climbing).

"I was taking part in a race after passing through an old archway. Some of the other runners already started running but I was positive that I could catch up with them. After a few meters I saw the first exhausted runners trying to catch their breath again. I ran past these people. After running some more I saw a gigantic wall. In front of the wall stood a big crowd of other runners. They looked upwards the huge, slippery wall and did not know how to ever overcome this obstacle. The wall seemed to be endlessly extend and showed no doors whatsoever. A part of me also wanted to stop and wonder, but the stronger part was not willing to give up. I would reach the goal and overcome all obstacles no matter what! So I just continued running and somehow crawled upwards the wall. Sometimes I was kind of jumping and sometimes flying. As I reached the top of the obstacle I saw a beautiful sunrise and another wall in the distance. I thought to myself: “If this one didn't stop me, the next one won't stop me either.” As I wanted to continue the race I must have passed a border because suddenly I found myself in a totally different surrounding.”(Seth)

  • Steep rock face

This is a maximization of the wall symbolism.

My grandfather died approximately 5 years ago. This dream I had shortly before All Saints' Day. It's weird because I never dream of decedents.
I want to visit my grandfather in a house in the historic downtown of Linz. I am familiar with the surroundings (even though it has not much in common with a real historic district). I search for the street in which my grandpa is living but a steep rock face seems to separate me from it. I recognize a crack in the wall of granite and find my way through it. On the other side I find a sunny street but its not the street that I'm searching for. Another rock face is separating me from my goal. My conscious becomes more clear and I can now imagine how my grandfathers house really looked when he was alive. While this memory becomes more concrete I notice a tunnel that my grandfather spaded when he was still alive. (In reality he carved a small air-raid shelter in the wall of granite behind the housing.)
Suddenly my grandpa stands right next to me. We both are happy about meeting again and have a talk.”

  • River

The river is a border or an obstacle to another area.

This different area can stand for many things: reality vs. fantasy, earthly vs. transcendent, present vs. past, childhood vs. maturity etc. We are connected with these areas with heart and soul and cannot pass to the other side of the river without being hit by a wave of feelings. While abyss and mountains have their accentuation along the vertical axis and are obstacles of a clear conscious (unconscious = hidden, unclear; super conscious = bright, clear), the river has its accentuation along the horizontal axis. Its motion contains a reference to the time floating by or to the current of events (the same applies to the crossing of the Acheron, which parts the world of the living and the world of shadows. [Greek mythology])

wade through: Even though we cross the water, the earth as carrying element is still present. If we see the water as a feeling connected to an event, then this event is close to the conscious and the access to the reachable content is much easier. Certainly, this access can only be found tediously depending on the broadness of the river and the strength of its flux.

diving through: One has to cross through deeper layers.

swimming through: We are completely surrounded by water but on the water surface. This means that there are feelings being mastered to come to the other side of the river (area of consciousness). A climb-down to deeper layers of the unconscious is not necessary.

ferry: The crossing of the river is realized with the help of another person (therapist, parents or the “inner helper” (soul aspect or a transcendent help)

bridge: A path with solid surface (our area of consciousness) is already formed over the stream of feelings and change. The problems (river) can be overcome with the help of reason (mind/air).

  • Bridge

The bridge represents a connection between two different areas.

The bridge can become a meeting place (with a representative of the other side). In Germanic mythology (and not just there) is a bridge that leads to heavens – the rainbow. A bridge can also be a symbol for a relationship with another person.

  • Mountains

The mountains are representing an obstacle that seems to be insurmountable but can be overcome by effort.

Often one expects a higher situated landscape behind the mountains (because the climbed mountains represent a rising of consciousness.) Mountains and abysses are obstacles on the vertical axis which represents the height or depth of consciousness. Symbolically (or religiously) they lead us to heaven or hell.

abyss, gorge: An abyss symbolizes a prohibition – the land on the other side must not be entered. If one tries to enter anyway chances are that one falls down into (mental) profoundness (annihilation). If one wants to overcome the abyss one has to go down into the depth of the unconscious (and confront oneself with its messages).

national border: The real obstacle on a national border isn't the difficulty of the path itself but the fact that one needs the approval of an authority to pass.

“The graveyard on the border”: “I travel by train trough Switzerland. It is a landscape that looks similar to the real countryside of Switzerland – a hill country with pale green, autumnal grassland, grayish sky and kind of foggy weather conditions. The train passes the border to Austria. Right at the border is a graveyard. There are “meadow graves” with birch crosses. Behind every cross grows a big, blooming bush. The blossoms are golden and seem to breath. I am surprised and feel joy.”


Transition phases

  • stairway:

“Descent into hell”. Often these basement stairways lead to neglected and maze-esque rooms with dust and rubbish.

I am in Florisdorf and go down the stairways to the basement followed by some people. The whole house is changed in some way. The basement seems to have several floors. The downwards path seems to lead deeper and deeper into the enigma but I feel that something dangerous is lurking down there. Great fear is fulfilling me."

  • tunnel:

A path that leads through the unconscious.

"Together with a companion I walked through a spacious railroad station terrain. We reached a vaulted room or a tunnel-esque rail station. I saw many senseless things there. Suddenly, I felt a ruck and the waiting area began moving. The sidewalls fell down and we drove out of the tunnel into a bright, shining landscape with describable colors. Colors like just before a sun set. Next to the rails lay countless figures with symbolic character. We rolled over a ridge of mountains and had a great view over the rambling land.”

  • fork in the path, road junction:

The road junction is a magical place of encounter, the fork a place of decision. This image is not only to find in dreams but also in afterlife reports and been seen by psychics.

  • train, bus etc.
  • very wide river

"While I was sick I had a whole bunch of weird afterlife dreams. Together with an uncountable amount of people I got ready for the crossing of an ocean.

A sea voyage of cosmic dimensions, over indescribably distances stands before everyone that is located on this beach. The time that the voyage takes is to count in eons. In unnumbered boats, ships and even with rafts the people join the crossing.

I am on the other shore in a mysterious land and go out to learn as much as possible...”


Transition states

These appear often when using trance methods, sometimes also in dreams

  • fog
  • darkness
  • silence
  • colorful haze, mosaics


Time lapse

If there are time gaps that are to be bridged (f.e. one experiences moments in different lifes in several historical periods) often these gaps get filled with symbolic contents.

  • book, that is being browsed
  • photo album
  • movie
  • abstract "holy and cosmic" symbols


© Alfred Ballabene (Vienna) translated by Seth