Portal Symbolism

Hope; opportunity; opening; passage from one state or world to another; entrance to new life; initiation;
the sheltering aspect of the Great Mother. The open door is both opportunity and liberation.

Christian:Christ— “I am the door.” The three doors of a cathedral or church signify faith, hope, and charity.

Hindu:Divinities are carved on door jambs, indicating the deity through which man enters the Supreme Presence.

Mithraic:The entrance to the seven zones of Paradise or the cave of initiation.

Roman:Janus is the god of the doorway and holds the keys of the power of opening and closing.

Zodiacal:The summer solstice in Cancer, is the “door of men” and symbolizes the dying power & descent of the sun, the Janua inferni.The winter solstice in Capricorn, the “door of the gods” is the ascent & rising power of the sun, the Janua coeli. These doors are also associated with the entrances and exits of initiation caves and with souls entering and leaving the world. In Hinduism they are the deva-yana (Janua coeli)& the pitri-yana (Janua inferni). (p. 54)


Shares the symbolism of the threshold as entrance; communication; entry into a new life; communication between one world and another, between the living and the dead. It is also the protective, sheltering aspect of the Great Mother. In Christianity the Virgin Mary is the Gate of Heaven. Gates and portals are usually guarded by the symbolic animals such as lions, dragons, bulls, dogs or fabulous beasts. At the gates of the House of Osiris a goddess keeps each gate, whose name has to be known. The Gates of the East & West are the doors of the World Temple through which the sun passes morning and night. The “strait gate” is the central point of communication between the lower and higher; the passage, in “spiritual poverty” for initiates or at death, leading to new life. Like the eye of the needle, it symbolizes the spacelessness of the soul in passing through. The gate is associated with wisdom (Proverbs 8:3); kings sat in judgment at gates, probably as sacred places of divine power. (p. 70)


The change from one plane to another, from this world to the next or the transcendent world. Passage from the profane to the sacred; the return to Paradise; gaining higher states of consciousness; transcending the pairs of opposites in the dualism and polarity of the manifest world. Paradox, as in itself transcending the limitations of the rational mind, is often employed in symbols of passage, such as the Strait Gate; the eye of the needle; the narrow or razor-edged path or bridge; the sword bridge; the ring in the jaws of a monster; passage between two millstones; the Symplegades; clasing rocks; the wall with no door; Scylla and Charybdis, etc. The symbolism of the ability to transcend time and space, day and night, is also used. The passage is impossible for the profane material body so can only be achieved at a spiritual level and in the “timeless moment,” also by means of ways not available to the physical senses. The physical is transcended by mind and spirit. It is the “Way” of Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism, the “Strait Gate” of Christianity and the “tariqah” of Islam. Rites of Passage are often based on an initial separation, followed by transition to a final state of unity. (p. 126)


Passage from the profane to the sacred, from outer profane space to inner sacred space; entering a new world. As a boundary symbol it is the line of meeting of the natural and supernatural; this is ritually defined in the ceremony of “beating the bounds,” redefining the realm of space in the same manner in which New Year ceremonies redefine time. Sinking in water, or entering a dark forest, or a door in a wall, are threshold symbols as entering the perilous unknown. Vestal goddesses of virginity are goddesses of the threshold as are the Lares. Guardians of the threshold, who must be overcome before the sacred realm can be entered, are dragons, serpents, monsters, dogs, scorpion men, lions, etc. In the psychic and spiritual realm guardians prevent man from going too far or too fast and meeting or seeing more than he is capable of bearing in occult or esoteric knowledge. (p. 171)

— J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols,Thames & Hudson, London, 1978.

Door— transition, metamorphosis

A door is an important element of a house, a symbol of passage from one place to another, one state to another, from light to darkness.

Entrances to holy places (temples, cathedrals) are no invitation to participate in the mysteries contained inside. The act of passing over the threshold means that the faithful must set aside their personality and materialism, as they are forced to confront the inner silence and meditation that it symbolizes.

This is why at temple entrances, giant or frightening animals (dragons, lions, winged bulls, etc.) keep vigilant guard. Even Japanese temples, which are preceded by several Torii(gateways), often monumental in size, have their guardian gods (Zui-jin)put there to symbolize this passage from the profane to the sacred and to stop any malevolent influences.

The door of an Egyptian temple was seen as giving access to the “Amenta, where the soul was united with the immortal spirit and where, from then on, it remained.”

The door has a role in initiation rites. When you cross the threshold, you abandon old, emotional ideas, concepts and plans which are no longer appropriate; the familiar horizon is enlarged.

This process is symbolized in the Sumerian goddess Inanna's descent into the underworld, passing through seven doors to arrive before the seven judges of the lower world; the twelve doors passed through by the solar barque in the beyond (twelve stages of initiation); and the three doorways preceding the Masonic lodge (simultaneously a symbol of the universe and of the superior world that the Mason enters on leaving the physical world), which represent the qualities acquired successively through the stages crossed— these are discrimination, absence of desires, self-control.

As an access to a refuge or the warmth of a hearth, a door also symbolizes communication, contact with others and with the outside world. An open door attracts because it signifies welcome, invites discovery, but a door can also signify imprisonment, isolation. A closed door signifies rejection, exclusion, secrecy, but also protection against dangers and the unknown.

— Nadia Julien, The Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols,Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY, 1996, pp. 115-116.

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