Symbolism of the Door

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

V. Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Fernand Khnopff, “I Lock My Door Upon Myself”

My favourite master of symbolism, J.E. Cirlot wrote this on the meaning of DOOR in his Dictionary of Symbols:

“There is the same relationship between the temple-door and the altar as between the circumference and the centre: even though in each case the two component elements are the farthest apart, they are nonetheless, in a way, the closest since the one determines and reflects the other. This is well illustrated in the architectural ornamentation of cathedrals, where the façade is nearly always treated as if it were an altar-piece.”

Among all everyday objects, the door seems to be steeped in sacred meaning. With a varying degree of consciousness, we frame our doors with sacred objects so that our shelter is protected. These rituals can range from affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost in the Jewish tradition to hanging a simple horseshoe above the door. Traditional Japanese gates called torii serve as heralds of the entrance to a Shinto shrine.

Psychologically, the doors with their sacred threshold mark a transition between the inner world and the outer world, the conscious and the wider unconscious realm, the profane and the sacred. They mark a transition from this life to the next, as can be observed in the tradition of placing the so-called false doors on the western walls of the Egyptian tombs. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the spirits of the deceased would leave through these doors.

False Door of the Royal Sealer Neferiu

While closing the door signifies protection, its opening may symbolize release and liberation. The dual significance of the door was beautifully captured by Gaston Bachelard in his classic work Poetics of Space (1958):

“But how many daydreams we should have to analyze under the simple heading of Doors! For the door is an entire cosmos of the Half-open. In fact, it is one of its primal images, the very origin of a daydream that accumulates desires and temptations: the temptation to open up the ultimate depths of being, and the desire to conquer all reticent beings. The door schematizes two strong possibilities, which sharply classify two types of daydream. At times, it is closed, bolted, padlocked. At others, it is open, that is to say, wide open.”

The image of the door simultaneously evokes two seemingly contrasting notions – that of security but also the idea of stepping over a threshold towards the new and unknown wider reality.

Paul Delvaux, “At the Door”

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7 Responses to Symbolism of the Door

  1. litebeing says:

    Hi Monika,
    How is your family and conditions in Switzerland and Poland? I agree that doors are important symbolically, as they are portals. I know a Gemini woman who posted photos of doors she took while traveling cross country. It was an enjoyable project to view.

    hugs, Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Linda,

      I’ve got an urge to photograph all kinds of doors, too.
      I have no reason to complain, thank you for asking. But I’m really upset when I see what is going on in India, for example… In Switzerland, as it seems, people are following the rules, mostly. I haven’t left my neighbourhood for two weeks. My family in Poland are doing well, also staying in. There the healthcare system is totally unprepared so if the number of the sick spikes, they will have the second Italy or worse. The idiots in power in Poland are even planning an election for May – hopefully they will realize how crazy this is.

      Anyway, thank you for your concern. I hope my reply was not too long. All the best to you and virtual hugs


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Japp says:

    “When the doors of perception are cleansed…” Great post, Monika, and also one of my favorite symbols (crossroad is another). Jim Morrison would approve of this one 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, two greatest obsessions of my youth – Aldous Huxley and Jim Morrison. I hope one day to write about the crossroad. We are certainly there now.
      All the best to you


      • Jeff Japp says:

        I highly recommend reading “Divine Horsemen” by Maya Deren, which is a study on the gods of Haitian Vodou. She delves into the crossroads symbolism, which plays a major role in the religion, as well as the other symbols prominent in the belief system.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for your considered writings – this piece also makes me aware of the significance of the hinge – without which we cannot open or close the door.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, hinges – they better work, lest we become unhinged. We don’t want to rip it out while opening the door to a new future. Thank you for pointing that out.
      All the best


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