“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
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 http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/543863
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.
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