On the Dweller on the Threshold
A study into the magical practice of
confronting the practitioner's fear
This article explores the archetypical experience and nature of the term Dweller of the Threshold also known as the Guardian of the Threshold or the Veil of Paroketh. Most of the resources used come from a perspective of Hermetic Kabbalah. In addition I will expand some thoughts first presented by Will Parfitt in his books on Kabbalah which helped bringing together hermetic kabbalistic and psychological concepts in one language and approach.
The goal of this article is to explain the nature of the experience of encountering your Guardian of the Threshold to any interested reader - irrespective of your existing knowledge of psychology, Hermetic Kabbalah or Western Occultism in general. That is why I tried to avoid reduction and truncation of such a complex topic which became typically for many occult text on the internet unfortunately. Obviously this isn’t a full blown book - even though the topic deserved for many to be written about it - but maybe it can be a good first chapter.
May the serpent bite its tail.
Most famously the term ‘dweller of the threshold’ was introduced to public by Edward Bulwer Lytton in his occult-romantic novel Zanoni (1842). Book IV of the novel is actually called ‘The Dweller on the Threshold’ and starts with the quote: “Be behind what there may - I raise the veil.”
The dweller on the threshold thus marks a crossing of borders and discovery of a secret and potentially even sacred space behind a veil. To lift this veil, however, the aspirant needs to face the dweller or lord who guards the threshold. This explains the latin term ‘Dominus Liminis’. It must be translated as ‘Lord of the Threshold’ and is used in several Western magical societies and orders to mark a liminal experience of transition as the aspirant strives to progress into the deeper mysteries of occult lore.
To provide two brief examples of such orders let me point to the Argentum Astrum and Golden Dawn: In the Argentum Astrum the grade of Dominus Liminis is described as a transitional grade from Philosophus (4°=7□) to Adeptus Minor (5°=6□). In the Golden Dawn the ‘Lord of the Portal’ marks the passing from the lesser mysteries of the outer order to the greater mysteries of the inner order - as described in the Ritual of the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti by Israel Regardie. Furthermore, many reputable authors reference the same occult phenomena and initiatory experience in their publications, such as Aleister Crowley, Walter Earnest Butler, Dion Fortune or Chic and Sandra Cicero and Frater V.:.D.:. to name just a few.
In order to take a closer look at the nature of this central experience in Western Occultism we have to familiarize ourselves with the kabbalistic Etz Chiim (Tree of Life). The progress of personal and magical development of the aspirant is mapped onto the Tree of Life and marked by ten major grades as symbolized by the ten Sephiroth and referenced in the two examples above. The following diagram shows the Etz Chiim in its classical form as used in Western Occultism.
In order to reflect the ascending journey of the Neophyte on this tree more graphically the following diagram is used frequently. It depicts the the Serpent of Wisdom whose coil around the 22 paths the aspirant firmly follows on the ascent.
(image available as free poster in Serpent of Wisdom folder here, 17 MB)
2) Below the Veil of Paroketh: The Illusion of the Ego
Before we move on to explore the meaning of the veil of Paroketh, let’s pause and ensure we fully understand the Sephiroth below this veil and what they can teach us about everyday experience of everyday life.
One of the specific traits of the four Sephiroth below the veil is that they are accessible to anyone without sublimation of character or magical training. If we replace the Hebrew names of the ten emanations of the divine with their equivalents in the constitution of humans - following Will Parfitt’s approach on a more personal Kabbalah- this becomes obvious:
The lower four Sephiroth constitute the basic elements of what we became acquainted to call ‘Ego’ or personality in Western psychology: the sensory impressions, the filters of our subconsciousness, our emotional reactions and finally our thoughts. Looking at these Sephiroth from a perspective of Tiphareth it becomes obvious that this is the (limited) space in which most human beings are confined in during their entire lives: We are born into a physical body that matures, ages and dies. Our consciousness is dominated by thoughts and emotions (or instincts or desires) and our subconsciousness acts as the central reservoir of all our perceptions, experiences and memories in life. This reservoir, however, isn’t of passive nature at all. As indicated by the central position of the Sephira Yesod in the lower triad this element of our ego constitutes the center point of our personalities and is in direct connection with Tiphareth. The subconsciousness should therefore be understood as the ‘active file system’ of all our experiences - as well as the central control room for making most of our decisions.
Yet, if our subconsciousness is central to our decision making how does it interact with and influence the other three Sephiroth surrounding it? Understanding how these elements of our personalities develop and interact is an essential step in approaching the dweller on the threshold...
Even before birth this process starts by activating the functions of the outer three Sephiroth - sensory impressions (Malkuth), emotions (Netzach) and thoughts (Hod). As soon as these are activated they start submitting impressions to our subconsciousness which is ready and available for input long before our consciousness is fully developed. Thus thefunction of the outer three Sephiroth act like filters in front of the lens of our subconsciousness: All light, all impressions need to pass through these filters first before they can be caught and unified in the centre of the lens. Within the lens all impressions are collected and - just like a sun collector - start to charge. Once they have reached a critical state of tension or energy the subconsciousness reverse engineers the process and releases them through to one or several of the three filters.
This reverse process is rarely experienced consciously as we are so used to it. Yet, if we were to experience it we would recognize these impulses as emotions, thoughts or bodily impressions which weren’t triggered from around but from within us. They make up most of our everyday life experiences as over time the charged energy in our subconsciousness becomes so high that we rarely perceive something new through our filters but keep ourselves busy with projecting things back through them into our environment.
The interplay of charging our subconsciousness with external impressions and releasing the energy back through our perceptive filters starts to shape the nature of the filters over time: Think of an organic filter for light - a human eye - that becomes better in seeing some colors than others if only trained; think of a consciousness that becomes more accustomed to sensing and feeling and thinking in one specific way - almost randomly chosen from the billion of possible states of mind. This process of adjusting the filters is finished for most humans when they come out of puberty. By that time the filters of their personalities have taken full shape, they are stabilized and hardened into a single, specific state. Thus the process of perception, subconscious processing and (bodily, emotional or/and mental) reaction has reached a certain level of conformity. At this point the consciousness is fully able to realize itself, i.e. its reactions as ‘typical’ or ‘authentic’ for its personality or nature of ego.
From this point onwards in our personal development it takes significant moments of crisis to unsettle the established conformity of the filters and to allow them to adjust in a new and unexpected way. Despite all fears, pains and frustration that the resistance of our filters to change can create for us - most people spend most of their available energy to preserve the once established conformity and balance. Simply put: they spend their lives protecting their egos.
The magical ascend on the Etz Chiim is taking the opposite direction to this natural process: it represents a continual journey of re-adjusting our perceptional filters and expanding their capabilities to allow as much external ‘light’ to come through as possible - rather than being curbed and occluded by internal projections. Ascending the Etz Chiim thus becomes a process of ‘polishing the lens’ of our subconscious as well as opening the senses to perceive on various levels and with better quality. The first and foremost sacrifice, therefore, on this path is the illusionary feeling of personal ego-stability; the first and foremost gain is continued growth of personality.
Most of the rituals of the elementary grades aim precisely at this process: they are designed to re-adjust the filters of our perception and to de-stabilize the personality in a controlled and responsible manner. They tear open the filters that used to be blocked by projections of the ego and allow the student to get in contact with energies that used to be completely remote and occult to his previous state of being. For many practitioners this experience is highly unsettling at first - as by the time they perform these rituals they aren’t used to experiencing any direct or unfiltered stimuli from outside their personalities anymore. Thus cognitive dissonance is inflicted on the students and allows them - as they become acquainted with this new way of perceiving - to achieve a less distorted quality of contact with the inner and outer environment.
“To be initiated, in the magical sense of the word is to recognize that you are moving through a threshold of change - that you are in a period of transition. The key to understanding initiation is recognizing consciously what is happening, rather than simply wondering what the hell's going on. For many magicians and pagans, the recognition of moving into a period of initiation is marked by a ritual or magical retirement. Thus in this context, an Initiate is someone who is intensely aware of his or her condition, and is surfing the crest of the wave, rather than struggling to hold it back. Initiation is a time of letting go. It is a time of 'loosening up' - when habits, beliefs, attitudes and self-identifications suddenly (or gradually) seem to be less concrete than they were previously. One's grip on 'normality' may be temporarily lost, only to be eventually (one hopes) regained, but not quite the same as it what before. Dealing with this loss of certainty, and the necessary confrontation with self, can be difficult at times. Some never manage to go the distance, and instead opt for fantasies wherein they are mighty adepts rather than simply accepting their own humanity, which necessitates a degree of humility, to say the least.”
(Phil Hine, Prime Chaos: Adventures in Chaos Magic, Original Falcon Press 2010)
At his point we return to the dweller on the threshold. The natural interaction between the lower four Sephiroth provide us with a precise explanation of how the dweller on the threshold comes to life: This entity represents all our emotions, all our thoughts, all our bodily functions that help avoiding any change in our personalities. The dweller on the threshold is the demon’s mask - a shell similar to the nature of the Qliphoth, yet much less powerful - which is brought to life by our self-inflicted fears, pains and angsts to let go of the illusion of our ego. Thus by locking ourselves into the confined space of our egos below the veil of Paroketh, it is us who bring forth the dweller on the threshold.
“All the problems of material, emotional and intellectual nature that the soul couldn’t handle on the material plane, from which it shrank or which it fell victim to, are synthesized in the guardian of the threshold - that is, on the astral plane they become a Cerberus, a hellhound that guards the road leading to the higher levels of development and growth. [...] Accordingly, the guardian of the threshold always is a subjectively charged phantom, in essence and appearance depending on which long-lasting imagination, by what kind of weakness, emotion or passion, it was produced. His substance is the power of thought - and he whom he is breathing down his neck, whom he clings onto like a parasite, is vampirized. The secret of his arms and nature is fear.”
(Maria Szepes, Academia occulta – Die geheimen Lehren des Abendlandes, Orbis Verlag 2001)
3) Lifting the Veil of Paroketh: The Nature of the Dweller
As mentioned earlier the majority of the magical skills, tools, techniques and experiences trained in many hermetic orders serve to support the student’s choreographed ascent on the Tree of Life. On this path that follows the serpent of wisdom the encounter with the dweller of the threshold is marked by the veil of Paroketh. Both expressions are allegories for the same liminal state of being or experience.
“Let the disciple seize hold of the tail of the serpent of wisdom, and having with firmness grasped it, let him follow into the deepest centre of the Hall of Wisdom.”
(Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Vol2, Helios Books 1976)
Having located the dweller on the threshold on the Tree of Life as well as in our personalities, let’s proceed further by understanding how we can overcome this entity that represents all that tries to hinder us in achieving personal freedom and growth. Analyzing and understanding the essential term of ‘the Veil of Paroketh’ will proof to be a great help in this undertaking.
A literal translation of the term ‘veil of Paroketh’ simply reads ‘the veil of the veil’ as paroketh is the hebrew word for veil. Israel Regardie, however, also calls it the ‘veil of the Tabernacle’. What is meant by this term is the specific veil which was placed in front of the most holy and scared part of the temple. The tradition of separating the space in the temple which was accessible to public from the inner sanctum by a veil can be traced back to biblical times of the Old Testament:
“You shall make a Curtain of Blue, Purple, and Crimson Yarns, and of Fine Twisted Linen; it shall be made with Cherubim skillfully worked into it. You shall hang it on Four Pillars of Acacia overlaid with Gold, which have Hooks of Gold and rest on Four Bases of Silver. You shall hang the Curtain under the Clasps, and bring the Ark of the Covenant in there, within the Curtain; and the Curtain shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place. You shall set the Table outside the Curtain, and the Lampstand on the South Side of the Tabernacle opposite the Table; and you shall put the Table on the North Side. You shall make a Screen for the Entrance of the Tent, of Blue, Purple, and Crimson Yarns, and of Fine Twisted Linen, Embroidered with Needlework. You shall make for the Screen Five pillars of Acacia, and overlay them with Gold; their Hooks shall be of Gold, and you shall cast Five Bases of Bronze for them.”
The ritual gestures of the ‘Sign of Rending of the Veil’ as well as the subsequent ‘Sign of the Closing of the Veil’ thus mark the central sequence of many rituals in Western occultism, i.e. the moment when communion with spirits or deities takes place and the initiate has fully crossed the threshold between personal and spiritual realms. Paroketh or the veil of the tabernacle therefore signifies a mystical line of demarcation between the profane and the holy, the personal and the spiritual. But which specific personal experience does this term signify as one lifts this veil and crosses the threshold? To better understand this we shall take a look at the meaning of the word Paroketh from a hermetic kabbalistic point of view.
Many authors have tried to establish an inner connection between the word ‘paroketh’ and its meaning in a kabbalistic context. However, we need to keep in mind that paroketh in the first place is not a mystical term but simply hebrew for ‘veil’. Thus a connection between the hebrew word and the related experience on the ascend on the Tree of Life might well be possible - but cannot be expected as a given or even established by forcing it into awkward interpretation.
The most well known approach to construe the meaning of the word in a kabbalistic sense is to connect the four letters of the word to the four elements. While this is an interesting idea in light of the actual experiences in Paroketh - as we shall see later - it isn’t really supported by facts. The most striking misalignment is the suggested correspondence of the letter Kaph and the element of fire which traditionally is assigned to the letter Resh. Peh on the other hand is suggested to represent water, however, the traditional correspondence for it is the planet Mars, thus certainly not representing qualities of the element of water.
Another approach to create a meaningful connection between the letters of the word Paroketh and it’s depiction in Hermetic Kabbalah was to understand the nature of the paths on the Tree of Life as represented by the four letters (tkrp). On the standard version of the Etz Chiim this doesn’t help either unfortunately. While Peh, Resh and Tav are in the right places (i.e. below the veil of Paroketh), the location of Kaph doesn’t match this interpretation. Kaph marks the 21st path connecting Netzach with Chesed which doesn’t align to the location of the veil of Paroketh in shielding the lower four Sephiroth from Tiphareth and beyond.
A third attempt should be referenced here because of its creativity. The author simply suggests to use a different version of the Etz Chiim; more specifically the Etz Chiim version associated with the Gra (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 - 1797) as a picture of this alternate version of the tree was published alongside his commentary on the Sepher Yetzirah in the 18th century. In this version of the diagram the four letters signify four verticals paths, all below Tiphareth. Here the letters of paroketh - understood as synthesis of the upward movement below Tiphareth - is reflecting the meaning of the ‘veil of Paroketh’ quite well.
However, the veil of Paroketh is deeply connected to the path of the serpent of wisdom on the classic Tree of Life. On the Gra version of the Tree of Life this classical Serpent paths would take a completely different sequence and direction. Therefore - in my humble opinion - this approach is a creative solution, yet still far fetched. Well, rather than trying to impose an interpretation on the word and the related paths on the tree, let’s take a look at the simple gematric meaning of the four letters. Maybe this will help creating a better understanding of the inner meaning of the ‘veil of Paroketh’ as a personal experience.
This highly abbreviated gematrical analysis gives us a brief snapshot of some of the meanings of the word and letters of Paroketh. I strongly recommend any interested readers to dive into a deeper analysis themselves as the true ‘unlocking of knowledge’ by help of Gematria can only happen on an individual basis and based on personal studies. Still, this brief overview on the Gematria of the term Paroketh already gives us a lot of rich material to better understand the nature of the term. Let’s synthesize the meaning of the letters:
Peh is described as ‘the heart of Nephesh’ which itself is a term used to describe the most tangible or physical aspectsof life. It’s meaning is further highlighted if we include the next letter, Resh. Now we can see that it is the aspect of bodily movement and actions within physical life which is denoted. If we further include Kaph we enrich this image by the result of movement and action in the physical world, which can be read as continuous manifestation on a physical level or the ‘grasping of the mind’ on a mental level. Assuming this cycle of human engagement with physical creation through movement, action and manifestation results in perfection or sympathy as indicated by the letter Tav we are close to understanding the full meaning of the word.
According to its Gematria, Paroketh signifies a state of harmony in interacting with the physical world - thus giving us a hint at what might help us to lift the veil of Paroketh. Bringing ones movements and actions in harmony with the manifested world - rather than allowing our subconscious to bias them based on our own projections, fears and illusions - seems to be the key overcome the dweller on the threshold. Transcending the veil of Paroketh is a matter of replacing the function traditionally held by our subconsciousness with our conscious minds. The passive subconscious mirror of the moon (Yesod) has to be replaced with the burning conscious disc of the sun (Tiphareth).
“ (...) the real perfection of natural man is most nearly expressed when the physical body, the Nephesh and the Ruach act in harmony.”
(Melita Denning & Osborne Philips, The Sword and the Serpent, 2005 - ref. their works to further understand how ceremonial dance can assist in controlling the dweller on the threshold)
To go beyond the veil of Paroketh means that the subconsciously dominated process described above is put under the active domain of our consciousness. Our spiritual awareness is rejoined by the awareness of our Higher Self. From that moment on communication between our Higher Self and our Self doesn’t have to take the detour via our subconsciousness anymore. By communicating with our Higher Self and understanding the necessity to act in harmony with the material realm around us, we can start to take responsibility for our actions and movements in Malkuth and beyond.
May the Great Work always start at our fears.
“Yet my Threshold is fashioned out of all the timidity that remains in thee, out of all the dread of the strength needed to take full responsibility for all thy thoughts and actions. As long as there remains in thee a trace of fear of becoming thyself the guide of thine own destiny, just so long will this Threshold lack what still remains to be built into it.”
(Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, Chapter X - The Guardian of the Threshold)
- Bulwer Lytton, Edward, Zanoni - A Rosicrucian Tale, Project Gutenberg 2006, link to full book here
- Coleman, Wad, Sepher Sapphires - A Treatise on Gematria, The Magical Language, Fraternity of the Hidden Light 2008
- Denning, M, Phillips, O, The Sword and the Serpent, Llewellyn 2005
- Fortune, Dion, Die Mystische Kabbala, Bauer 1995
- Godwin, David, Cabalistic Encyclopedia, Llewellyn 1994
- Knight, Gareth, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Vol1 and 2, Helios Book 1976
- Maria Szepes, Academia occulta – Die geheimen Lehren des Abendlandes, Orbis Verlag 2001
- Parfitt, Will, Die persönliche Qabalah - Ein praktisches Lehrbuch zum Verständnis des eigenen Lebensbaumes, M&T Astroterra 1990
- Phil Hine, Prime Chaos: Adventures in Chaos Magic, Original Falcon Press 2010
- Regardie, Israel, A garden of Pomegranates, Llewellyn 1995
- Steiner, Rudolf, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, link to full book here