The Guardian of the Portal

My last dream of 2011 and my first dream of 2012 involved the figure of the guardian of the portal.

I'm not sure I've read much on Jung or Jungians talking about this archetypal image nor I'm not that versed in mythology (yet) so I don't know how to understand this figure.

At first I thought about the psychopomp, but the guardian just guards the portal, it has nothing to do with mediation or movement between cs and ics.

So how should I begin to understand it? Where to look?


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  • from 2005, reminded by your discussion:

    I have been rereading Liz Greene's book on Saturn since the ingress to Leo heightened my interest in that archetype: The dweller on the threshhold, the lord of karma, the lessons of embodiment, the alchemical lead to be turned to gold, the ruler of Capricorn, a symbolism with which I have issues to resolve. So I'm doing my dancing meditation, as I do whenever I get the alone time/space/music to regroove and move into touching the core of my creativity. I'm not really thinking about, just letting my mind do its roving thing. So it hits me, hard, like a rock thrown through a window into my consciousness, "dweller on the threshhold" -- not ferry through the threshhold or astronaut or even archaeologist -- dweller on the threshhold, living in the eternal magic between the worlds. It's not about going through the threshhold, at least not as an absolute imperative or desirable leap. It's about taking the time to build a relationship with the hermit that is I. Becoming a trusted friend, building skills and knowledge, preparing rather than jumping headlong into the void.

    • Fascinating discussion. I am interested in the idea of regression here, the return to 
      Unconsciousness.  Is that considered part of what constitutes the dark night of the soul? 
      And I really grok this idea of surrendering to that darkness somehow, that the struggle 
      For consciousness and toward whole ness can only take you so far. Inevitably you must 
      Succumb to the dark side in order, perhaps, to know it, to recognize the necessity of balance, 
      The yon and yang.  It is like a tempering. I'm interested in what someone said about their not being darkness
      Behind Sol? Could you say more about that?  
      Btw, I'm a newbie here. Hope it's ok to just jump into the fray.
      And Laurie, I think I recognize  you from  Gather? If so, hello dark sister!
      So good to find you here. I agree about Saturn and the need to Dwell between worlds. 
      • James Kirsch once asked Jung whether St John's "dark night of the soul" was a process of individuation, and he replied, "John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul" has nothing to do with this. Rather, integration is a conscious confrontation, a dialectical process..." (Letters, Vol.2, p.159).

        But I think Jung was wrong. Jung thought of the alchemical nigredo as 'confrontation with the unconscious', but John's "dark night of the soul" is the nigredo proper, i.e. to sacrifice one's conscious attachments. This is not an easy thing to do. It demands than personality is well-integrated beforehand, i.e. the shadow is integrated, along lines of Jung. I think that this phase is often missing in the history of mysticism, giving rise to a false form of imitatio Christi, a phenomenon which Jung criticized harshly. I suppose it implies the ritualization and the imitation of a process that ought to be truly experienced.

        What follows from the conscious confrontation with the unconscious complexes is psychic integration. To Jung, this includes the nigredo experience, denoting crisis. But Jung's concept of integration is not so central to individuation. I argue that it is John's paradigm which is the correct one, after all.

        Mats Winther

        • I do not have the scholarship behind it that some of you do, but it seems to me that individuation and the dark night of the soul are two separate journeys.  I think the dark night, or nigredo, comes after individuation not during or before. I plan to read St. John's "Dark Night" soon, as I just purchased it.

      • I do not like the notion of succumbing to the unconscious - that comes close to possession. Rather, I think the image of the fish is a good one to contemplate. The fish (Christ consciousness) is the light in the dark. Its unblinking eye is ever-open to the depths, taking in what it sees and transmuting it into something useful to consciousness.

        • I wonder if the dark night of the soul is tantamount to a kind of possession, actually?  Hopefully, I've not been misunderstood in saying "succumb."  It really is more like a possession.  We begin a descent; certainly we do not choose that descent,nor would we consciously want to descend to the depths or into the dark wood, but my experience is that there are times, or perhaps a time, that we must descend, that we are taken on a descent...

  • True, if the collective were to sink back into unconsciousness it would have catastrophic consequences. But the opus is performed on the personal level. Arguably, if a collective regress is to be avoided, it is necessary that as many individuals as possible choose the path of individuation. This was Jung's standpoint. Individuation at some stage involves the immersion in the unconscious, in mystical theology referred to as 'mortificatio', or the 'dark night of the soul'. The individual makes this sacrifice in order to redeem humanity from the encroaching forces of darkness. The individual goes through the suffering of death and makes intercession for humanity. Humanity is accorded the remission of sins and society is kept on the right tack.

    This is the vicarious suffering of Christ, symbolic of individuation. The mustard seed must enter the earth and die in order to come to life again. It is a notorious motif in mythology and the history of religion. The archetype involving death and resurrection has manifested in the stories of Osiris, Jesus, Adonis, Attis, etc. There is also a mysterious Greek version, namely the man-god Iasos, associated with the Samothracian mysteries, son of Zeus and the virgin Elektra. That story is what's behind the secrecy of Pouissin's "Et in Arcadia Ego". (Also in Arcadia am I: Jesus.) Also Hesiod and Homer (Odyssey) mention him.

    Osiris is also a dying a resurrecting god. He represents the grain of wheat. As a mummy he lies within a wooden coffin. It corresponds to the grain of wheat, which is surrounded by a protective coating or husk (bran). The mummy wrapping corresponds to the inner protective layer of the grain known as tegmen or testa.

    When the ego recedes, it leaves the power to the unconscious. To perform the redemptive sacrifice, to allow oneself to die like Osiris, is to actually *become* Osiris. That's why the ancient Egyptians believed that the dead pharaoh became Osiris. Individuation demands this.

    Mats Winther

  • Prometheus may well fly up to the Heavens but the fire of consciousness that he gifted us cannot be taken back. What you propose - immersion in the unconscious- hints at a return to paganism and ignores human's ability to transmute fire (light) into useful, civilized energy. Abandonment to the unconscious is not conscious sacrifice, it is regressive. This is not to say that all sacrifice (e.g. masochism) is progress; there are misalignments that can occur when naively opposites brought together. I am not advocating that all integration results in positive, useful outcomes; thus, the need for developing equanimity.  Following Hillman, I agree that too much as been made of pursuing "wholeness" while ignoring peaceful co-existence or what I prefer to call alignment (rather than coniunctio) of the opposites. This word "opposites" can be an invention of the rational ego whereas the psyche in its raw state may have no problem having many gods - a joyful cacophony. On another note, I recall Jung's spectrum of instinct-archetype where I would place spontaneity further up the scale toward the spiritual dimension than our lower instinctual drives.

  • I prefer the notion that the gods can die, but they can also be reborn. The opus implies that conscious and unconscious are integrated so that a common ground can be created. But I maintain that the immersion in the unconscious is a very central theme. This implies a sacrifice of ego consciousness thus to abandon oneself to the darkness of the unconscious. This means that Prometheus, as the archetype of ego consciousness, is released from his imprisonment in earthly existence and can rise to the heavens as a living god again. I submit that the sacrifice of consciousness cannot be understood as progression, e.g., to acquire a more instinctual spontaneity. It is no longer the question of finding a common ground. It implies the abandonment of life, to give lifeblood back to the gods.

    Mats Winther

  • This is a very interesting symbol. According to Otto's work on the Homeric Gods, Hermes is a god of boundaries (portals/gateways). Hermes developed into Mercurius, who is double-natured since he stands on the threshold between the world of the gods and the world of men. That's why he can function as a 'psychopomp' who leads men into the beyond. Hermes-Mercurius is a messenger of the gods. The reason why he can cross boundaries is because he belongs to both regions. Accordingly, the alchemists called him Mercurius Duplex. He is two: (1) serpens mercurialis and (2) spiritus mercurius. He is therefore capable of binding together Heaven and Earth, so that the *rule* of Heaven can be established on Earth long before the time-transcendent goal of the Kingdom of Christ. Arguably, this was the aim of the alchemists. According to Karl Kerényi (Hermes - Guide of Souls) he was originally a shepherd god, depicted as carrying a lamb. Hermes predated the Greek era in Greece, i.e. he belonged to an even older culture. He made an outstanding career, and achieved his zenith in medieval Europe. Another duplex god is Janus:

    In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. Most often he is depicted as having two heads, facing opposite directions: one head looks eastward and the other westward. Symbolically they look simultaneously into the future and the past, back at the last year and forward at the new. (cf.

    Comparatively, Tyr, in the Scandinavian pantheon, is older than the ruling Asir gods. His very name means "god". Tyr also means door in German (Tür). It is also a fact that the German word 'Tor' (gate) is the same as the name of the Scandinavian god Tor (however, according to an etymological dictionary on the Internet, Tor (Thor) means "thunder". So it's debatable whether Thor belongs to the two-faced gods.) Duplexity seems to have something to do with the fact that they are immanent as well as transcendent. The god remains at the very threshold, provided that he/she does not split into two, as seemed to have befallen Satan (the Fall of Satan). Janus maintains this ambivalence. Arguably, it is necessary for a god to maintain his ambivalence to remain alive, not to become split into a remote transcendent part, and a part realized in materiality.

    The word Deus, the Veda scriptures' 'Dyaus', the god Tyr (as in Tuesday), the word Zeus (genitive; dios), all mean 'divine', i.e. a god. This word is probably related to 'dyad', which means two. A doorway is an opening to two regions. Arguably, a divinity is by nature divided, ambivalent in terms of metaphysical nature, provided that it remains alive. In the Janus temple in Rome, the fire was kept constantly burning. It was the very principle of divinity that was safe-guarded - Janus as representing the "divine principle of double-naturedness". If the gods lose this principle, they will die. The divinity will then become a principle, Mars will be reduced into 'martial', etc. Mars is today a realized function of consciousness, while he is no longer a living god. He is split into the realized science of war, and into the archetypal aspect that has returned to an unaccessible transcendental sphere. Janus, similar to Tyr, seems to be a very old deity. This fits into the picture of representing the "divine principle". Arguably, the Christian god has withdrawn to the transcendental sphere, too. What remains on earth are principles for life, his 'Dharma', notions of charity, etc. Janus could not prevent this from happening, his temple was raised to the ground and his fire extinguished.

    It is a plausible theory that doorways and thresholds are venerated as representing the sacred principle of metaphysical ambivalence. It is logical that this motif should surface at the threshold of the new year.

    Mats Winther

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