The term threshold guardian is new to me, and I discovered it from Joseph Campbell’s classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. If you aren’t aware of Joseph Campbell, he is world-renowned for his research on myths, heroes, and archetypes. The hero has many stages. We can use the hero as a metaphor for our soul’s journey. We are, essentially, heroes, as we fight against evil, face adversity and challenge, embark on quests, confront our fears, and after we succeed, hopefully, eventually, we can enjoy a hero’s return home to rest and live peacefully, fulfilled, and wiser than when we began.
Our spiritual journey never ends while we are here. I’ve found articles and blogs where writers talk about the stages of spiritual growth and awakening. Everyone seems to have a different number and different names. The first, to me, is when we start asking questions. We begin to doubt all, or many, of the things we were taught. We feel alone and often depressed. Life seems unfulfilling and empty and going nowhere. All the things we used to do are unsatisfying or we tire of them quickly. We feel like an outsider. We don’t belong anymore. This can be a horrible time of despair. We’re asking, what’s my purpose? What’s the meaning of life? Is this really all there is?
The Big Event
Then, perhaps something huge happens to us, a major life event, an illness, something momentous knocks us loose and we glimpse something we’ve never seen before. Whatever we experience could even seem supernatural or insane. But our eyes have opened, even a tiny bit, and we are able to recognize that we are not just our bodies. We have a soul. There is more to physical reality than we thought. We have received the call to God or awakening.
Now, we must decide if we plan to do anything with this revelation. Do we ignore it and go back to what we thought was a safer place in life? (Although who would want to return to that life of depression, self-doubt, and despair?) But we do have a choice. I feel that if we choose to pretend it never happened, we will simply return here at another point in life. We ultimately must answer “The Call to Adventure.”
So, we eventually decide to accept the quest. Once here, it is almost impossible to go back. Nothing will give you satisfaction except moving forward. At this point, we feel a rejuvenation, and perhaps a new life purpose. We read and pray and seek every piece of information possible to find the answers to our questions about God, eternal life, our soul, and the nature of reality.
In this phase, depending on our faith system, we begin to hear from God, Jesus, or spiritual guides. Campbell says, “One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear.” Examples in popular hero culture are Luke receiving the light saber from Obi Wan, Frodo gets the ring, Harry gets his wand. Source
Into the Unknown
This is the phase where threshold guardians come in. We have answered the call to adventure and desire the quest more than ever. We received heavenly knowledge that calms our soul and lets us know we’re on the right path. But perhaps because of saturation and seeking too much in the beginning, we run into these guardians. One is FEAR. Fear of change. Fear of losing the familiarity and comfort of our old ways. DOUBT. What if we were somehow wrong after all? The more time passes, it’s easier to see that maybe it was all in our head.
Not only that, but maybe we are encountering other barriers trying to pull us from our new path. Family, friends, work, etc. We may decide to end some relationships because they are blocking us from continuing. This can make us feel even more alone and to start doubting again. Whatever these “guardians” represent in our lives, we have to conquer them to move forward.
In epic fantasy and mythology, the threshold guardians are a physical barrier, often in the form of a creature the hero must battle in order to pass. But, in the spiritual path, they represent our inner hurdles, like ego and fear, that we must conquer in order to step forward into the unknown.
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces Source
I am currently in this phase of my spiritual journey. I had an amazing awakening, and I know God is real and that my soul is eternal. I recently devoured a huge amount of written material and spent time praying. Now, I have fears. Fear that what I am learning is a radical upheaval of my previous expectations of heaven, eternity, and even good versus evil. I fear the loss of the comfort and safety of what I thought was true. I know that I can never go back. But it’s not as simple as throwing caution to the wind and stepping into the unknown. Or is it?