The meaning of the dream symbol: Gate

1. A locked gate (a recurring image in Freud's dreams) may symbolize a problem to which you have not yet found the key; or it may mean you have not penetrated your unconscious. What is preventing you? It is you - or some part of you - that has locked the gate. Alternatively, it may symbolize something you should not attempt to do.

2. The narrow gate is a Christian symbol of the way to 'life' or ‘salvation’. Psychologically, it may symbolize the way to healing and wholeness; the fulfilling of your ‘destiny'; where you should be concentrating your attention and effort.

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The symbolism of the Gate involves entrance into a visible world. However, while this world or place is discernible, we nevertheless must be welcomed into its confines. As such, we need to prove the merit of our worthiness to gain passage. However, we may come to realize that gates so eagerly crossed, may close behind us and subsequently trap us in the forceful world of our own deepest aspirations and desires. In this case, our wishes, once realized, may prove to be entirely destructive to our own better nature. Look before leaping.

The gates of Chinese cities were set at the four points of the compass. Through them evil influences were expelled, good influences drawn in, strangers received, the virtues of the Emperor disseminated to the four corners of the empire and the hours of the day and the seasons of the year regulated. The four main gates of Angkor Thom display the gleaming face of Lokeshvara, Lord of the Universe, to the four points of the compass, but they also give access from these four directions to the centre of the world.

The cosmic manifestation which we have just discussed is again expressed in China by the ideogram of the door. According to the Chi-Chu, the trigram k’un (Earth; passive principle) is the closed door, while the trigram Ch’ien (Heaven; active principle) is the door which opens - manifestation. The alternate opening and closing of the door expresses the rhythm of the universe. It is also the alternation of yang and yin. However, in this instance the doors would seem to be equinoctial rather than solsticial (yang emerges under the sign Ch’en which corresponds to Spring). Following this line of thought, the opening and closing of the Gates of Heaven (Tao 6 and 10) are related to human respiration, which is a recognized image for this alternation. In Taoist methods (Tao 52), ‘shutting the doors’ is holding the breath and annihilating sense perception.

When he observed how the hinge remained immobile while the door itself moved, Master Eckhart made the latter the symbol of external man, the former of internal man unaffected by external movement because of his central, axial position.

In Jewish and Christian tradition doors and gates play a vastly important role since they open the way to revelation and they become reflections of the harmony of the universe. Pilgrims and worshippers coming to cathedral doorways were met by Old Testament and Apocalyptic themes, Christ in majesty and the Last Judgement. Suger used to tell visitors to St-Denis that they ought to admire the beauty of the finished work rather than the material from which the door was made. He added that the beauty which enlightens the soul should direct it towards the light of which Christ is the true door (Christus janua vera).

Christ in glory may be carved on the tympanum of cathedral doorways, but it is he who, by the mystery of the Redemption, is the true doorway which gives entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The symbol of the gateway is a recurrent theme of medieval authors, Hugues of Fouilloy, for example, writing that Jerusalem has gates through which we enter the church and attain to eternal life. Our Lady, too, is called ‘Gate of Heaven’ and is sometimes depicted in medieval iconography in the guise of a closed door.

Doorways play a major role in medieval architecture. Burckhardt emphasizes the importance of the doorway and niche in combination and maintains that the niche is an image, in miniature, of the world cavern. It corresponds, in his view, to the church chancel and becomes the site of the epiphany of the godhead since it conforms with the symbolism of the Gates of Heaven. These allow the passage of a two-way traffic, the entry of souls ascending into the Kingdom of God, while through the gates God’s word comes down to Earth. Crossing a threshold is altering a level, an environment, a centre or a way of life.

Doorways also have eschatological significance. As places of passage and particularly of entry, they naturally become symbols of the imminence and potentiality of entry into a higher reality - and, conversely, of the diffusion of heavenly blessings upon Earth. Jewish tradition expected final liberation and the coming of the Messiah to occur at the Pass-over and often gave expression to this time of waiting in the symbol of the door (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18: 29). In his Jewish War (6: 290ff.) he tells how the gates of the Temple were to be opened in the middle of Passover night and, when miraculous signs occurred during the feast of the Passover and especially when one of the Temple gates opened of its own accord, the people concluded that God had opened the Gate of Blessing -that is, that the final, Messianic process had started. The primitive Church, as heir to this tradition, expected Christ’s Second Coming on Easter Eve and kept vigil, listening for the sound of his knocking on the gates of the world.

The Bible also speaks of the ‘gates’ (Genesis 28:17) or ‘doors’ (Psalm 78: 23) which God opens to make himself manifest (Revelation 4: 1) or to shower his blessings upon mankind (Malachi 3: 10). Conversely, the opening of the gates, such as those of the ideal Temple in the eschatological New Jerusalem (Isaiah 60: 11), symbolizes the free access of the Chosen People to God’s grace.

The Gates of the Grave (Isaiah 38: 10) or the Gates of Hell (Matthew 16: 18) symbolize the awesome power of the abyss, from which none can escape, but of which Christ proclaimed his conquest. His are its keys (Revelation 3: 7).

Now it is far easier to understand why ‘door’ or ‘gate’ should have been used as the symbolic designation of Christ himself (John 10:1-10), he being the one door through which the sheep could enter the sheepfold, that is, the kingdom of the elect.

The carved door of a Senufo shrine in the village of Towara, in Africa, is the equivalent of a lesson in visual images, but in images which are to be understood not by what they offer the eyes but for what they symbolize to the spirit. The door is a symbol of the development of the cosmos. In its centre is carved a circular disc and around it, in a vast square, figures of animals and of human beings, those in the upper half being carved head downwards. Above the square are line carvings in relief of six figures, one of whom is a horseman; and below the square are a walking man, a leopard, what is probably a rhinoceros, a bird with wings displayed and a serpent poised to strike. Jean Laude interprets the carvings as follows:

The door dividing the holy place [the inner sanctuary] from the outer world, displays an epitome of the creation, a cosmogony, to the living. The persons depicted are genii [intermediaries between the created world and the invisible powers which created it]... The dimensions of the figures depicted are non-figurative [the horseman's head is larger than the horse; proportion is based not upon physical size but upon hierarchical order]... The universe is conceived as an outward expansion from a central nucleus, from which beings and things irradiate.

Doors lend themselves to a number of esoteric interpretations, alchemists regarding them ‘as the same thing as the key, an entry to or means of operating throughout the course of the "work". The door is the communication of the hidden implement, the secret tool.

Freemasons set the door of the Temple between two columns, ‘the facade surmounted by a triangular pediment above which are a pair of compasses, their tips pointing heavenwards.’

The Temple door should be very low. When the uninitiated enter the Temple they should be forced to bend down, not as a sign of humiliation, but to show how hard it is to pass from the world of the uninitiated to that of the adept... This enforced action may also make the candidate remember that when he dies to his old life, he will be reborn to a new life which he should enter like a new-born baby coming into the world.

Plantagenet also observes: ‘The gates of the Temple are known as the Western Gates, which should remind us that it is beyond its threshold that the sun sets, in other words, where the Light is extinguished. Beyond is the realm of darkness, the world of the uninitiated.’