Gate Spiritual Meaning & Symbolism in the Bible & Mythology

Gates as separation between physical and metaphysical

Gates, doors, and gateways symbolize the transformation from one state to another, the moving from one world to another, from knowledge to mystery, and from light to darkness. Doors open into the unknown, yet they have a dynamic psychological element in that they not only signify a boundary but also tempt us to pass it. It is an invitation to a journey into the undiscovered.

The journey to which they urge us is frequently, in the symbolic sense of the word, a journey from the worldly to the holy. This idea is manifested in church gateways, Hindu torana, the gates that lead to Khmer cities and temples, Japanese torii, and so on.

Gates subconciously tell us: “Come in!” They can, however, deny us entry and say, “No admission!”.  Gates connect here and there, the known and the unknown. On a psychological basis, gates exist between the inner life and the outer physical world, between sleeping and waking; we work hard to remember a half-forgotten dream and carry it through the doorway between sleep and daylight.

We can also look for “doors in the wall” (as H. G. Wells put it)—connections between ordinary awareness and the transcendent—via ecstatic experiences, meditation, and hallucinogens. As a result, gates are nodes of transition from one state to another.

The body of a mother is the doorway to this world, and the tomb is the gateway to what happens beyond death.

In ancient Egypt, a “doorway” was constructed in a tomb to provide unhindered access to the afterlife.

According to Jewish belief, death is the gateway to the underworld, or Sheol.

However, doors and gates must occasionally be opened to free what is trapped inside. Thus, the doors of imagination and intellect are opened through learning and faith. In a similar manner, “the seven gates” is a term used to describe the seven liberal arts.

More specifically, in British mythology, house doors are to be opened when someone is dying “to aid the departure of the spirit.” 

The Virgin Mary was a Christian symbol of the holy gate, closed in virginity yet open as a conduit for Christ’s journey from heaven to earth during birth.

Gates as symbols of protection

In daily life, gates and doors are barriers that protect the home and the family from strangers and intruders. Gates and walls mark the boundaries of cities and countries. In ancient times, Janus, the two-faced god, guarded both the entrance and exit to Roman towns.

Temple gates divide the worldly from the sacred while also protecting the sanctuaries and the holy presence inside.

Mythical gatekeepers guard the gates to sacred places: Saint Peter protects the pearly gates of heaven, the giant hound Cerberus guards the entrance to the Greek underworld, and the Hindu deity Ganesha patrols the entryway to Indian sanctuaries.

Gates are often used to discourage residents from leaving. In Greek mythology, Hades was known as “he who closes the door” to ensure that the shades of the dead were confined in the underworld.

The gate-doorway is a perilous and mystical location, packed with protective rituals and beliefs. Upon entering, offerings and prayers are given while shoes are removed. The  groom carries his bride across the threshold. A threshold must be crossed cautiously, generally with the right foot first, and no one should sneeze, sit, loiter, or breastfeed a baby there.

Sprinkles of salt or the presence of iron items like a horseshoe can also magically guard doors from evil spirits and forces.

Artwork of guardian spirits or devils, crosses, and Jewish mezuzahs are among the sacred symbols used to protect doors, gates, and passages.

Gate symbolism in Christianity and the Bible

Biblical symbolism of gates in the Old Testament

The primary purpose of gates was protection. During the day, they were open but would be closed during the night (Joshua 2:5). Gatekeepers were stationed to prevent intruders from entering (Nehemiah 7:1–3). Gates were sometimes imagined as living guards and representatives of the city.

“Lift your heads, you gates. Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in”.

(Psalms 24:7) 

The opening of a gate represented a royal reception. And yet, a city without a gate was seen as a target for invasion:

“Attack the nation living peacefully and securely, declares the LORD. It is a nation with no gates or bars”.

(Jeremiah 49:31).

Because of their importance to a city, gates were a meeting place where officials and magistrates met to discuss state issues and settle legal disputes. One such episode occurs at the end of the book of Ruth, when Boaz bargained with another relative over the destiny of Naomi, Ruth, and the inheritance of a man named Elimelech. After they had achieved a compromise, the witnesses spoke up:

“All the people who were at the gate, including the leaders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the LORD make this wife, who is coming into your home, like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built our family of Israel. So show your strength of character in Ephrathah and make a name for yourself in Bethlehem.”

(Ruth 4:11).

A crucial moment in the ancestry of King David and Jesus the Messiah was decided by the exchange of a sandal at the city gate of Bethlehem (Ruth 4:1–22).  Furthermore, the righteous wife was honored at the city gates (Proverbs 31:31), her husband was acknowledged there (Proverbs 31:23), and knowledge shouts out there (Proverbs 1:21).

Biblical symbolism of gates in the New Testament

Jesus describes the two fundamental ways of life as a choice between two gates:

“Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate and road that lead to destruction are wide. Many enter through the wide gate. But the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble. Only a few people find the narrow gate”.

(Matthew 7:13–14)

Jesus also portrayed himself as the sole gateway for us to obtain salvation:

“I am the gate. Those who enter the sheep pen through me will be saved. They will go in and out of the sheep pen and find food”

(John 10:9)

In this context, the gate represents Jesus Christ himself, and he is the only way a person can achieve salvation. Just as a gate was the sole entry point to an earthly city, so Christ is the only way into the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus also described the gates of hell, but he prophesied that the church that would be established after his death and resurrection would triumph over hell:

“You are Peter, and I can guarantee that on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not overpower it”

(Matthew 16:18)

The Old Testament tells of a prosperous and secure future for God’s people that is guarded by strong and secure gates (Isaiah 18; Ezekiel 40–48). At the same time, the New Testament describes the splendid gates that protect the city of the New Jerusalem (Revelations 21:12–25).

Gates usually symbolize security, since their closed state prevents the entry of intruders. However, the Book of Revelations says of the gates of New Jerusalem, “its gates will be open all day. They’ll never close since there will never be a night there” (Revelations 21:25).

As God’s presence is the ultimate protection for New Jerusalem, the gates of the heavenly kingdom will become purely symbolic and decorative monuments.

Gates as a reproductive symbol

Janua Coeli, “Gate of Heaven,” was the term given to altar screens in Christian churches. This was also a Gnostic name of the ancient Virgin Goddess Brimo, who was venerated with her holy son, “the holy Aeon of Aeons,” at Eleusis. As Christianity replaced paganism, the Virgin Mary took on the roles and functions of the goddess Brimo.

Many metaphors were used to hide the fact that the gate was another symbol of female genitalia. It was the portal through which new life came into the world at birth and through which a man’s sexual “heaven” and the end of his phallic soul could be reached.

However, in Christian theology, God’s statements about the east gate of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision were interpreted as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ arrival. The gate represented his mother’s virginity:

“This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut”

(Ezekiel 44:2). 

Despite the fact that the Bible describes Jesus’ brothers and sisters, early church fathers used this text to argue that Mary never conceived a child biologically through intercourse. This text also functioned as a metaphor for virginity in general.

The ancient Greek pantheon also contained a lesser known deity called Enodia (possibly another name for Artemis or Hecate). Enodia was seen as the guardian spirit of crossroads and gates, in particular the “gate” of birth. It is for this reason that Enodia was worshipped as a divine midwife and frequently called upon during childbirth. According to Sophocles, Enodia was also a title of Persephone, the underworld goddess known as the “Destroyer,” who ruled the gates of death.

Symbolism of gates in non-Christian cultures

Historically, Chinese cities positioned their gateways at the four points of the compass. These gates regulated the hours of the day and the seasons of the year, warded off evil spirits, attracted good ones, welcomed foreigners, and spread news of the Emperor’s merits across the empire.

The four great gates of Angkor Thorn show the shining head of Lokeshvara, Lord of the Universe, with each gate looking to a cardinal point on the compass , but they also provide entry to the world’s center from these four directions.

Church doors and temple entrances allow pilgrims to enter and approach the cella, the Holy of Holies, or the Real Presence of God. They embody the significance of the shrine, which represents the doorway to Heaven.

Temple gates are frequently guarded by fearsome guardians such as fantastic beasts, such as the dvarapala of Asian temples or Korean Koma Inu lion-dogs, or armed guards that protect the entrances to secret societies. These guardian beings perform two functions: they keep malevolent and unclean energies out of the holy area and safeguard the entry of worthy visitors. Revelation 22:14 says that those who are worthy “enter through the gates into the city,” while those who are not worthy are “cast into outer darkness.”

Another symbol of the gate is the Hindu torana, which is connected with the devourer (kala). The monster’s mouth is a symbol of the transition from life to death and from death to freedom. It shows the two-way flow of expansion and reintegration, or kalpa and pralaya.

In Khmer art, the kala spits out two sea monsters (makara), one on each side. What they spit out forms the doorway’s lintel, which looks like a rainbow and is a sign that you can get from Earth to the gods’ home.

There are multiple ways to interpret the symbolism of doors, alchemists believed doors and keys to be functionally the same: an instrument that opened the mysteries of their “work.”

Freemasons positioned the door to their Temple between two columns, with the facade topped by a triangular pediment and a pair of compasses with their points pointing toward heaven.

The Temple’s entrance should be quite low. When the uninitiated approach the Temple, they should be compelled to stoop down, not as a gesture of humiliation but to demonstrate how difficult it is to transition from the uninitiated to the adept realm. This coerced action may also remind the applicant that when he dies to his old life, he will be reborn to a new existence, into which he should enter like a newborn infant.

The door, or gateway, is the entryway to the world of the dead. One common feature of Roman tombstones is a pair of doors, one of which is opened wide. This door is surrounded by figures of the four seasons, or winged Victories, which indicate resurrection.

The Egyptian afterlife belief was that the departed had to go through several gates before entering the afterlife. The opening of the temple sanctuary doors symbolizes the opening of the gates of heaven. A fake door carved or painted inside an Egyptian tomb or coffin allowed the deceased’s soul to enter and exit.


Resources:

  • A dictionary of symbols by Cirlot, Juan Eduardo
  • A dictionary of symbols by Chevalier, Jean
  • Dictionary of symbols by Chetwynd, Tom
  • A dictionary of dream symbols : with an introduction to dream psychology by Ackroyd, Eric
  • Illustrated dictionary of symbols in eastern and western art by Hall, James
  • Dictionary of symbols and imagery by Vries, Ad de
  • Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary by Olderr, Steven
  • Dictionary of mythology, folklore and symbols by Jobes, Gertrude
  • The complete dictionary of symbols by Tresidder, Jack
  • The book of symbols : reflections on archetypal images by Ami Ronnberg & Kathleen Martin
  • Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish

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