I can’t find it now, of course, but I was first introduced to the idea of the magical threshold and a monster that guarded it by a ritual I found on Witchvox when I was eighteen. I never did the ritual, of course. I wasn’t really doing magic back then, outside of my energy work and house wards and games of psychic tag. Hell, I don’t even remember anything about it except that it existed.
In the years since, I have encountered a number of variations on the idea, but I can’t really point to many of them because (until I started specifically researching them as I wrote this post) they were always incidental—either to the research I was doing, to the the article I was reading, or some combination of the two. The fact is that I dismissed them—incarnations of the Dweller on the Threshold, that is—believing them to be manifestations of a Christianized anti-magic worldview. The way I articulated that thought became more sophisticated over the years, but I never really re-evaluated that conclusion until recently.
“What it does signify is the Dweller on the Threshold without the Mystical Garden when those are driven forth therefrom who have eaten the forbidden fruit.” (Waite 101)
Arthur Edward Waite explicitly equated the Devil of the Tarot with the Dweller on the Threshold. Phil Hine describes it as “the ordeal of facing the embodiment of fear before the adept can gain admittance to higher spheres.” (source; also, an excellent example of how I encountered the idea incidentally), and Frater Acher has an excellent article on the subject as well. Actually, Frater Acher’s discussion is particularly relevant, as the psychological model he suggests and the final conclusion to which he comes are essentially the thoughts which prompted this post.
For all of my life I have been especially good at one thing that has always made my life better in the long run, even as it makes it incredibly difficult for me to empathise with a great many other people. When I discover that a pattern of behavior isn’t working, I come up with a new one and fucking change. These changes of behavior have never conflicted with my sense of self; if anything, I saw them as refining myself into being more the person I want to be. The most dramatic examples include giving up smoking when I realized I was getting addicted; coming out of the closet almost as soon as I realized I was bi; moving to St. Louis for the sake of a more interesting life; giving up bad drinking behaviors as soon as I noticed them; going to college.
I struggle with day-to-day habits, sometimes—keeping up on the dishes, daily meditation—but … other than that, my Will dominates my life.
Despite endless evidence to the contrary, I always assumed that this was, if anything, even more true of other magical people. This is, of course, a classic example of the way in which we tend to assume (again, despite the evidence) that our own experiences are typical, even universal. As such, I was never able to really understand a supernatural figure who represented the fear of progress, the fear of crossing from one state of being into another.
Suddenly, though, and uncharacteristically, I find myself at a place in my magical practice where I am afraid to move forward.
Part of it is that I’ve pushed myself so far that I can no longer even imagine what lays beyond each new horizon, and that scares the shit out of me. The only places left for me to go, magically—besides “base” thaumaturgy—are the Unchartable Territories. I’m standing on the thresholdthe sort of enlightenment which is going to prove, beyond all doubt, what I have always suspected: that everything I know is wrong. And it scares the shit out of me.
Part of it is also that “base” thaumaturgy I just mentioned, and the attendant power I just mentioned. Along with potential enlightenment, I feel like I’m standing on the threshold of a kind of power that, while I always knew it existed, I never thought I would pursue. Insert overdone SpiderMan reference here.
The fact is, I already shape the world around me. Everybody remakes the in their own image by their actions. Just by my Web of Influence, as subtle and as reflective as that is, I reshape the course of people’s lives in subtle ways. As I escalate my magical practice, the level of influence that I exert only increases, particularly as I increasingly work with gods and spirits to achieve my goals. And I realize that, from a certain perspective, this sounds like delusional, self-aggrandized ranting. But it’s exactly the same thing people mean when they talk about life-hacking, or the apocalypse, or being the King of Malkuth, just a little more direct. Having power requires that you use it, and how you use it determines, well, so very, very much. And if you can, sometimes you should. Not just as magicians, but as people, it is our responsibility to shape the world we live in, to make it a better place. (There’s that feminist witchcraft talking again.)
And, as I was saying, that scares the ever-loving shit out of me.
It’s why I was so pointedly, coldly apolitical for the first twenty-five years of my life. Belief requires action.*
So now I stand facing the Dweller on the Threshold: the incarnation of fear which I could not even comprehend six months ago.
There’s an element of cosmic irony to this, of course. We seem, sometimes, to be destined to face the things we fear, or the things we swear we will never be able to understand, or that we will never do.
* Although I generally don’t talk much about politics on this blog, this is why the Far Right scares me so much. Of course they fucking believe what they’re saying. Of course they’re going to create the world they idealize: the believe it’s the goddamn right thing to do. Look at the New Apostolic Reformation, the prayer warriors: they are working to create the world they believe in. If I don’t want to live in that world, I’d better fight them.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. Pamela Coleman Smith Centenial. Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems, 2008. Print.