"My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature reside. There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge. The shadow self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it The Dweller on the Threshold.”
- Deputy Tommy 'Hawk' Hill, Twin Peaks, 1990
The Dweller on the Threshold, otherwise known as the Guardian of the Threshold is an integral part of the classic Hero’s Journey as defined by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. This reoccurring myth has permeated all cultures as far back as we have surviving stories. In this tried and true meme, our intrepid hero as he ascends from the mortal plane on his way to destiny must confront the Guardian not once, but twice. The first time, this is known as the lesser Guardian and it is a shadow of lies and deceit that mimics the worst part of the hero’s own soul. The hero fails in this confrontation and is left weakened and shamed. This fuels his courage to become stronger. The second time he meets the greater Guardian in a final confrontation as the evil being musters the very energy of all that is the antithesis of the hero’s beliefs. Invariably, the Guardian manages to destroy the hero utterly. Yet, somehow, our hero is reborn and this rebirth ends the Guardian and opens the door to the future deliverance of mankind.
This tale is rooted in the myths of antiquity, but it’s still playing out at your local multiplex. Luke Skywalker confronts the lesser Guardian in Darth Vader, losing his hand and shattering his worldview. He confronts the greater Guardian in the Emperor and is pushed to the brink of certain doom before awakening the rebirth of his father and the Jedi order. Frodo meets the Witch-King and is stabbed, leaving a wound that despite Elrond’s healing will never leave him. Shelob as the representation of Sauron’s scheming wrath undoes Frodo, only to have Sam lead him into rebirth. In the fires of Mount Doom he overcomes the power of Sauron, Golem and the One Ring itself, saving Middle Earth in the process. In the Matrix…well you get the point.
I don’t need to list every single popular version of the Hero’s Journey here. What I want to discuss is the Guardian of the Threshold. While that is the term that Joseph Campbell uses, I actually prefer the Dweller. It speaks to the fact that this entity is not all-powerful. It is limited in its reach and in its abilities. It can exist only where there is a threshold to cross. If the hero does not take up the sword to bring light into darkness, the Dweller cannot appear. So, the answer to the age old question, “are monsters real? “ is in fact, yes, but only if you go looking for them. The ignorant and innocent are blessed by their own perceptions to not see the shadows in the world.
However, if we want to grow as people, we cannot stay in blissful comfort forever. As we live, we inevitably will confront this Dweller many times, and it does not always go as the myth dictates. There are many times when the Dweller will win. It is powerful and it causes fear with impunity. It shape shifts and it lies with ease. It will as often wear the disguise of benevolence as it will bare its fangs. It is our job on our journey to recognize the difference. And, there is no guarantee that it won’t sink its evil into your flesh and leave you broken and torn. The Dweller does not want to let you through, and it just loves to turn you into an obstacle on someone else’s path.
But, the Dweller is weak. In the end, all it has is fear, and fear cannot conquer love. So, as Nancy turns her back on Freddy Krueger and he ceases to exist, and Sara does the same to good old David Bowie in Labyrinth, so can we. By choosing love over hate, by refusing to give the Dweller its toll, we can walk right on past him.
This applies to everything. You have a boss that’s making your life hell? If you can stop fearing their retaliation and start pitying the small nature of their soul and how it has compelled them to live, then they have lost their power. If you turn on the television and the current war campaign beats its drum of fear, if you can look past the snarling image they present, and see the desperate, fearful person that is behind the curtain of the war machine’s Oz, then it has lost its power over you.
I’m not saying this easy. In fact, it is much harder than getting mad. It is easier to scream for revolution than it is to achieve peace. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.