Doorways in religion, legend and tradition

Doorways feature extensively in many religions, traditions and mythology, from around the world.

The Romans even had their own God of Doorways - the two-headed Janus. Looking at the same time to the past and the future, Janus is the God of beginnings, endings, time, doorways, passages, transitions, duality and time. Owing to the versatile and far reaching character of his basic function marking all beginnings and transitions, his presence was ubiquitous and fragmented, and considered by many scholars to be as important in the Roman pantheon as Jupiter.

Apart from the rites solemnizing the beginning of the new year and of every month - and even the beginning of every day - there were the special times of the year which marked the beginning and closing of the military season, in March and October respectively. Janus presided over doors, entrances, city gates, bridges - anywhere where a transition was taking place.

The two-headed Roman God Janus.

The two-headed Roman God Janus.

Two-headed Gods, with similar functions, can be found in other societies. Two-headed Gods have been found in Greece and in Sumerian and Babylonian art. Indian goddess Aditi starts and concludes ceremonies, and even Scandinavian god Heimdallr stands at the limits - his birth, for instance, marks the beginning of time.

In myths and traditions, Doorways often represent a personal journey, change or transition. For instance, in the great Akkadian epic tale of Gilgamesh (below), Enkidu's entrance through the city gates of Uruk symbolizes his transition to civilized life.


In Christianity, the symbolism of Doorways is commonplace. The Virgin Mary is greeted as a door - Salve Porta - in the Ave Regina Coelorum; in the Litany of Loreto, she is given the title the Door of Heaven. In the gospels in the Christian Bible, Jesus says: 'I am the door. If any Man enter by Me, he shall be saved' (John 10:9). Most references in Christianity symbolise the doorway as a way into Heaven, to God or to eternal salvation, with passage through being dependent on faith. In this way they mark the most significant transitions of all - death, rebirth, salvation.

Doorways feature in traditions around the world too. The tradition of carrying a newlywed over the threshold, for example, emerged in lots of different cultures for different reasons - to ward off bad luck or evil spirits, to symbolize the husband 'stealing away' his bride to a new home, (or even to prevent the bride seeming too eager to lose her chastity...). Whatever the background, it is a powerful symbol of the transition from one stage of life to another, or a new beginning.

Carrying the bride over threshold.jpg

In the UK, during the traditional ceremony marking the opening of the Parliamentary session, Black Rod summons the Commons to attend the monarch's speech in the House of Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons, the doors are slammed in their face.

This has its origins in the turbulent period leading up to the English Civil War, when in 1642 King Charles I attempted to arrest members of the Commons. The ritual symbolises the Commons' hard-won independence from the Sovereign, and the authority that represents. In the modern-day ritual, Black Rod then strikes the door three times with their staff before being admitted.

Image: BBC

Image: BBC

Inspired? This is an open call-out for artists and creatives in any media to submit responses to the theme of 'Doorways'.

Remember, you can follow us @DoorwaysArt2018 on twitter, and keep and eye on this blog for more updates, ideas and inspiration.

To ask us a question, and to submit your work for Doorways for Fringe Arts Bath 2018 by the deadline of 20th March, email Check the FaB website for details of how to apply.

FaB CuratorDoorways