Back in September, we explored a cavern in Pennsylvania. Those who go spelunking can attest that caverns are strange.
According to cognitive scientist Philip Lieberman burial might be one of the earliest forms of religious practice. Inhumation can be traced back to the Neanderthals of the Stone Age (circa 130,000 BCE). At some point, ancient peoples devised the concept of an afterlife associated with these burial processes. The Mesopotamians believed that once buried, people dwell in an underworld, where the dead “live in darkness, eat clay, and are clothed like birds with wings.” Sounds like fun!
In classical Judaism, death meant game over! Once a person died, the respiratory processes ceased. The person was then buried in the ground where their body decomposed. According to Eccles. 3:19–20: “man has no advantage over the beasts … all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Nonetheless, some of the Jewish people had a concept of an afterlife inherited via cultural diffusion. Jewish necromancers, such as the Witch of Endor, could summon the spirits of the dead.
Some Jews began to categorize the underworld of the Mesopotamians into sections, such as Gehenna where the wicked would be tortured with fire and smoke — a precursor to the hell of the Christians. But most people ended up in Sheol, “the land of gloom and deep darkness.”
While exploring the cavern, we got to see stalagmites that resembled chthonic creatures. Stalagmites are deposits of calcium carbonate formed from calcareous water. It is a sort of natural alchemy that can require thousands of years. These stalagmites resemble humanoid figures from a distance, and one in particular resembled a horned devil. I imagined ancient peoples with superstitious mindsets, under the influence of geothermal gases, transforming stalagmites into ghosts and devils to populate their underworld. It was pareidolia in all its glory!
The subterranean river that flowed through the cavern reminded me of Styx. The faint unidentified odors reminded me of brimstone. In Cabala, the underworld is associated with Tav, the path that connects Malkuth and Yesod. Suspended between the Earth and the Moon, the underworld is a sublunar realm where illusions and phantoms hold dominion.
It is Plato’s cave, where the shadows of ignorance hold sway.
It is at the threshold between Malkuth and Yesod that one first encounters an entity known as the ‘Dweller of the Threshold.’ This spectral entity resides between the physical and spiritual planes. It often takes the form of a phantom clad in a black hooded cloak.
The concept of the ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ had its beginning in the writings of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. In his book ‘Zanoni,’ this phantom is a liminal gatekeeper that seeks to prevent unprepared candidates from pursuing higher spiritual aspirations.
According to Blavatsky, these entities are the “maleficent astral doubles of defunct persons.” She goes on to suggest that the ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ is the astral shell of a previous incarnation drawn to a new incarnation via magnetic attraction. In other words, when you encounter this phantom, you are encountering the astral remnants of one of your past lives; in theory you might unmask it to reveal information and secrets about your past incarnations.
The ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ stands at the threshold of the astral plane where it seeks to frighten us from pursuing our Great Work. It embodies the angst that holds us back from spiritual attainment.
The ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ is also the guardian of the mysteries. It protects the Western tradition from being misused for evil. Through causing the unworthy to abandon their quest, it keeps the mysteries out of the hands of those who might have abused them.
“Fear is failure.” The neophyte must face his fears and leave them behind before he can proceed any further on his spiritual path. “Fear is death.” Fear can kill any spiritual quest dead in its tracks.
The way past the ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ involves allowing oneself to be guided by the light of their conscience. Additionally, the teachings of a mentor or lodge can act as an intermediary guiding principle that can assist people with navigating through their fears.
But let us not forget that the underworld is also a place of light. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The light dwells in the darkness. There was light to be found in the subterranean temples of Mithras. The tomb of CRC was illuminated with the light of the divine. “Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying what you find there, you will discover the hidden stone.” Once the light in the underworld is rectified the lapis philosophorum can be found.
 Philip Lieberman. (1991). Uniquely Human. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 162. ISBN.
 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 106.
 Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982), 636.