Thresholds, Part 1

Hello all!

Let’s talk about thresholds. 

First, let’s take a look at the etymology – or the roots – of the word threshold.

The word comes from threshing which, in the making of flour, is the act of separating the wheat grain from the sheaves of grain and also the husks that hold the grain. The old process of separating the grain from the husks involved literally stamping and beating the sheaves to release the grain.

The hold of the word threshold may have arisen to describe an area near where the threshing happened as a place to hold the separated grain. This may be guesswork, but there is an idea of a holding what is threshed.

Fun fact about threshing – in a threshing area, the wheat stalks would be laid upon the floor and animals and people would walk and stamp their feet on the stalks. The animals also had a heavy weight they dragged around the floor. When the threshing was finished, farmers would take the threshed material that was still all mixed together and throw it in the air. The wind would lift and blow the lighter husks and stems away into the air. The grain itself, heavier than the husks and stems, would fall back down to the threshing floor.


I love that there is a threshing in the word threshold, because there is a certain truth to this when applied to the realm of any inner work. When we pass through a threshold in our inner work, when we pass through a threshold in our waking world – like a graduation or a ritual like marriage/divorce or a change of some kind – it is a change, a door through which we cross. So much so that the change may have us feel like we have been threshed, like we have been shaken, the stems and husks beaten from us and thrown into the wind to be taken away. So that the heart can emerge.


After Sam’s graduation a few weeks ago, I was surprised at how tired I was. All the activities were fun and there was a lot that we did around moving them out of their dorm, etc. – but the level of tiredness was still surprising. It should not have been entirely surprising – because not only did we witness Sam passing through a threshold, we, Bill and I, also walked through a threshold in our roles as parents with Sam. They are moving into another phase of their life, which is another move and step away from us in many ways. Their need of us is changing and growing. A celebration and a huge change. 

Even my body was tired afterward. It was days before I felt rested and caught up to myself. 

Threshed. The old ways of being a parent, the old ways of being together in the world, stamped away. An old structure thrown to the wind.

Threshing the Wheat

One of the reasons I love Dante’s Commedia so much is how he uses raw physicality in the description of his journey from being utterly lost, going through hell, climbing a purgatory mountain then being brought into heaven where he eventually comes face to face with god. 

Rawness – like every step of that journey has its own kind of threshing. One of my favorite of these moments literally involves a threshold moment. It is a moment in the poem that really sings to me not just in the context of Dante’s imagined journey, but in my own journey led by my dreaming.

Here’s the moment. Dante, the pilgrim, has gone through the depths of hell and nearly climbed the mountain of purgatory. He is at the end of a process of confronting himself, of the process of purgation and it is time to move from the place of purgatory to a place to prepare for the next phase of his journey.

It is a powerful moment, for in order to reach the top of the mountain that is the gateway to the heavens, a soul must walk through a wall – a threshold – of flames. Flames that purify the soul.

In the narrative of the poem, Dante is still being guided by the soul of the poet Virgil and he is also following another soul (a poet, of course) as he walks through the flame. 

I love this moment, how Dante – after all the fires of hell and the intensity of purgatory – hesitates before the fire that will cleanse him. Hesitates even knowing that, on the other side, he will begin his journey to and through the heavens. Hesitates even though he knows it is the right thing to do.

He hesitates, puts up his hands and would back away if not for the support he has. If not for his guide helping him. There is, also, someone singing on the other side of the flames. Singing as invitation and as another kind of guide. Follow the song, an angel tells him. It will lead you through. Follow and be changed, be threshed, and what is unnecessary will fall away.

For Dante, when he walks through the excruciating flames, he is met not just with song, but with a new guide.

Dante et Beatrice by Odilon Redon, ca. 1914

Oh, I remember when I first read this passage as a younger human. I remember reading it again soon after I began dreamwork. I remember so sharply because this is how it feels, often, when we move through a threshold. 

Like we are threshed. Like we are walking through a cleansing fire. 

Because we are. Because these kinds of passages are about moving through from one state into another without realizing how deeply we are both losing the old ways and the possibility of the new. 

Our dreams offer us many thresholds, many doors and windows to pass through with the way through often offered much in the same way Dante is offered a way through in his journey. 

By not going through entirely alone. By having someone to walk through with us, by having someone on the other side singing us through flame and threshing. Holding space for us as we are threshed. 

The archetypes, the dreaming, always offer support for these moments – especially when we have not had support in our waking lives. Especially when we have had to walk through fire and threshing on our own. Especially when we have not been able to walk through the openings that have been offered to us. 

Next week, let’s look at how our dreams help us through these moments.