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Unit 1. Introduction and Crossing the Threshold

Hieros October 21, 2022

Please watch this introductory video:


In the Beginning was the Imagination

Before the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the paradise garden of Shalimar in Kashmir or the great Renaissance gardens of Italy or any of the legendary gardens of the world were built they had to be conceived in the imagination of a Nebuchadnezzar or an Emperor Jahangir or a Cardinal Ippolito d’Este or some other visionary patron. In the process of creating our sacred garden, or garden of the mysteries, imagination will be a key factor in two ways. First, especially if we are building the garden from scratch, we need to form a vision in our imaginations of how we want the garden to look.

Garden of the Villa d’Este near Rome

Our first garden in Bremen as though glimpsed through a Renaissance window

Secondly, we need to know how to look at a real garden with the eye of the imagination and imbue it with enchantment – or rather to re-learn the ability that a child has to do just that. As children we could see a clump of trees as the abode of gnomes or fairies or the characters from Wind in the Willows. As adults we may have a different set of references, but still the work of creating our garden of the mysteries will rely just as much on our imaginations as on the physical work of our hands.

Gardens convey meaning through three different media: (a) Form and structural features; (b) plants and their associations; (c) decorative features such as statues, fountains, grottoes etc. In this unit and the next two we shall look at three features of the form and structure – the entrance, the overall shape and the center – as they are treated in different gardening traditions.

The entrance

When you enter a garden you are crossing over a threshold into a place that is between different worlds. It is between art and nature and between the everyday world and the special world of the garden. Therefore the entrance is commonly treated as a key feature. Here are some examples.

A Chinese garden in Hong Kong with a moon gate. The circle, a symbol of heavenly perfection, reminds you that you are leaving the everyday world behind and entering a kind of temple. The gate seems to draw you in, but allows only one person at a time to enter easily.

Sea goats on double columns guard one of the entrances to the Boboli Garden behind the Pitti Palace in Florence.

As the entrance marks a transition between two worlds you could say that it has a hybrid quality, which is why entrances and boundaries are often marked by hybrid creatues. Sphinxes, for example, which are half-lion, half- human, are a favourite motif in western gardens. The one on the right is in the gardens of the Belvedere palace, in Vienna

Satyrs – half-human, half-goat – are another favourite entrance marker. The photograph below shows one at the Villa Garzoni at Collodi in Tuscany at the side of a stairway leading from the formal part of the garden to a wilder area where the vegetation grows more freely

The gryphon – half-eagle, half-lion – is also found as a threshold marker. Here on the right is a particularly striking one at the entrance to the Farkasréti cemetery, Budapest.

Some threshold guardians are not exactly hybrid, but decidedly fierce. This type of guardian is called for when the space on the other side of the threshold is somehow sacred. The above example is a lion guardian in the Forbidden City, Beijing.


  1. Describe some garden entrances or gateways that you have found particularly striking.
  2. Do the same with regard to threshold guardians.
  3. As a case study, take an area of your own garden or a garden of your imagination and choose or design a marker or guardian for the entrance.