The Known Gates

There are many famous gates. Some are reality-based, and some merely virtual. There is the Arc de Triomph, but there is also the gate to Dorothy’s Aunt and Uncle’s farmhouse, over which an argument about the fate of a small dog sets everything in motion eventually arriving at a pair of ruby slippers, and all that proceeded from their existence. There are the Gates of the Old City, Jerusalem, yet there are the The Great Gates – The Great Gates was the original entrance to Khazad-dûm. It was located in Dimrill Dale. Any Tolkien-savvy human could tell you that! In literature, film, music, art – gates are a rich source of metaphor and drama, they open outward allowing the hero or heroine to begin their journey, and then open inward with their return from their quests. Gates, then, are doorways from where and how we live to where we may discover our own journey. Gates enjoin us to strive, and welcome us to our rest at the completion of our work.


In mythology, and thus in story generally, there must be a seeker, a hero or heroine, and there must be a return, else the quest is without meaning. Our lives today seem far less about individual quests, and more about competing for scarce resources on increasingly un-level playing fields. The gate plays a role as mediator of movement and containment simultaneously. Our lives require both, otherwise, we cannot be whole. We contain our movements, and we also move beyond those fixed states. Growth requires action, and contemplation. Too much of one overbalances the equation, whereas not enough of one makes the equation weak and ineffectual. This computer I am using to write this, inside the place we call the Internet, is completely dependent on the concept and reality of gates. Each logic gate is in a state of 1’s or 0’s at any instant, and each such choice made by each such gate creates language and action, and by extension, enters our reality through our own interactions with it. The gates swing both ways, so to speak.


When I go out my front gate in the morning, on my way to my outside-world work, I close the gate behind me trusting it will remain steadfast in my absence, be ready to open for me again when I return, and to have protected the lives of the people I share my home with against any and all harm. When I am within it’s embrace, I must trust it will extend similar protection to me, yet not be seen as a threat or denial to my neighbors, my community, my friends.


There are gates not understood to be gates, yet gates they are, nonetheless. A memorial stone is a gate, a grave marker is a gate. A diploma is a gate, as is a doctorate. A life challenge is a gate, one which may not open again should the challenge prove too much, or which may lead to many other gates as a consequence of mastering the challenge. A relationship is a kind of gate, as any relationship worth pursuing is, of course, a life challenge of the highest order. This type of gate also opens in the other direction, but may not take you back to the original point of departure.


The gate begins and ends each journey, serves as the start and end of the trip.  Open it now, and step through it’s portal….


A Torii – A Japanese Gate to a Shinto Shrine

A spirit gateway.

If spirits have gates, then a gate to wait for the moment of release makes perfect sense. Consider the lich-gate:

A lich-gate (also known as a lych-gate or corpse-gate) is a roofed gateway at the entrance to a churchyard where the coffin is placed to await the arrival of the clergyman. It wouldn’t do to bury a wet coffin now, would it?

Given the trials we face in life, it is nice to know that we may be afforded every courtesy after we depart.

Gates – Metal, Wood, Other

Most gates today seem made of metal rather than wood. There are many reasons for this – metal outlasts wood by a considerable margin, metal offers greater security potential, and metal requires less over-all maintenance. But there is a charm in wooden gates that is difficult to replicate with metal. Metal does have the added advantage of being more sculptural, but a metal gate on a wooden fence is not the best pairing, as they say down at the wine bar.


Wooden gates have to advantage of visually tying a fence together, and making the fence a part of the home it fronts. Few homes have metal fences, at least not those fences we find attractive, and even fewer homes have metal fronts, so wood is, in my view, the preferred material for front pedestrian gates. Metal works just fine for driveway gates, but as we are mostly focused here on The Front Gate, wood will be spoken more often than not. As for other materials, there are some gates that successfully employ glass, terrazzo, and other elements to add artistic points of interest, but all of these require a base material that is structurally sound enough to perform the daily functions of a gate. So, we’re back to wood, it seems.


At the most basic level, a gate may merely continue the fence motif. Functional, yet unimaginative.


Most ready-made wooden gates take this approach, and that is fine as far as it goes. But if one settles for generic, there is little that sets your gate apart from the hoards across the world whose gate screams, “Big Box Store.” But a custom gate, one that at least makes an attempt at bringing your own esthetic out to the neighborhood, will gain you respect, and perhaps not a little envy. I go by the belief that we all have the perfect gate somewhere inside us. We shouldn’t be afraid to show it off to the world!


Make the world see through your gate.

The Gates of Hell, or, Rodin Planning Ahead

We enter this world through the gate of our mother’s womb. But we exit it in a wide variety of ways, some quiet and tender, some painful, some pure violence. This is something our species has been wrestling with since, well since forever – as much of forever as we’ve been a contemplative bunch, at least. We had no real say in where we would arrive, or when, or under what circumstances – it was all, “Whoa, I gotta go through there?” And the same thing is even truer for how we leave. With the exception of suicide, everything else is a crap-shoot.


So we, our species, has wrestled with this awful arrangement via many avenues of inquiry, expression, and pure guess-work. Religions evolved almost solely for this purpose. If only we can blame it all on some big hairy thunderer, then we can seek ways to appease and fool ourselves right up to the last moment. And maybe we can use this conundrum to better control the worse devils of our nature, to stand another phrase on its head. We came up with damnation, or paradise. Do you want what’s behind door number one, number two, or number three? Yes, there is a door number three – more on that anon.


Now, the interesting thing is how once we got to monotheism, we already had gates assigned to the various destinations. Gates of Heaven, Pearly Gates, The Gates of Hell. As might be expected, we (again, the species, though usually credit or blame can be narrowed down considerably,) we came up with appropriate iconography to depict these gates. Gate to Heaven – gold, silver, pearls, of course, fluffy clouds, big fellow with a book, “reservations? For how many this evening, sir, madam?” Well, it’s always one, but apparently there is just one table, and everything is served family style. Quite efficient – I like it!!


As for The Gates of Hell, well, what do you think? Bleak, threatening, they only serve junk food, and nobody asks for your reservation – hell apparently has an open-door policy. Yet one of us, namely, Auguste Rodin, decided to try and really make this nasty little place visible, so he gave us, yes, The Gates of Hell. “The Gates of Hell (French: La Porte de l’Enfer) is a monumental sculptural group work by French artist Auguste Rodin that depicts a scene from “The Inferno”, the first section of Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy. It stands at 6 m high, 4 m wide and 1 m deep (19.69’H × 13.12’W × 3.29’D) and contains 180 figures. The figures range from 15 cm high up to more than one metre. Several of the figures were also cast independently by Rodin. ” (this last from



One must admit, this is substantially more interesting visually than most of the depictions of the “other gate.”

As for that third gate, or doorway, mentioned provocatively above: there are those who do not share in the religious interpretations of life and death, and are wrestling instead with the option of merely returning to the elemental state we apparently began in, stardust, one presumes. For them, Issac Asimov was kind enough to lend us his Star Gate. We must remember to thank him for that, once we catch up to him. He’s gotten a fine head start.


Unfortunately, there is a big line at the boarding gate.

Front Gate Designs – The Why and Whereof

There are nearly as many possibilities for the design of a front gate as there are places for front gates to exist at all. But there are certain limitations – some rather obvious, and some not so – and yes, size does matter! The front gate of a small piece of property opening onto the front walk is going to be quite different than a front gate opening onto the drive of a 100-acre estate. A front gate for a business is going to be substantially different than a front gate opening onto a garden. But these are the obvious – what about the less-obvious design rationale?


Well, we can start with the purpose the owner of the gate starts with. If the primary purpose is security, design decisions, however esthetic, will be security-based first and foremost. Height, unclimbability, types of hinges and locks chosen, maybe even security cameras and alarms. And each of these considerations will impact the esthetic elements, which in turn will alter the ultimate perceptions of the visitor who approaches, and hopefully gains access to what this gate guards. Perhaps an example is in order?


I work in a field where I occasionally have to visit prisons and jails. In Dublin, California, there is a jail called Santa Rita, and the entire entryway is designed in such a manner as to let visitors know, from the moment they drive into the parking lot, that they have no control over anything until they successfully lave the premises. The lot is full of rather extreme speed humps, so closely spaced that you cannot reasonably go faster than five miles per hour, even less if you are driving an older model Cadillac. Then, as you approach the front visitor’s entrance, you have to walk up a very long, wide ramp, with perfectly manicured lawns on either side. The effect is like that experienced by Dorothy and her companions as they finally gain access to the Wizard’s chamber, and walk terrified toward a great and glorious Oz edifice, one which dwarves them to insignificance. This prison wants you to know at bone-deep level that you have no control, so don’t even think about it. The element of intimidation is perfectly in keeping with the purpose of the place, and thus, this is a gate, of sorts, that is doing precisely what it is designed to do.


The precise opposite would be the front gate of a home in a typical New England town, where the walls or fences surrounding the property is more often than not low, and hardly intimidating. One could almost step across such fences. And the gates opening such fences and walls tend to be decorative or simple, but make it clear it’s esthetic is of far greater importance than any notion of security. These are gates and fences that seek to delineate one’s small but loved kingdom, while extending a message of welcome, and well met! These are boundaries more amenable to neighbors standing on either side with a glass of lemonade in hand and the talk of weather and community gossip being the focus. It is evident such walls and fences won’t keep out varmints, and may only be effective at keeping in such critters as the family Corgi. Beyond that, they have scant utility. Esthetics, and a statement to the world about the personalities and desires of the tenants. is all that matters.




There are other factors which determine gate design, as well, such as location. gates in the countryside are almost always further from the house, and are more often situated at the main entrance to the property, and thus are gates for vehicles first and foremost. There would be little need for a pedestrian gate in such a location. Cultural circumstances also determine design – a gate in a relatively crime-free small town will have a very different purpose than a gate in a city where security nearly always trumps esthetics. No surprise to this, of course, but one might argue that the design of a gate in response to security concerns may in fact, when amalgamated with all other factors, actually add to the sense of insecurity and threat, by adding to the over-all visual landscape of threat and fear. One must see design as both response and contribution, never as one thing alone. This is not to argue one must neglect the issue of security, especially in places where it is duly warranted, but rather, to pay even more attention to esthetic, so as to better disguise the security elements, and not by extension contribute to the over-all sense of alienation that often predominates in such places.


In other words, to paraphrase the Cold War ethic: you are welcome, but I intend to verify your trustworthiness, first.


Time’s Change Everything


Yet another factor determining design for gates is time itself – historic forces always impact design – nothing new there – but for gates and fences this is particularly true. Two hundred years ago, America was small town, and rural, and there was a higher degree of trust that one’s neighbor’s weren’t going to make off with the family jewels or livestock. And even where such was a fear, as in the West of cattle and sheep ranching, fences and gates were focused more on the enclosure of livestock than on preventing the rustler from getting access. It was not that difficult to cut a wire fence.
As America became more about the big city and the suburb, fences, walls, and gates became more about the security they provided, and less about the look of the property, and whatever sense of welcome one might wish to extend. This shows best with the metal security gates found in many cities, often as a second door into a house or apartment dwelling. Here, utility found its calling. But esthetics, after a long period of decline, slowly became of interest again in the late part of the Twentieth century. Still, there are limits, especially with prefabricated designs. Whereas with custom designs, there are many more design possibilities.

Beyond the utility of metal security elements, esthetics can still predominate.

What is a Gate, Anyway?

The word “gate” derives from old Norse “gata”, meaning road or path, and originally referred to the gap in the wall or fence, rather than a barrier which which closed it. Other terms for gate includes yett, and port, from which we get “portal,” and through which we pass when a gate includes an archway or similar overhead accessorization.

Gates occur in many situations, some not even connected to houses, or property, or fences at all, such as logic gates, a term that refers to transistors, among other components, and serve to control the flow of logical operations in computers. Then there are the gates of awareness, of consciousness, as exemplified in the Sanskrit “Heart Sutra”, whose central mantra is “

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam gate Bodhi svaha

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam gate Bodhi svaha

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Para Sam gate Bodhisvaha.

Bodhi Svaha “

which in English reads:

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond

Oh what an Awakening

Note that one goes beyond the gate, is gone, and hence has left from the mundane plane of existence and engaged in the great journey of Awakening. Buddah, in this and many other senses, is thus a gate through which one finds Awakening, or enlightenment.


There is an ancient Sufi practice, called the Four Gates of Speech, that asks the speaker to consider the following four questions before speaking:

Are these words true?
Are they necessary?
Are they beneficial?
Are they kind?

If the answer is no, then the speaker is cautioned to reconsider what they are about to say.

Gates, it seems, are much more than physical means of entry or exit from a space enclosed by fences or walls. They are also portals philosophical, metaphoric, spiritual, poetic. Where physical gates are locked with physical locks or latches, these other forms of gates are locked with both ignorance and wisdom – one keeps these gates closed, and the other is the key to entry.

Rumi began to whirl due to his sorrow at losing Shams-al-Din, but continued to turn as a means to open himself to The Guest.

There are also the Gates to the Underworld, AKA Hades, guarded according to Greek mythology by Cerberus, the three-headed hound. This gate only permitted entry – Cerberus made certain no one ever left. There are also many traditions that refer to women as the gate to Life.

Well, obviously.

Next Newer Entries

The Gate is Open

This project depends on you - and your photos of gates. Great gates, different gates, unusual gates, non-obvious gates. Be sure to include your contact information, permission to use your photo, and a name for proper credit where credit is due! Be a part of the Gate Project.