Monday, June 23, 2014

The Dog of Thresholds

The ancient Greeks and Romans had a class of gods, called liminal deities, who specialized in thresholds.  These gods kept watch over people as they went in and out of rooms, moved house, or set off on ships into the unknown.

In our cottage, instead of a god of thresholds, we have a dog of thresholds.  Whenever I go from the den into the living room, from the living room into the porch, or from the dining area into the kitchen, my black German Shepherd Wolfie is there, sprawled across the threshold, protecting it. 

In the course of defending our various thresholds, Wolfie may well cause an accident.  He is quite a long dog, and there is no way for us to squeeze past his recumbent form, so we have to step over him, which is fine unless we're in a hurry or carrying something or not paying attention.  But he is so devoted to guarding thresholds that I have to believe that he knows what he's doing, and we need to accept the risk of stumbling over him. 

If the Greeks and Romans considered liminal deities essential, why should we assume that we have outgrown our need for them?  Can it be mere coincidence that Wolfie has taken to threshold sprawling just as we have moved to a new house and embarked on a new way of life at Wake Robin?

There is a second deity in the house:  Bisou, the goddess of sofas and cozy chairs, whose function is to keep the spot from which I have just gotten up from getting cold.  True to her Cavalier genes, she is also the goddess of laps, preventing me from floating upwards like a balloon and banging my head against the ceiling.  She is as uncompromising about this as Wolfie is about lying across thresholds, so again I have to believe that Bisou is on a divinely ordained mission to keep me grounded in the most literal sense.

The life change we have just been through--downsizing and embarking on what some call "a cruise on the river Styx"--has been a transition to boggle most minds.  But anchored to my reading chair by a snoozing Bisou, and with Wolfie guarding the nearest threshold, there's little for me to complain about.




2 comments :

  1. I once had a dog, a labrador-husky mix, who was likewise a guardian of thresholds. Because of the hazards involved in stepping over her, we taught her to move aside when we said “Excuse me.” She would move for us to pass, and then resume her duties.

    A side benefit of this was the entertainment value when guests tried to get her to move out the way. They could shout “Move!” or “Let me through!” or “Get out of the way, you stupid dog!” until they were blue in the face, and she wouldn’t budge. We would usually let them speak rudely for a bit before telling them, “Say ‘excuse me’.” Usually they would stare at us blankly or say “huh?” in disbelief, and we’d have to repeat it. But as soon as they politely said “excuse me,” the dog would move out of the doorway.

    Like you, I never knew why she felt the need to guard doorways, but I accepted that she was fulfilling some ordained doggy purpose.

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  2. Good for your liminal lab--she insisted on politeness.

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