Dweller on the Threshold

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Dweller on the Threshold by Reginald Machell

The Dweller on the Threshold is a character in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1842 novel Zanoni. It is a malevolent entity embodying all the darkness that an individual has accumulated during all of his or her past lives.

The "Dweller" is mentioned by different Theosophical authors, including Master Serapis, who makes reference to it in several of his letters to H. S. Olcott.


According to Mme. Blavatsky's view "Dweller" is a known term in occultism:

Dwellers (on the Threshold). A term invented by Bulwer Lytton in Zanoni; but in Occultism the word “Dweller” is an occult term used by students for long ages past, and refers to certain maleficent astral Doubles of defunct persons.[1]

In this view, the Dweller is the shell of the previous incarnation of a materialistic person discarded by the Higher Ego, which is attracted to it in its new incarnation:

In rarer cases, however, something far more dreadful may happen. When the lower Manas is doomed to exhaust itself by starvation; when there is no longer hope that even a remnant of a lower light will, owing to favorable conditions––say, even a short period of spiritual aspiration and repentance––attract back to itself its Parent Ego, then Karma leads the Higher Ego back to new incarnations. In this case the Kâma-Mânasic spook may become that which we call in Occultism the “Dweller on the Threshold.” This “Dweller” is not like that which is described so graphically in Zanoni, but an actual fact in nature and not a fiction in romance, however beautiful the latter may be. Bulwer must have got the idea from some Eastern Initiate. Our “Dweller,” led by affinity and attraction, forces itself into the astral current, and through the Auric Envelope of the new tabernacle inhabited by the Parent Ego, and declares war to the lower light which has replaced it. This, of course, can only happen in the case of the moral weakness of the personality so obsessed. No one strong in his virtue, and righteous in his walk of life, can risk or dread any such thing; but only those depraved in heart.[2]

A further explanation can be found in what was published as the third volume of The Secret Doctrine:

The “Dweller on the Threshold” is found in two cases: (a) In the case of the separation of the Triangle from the Quaternary; (b) When Kâmic desires and passions are so intense that the Kâma Rûpa persists in Kâma Loka beyond the Devachanic period of the Ego, and thus survives the reincarnation of the Devachanic Entity (e.g., when reincarnation occurs within two hundred or three hundred years). The “Dweller” being drawn by affinity towards the Reincarnating Ego to whom it had belonged, and being unable to reach it, fastens on the Kâma of the new personality, and becomes the Dweller on the Threshold, strengthening the Kâmic element and thus lending it a dangerous potency. Some become mad from this cause.[3]

Psychological trial

T. Subba Row described the image of the Dweller as being similar to that of the battle described in the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote:

Philosophically it is the great battle in which the human Spirit has to fight against the lower passions in the physical body. Many of our readers have probably heard about the so-called ‘Dweller on the Threshold,’ so vividly described in Lytton’s novel, Zanoni. According to this author’s description, the Dweller on the Threshold seems to be some elemental, or other monster of mysterious form, appearing before the neophyte just as he is about to enter the mysterious land, and attempting to shake his resolution with menaces of unknown dangers if he is not fully prepared.

There is no such monster in reality. The description must be taken in a figurative sense. But nevertheless there is a Dweller on the Threshold, whose influence on the mental plane is far more trying than any physical terror can be. The real Dweller on the Threshold is formed of the despair and despondency of the neophyte, who is called upon to give up all his old affections for kindred, parents and children, as well as his aspirations for objects of worldly ambition, which have perhaps been his associates for many incarnations. When called upon to give up these things, the neophyte feels a kind of blank, before he realizes his higher possibilities. After having given up all his associations, his life itself seems to vanish into thin air. He seems to have lost all hope, and to have no object to live and work for. He sees no signs of his own future progress. All before him seems darkness; and a sort of pressure comes upon the soul, under which it begins to droop, and in most cases he begins to fall back and gives up further progress. But in the case of a man who really struggles, he will battle against that despair, and be able to proceed on the Path. . .

We are each of us called upon to kill out all our passions and desires, not that they are all necessarily evil in themselves, but that their influence must be annihilated before we can establish ourselves on the higher planes. The position of Arjuna is intended to typify that of a chela, who is called upon to face the Dweller on the Threshold.[4]

Additional resources

Articles and pamphlets


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 106.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1982), 636.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. V (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971), 512.
  4. T. Subba Rao, "On the Bhagavad Gita" Adyar Pamphlet No. 17, (Adyar, Madras:The Theosophist Office, 1912).