Keys have represented various spiritual symboligies for as long as man has had locks. They are connected with gateways and portals, doorways to the unknown, knowledge, mysteries, powers, initiations, new ways, forbidden things and answers to curious questions. They are often associated with various literary idioms, specific deities or spiritual figures, and are often used as part of charms or other magical tools. We in modern times still value keys as an important part of our daily lives, such as car keys and house keys, however with digital locks, passwords, and other technological advances, it is interesting to speculate if the key will continue to play as significant role as a tool as it has in the past. Yes, there will always be some types of keys as in pass codes or other devices, but the idea of having a piece of metal cut to a specific shape, I fear is losing it’s place in the world of the future. However, in the magical realm and the world of witchcraft and hoodoo, the key still has a role to play and is commonly found in most crafter’s tool kit.
First let’s look at some spiritual figures that are most often associated with keys. In Christianity, the visage of Saint Peter holding the keys to the gates of Heaven can be easily found in religious art from Christendom to the modern era. He is often portrayed with two keys; a golden key, representing the power to allow those who are worthy to enter into eternal life, the other a silver or iron key to close them again. Keys also represent spiritual purity and enlightenment in these scenes. He is one of the most familiar figures in religious realms to represent a gatekeeper allowing others to pass into the spiritual realm; however, he is not alone in this task.
In Voodoo practices, Papa Legba, often depicted as an elderly man with a cane, a dog and keys is also a gatekeeper, acting as a liaison for those between the spiritual and the physical realms. He is said to speak every Human language and be a conduit between the mortal and deities, allowing for communion and safe passage if travel into the astral planes is granted.
Lord Ganesh in the Hindu spiritual path is the great elephant god, the mover of obstacles and for this reason very often associated with keys. Commonly locks or keys can be found with a Ganesh design on it to symbolically representing the unlocking of a path or knowledge. Ganesh is associated with wisdom and spiritual knowledge, making him not only a prime example of key symbolism but also a deity, like so many others, associated with journeying.
Hecate, a goddess often described as the Queen of the Witches, is another underworld deity associated with gate keeping and keys. Much like Papa Legba and Saint Peter, she holds the keys that allow passage into the spiritual realm. She is a great protector and is associated with keys, and dogs among other things. Trivia is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Hecate, goddess of the three-way crossroads.
Anubis, the dog headed ancient Egyptian god of the dead was often associated with keys. He would escort the soul of the dead to the underworld after its heart had been weighed and measured.
Besides these five spiritual figures listed above, there are many additional deities that are connected with keys and gate keeping. These types of deities are referred to as liminal deities and include any deity that covers thresholds, cross roads, gates, or door ways. They are often thought of as spiritual figures that can cross boundaries between the worlds. Here are some of these to just give you an example of the vast array of Gods and Goddesses that are found throughout history and cultures.
Hestia: (Celtic) keeper of the keys to supplies, a household deity that always made sure supplies and the running of a household went smoothly.
Hermes: (Greek) / Mercury (Roman) – God of messengers, border crossings, home protection, guide of the dead, roads, travelers and animal husbandry.
Cardea: (Roman) Goddess of thresholds, door hinges and handles
Janus: (Roman) two-faced God of gateways, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings
Portunes: (Roman) God of keys, doors and livestock
Terminus: (Roman) Protector God of boundary markers
There are about 20 additional Chinese deities for the protection of city walls and all associated with keys. Korean mythology has another two and Hindu religions include the solar deity Pushan, who not only oversees the journey of the dead but is also responsible for journeying and cattle care. In other paths like Santeria, voodoo both Haitian and Louisiana paths there is Ellegua who is a messenger god.
In ancient Egypt, the symbol of the Ankh is a key as well, a path to eternal life. Keys are represented in many other cultures as well. It seems that there isn’t a cultured that has been studied that isn’t connected with key symbology in some way.
With so many deities connected with animals, protection, communication with the spiritual world, and journeying it is easy to see why keys have played such a significant role in our lives from ancient to modern times. We even see keys used in jewelry and coats of arms. The symbol is deeply embedded into our psyche. We honor people by giving them the “Key to the City” representing trust and respect. The key’s many layered symbology is seemingly endless in its connections to humanity throughout the ages.
In the magical world, keys also hold great power. They are also used in many magical or spiritual workings; they can be attached to mojo or gris gris bags, buried at crossroads, combined with herbs or other elements to create a magic pouch. Keys are often made into talismans or charms with all kinds of various functions. They will always be of great desire and use to the practitioners of the craft.