The wealth of this world consists of treasures to which there are keys. But blessed is the one whom the Almighty makes a key to the world of good, but a lock to contain evil.
-The Prophet Muhammad
Keys are something we can very much take for granted in our lives, well, at least until we can't find them. I have car keys, mail keys and house keys - actually, compared to other people I know, I have very few keys at all. Lots of people have keys for briefcases, tool boxes, machinery, equipment, outbuildings, more than one vehicle, more than one home, work, cash registers, alarm systems and the list does go on and on.
With so many keys in our lives, it is little wonder that they often show up in our dreams and have omens, superstitions and systems of divination linked to them. In this article I will explore a few of these themes.
Keys, as an aspect of our psyche, represent the access to secrets. They both lock away our secrets and our selves and open up the path to reach this secret place and our way to freedom. Dreaming of finding keys is a predictor of a happy solution to any problems you are now facing. On the other hand, losing keys indicates an unexpected unpleasant experience or a disappointing friend. Giving someone a key is a sign of improvement in family and domestic situations and being given a key is a sign of having assistance from friends with influence. Putting a key in a lock is a great sign of sexual satisfaction and romance. Turning a key in a lock literally indicates that new doors will be opening to you. Breaking a key or a broken key means an opportunity will be lost. Dreaming that you are responsible for keys is predicting a position of authority.
Keys are an aspect of the god Janus who is represented with two faces turned in opposite directions. He was the god of beginnings and entrances and of the doors of the Sun which he opens and closes for the solstices. He has the function of being a guide opening up a pathway for initiation. The month of January is named after him. Gates and doorways were under his protection and his temple in Rome was open during war and closed during times of peace.
In the Tarot, Key V The Hierophant is depicted with a set of crossed keys at his feet. Various sources give different meaning to what these keys represent, some say they are the keys to the kingdom, others the keys of St. Peter or the keys to the temple of wisdom. One key is gold for the sun and the superconscious mind, and the other one is silver for the moon and the subsconscious mind. The two keys represent the uniting of the microcosm and the macrocosm. The keys are also seen as a link between the Hierophant and Hades who is the holder of the keys to heaven (higher awareness) and to hell (instinctual life). The Hierophant is the power of these keys.
Keys also have a place in our psyche and our myths as phallic symbols. The key often symbolizes a mystery about to be penetrated or a stage on our pathway to discovery and enlightenment.
Cleidomancy is a system of divination which uses a suspended key. The tradional purpose was to uncover the identity of a thief or to discern a guilty party and it was only used when the sun or moon was in Virgo. The name of the suspected thief was written on a key which was then tied to a Bible. Both were then attached to the nail of the ring finger of a virgin who said a special series of words - an incantation, a spell or a prayer perhaps. These words seem lost to history as I was unable to find a reference to them. The movement, or lack of movement, of the key and the Bible was the indicator of guilt or innocence. This practice became somewhat more frightening as it evolved. Diviners started to include seven Psalms with litanies and prayers. The movement had to indicate innocence and the impression of the key had to be found the suspect or he lost an eye. A different method was to put a key to a street door on Psalm 50, close the Bible and secure it with a garter or stocking. The whole arrangement was then fastened to a nail and it apparently turned when the name of the thief or guilty party was mentioned.
A similar type of divination allowed a young lady to determine the course of her love life. She placed her door key at the Song of Solomon section of the Bible with the key ring protruding. The Bible was again tied with a garter or stocking and two other people were asked to hold it by placing their fingers under the key ring. The girl then spoke this verse from the Song of Solomon:
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. Love is a strong as death, but jealousy is as cruel as the grave, and burneth with a most vehement flame. If a man should give all substance of his house for love, it would be utterly consumed."
If the Bible turned under the fingers or fell to the ground then the young lady would marry, if not, she was going to be a spinster.
Another traditional use for key divination was to discover the sex of an expected child. The key was placed in a clenched fist and the pregnant woman touched one of the two fists. If she touched the one in which the key was held, then the child would be a girl. It is an old European tradition to place a key under the pillow of a sleeping child to ward off evil spirits. Touching a key is considered good protection against any kind of evil or negative energy. Dropping your keys or breaking one is considered an omen of bad luck but if you are lost, throw your keys over your left shoulder and the longest key will point you in the right direction. If your keys are continually rusty despite your best efforts to keep them shining, it is a good sign that someone is leaving you money in their will.
One word if caution though for everyone with a huge jangle and jumble of keys, make sure you don't let them jangle on a Wednesday because this will drive you mad. I knew there had to be a reason........
Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions
by David Pickering
1995 Cassel Books
The Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols
by Nadia Julien
1996 Robinson Books
A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions
by Philippa Waring
Souvenir Press 1978
The Dreamer's Dictionary
by Tom Corbett and Lady Stearn Robinson
Souvenir Press 1978
Mastering the Tarot
by Eden Gray
1971 Crown Publishers
Pictorial Key to the Tarot
by A.E. Waite
Pictures From the Heart
A Tarot Dictionary
by Sandra A. Thomson
St. Martin's Press 2003
This page was created January 19, 2004 and updated August 10, 2006.