Archive for the ‘liminality’ Tag

Liminal Spaces and Paths

[Updated 18:31 EST 11 May 2020]

pondmirr

a threshold has a psychic texture

Does anyone here have experience with liminal spaces? someone asked recently on one of the online Druid forums I frequent.

Potentially, we all do: at dawn and twilight — during ritual — waking and falling asleep — walking on a foggy or snowy day alone — in meditation, prayer, etc. And sometimes during illness, or extreme exhaustion, as well. Liminal, threshold — neither word particularly common, though our experience of them is. (We hear about the sub-liminal more than the liminal.) Cultures vary in how they help or discourage us from seeking and navigating liminal spaces. Or even talking about them.

One of the purposes of ritual is to help us enter them and begin to explore their potentials.

In many older cultures at least some kinds of limen or threshold are places to watch and to guard: you may hang a charm at the doorway to your home or work. Your culture helps establish who is or isn’t allowed to touch your skin — the threshold of your body — and when. Shrines and temples have liminal areas in the form of sacred precincts, which you try to avoid profaning — literally, standing near the fane or holy place at the wrong time, or in the wrong state, unprepared. And if you think you have no fanes in your life to profane, think again — we all run into restricted or no-access areas — playing fields, stages, “authorized personnel only” zones, member-only forums and groups, relationships that allow you to say and do things with, to and for each other that no one else can.

What about seeking out and crossing into a liminal space consciously?

In many traditions, fasting from sex, or certain foods, or all food and drink for a designated period, are all time-honored ways to prepare to cross a threshold. Almost anything that shifts our habits — our “everyday-ness” — and that we can pursue with single-mindedness, can serve as a means of preparation, because the single-mindedness is the larger goal. Focus helps manifest the liminal.

bark2

Wikipedia calls the liminal the “boundary of perception”

Medieval knights-to-be kept nightlong vigil with their weapons in preparation for receiving knighthood. Holy days, as thresholds of sacred time, often acquire their own rites of preparation. Even in supposedly “secular” settings, we have ritualized requirements for behavior, dress, speech, etc., that accompany threshold events, especially changes of status. The job interview, wedding, graduation, birthday or retirement party, all signal the crossing of a threshold, each with its appropriate ritual accompaniment.

You can imagine a t-shirt with the words “Tame the Liminal!” except of course that’s the one thing we never do. The liminal says “possibility!” The liminal sweeps us to the brink of change. The poet Rilke gives us the experience of falling into the liminal “merely” by studying a famous statue in his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo”, a figure that is missing its head:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rilke struggles in similes with how to express this consciousness: “eyes like ripening fruit … torso with brilliance like a lamp … skin like a wild beast’s fur … stone’s borders bursting like a star”. In other and theistic traditions, it’s said you can experience God-realization by looking into the heart of a flower. The point is the same. Or in fact the point is often different for each of us. What does remain the same is preparation. (The Hopi call one of their ritual tools natwanpi — “instrument of preparation”.) Take that step with intention, and anything can draw us into such awareness.

And so “our mission, should we choose to accept it”, is to interrogate the borders, our own most of all, to investigate just where our cultures draw their lines, and what lies across them. Not to rebel against those lines mindlessly, but to understand any limen is there for a purpose, and to determine how far that purpose applies to us — and when it might stop applying. So if I quote that famous Socratic proverb, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, I also need to cite the corollary of script-writer and brilliant teacher Robert McKee, “The unlived life is not worth examining”. Ouch!

Lighting the woodstove this morning after the past nights’ cold moved through New England (8″ of snow in northern Vermont!), I encounter the liminal in a way everyone can experience. A fire, a candle, brings us into contact with that most liminal of physical things. But any of the four elements can: a waterfall or lake or stream; clouds or the sound of wind in the trees. Earth, too — a mountain or valley or meadow, or an unusual large stone, a piece of quartz or shale held in the hand.

And I also jump-start my awen from Bards, as frequent readers here know well. Here’s my man Thoreau, who closes Walden with a series of four potent and linked meditations that can serve as Druidic natwanpi, as preparation for the liminal:

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

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Flame at the Solstice

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Solstice light, blessings and inspiration to you all! And to everyone Down Under at the official start of winter, may the Light grow within and without!

Yin_yang.svgWith this post I finally complete the “Thirty Days of Druidry” series I began back in April. And ever as one cycle ends, another begins. We enter the dark half of the year with the greatest light and energy, a lesson in itself that things are never wholly as they appear, that each thing bears its apparent opposite in its bosom, as the Dao De Jing gently urges us to realize.

Beyond the binary surface of the polarities all around us lie multitudes of other relationships to explore. Water offers itself as a teacher: we’re either above or below the surface. But what about right at the face of the water? There we encounter surface tension, the point of contact, where air and water meet and the silver mirror may open in either direction to allow us entry. Or dancing. Water striders live at the boundary and let it support and sustain them. Air and water together allow for dancing as well as power. What other such natural meetings may we attend?

texasfalls

Texas Falls, Hancock, Addison County, Vermont

VTmapHere in Vermont in the NE part of the U.S., summer moved in weeks ago, with days in the high 80s and low 90s (27-31 C), and blessed nights in the 50s and 60s (13-17 C), perfect for sleeping. With open windows, birds wake us between 4:30 and 5:00 am, sometimes, it seems, just because they can. They’re out and about, so why shouldn’t the rest of the world be? Or in the middle of the night, the pair of owls that nest nearby rouse us with hunting calls under a moon full last night.

Sometimes life consists of what you can sleep through, and what grabs you drowsing and drags you back to consciousness. War, pestilence, earthquake, songbirds, rain on a standing-seam roof, gentle breathing of your bed-mate. De-crescendo. Wake, or sleep on?

The chimney sweep came this last Friday to brush and vacuum. Even with filters and professional care, for an hour after he left, a trace of ash and soot perfumed the air indoors. And we await delivery next week of the three cords of wood that will see us through to next summer. Bars of gold, sunlight stacked in tree-form. Solstice days.

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I ask for divination. Over the last weeks the nudge has come to build a small Druid circle in our back yard. It’s another liminal place. Leave it unmowed, and blackthorn and milkweed eagerly launch a takeover. Not sunny enough for a garden, though it gets about two hours of light mid-morning. But here, by 11:50 am at midsummer, it’s already mostly in shade. Here’s the space, looking north, our small pond to the left beyond the uncut grass.

The first divination came a few days past, as I was finishing mowing. A box turtle animated by the day’s heat, crawling north across our yard. As quick as I was to grab my camera, here it is at the treeline. Unhappy with  my attempts to stage it in order to get a better picture, it’s nosed its way under leaves. A foot-long paint-stick lies next to it, to give a sense of scale.

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What does it “mean”? Divination benefits from context, and I’m going for three readings, a small but proven sampling of the currents of awen afoot.

Stay tuned.

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Images: Texas Falls; Vermont;

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