The word liminal comes from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold.” The word threshold has several definitions. It can be the sill of a doorway or the entrance of a building. Ultimately, it means any place of point of entering or beginning. In psychology the term limen means the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect.
Liminal time therefore, is that moment when something changes from one state to another. Examples would be dawn, when the morning sun rises high enough in the sky to bring daylight. Another is dusk, when the evening sun sinks into the horizon bringing nightfall.
Another is that moment when we move from a clearing into a deep fog which shrouds us in mist and for a moment, we stop all thinking. There is that moment when we first wake from a deep sleep, not fully awake but no longer asleep. Plus there is that state when we move from wakeful consciousness into sleep. The scientific terms for these states are hypnogogic (toward sleep) and hypnapompic (from sleep).
There are also those moments of transitions between life and death and from an unborn fetus to a living, breathing infant.
Liminal Spaces are thin places occurring on boundaries between spaces. This includes places like the boundaries between properties where fences or trees mark them. Also edges between water and land or even between plains and mountains, highways and grass, etc. These are all edges where changes occur. Imagine the cliffs and boulders on the Pacific Coast and the massive waves hitting and then retreating, that moment of contact before withdrawal – a liminal moment.
As the Earth travels around the Sun, we may view the year as divided into two halves, the bright half and the dark half. The liminal times for these events fall around the first of May and again at the first of November.
The liminal time for the beginning of the dark half of the year is when many cultures honor their ancestors. We call this Samhain, which comes from sam fuinn meaning “summer’s end.” It marks the Celtic New Year, the day when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, making it easier for us to establish communication with our ancestors. Also, our ancestors lit fires on sacred hills on this night. It was customary to extinguish the household fires, symbolizing the end of summer, and then relight them from the ceremonial fire marking the beginning of the new season, winter, the Season of Sleep.
The other time of year honors the bright half and the beginning of summer which we call Beltane. It is a time of bursting forth with an abundant fertility. It was time to release the cattle from winter quarters and then they drove them between two fires in a ritual cleansing ceremony which certainly had practical purposes for the health of the animals. It was a time for many celebrations and for the mating of animals as well as human lovers.
In Celtic mythology, two historical invasions involved in the settling of Ireland occurred at the liminal moment at the beginning of the bright half of the year. It is when the Tuatha de Danann arrived in great ships high above the clouds surrounded by a great mist. It is also when the sons of Mil arrived. At first, the Tuatha de Danann surrounded them in a great mist causing them to fall back behind the ninth wave. When the time was right, the great Druid Amergin, claimed the powers of Land, Sea and Sky and stepped ashore, claiming the land for the Gaels. No doubt we could find similar events in other cultures.
A shaman (modern term applied to spirit walkers of many traditions) works in liminal time and space. She is an edge walker, one who walks between the worlds. Her work is on the edge as she has one foot in this world and one foot in the other. She travels between them walking this edge. She connects those of the spirit world with those of this one. Her work is to serve her tribe, to heal, to honor the gods of the people, to talk with the spirits, keeping life in balance and harmony with all.
For those of us who live a magical life, liminal times and liminal spaces are where our magical work is done. Liminal times and liminal spaces are when and where the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins. Travel between them becomes easier for us (as well as spirits and deities).
As we deepen in our work we come to recognize these liminal times and spaces, eager to understand them and work with them and finally to use them for the great work of the soul. We may choose liminal places to do our work and certainly we may choose a liminal time, moon wise, seasonally or in choosing the time of day.
We also have liminal times not of our choosing. We can learn to recognize and use them for the best outcome. Many of them occur in our lives. Often we fail to see what they are until they are behind us. At other times we are able to see and understand and work with the changes so that what is coming is of the best quality for us. They are threshold moments and we will step through, whether willing or not. We are fortunate when we can see these moments for what they are and embrace them, knowing that a birth of some sort is about to happen.
We have many liminal moments that we share. As women – our first bloods – our first sexual experience – our wedding day – the birth of a child – the death of a loved one – a divorce and an ending of what once was – our first job – the birth of a wonderful creative project – the ending of a career – recognition of inevitable aging and the losses that come with that – and finally embracing death, however she comes. Many of us choose to honor these liminal times with ritual and ceremony.
I love liminal times and liminal spaces. I don’t always enjoy them when they occur without my choosing. I do, however, love these thresholds as potential – as opportunities to birth something new.
We are in liminal time right now – the Season of Beltane. The veil is thin between the worlds and this is the traditional tine for embracing what is coming in. We have had quite a few occasions to shed, to cleanse and to release. Now it is time to embrace our abundance, a time to embrace our sacred power and all that we are creating. This is the Season of Plenty, the Mother’s fullness manifest here on Earth with us and through us. May we find, in this season of Beltane, the liminal space and time of this moment, find magic and the new beginnings manifested.
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