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Liminality is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”) and in the anthropological theories of ritual by such writers as Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner.

As developed by van Gennep (and later Turner), the term is used to “refer to in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes”. Although initially developed as a means to analyze the middle stage in ritual passages, it is “now considered by some to be a master concept in the social and political sciences writ large”. In this sense, it is very useful when studying “events or situations that involve the dissolution of order, but which are also formative of institutions and structures.”

Van Gennep placed a particular emphasis on rites of passage, and claimed that “such rituals marking, helping, or celebrating individual or collective passages through the cycle of life or of nature exist in every culture, and share a specific three-fold sequential structure”.

This three-fold structure, as established by van Gennep, is made up of the following components:

  • preliminal rites (or rites of separation): This stage involves a metaphorical “death”, as the initiand is forced to leave something behind by breaking with previous practices and routines.
  • liminal rites (or transition rites): This involves “the creation of a tabula rasa, through the removal of previously taken-for-granted forms and limits”. Two characteristics are essential to these rites. First, the rite “must follow a strictly prescribed sequence, where everybody knows what to do and how”. Second, everything must be done “under the authority of a master of ceremonies”. The destructive nature of this rite allows for considerable changes to be made to the identity of the initiand. This middle stage (when the transition takes place) “implies an actual passing through the threshold that marks the boundary between two phases, and the term ‘liminality’ was introduced in order to characterize this passage.”
  • postliminal rites (or rites of incorporation): During this stage, the initiand is re-incorporated into society with a new identity, as a “new” being.

Learn more at Wikipedia.

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    The first time I heard about this was in my Witchcraft class. So fascinating.
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