Sunday 7 February 2016

Liminal Spaces

Posted for Cuardaitheoir:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

In this, my first ever blog post, I would like to examine the idea of liminal places.  I have been deeply exploring this concept as a means to understand my own various experiences of liminal places.  I include the Otherworld and the In Between as manifestations of liminal places.  So, I admit my bias in accepting such “places” or experiences exist.  How does one, however, describe the concept and personal experiences of liminal places?

Language, be it mathematics or words, is a very constraining tool to symbolically describe or relate deeply personal experiences of the Liminal to others.  Poetic words and mathematical equations, however beautiful and elegant, are simply human constructs of various precisions and hierarchies of meaning.  They are a way of understanding our perception of the universe; they are not proof that we actually know the universe.  The 17th century philosophical inclination to ascribe metaphysical understanding of the concept of knowing God and hence God’s creation is a false heuristic.  Sacred geomancy and numerology subscribe to such a notion. Regardless of neither the beauty of words nor the precision of an equation, these tools are human constructs.  If we believe they provide us with the keys to unlocking the nature and meaning of the universe, we are deluding ourselves however much comfort such a delusion provides.  Recognizing the limitations of words, I will do my best to explore aspects of my understanding of Liminal.

What is a Liminal Place?  I have used this phrase, and I have heard others use the words Liminal Place to describe a concept which is, more often than not, considered metaphysical or certainly not of the physical world.  Loosely described, it seems to be understood as a “place” which is in-between our physical world and an “other world”.  But what is this Other World?  Is it a magical place?   A spiritual place?  Is it a physical place at all or merely an idea to bridge the physical world to a metaphysical world?  In these last 2 sentences, the words I used to try and describe a liminal place are loaded with many overt and subtle meanings.  Whole books can be written on the meaning of these words, but for the purpose of this blog, please accept the definition of the Other World as the other side of a liminal place.  So is a Liminal Place a gateway, a door or some kind of passage point between our physical world and the Other World?  And if so, what are its characteristics?  How and why do we think such places exist?

I have referred to the liminal concept as a place.  Examples of liminal places I have heard or read about include the line between sea and sky, water and land, and tree branches between land and sky. Other descriptions are not of physical places.  An example of a nonphysical place would be the mist. Frank MacEowen from his book entitled, the Mist-Filled Path” wrote that, “Where the moist chill meets warmth the luminescence of mist is born. The mist is the threshold, the guardian of the in-between where vision is received.  Within the mist of liminal time and space we are able to plant the seeds of a new life”.  Regardless of the descriptors used, it is clear that liminal represents an edge between 2 entities; however these entities are described. 

Characterizing the concept of liminal as existing as an edge in time and space is quite interesting as it seems, for some persons, to denote a dualistic construct. In the large body of Christian theology, there exist the ideas of a heaven and a hell.  In between heaven and hell was purgatory.  It was a place where one could neither rest in the light of god, but neither were you in hell.  It was a place where redemption was probable if one could learn and redeem themselves to the grace of God.  Like purgatory, liminal places are considered sources of knowledge and inspiration, but are not necessarily the entrance to the Otherworld.  I wonder if in some modern Pagan thinking, theological Christian dualism remains present but under the guise of a neo-Pagan construct? 

Animism and polytheism are not bound to mind and matter dualism.  Animism makes no distinctions between a here and a there and, therefore, requires no concept of dualism within the liminal.  It does not subscribe to Cartesian dualism.  I agree with Brendan Myers when he wrote the following within his book, The Earth, the Gods and the Soul, “Animism… reject the dualism that declares a fundamental distinction between mind, soul, spirit, and matter, body, physicality. Instead, such an animism finds mindedness in every part of nature, including the wholeness of everything”.  Is the concept of liminal truly a Pagan concept?  Yes, but not when it is perceived as a place in-between 2 places, but as an edge amongst many edges.

When expressed as an edge, the concept of liminal can be accepted as a deeply rooted in Paganism.  What, however, is an edge? Within animistic constructs, an edge is a boundary of consciousness amongst many boundaries of consciousness.  An animistic universe is a Minded universe.   When Minded is self-reflective, it is conscious.  In her book, “Living with Honour”, Emma Restall-Orr states, “Nature exists as many layers of integrated consciousness, providing a web through which we can experience that intrinsic connection.” Furthermore, she writes, “While consciousness does not need a physical reflection or manifestation, nothing in nature can exit without a song of consciousness, without the life energy of intention.” Edges are the intersection points of consciousness, whatever their forms.  If one were to pause and reflect on this subject, one might think such a concept was rather “flakey” at best or insane at worst.  On the contrary, quantum science agrees and has concluded with the ancient Pagan understanding of a conscious universe!

Consciousness is the logic of nature.  Although the language of Quantum Theory differs greatly from the language of animism, remarkably their paths arrive at the same centre of the forest. In his book, “The Non-Local Universe”, physicist Menas Kofatos and philosopher and historian of science, Robert Nadeau, write, “…however, it seems clear that our real or actual self I not imprisoned in our minds. It is implicitly part of the larger whole of biological life. Derives its existences from embedded relations to this whole, ad constructs its reality based on evolved mechanisms that exist in all human brains.  This suggests that any sense of the “otherness” of selves and world is an illusion that disguises the actual relation that is between the part that is our self and the whole that is biological reality.  In our view a proper definition of this whole must not only include the evolution of the larger undissectible whole of the cosmos and the unbroken evolution of all life forms from the first self-replication molecule that was the ancestor of DNA”. 

Moving away from quantum theory and philosophy, how does this help us understand our Druid Path and personal experiences? We can trust that knowledge and wisdom can be gleaned from liminal places.  Liminal places are intersections of interconnected consciousness.  They are nature.  We are liminal edges amongst other liminal spaces.    The interpretation and understanding of our own experiences carry as much meaning as other forms of learning.  We need to open and allow ourselves to explore these Edges of Consciousness and trust that they are a legitimate a source of inspiration and knowing.  

Enfold between sea and sky
Water well and dragon fire
Brighid’s 3
And Maidens 9
Ceridwen knows reality lies
Somewhere between Mephisto’s glare
And the Cheshire cat’s fading smile.

Cuardaitheoir /|\

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