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. 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, the year can be divided into two halves, the bright half and the dark half. In many cultures, 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. It also marked the end of summer and 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. It is a time of bursting forth with an abundant fertility.
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 the 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 for 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 throughout 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. If we recognize them as thresholds we can choose to honor these liminal times with ritual and ceremony.
Most of the time, I love liminal times and liminal spaces. I don’t always enjoy them when they are not of my choosing. I do, however, see these thresholds as potential – as opportunities to birth something new.
We are in liminal time at the Season of Beltane, the beginning of the bright half of the year. The veil is thin between the worlds and this is the traditional time for embracing what is coming in. This is time to embrace our abundance, a time to embrace our sacred power and all that we are creating. Beltane is the Season of Plenty, the Mother’s Fullness manifested here on Earth, with us and through us.
Another deep liminal time and space occurs at Samhain. The veil thins once more to take us into the dark half of the year. It is the time of the last harvest and a time to honor the ancestors. It is the ancestors who will guide us through the dark sharing wisdom with us as needed.
Let me share with you the Goddess most honored as the Goddess of liminal time and space. It is our beloved Hekate, Great Goddess of the Three Ways, bridging Earth, Sea and Sky as we travel between worlds.
Usually seen as a “hag” or old witch stirring the cauldron. She is in fact, a beautiful and powerful goddess. She was the only one of the ancient Titans who Zeus allowed to retain her power after the Olympians seized control. She shared with Zeus, the awesome power of granting all wishes to humanity (or withholding it she chose).
She is the goddess of magic and witchcraft and is often depicted holding two torches or a key. To me the torches are to help light the way and the key for opening doors on the journey.
When at liminal spaces or in liminal times of your life, call upon Hekate to guide you through the threshold.