Liminality: The Betwixt and Between

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Why is it that after a hero has crossed the initial threshold of adventure, there is always a descent to undergo before the adventure can be pursued to the point of true fulfillment? An adventure story worth its salt, so to speak,—fictional or yours—is first and foremost a Rite of Passage.

Anthropologists recognize that a complete Rites of Passage/ Hero Cycle adventure occurs over three ritual or Hero Cycle stages. The adventure proceeds from:

(Stage 1)  Separation–whereby the hero(es) remove themselves from their normal state of affairs in order to pursue a personally meaningful and collectively beneficial Quest–; to

 (Stage 2) the Transition Zone–wherein they meet themselves and encounter obstacles in the form of trials and tribulations–; to

(Stage 3, when or if the Quest is successfully fulfilled), their Return and Reincorporation–whereby the more mature and better individuated Self benefits others as well as themselves from their positive transformation of values and the maturity they have brought back from their ritual passage.

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The Transition Zone (Stage Two of a complete Rites of Passage/ Hero Cycle odyssey) is where a Descent—sometimes metaphorically depicted as being swallowed up or in the Belly of the Whale—must occur in order for the Quester(s) to develop and strengthen their depth of character quite literally, as in what Jung would call a more integrated and thereby a better balanced unconscious-with-conscious Self. 

In the Transition Zone of a Rites of Passage cycle, the Quester encounters liminality: the experience of feeling as if they are “betwixt and between” normal spheres of reality or society.  As both Victor Turner and Anthony Wallace have described rites of passage, this sense of liminality—whether for an individual or sometimes for an entire society when a revitalization movement occurs—places the person (or social group) in an experience of marginality. They are no longer in the status or role they had before embarking on their adventure, yet they have not yet accomplished or fulfilled their quest whereby they could claim a new, greater role or their successful social-psychological adjustment. I love Anthony Wallace’s description of this (when successfully achieved) process as a Mazeway Resynthesis: a psychological/cognitive reorganization of values and behavior according to an adjustive, fulfilling new Vision of (individual and/or cultural) reality as a whole!

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images are from pixabay.com

Here are just a few examples of popular literary/ fictional stories that include prominent LIMINAL ZONE sub-plots or scenes:

Harry Potter: especially in his feelings of isolation from even his closest allies and in his nightmarish dreams of Voldemort from episodes 4-7;

Lord of the Rings: in Frodo’s passage, with Samway and the devious trickster Gollum as companions in liminality, to Mordor to destroy the One Ring in Return of the King;

The Wizard of Oz: e.g. in the Forbidden Forest, the Poppy Fields, and the Wicked Witch’s castle; and

The Bucket List: in the main characters’ unsuccessful outer quest to climb Mt. Everest,  during which they come to realize the true value of love and family.

What about you in your own unique LIFE STORY? Can you identify with a time in your life when you have experienced (or have yet to) LIMINALITY?  I invite you to journal about this experience or prospect. What did or have you to GAIN?

I welcome your Comments and Story!

 

 

3 thoughts on “Liminality: The Betwixt and Between

  1. My new release, Gloria and the Unicorn, has just such an experience for the protagonist, Gloria. She has emotional pain more than a 6 year old should have to bear. A unicorn named Sir Louie comes to help. While she’s on her way to overcoming her pain, she is confronted with evil wizards that wish to do her in. She gets away but her dear friend, Sir Louie, does not. She crosses the threshold of her fear to save him and realizes love is her weapon against the wizards. She returns to her “real” life empowered.

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    • Interesting how evil wizards so often take the hero(ine) through their descent, while good wizards are role models and Guides that lead to self-mastery! Thanks for sharing your story synopsis, Wanda. How can readers get ahold of it?

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