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Liminality in the mundane world

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

“Liminal” is a concept that Pagans and especially Witches use frequently, but it’s not so well known to non-Pagans, at least not by name. A liminal time or space is the transition between one thing and something else. This time of year is an example of liminality in the overculture. How do you experience that? Do you use it for magic?

A friend first explained liminality to me using the example of the period of transition when a woman is getting ready to get married: she is in a liminal period as she moves from one (traditionally-defined) life stage into another. A simpler example that comes from the overculture is this period between Christmas and New Year’s. Some people still have to work, but nearly everyone has some kind of reduced schedule or reduced intensity of their “usual” tasks during this period. There’s a sense of being suspended between one thing and the next, which is very much the meaning of liminality to me.

Liminality is a vital concept because in the real world, boundaries are often fuzzy. One year is not the same as the next, but they bleed into each other continuously. We can find and observe “natural” turning points, such as the solstices, but if we weren’t paying some attention, it would be hard to nail down the precise moment when one year turns into the next. We construct more precise boundaries in time, just as we construct more precise boundaries in space.

We tend to create rituals that reinforce those constructions, and the change of the calendar from December 31st to January 1st is a perfect example. Even around these kinds of secular or “mundane” (as if anything is truly devoid of magic) kinds of things, there is a common human tendency to create rituals and to observe the experience of liminality.

In Wicca and magic, I find the concept of liminality so useful because in those in-between spaces, it’s easier to imagine change, to believe that change is possible, and to work to make change. It is, almost by definition, a more magical time, a situation where we have greater access to possibilities.

Although I do observe Samhain as the “Witches’ New Year,” I tend to see that as the start of a season of inner reflection that carries me through the holidays, both secular and sacred, and culminates around this time. The pause and suspension that comes after Yule and before January 1st is an especially good time to review the year past, wrap up that inner reflection, and think about how to bring it into being.

I think that deep, silent, inner work conducted during the suspense is one of the things that helps differentiate deeper magical work from the secular idea of New Year’s resolutions. We all know the stereotypes about those quickly-made and quickly-discarded “resolutions” which are really more like wishes without any work behind them. I am certain that my local gym and yoga studio will be swamped with people next week; I wish them all the best, even if evidence shows that few of them will make any lasting changes. As part of the cycle of the Witches’ Pyramid, I think the kind of inner reflection is a necessary precursor to doing effective work, rather than having a couple glasses of bubbly and making a rash promise to yourself.

In resonance with the idea that liminality is a time of possibilities, I want to open this up to you: What are your experiences with liminality? Do you have customs around this time of year that work with liminal space? How are you doing this kind of internal work to prepare for the transition of the year?

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Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on the history of magic with the support of her husband and four cats. Please note that all opinions expressed here are Literata's alone and do not reflect the positions of any organization with which she is affiliated.


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 30 December 2013

    Lovely this time of liminality and how it magnifies our magic. I am particularly excited by the overlap of the lunar cycle and the Gregorian calendar shift this year as we bring to a close the past cycle and turn toward what's to begin.

  • Literata
    Literata Tuesday, 31 December 2013

    It is wonderful when the cycles coincide like that!

  • Cynthia Savage
    Cynthia Savage Sunday, 05 January 2014

    Liminal time occurs daily-one doesn't need to wait until the end of the calendar year! The Celts of Ireland and Scotland (the Scot Celts migrated from Ireland) recognize the "time between times" that occurs daily-the Irish revere the dawn and the Scots revere the dusk.

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