Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Chonicles of Liminia: The Threshold, The Ritual & The Trickster

Of course it's not Narnia, but it's a reasonable parody considering the Wardrobe's threshold sends the children in the story to the mythical land of adventure. And, threshold crossings have been recognized as a liminal place where things can tend to get weird. 

Life has a funny way of being routine, and for many of us certain customs have become just part of normal existence - we don't even think about them or their origins. Where did these things we think of as customs or traditions, originate - and why? And where do these customs tend to be placed? 

There's a reason for the term "Rites of Passage". Ritual is present in every day life as we pass through life's changes, but we don't always recognize them as such. 

The Retiree's Talisman
Take for instance the retirement from a long held job. A man has worked 50 years at a firm and for his retirement, he gets a gold watch and probably some sort of retirement office party with food and drink. This, like many traditional transition events. is a ritualistic practice when really examined. 

Why a gold watch? Gold has long been associated with white light religions and positive magickal practices. The watch, or clock is a symbol of time, and the passage of present into the past. Retirement comes at the autumn of one's life, and let me frank - how many times have you heard of Mr. John retiring only to pass away a year later? The party is the affirmation of life - eating, drinking, and socializing. The gold watch is the talisman given as the individual is entering into the transition to a different life. The threshold. A talisman against what? Perhaps the specter of death. Perhaps to protect against the effects of the rapid passage of time due to a life of leisure - again a reference to the approach of the Reaper and the limits of life. Either way you cut it, throughout time retirees from every vocation from accounting to viking have been given talismanic objects as they cross the boundary into a new life. It is recognized subliminally as a rite of passage.

A wedding ceremony is an acknowledged ritual - and noted liminal threshold - which is marked by all matter of talismans and incantations as the couple embark on a life together, distinctly separate from the one they've been living prior. It is a significant change of one's life, and hence is marked by one of the largest and most focused upon ritualistic practices in life. 

The Baby Shower is an interesting one, It's widely considered to be a 'party' to give the expectant Mother gifts for the baby. But it's more than that - and it's filled with ritual all around the world in different cultures. This is the passage or transition of the woman, into the Mother. In Tibet, parents celebrate the baby’s arrival, rather than having a party prior to birth. The celebration is called a pang-sai, which means "cleansing of the baby." The Tibetans believe newborn babies come to the world alongside fowls, and a ceremony should be held to wipe them out so that these babies would be able to grow healthily and mothers recover soon. When a baby is born, two banners will be placed on the roof eaves, hanging from the edge: one to ward off evil to protect the child and one to attract good fortune.

In America for many years, during the festivities the Mother to be would sit under a decorated umbrella - this derived from Victorian customs where the gifts were brought in a parasol. The term "shower" is believed to be 'showing the expectant mother with gifts' - but the overtone of a rain theme brings to mind the hope of a blessing by God via water from the sky (rain shower). Rain or shine many cultures recognize and ritualize the transition of woman to Mother and the passage of the baby into life. Rain is also cleansing (refer to pang-si).

Even something as benign as a Birthday cake and candles is laden with ritual meaning. The person is transitioning from say, the age 22 to 23. The day of the transition they are not 22, but not yet 23 (the liminal state). 23 candles are placed on the cake. Everyone sings Happy Birthday and they blow the candles out. So whats so ritualistic about that?

The candles are said to represent the 'light of life', The ancient Greeks first brought cakes adorned with candles to the temple of Artemis. In many cultures, smoke is said to 'carry prayers into the heavens' - and what do we do when we blow out the candles? Make a wish. That wish is often that one makes it through another year alive and in good health.

Lastly, there seems to be a thread that runs through some of these: death. And death is filled with yet more rituals, not only for the dead, but for the living. My wife's father passed towards the end of last year. We spent time with him (I should say his body) after he passed away at the hospital one morning. We then spent 2 days at a Funeral facility and cemetery. After we left the burial site, we all went to Lisa's sister's house for food and drink with lots of people who came to say goodbye to her Dad. We think of this as a sort of 'wake' celebration, and a way to thank the people who came to celebrate the life of the deceased. But of course, it's more. You have spent a lot of time with the dead (and this is true of many cultures). But, we are the living. Being in the presence of the dead is something to be washed away after the body is laid to rest, burned or left behind. The wake meal or celebration with any food or drink is an affirmation of life. You are alive, and the departed is not. You are moving forward, and the dead stay where they are. 

Such rituals as the wake meal, the baby shower, the wedding, etc - are all lines of demarcation that separate periods of liminality from routine life. The wedding ceremony is a line, drawn between the now committed couple and their former singular life. The wake food ends the commune with the dead, and draws the line as if to say to death "You shall not pass".

The liminal period has been marked by ritual throughout history. In many cases these acts trace to ancient cultures who probably recognized the threshold of change as a potentially 'dangerous' time, Did these cultures see that these liminal periods accompany the manifestation of paranormal phenomena? There really can be no other reason: a responsive reaction to the phenomena (whatever it might have been) than to enact rituals to effectively separate themselves from it.

"You shall not pass": Laying down the line.
Remember, the phenomena is enveloped in conflict, irrational behavior, upheaval, and chaos. No culture would flourish if such conditions were allow to swell from the inside (look at UFOlogy - ha!). Go back to ancient tribal peoples - there were 'forbidden places' and/or actions. Should you commit these actions or mistakenly tread in the forbidden place (often where the dead are disposed of), you would either be banished from the tribe or you have to go through a ritual to..,be cleansed. There's that line in the sand again:

You shall not pass.

It exists within the structure of indigenous cultures as well - the shaman does not live with the rest of the tribe. Considered to 'walk with the dead and the living', the shaman is not part of the community - they are effectively outsiders. To even visit the shaman in some cultures involved a cleansing ritual of some kind upon your return.

These events and actions marked by ritual lines of separation of the liminal period are seen as a way to remove the 'infection' of the otherworldly, the cold hand of death, the appearance of the inherently fearful. But, they also mark the anti-structural event, and transition it back into routine.

Once these modern day rituals are done, they facilitate the return of routine. The married couple start life together, the baby grows up, the wake participants go home and move on. But for instance, should one fixate acutely on the deceased, and spend hours of time at the cemetery to the detriment of life? This is ignoring the ritual's purpose, and is a gateway to anti-structure - often a recipe for strange intrusions.

To avoid the otherworldly, one only heed the wizard's line following "You shall not pass":

Fly, You Fools.🔻

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. As I was reading I couldn't help but think of "The Graduation Ceremony" where a young person moves from the structure of school into "real life"/adulthood. It's all there: robes, funny hats, the intoning of names, the presentation of the certificate/scroll... all very occult-ish. I wonder if that particular ritual has its origins in Masonic traditions. I've never really noticed or thought about how weird all these customs are or how ancient. I've also heard that sitting around the table for a meal is supposed to symbolize sitting around the kill from a hunt, "come an' get it while it's hot!", the elder sitting at "the head" of the table... fascinatingly weirdness hidden in plain sight.