Okay, boys and girls, it’s time for your random, unsolicited folklore lesson. Today’s topic: my favorite folk/cultural/literary concept—liminality!
Or as Cammy has apparently taken to calling it—the doorway thing!
Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The official end of Spring and beginning of Summer. The shortest night of the year. An important day for my pagan friends which my Catholic friends have cleverly tried to disguise as the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron saint of teenagers (who need all the help they can get). Inti Raymi for my Quechua friends. Okay, I don’t have any Quechua friends, but I did live in Peru so I’m going to claim Quechua by proxy. Tomorrow at prehistoric sites all over the world the sun, moon, or stars will line up with something and do something shockingly awesome. Why? Because the Summer Solstice is a liminal space.
Liminal comes from the Latin word for “threshold.” Liminal spaces are those thresholds, those transitional areas. Places where one space, world, state of being, season, whatever meets another. And what you need to know, kids, is that liminal spaces are SCARY! Or at the very least dangerous. Because in those transitional spaces things can slip through. Things from other worlds, realms, dimensions, what have you. And who knows what they’ll do once there here. On the other hand, if you’re someone who knows how to use it, liminal spaces are also spaces of great power. Ever wonder why rituals always take place at sunset or sunrise or midnight? Why gunfights always happen at high noon? Now you know.
The most obvious place you see this in modern American culture is Halloween. The new year used to start on November 1, which meant that at midnight on October 31 one year met another year and HOMG SCARY! Evil spirits from other realms are going to get us! So the idea is that you dress up in scary costumes and then if spirits do come through they’ll get scared. And I guess go back from whence they came shaking their heads and saying, “Dude! The beings on that plane of reality are ugly!” Seems like the recent trend of women in their twenties using Halloween as an excuse to wear lingerie in public would probably be detrimental to this goal. But maybe the evil spirits are afraid of boobs, what do I know?
Another place where the fear of the liminal persists is weddings. Why do brides get carried across the threshold? Well, threshold=liminal space. Spirits like to hang out there. The bride is in her own liminal space on account of she’s transitioning from single to married life. And in the old days the assumption was she was going in to the bridal chamber a virgin and coming out… well, not a virgin. In most European cultures she also now became part of her husband’s family, so she was transitioning between families, moving to a new house. That’s a lot of liminality. So the groom carries her across the threshold in an attempt to protect her from those spirits she’d be very vulnerable too. This is also why we make bridesmaids wear hideous dresses. No, it’s not so the pink taffeta will scare the evil spirits away, though I would imagine it might. They are essentially bride decoys. I’m told they used to dress like the bride. The idea is that the spirits will attack them instead of the bride, and not being in any kind of transition themselves, they’ll be able to fight it off. So ladies, remember, the next time you’re standing up there at the altar, wondering who on earth actually thinks hemlock green is an attractive color, remember it’s her day, you’re just there to fight off evil spirits. Wear those tacky dresses with pride!