Liminality defines a crucial stage within initiatory processes. In traditional cultures, candidates get taken from their homes and thrown into a dangerous new reality. Everything they knew – all of their familiar references – are torn away from them.
Liminal states are ambiguous, indeterminate, undifferentiated. Anything can happen in them: Suffering, torture, death, terror, chaos, madness – but also renewal, spiritual vision, transcendent union with Creation, the joyful acceptance of a new redemptive mission.
Anthropologist Victor Turner explored liminality in great depth. He saw liminal processes as anti-structural, anarchic, but also the source of all structure; the abysmal no-place out of which new forms of cultural and social life emerge – like Strange Attractors from chaos. He found symbolic parallels to death, uterine existence, invisibility, darkness, and wilderness.
Turner believed that liminal zones serve a crucial function in human society: “To live, to breathe, and generate novelty, human beings have had to create—by structural means—spaces and times in the calendar or in the cultural cycles of their most cherished groups which cannot be captured in the classificatory nets of their quotidian, routinized spheres of action.” This indeterminate space generates “new models, often fantastic, some of which may have sufficient power and plausibility to replace eventually the force-backed political and juridical models that control the centers of a society’s ongoing life.”
We propose – at this perilous juncture in our short life as a species – humanity has collectively entered a liminal state, a zone of ambiguous peril. Overwhelmed by continuous change and dire projections, we have lost our capacity for coherence and sense-making. The old narratives and myths that sustained the social order across the last centuries are failing us, badly.
As any sense of moral center or ethical order collapses, we find ourselves regularly confronting extreme spectacles of sexuality, cruelty, hedonistic abandon, greed, vanity, and violence. The boundaries between opposites – true and false, ordinary and non-ordinary, technology and nature, horror and humor – dissolve along with our capacity to find meaning in an increasingly fragmented world.
The liminal state we experience now is different from those of the past. In traditional cultures, initiatory processes are rituals, ceremonies, that followed the same pattern over many generations. While the candidates may believe they are doomed to wander in darkness for eternity, elders and psychopomps actually guide their journey. They lead the initiate, eventually, back into a world renewed by meaning and purpose.
In our current liminal stage, chaotic and dissipative events proceed globally, revealing a rapid decay in the fabric of our civilization. Some of these – uncontrolled AI, the scorching of the world’s tropical forests, nuclear radiation from uncontainable accidents – threaten us with near-term extinction. We lack the cognitive tools to respond to such overwhelming threats which seem to come from everywhere at once.
Liminal stages open the gates for the archetypal figure of the Trickster to enter. The Trickster is a disruptive, often charismatic figure who breaks apart familiar structures and detonates the old order. We see the trickster in the politicians ruling over our current miasma. While they accelerate destruction, they also act as catalysts for a deeper transformation, revealing the corruption and hypocrisy that must be exposed.
Because nobody on this Earth has gone through this situation before, the outcome is entirely unknown. We lack for elders who can lead the way by experience, as in traditional rites of passage or initiation. Outside of any familiar context, we find ourselves on our own – thrown into a strange new land.
This is the new world that Liminal explores.
Our goal is to provide the trusted context and framing for a new cultural paradigm, one that embraces inner experience – the realm of the Psyche – as well as material, ecological, and political necessities. As we travel through this unknown country together, we will investigate the new potentials that emerge and seek to self-organize, like the strange attractors that appear when steady-state systems become dissonant and chaotic.
We believe that we must study the edge realms carefully. It is on the periphery – at the limit of conscious awareness, in areas that elude our current capacity to find conceptual clarity or understanding – that action takes place. On the edge, new possibilities bubble up and take evanescent form – whether new ideologies, technological solutions, tools to enhance social coherence.
We hope you will join us on this journey!