For today’s post, I will be looking at the concept of liminality in Celtic lore. Firstly, I will begin with a definition of what liminal means. According to lexico.com liminal is defined as 1. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. 2. Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
This theory that it is on both sides of a threshold, or a place of transition directly relates to how ancient Celtic myths viewed the Otherworld! As liminality is the between, it referred to various aspects of Celtic lore. One of the most obvious aspects of liminality was between the world of Faery and the human world. In fact, faeries across cultures have great associations with liminality!
There was liminality in time, such as between night and day, and at midnight (which is between one day and another). The Celtic concept of a year and a day, which was used in things like handfastings (which would become permanent after a year and a day oftentimes) is directly related to the time outside of time principle. The extra day is the time outside of time, making it a magical liminal equivalent! The liminality of time is something that appears in folklore, as many classical references to meetings with faeries taking place at liminal times. The liminality of time is attested to in many stories of people getting taken by the faeries. When someone is taken into Faeryland, time moves differently there! It is often said that time passes much more slowly in Faery, and that can mean that a human that has entered Faery can lose a year or more in a relatively short time. This is adopted into popular culture to this day. For example, it is utilized in True Blood, when Sookie spends a short time in Faery and loses a year. While in Faery, she had also encountered her grandfather, who thought only hours had passed, when it had been decades on Earth!
There is also a multitude of liminal spaces. These spaces include the shorelines and other waterways (between water and earth), doorways (between rooms), and windows (between outside and inside). The liminality of space is well attested to in Celtic myth and folklore. Liminal spaces are often the placement of important events in myths. For example, in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogion, several key events in the story of Blodeuwedd take place at a riverbank. Another key example of this is the coupling of the Morrigan and the Dagda literally over a river at Samhain in the tale of the Cath Maige Tuired.
Certain weather can be itself a liminal element, such as mist which is a combination of water and air! The elemental quality of mist is often given as a sign of the presence of an Otherworldly presence in Celtic lore. For example, we see this in a shrouding of mist covering Faerylands, such as the Isle of Avalon. Avalon is, of course, an important place to me, hence the name of this blog! It is an island that is accessed by barge, through parting the mists, and it is a magical land that is a place of liminality in itself. All lands of Faery are lands of liminality, as they can be said as existing in a time outside of time.
Finally, I will briefly mention that there are liminal deities. These are Gods and Goddesses who preside over thresholds and doorways, so to speak. In Celtic culture, Brigid was a primary example of a liminal deity. Liminal deities are also those counted amongst the Tuatha de Dannan, the Irish Faery deities. This brings us back around to the liminality of the Fair Folk, so in a way, we end where we began, and that feels appropriate for the subject!
At the end of the day, liminality, as it appears in Celtic lore, is a complex subject, and I hope that I have succeeded in giving some insight into the nature of this topic. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a painting by Angela Bawden titled Fairy forest Enchantress. I found the image on https://fineartamerica.com/featured/fairy-forest-enchantress-angela-bawden.html.
- A New Dictionary of Fairies by Morgan Daimler
- The Book of Faery Magic by Lucy Cavendish and Serene Conneeley
- True Blood (2008)