Are you a sunshine witch or a moonlight witch? Water witch or forest witch or urban witch? Crystals or bones? Potted plants or candles? Rose or cinnamon? Horns or wings? Boots or barefoot? Ghosts or gods? Flowers or ash?
Greetings, everyone. This article focuses on the concept of liminality, and I’m tagging it as part of my beginning witchcraft series. I will try my best to make this beginner-friendly by defining my terms and explaining as well as possible, though the concepts themselves are something many of us struggle to wrap our heads around. You can make yourself downright dizzy thinking about this overmuch! Nevertheless, the issue of liminality is important in many types of witchcraft, and has been instrumental in my own Craft, thus I really think many beginners can benefit from developing an understanding of it. So, what’s liminality? What’s “the power of thresholds?”
The term “liminality” is primarily used in anthropology to denote the middle stage of an initiatory ritual, wherein the individual undergoing it (the candidate) has transcended his or her previous status, but has yet to reach the point where they’re considered fully initiated. In other words, the term refers to an in-between state, and that’s exactly how I’m using the word here, except in a much broader context than just a ritual. While it’s true that, for example, someone undergoing an initiation into a coven will likely find themselves in a liminal state, liminal states arise organically, too, independent of whatever plans we humans might have. They can be physical, mental, or temporal, and all that is required is that the individual is passing from one state to the next, and that the experience is somehow meaningful or can be imbued with meaning.
Witches and magicians have, for thousands of years, known that liminal states make magical extremely powerful and tend to amplify any working that occurs within them. Why, one might ask? There are various theories. If you subscribe to an “energy” hypothesis regarding magick, you might see liminal states as extreme confluences of this “energy,” which is then harnessed for the magick. One might also conjecture that the individual, existing momentarily between states, is put into a position where literally anything seems possible, and thus the psychic censor or other mechanism that usually prevents the manifestation of thoughts is bypassed. Either way, you’ll likely find that, for whatever reason, liminal states can be helpful in magick.
I made the above image some time ago, and is describes some instances of liminality you’re likely to encounter in your daily life. It would be really easy if we could just make a list of all liminal situations and places, and just use that to time and plan out our magick, but it doesn’t really work like that. The truth is (and this is extremely important) liminal states are a human condition and only really exist in the mind of the witch. There’s nothing inherently magical about, say, a crossroads. Rather, a visit to the crossroads affects a witch’s consciousness to put him or her in a liminal state, and it is from the witch’s interaction with his or her environment that liminality arises. This is important to remember because, while the places I’ve mentioned in the above image are liminal for most people, everyone is different, and not everyone is going to have the same experience of liminality.
As an example, for someone with about average experience traveling, airports are highly liminal places for me, but someone who travels daily for work or whatever reason might find them much less so. Liminality is chiefly a state of mind, not a physical situation, though physical situations will often presage it. It could even be simply considered a feeling, albeit one rarely discussed. Ask yourself if you’ve ever felt utterly energetic, as if anything were possible, while at the same time, a little uneasy? That’s what liminality feel like to me. Whenever you have the distinct sensation of being between two states, you’re liminal. I should take this moment to clarify, as well: unease and a sense of risk is part and parcel with liminality. If you feel entirely safe and secure, you’re probably not experiencing a liminal state. Liminality always contains a layer of risk. It can be a controlled risk, or (usually) a non-physical risk that exists only in your mind, but the sense of risk is there.
As I alluded to above, a liminal state can be induced by physical phenomena, manmade or otherwise, in the world around you. The classic liminal space oft-visited by witches throughout history was the crossroads - anywhere two or more roads meet. The liminal nature of such a state is apparent even to a casual observer. Even if you know where you’re going, when you reach an area where roads converge, you are left with a choice - which direction will you go? Thus, as you pass through the crossroads, you may well enter a liminal state, between existing on one path, and finding yourself on another. It does make for powerful magick, and this was known even in ancient times. Hecate, the Greek goddess of the three-way crossroads, was also assigned rulership to magick in general, and Hermes, a god with a similar purview, was also associated with the crossroads. Of the crossroads, Judika Illes writes,
“Magically speaking a crossroads is the place where multiple forces converge, where anything can happen, where transformations may occur. Energy is liberated and expanded at the crossroads. Instead of hopping over boundaries, you can stand in the center and be inundated by power, potential, and choices.”
Illes, Judika. The Element Encyclopedia of 1000 Spells: A Concise Reference Book for the Magical Arts (Kindle Locations 1648-1650). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Illes also notes that the most accessible modern crossroads tend to be traffic intersections, though, thus they might not be the best place for magick these days. You wouldn’t want to cause a traffic incident, after all. Also, with roads and intersections as ubiquitous as they are today, and traveling short distances so common, without a doubt some of the symbolism of the crossroads has waned. Though you can still draw power from a place where two major roads converge, other liminal spaces exist in the modern world, with arguably more potent symbolism, though often without the historical precedent for their usage.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, airports, particularly the part of them off-limits to all but travelers, can be highly liminal places. The sheer amount of travelers passing through, many of whom likely find the territory unfamiliar, make this space highly liminal in most people’s experience. As I noted before, though, those who travel regularly or airport workers might not find such a space liminal, but most people, I’d wager, will. By far the most such liminal space I’ve ever visited was Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France at dusk.
I obviously cannot recommend running around an airport behind security if you’re not authorized to be there, but if you find yourself in such a place and feel that strange sensation of liminality, magick might be in order. You, of course, wouldn’t want to start compiling a charm bottle in an airport lounge or casting a circle, but as I hope everyone is aware, magick needn’t involve tools or overt actions, and a well-placed visualization or traced sigil can be extremely powerful if you’re in such a state.
Liminal places needn’t be the creations of humans, though. Ancient peoples considered various naturally-occurring places to be sacred, and a good bit of this probably stemmed from the place’s liminal quality. In particular, running water, as in a shallow stream or small river, can be highly liminal, and this is why many witches will work spells with water gathered from such a place, or, better yet, step into the stream themselves to perform a working. The liminality of swift water, for me, stems from the water’s rapid motion from one place to the next, flowing from one body of water to another, and ultimately to the sea. The water cycle that you’ve likely studied in school, where water evaporates, becomes rain, and returns to earth and ultimately the ocean, is an extended exercise in liminality.
This may be why so many supposedly spooky occurrences are associated with thunderstorms, and is one reason collecting rainwater can be useful, if one is able to do so. Other naturally-occurring liminal spaces include where two types of landscape meet, the edges of hills, forests and mounts, and, of course, the shores of large bodies of water. In a strange, roundabout fashion, areas that humans frequently transverse, but don’t live in or dwell, can also be considered liminal. These include deep deserts, thick forests, and other places we humans pass through but don’t call home. This may be part of the reason spirits are so often said to live in such areas. I suspect it might be because humans who travel through them are themselves in a liminal state, and thus more primed to experience such things.
Times of Threshold
Liminal periods exist in time, as well. Most of us, regardless of our own religion, are likely aware that many faiths time their festivals and holy days around astronomical phenomena and the changing seasons. Wiccans and various other religious witches, especially, often find great significance in the equinoxes and solstices. These days are significant on many levels. For ancient peoples, they were discerned by reading the stars, length of day, and other events and helped to schedule planting and preparations for upcoming seasons.
The very fact that such observances marked a noted change in the activity of ancient and (some) modern peoples adds to their liminal quality. Really, though, the meaning goes deeper. Insofar as each solstice or equinox marked a significant alteration in the seasons and the beginning of a new period in the yearly cycle, they’re positively dripping with liminality. Many secular witches (such as myself) might interpret such holidays as wholly religious and see no reason to observe them as part of their practice. I, however, always feel that, while the days may not be tied to a religious mythos for me, the liminal force and significance of them on many levels makes for excellent magick, so I’ll often perform practical and pressing spells on such days, if at all possible.
Within the average week, as well, liminal periods exist - namely the weekends. While not everyone is going to have the sort of job that allows for the weekend off (I personally have rarely been in that situation), the cultural association of the weekends as a time “between” weeks is a very real thing. As such, weekends are a slightly (in my opinion, very slightly) liminal period for some people. This can depend on where you live, work, and what sort of experiences you have on weekends. I’ve never really managed to utilize the liminal quality of weekends extensively in my practice, but I do acknowledge it’s there. It’s also worth noting that banking holidays and other days when routines are disrupted/changed can have a similar quality for some of us, again, depending on our situations.
Within a single day, as well, liminal periods exist. As you might expect, these tend to coincide most strongly with dawn and dusk, when the sun is rising or setting. The comparatively rapid and highly visible transition from daylight to night and vice versa is quite liminal. Lesser (in my opinion), but still useful moments of liminality include true midnight (as in, the middle part of the night, not necessarily midnight on a clock, depending on where you live and time of year) as well as true noon (the same idea, but daytime). I consider these lesser in their liminal quality than dawn and dusk because the changes they represent are less physically represented and visible to humans, thus not as effective. Experiment, though - some are bound to find their experiences differ from mine, and these times have been useful to many occultists throughout history.
I have discussed thus far examples of liminality that are fairly universal and likely to be experienced by most, if not all, individuals. I now want to draw attention to those times of liminality that are either wholly personal to a single individual, or likely to affect only a small group. When speaking of individuals, naturally, one can imagine that birthdays, especially those that are considered significant in our society (the eighteenth in America, for example) are highly liminal times. If you practice astrology or study it, you might also be aware of certain major life events played out in the heavens that might induce liminality.
An example of this would be the infamous concept of the Saturn Return, where Saturn cycles back into the same position it was in at the time of birth. This usually happens in an individual’s late twenties, then at long-ish intervals thereafter. I experienced my first Saturn Return in Autumn of 2015, and while I do understand those authors who consider it a liminal time, I personally didn’t find it conducive to magick as it rather disturbingly brought out a lot of issues in me concerning what Saturn represents. Still, everyone’s different, and if you study astrology, you’ll likely discover certain times that work well for you magically.
Liminal times likely to be experienced as a group include things like graduations, the first day of a new school year, final exams, and other milestones in daily existence that get shared by several people. If you’ve formal schooling at any level, you likely can think of a million examples of this, as school experiences are rife with rites of passage and transitions. As a college student many, many years ago, I would actively time some of my workings to coincide with things like the beginning of final exams or (even better) everyone returning to school after summer break, and I found these to be extremely potent liminal experiences. These occur less frequently, but still somewhat often, in the average workplace, and, as you might expect, certain workplaces are liminal in and of themselves (see above, about airports, etc.) I found, working in a diner for a while, that night shift was an incredibly liminal time and while I personally acclimatized to it, most of the customers were in sort of liminal states (tired from driving or partying, etc.,) thus providing the environment with a slight charge.
Living in a Liminal World
This will verge into unverifiable theorizing, but I honestly believe liminal periods are experienced occasionally by the entire world (or just certain countries), and that this has a massive effect both on magicians and witches working under such circumstances and average folks living through them. Unfortunately, though, liminal states on a very large scale tend to not be as pleasant for individuals as smaller liminal activity would, and can often be downright difficult or horrendous.
I consider, for example, World War II to have put the world in a highly liminal state for several years, but I think we can agree that, having the choice, we wouldn’t want to experience such a thing, regardless of any magical possibilities inherent in it. The question of what makes a large-scale liminal event is a bit hard to explain, but I honestly think it goes along with periods of time where decisions are made, and where humanity reaches a fork in the road. We reached one of those during World War II, and many times before and since.
This will sound way more woo-ish than my usual writing, but I must admit I believe 2016 and a bit of time proceeding it to be a highly liminal period, as well. There are various reasons for this, among them being the extremely contentious election in the United States, the escalation of climate change, and many other factors, but I believe we’re seeing a good portion of humanity plunged into liminality as we speak. Does this mean we can harness the force of it for positive and effective magicks? Possibly, but this is, of course, highly speculative. Certainly interest in the occult has risen exponentially recently, which may be related.
I hope this article was helpful and provides a useful framework for understanding the concept of liminality in magick, and gives you a head start on planning for magick in times and places of liminal power. Realize that none of it’s absolutely going to be true for everyone, though, and you’ll need to experiment and search yourself a bit to discover what liminality means to you, and how you might tap into it at will. Happy magick-making, everyone. Stay safe and have a good evening. If you enjoy my work, consider donating or purchasing a reading from me to help fund future endeavors. And, of course, if you’ve any question on this or any other topic that you’d like me to answer, don’t hesitate to send me an ask, but do please read the FAQ first.
Telekinesis can be channeled through the eyes or hands, the latter being the most common way to use the power. This is one of the most strongest powers possessed by magical beings, be they good, evil or neutral.