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About liminality and liminal spaces (links to God Hermes etc)

Thursday, May 31st, 2007 @ 3:38 pm
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Posted in  Literature, Personal Process, Quotes

A theme that appears to re-occur in my personal and research process is that of ‘liminality’and existing at ‘liminal spaces’. I thought that is worth exploring this concept. I have been reading the book by Murray Stein (2003b) In Midlife. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications. He is a Jungian and used Greek Myth, (the ancient Greek God, Hermes, in particular, as the Messenger and ‘Guide of Souls through Liminality’), He says in Chapter one that:

“the presence, and the role, of the archetypal unconscious within transitional periods is a central theme of this book, and Hermes is a figure who represents this presence” (my emphasis).

About Hermes, he says:

“Hermes, the god of boundaries and of traffic over them, of pathways that wander over land and sea, of cultural spaces such as markets and bazaars where ambiguous exchanges take place, represents a type of consciousness that exists essenitally within transitional time and space. Hermes is the god of transitions, and transitions always move through liminality. The ‘world of Hermes’, as Kerenyi spakes of this archetypem is ‘existence in flux’ (1976:12), another definition for the experience of liminality. One of Hermes’s epithets is stropheus, and the world of Hermes is existence as liminality”

on p.8, there are some definitions:

The English ‘liminality’ comes from the Latin, limen, meaning ‘doorway’ or ‘threshold’. Entering a room or leaving it, one crosses a limen, and while there, in this borderline space, one is in liminality, if only for a half second. The latin root has infiltrated psychology, where is is used to refer to a threshold between consciousness and the unconscious portions of the mind.

“In the state I am calling psychological liminality, a person’s sense of identity is hung in suspension. You are no longer fixed to particular mental images and contents of yourself or others.” In liminality, the ‘I’ is homeless.

p. 11: “Liminality is created whenever the ego is unable any longer to identify fully with a former self-image, which it had formed by selective attachments to specific internal imagos and embodied in certain roles accepted and performed”

p.13: “Hermes represents the helping factor: he guides the groping ego on the path of deeper liminality. Ultinatelly, this assistance will make it possible to accept mortality and separation from earlier heroic identifications and defenses and will prepare the ego for the next phase of individuation”

p. 19: “Hermes personifies the synchronistic moment” (p.52): “Hermes and liminality appear surprisingly and unexpectedly in the forms of dreams, fantasies, and synchronistic events”

p.139: “Hermes stays, not as the dominant archetype of consciousness that he was in the period of liminality, but as a continually possible agent of psychological movement and change”


(p. 22): “Liminality, Hermes’ home, occurs: when the ego is separated from a fixed sense of who it is and has been, of where it comes from and its history, of where it is going and its future; when the ego flows through ambiguous spaces in a sense of unbounded time, through a territory of unclear boundaries and uncertain edges…..the function of these messages is to lead the ego forward, and this guidance helps it to do what it has to do, whether this is to enter liminality further, or, later, to emerge out of it…….Liminality, precisely, is the psychological territory in which the Hermetic message and Hermes’ guidance befall the voyager”

So much to think about those concepts really in relation to the ideas of belonging, returning home, managing cross-cultural transitions. Maybe looking at sources of my ancient Greek heritage assists me in re-visiting my cultural identity and finding a place in it or some sort of comfortable or enhancing interaction with it….let’s see where Hermes is taking me or what messages is he bringing…!

More on Hermes (from wikipedia):

As a translator, Hermes is a messenger from the gods to humans, sharing this with Iris. An interpreter who bridges the boundaries with strangers is a hermeneus. Hermes gives us our word “hermeneutics” for the art of interpreting hidden meaning. In Greek a lucky find was a hermaion. Modern mythographers have connected Hermes with the trickster gods of other cultures. In the fully-developed Olympian pantheon, Hermes was the son of Zeus and the Pleiade Maia, a daughter of the Titan Atlas. Hermes’ symbols were the rooster and the tortoise, and he can be recognized by his purse or pouch, winged sandals, winged cap, and the herald’s staff, the kerykeion. Among the Hellenes, as the related word herma (“a boundary stone, crossing point”) would suggest, Hermes embodied the spirit of crossing-over: He was seen to be manifest in any kind of interchange, transfer, transgressions, transcendence, transition, transit or traversal, all of which involve some form of crossing in some sense. This explains his connection with transitions in one’s fortune — with the interchanges of goods, words and information involved in trade, interpretion, oration, writing — with the way in which the wind may transfer objects from one place to another, and with the transition to the afterlife.

see also this link

POSTSCRIPT (2.6.2007):

I sent the above email to my fellow student J. cause I have lately experienced her as ‘my Hermes’ and cause i also know she is finds similar liminal spaces in her own journeying…..and of course, SYNCHRONICITY operated again. Here is how she responded to my email:

“I am currently writing about research as a shamanic journey (beyond the idea
of a metaphor into epistemological theory) – of course that is about
liminality and crossing the threshold into other realms. I wish I could believe what I write sometimes (Hermes the Trickster no doubt) .. of course on one level I do, but
I have recently read Murray Stein’s Mid Life- I am attending a lecture by
him later in June”

What can you tell…..? ‘no comment’

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