liminality


Because I have an abiding love for folklore and all things odd, because I create art out of the liminal aspects of the world in which we live, I can’t very well be in the business of passing judgment on stories of the strange. Folklore is a living, breathing thing, a constant new creation from the imaginations and the deep psyche. So if someone tells me a story of a personal encounter with fairies, or about the ghost they saw, or the strange lights in the sky, I treasure these stories as a peek into the spontaneous eruption of spirit and imagination in the world. As long as human beings roam the earth, new beliefs and tales of the marvelous will erupt from the aether. This is the wellspring of creativity, the fundamental food of imagination.

By necessity, this food is always going to come at us from the fringes of society. It will never be found in the dead heart of academia because by its very nature it is the antithesis of academia. Academia is about cataloguing and studying that which is; folklore and the folk imagination is about creating new from old and old from new, and it is a rich source of spiritual replenishment. Academia has many important functions and I demand that it stay rigorous because we need the rigorous walking hand in hand with the fanciful. Both functions make society cohere.

I don’t buy into everything with one hundred percent credulity. Healthy skepticism is a necessary function of living in both complex societies and less complex. I grow impatient, however, with those who have taken up skepticism as a replacement for religious belief. Their skepticism is as sweeping and dogmatic as ever any organized religion. Theirs is an unhealthy skepticism. The marginal, the liminal, the odd, and the fanciful enrich the world. The more skeptics try to suppress it, the more creative ways the underworld finds to rise to the surface. One of the best analyses of the liminal I have ever seen is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George Hansen. Mr. Hansen uses exhaustive detail and thorough analysis to show why it will never be possible the suppress this underworld.

Yes, we all know about the excesses that beliefs of any kind are prone to, the persecutions that arise from the bonfires of unquestioning faith. That is not what I’m supporting here, what I’m cherishing, because that is not about the spirit. That is dogma—and I do judge dogma. If academia is the antithesis of the creative upwellings of the psyche, dogma is the antithesis of the spiritual. The silly stuff, the stuff that stretches credulity is as necessary to the health of any society as skepticism; it is the breath inside the lungs of culture. The danger comes from the other side of society’s fringe, the extremes of belief, the codifying of the spirit, the hardening of the arteries of fancy.

Judge not lest ye be judged. Judgment, sorting out the good from the chaff is healthy; judgment, the trumpeting of one belief system over another, is a form of societal death. I open my arms to extreme possibility, not to the extremes of judgment.

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Coyote Trickster, Santa Fe by Kelly Moore

This book is a comprehensive overview of parapsychology and the paranormal. Scholarly and dense—definitely not light reading—it is nonetheless well thought out and approachable. Hansen’s exhaustive research of the field shows clear but strange patterns. The paranormal, or psi, is more than the “hoax or delusion” argument with which skeptics often dismiss it, but not quite as true believers portray it, either. Like light particles in the world of quantum physics, the paranormal seems to change its nature based on who is doing the observing. It is most comfortable working in the world of the outsider, the marginalized and liminal, artists, mischief makers, magicians, the social pariahs and anti-establishment types—and in this, shares many of the characteristics of trickster deities throughout the world.

Because tricksters are so often comfortable in the culture of the shunned, it is almost a given that academia will run from psi as a priest from that which is unclean. Serious and impartial study becomes difficult because to engage in it, academics must overcome rigid social taboos and embrace unconventional thought paradigms. Academia is no more immune from societal pressures and conventional thinking than any other human institution. As Hansen himself states, “The widespread, subtly negative attitude toward fantasy, imagery, and the imagination indirectly acknowledges its power and the need to keep it constrained.” There is also the very real danger of becoming so drawn into the subject one loses one’s ability to tell fantasy from reality. Loss of objectivity comes in many forms.

I don’t think any summary I achieve here could do justice to the amount of researcher Mr. Hansen has laid out in this book, encompassing a multiplicity of disciplines from physics to anthropology, psychology to deconstructionism, lab parapsychology to professional magic. For a meticulous and original view of the field—its history, current trends, and deeper philosophical meaning—The Trickster and the Paranormal cannot be beat.

Random quote of the day:

“Each generation see[s]…sparks which we ignore just because they don’t fit into our picture of science or knowledge.”

—Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Paris Review, Fall 1968, No. 44

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.