Liminal being

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Chiron, half man, half horse: instructing Achilles

A liminal being is one that cannot be easily placed into a single category of existence. Associated with the threshold state of liminality, such beings represent and highlight the semi-autonomous boundaries of the social world.[1]

Liminal beings are naturally ambiguous, challenging the cultural networks of social classification.[2]

Liminal entities[edit]

Victor Turner considered that liminal entities, such as those undergoing initiation rites, often appeared in the form of monsters, so as to represent the co-presence of opposites - high/low; good/bad - in the liminal experience.[3]

Liminal personas are structurally and socially invisible, having left one set of classifications and not yet entered another.[4] Mary Douglas has highlighted the dangerous aspects of such liminal beings,[5] but they are also potentially beneficent. Thus we often find presiding over a ritual's liminal stage a semi-human shaman figure, or a powerful mentor with animal aspects, such as a centaur.[6]

By extension, liminal beings of a mixed, hybrid nature appear regularly in myth, legend and fantasy.

Legendary liminal beings[edit]

A legendary liminal being is a legendary creature that combines two distinct states of simultaneous existence within one physical body. This unique perspective may provide the liminal being with wisdom and the ability to instruct, making them suitable mentors, whilst also making them dangerous and uncanny.

Many beings in fantasy and folklore exist in liminal states impossible in actual beings:

Hybrids (two species):

Both human and spirit by blood:

Both human and vegetable:

Both alive and dead:

Both human and machine:

Both human and alien:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Frank Musgrove, Margins of the Mind (Taylor & Francis) p. 8
  2. ^ Dean A. Nicholas, The Trickster Revisited p. 37
  3. ^ J. C. Alexander and S. Seidman, Culture and Society (Cambridge 1990) p. 147-9
  4. ^ Thomas Quartier, Bridging the Gaps p. 103-4
  5. ^ Llynne Hume, Portals (2007) p. 110
  6. ^ Aniela Jaffe and Joseph Henderson, in C. G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 19780 p. 261-2 and p. 101
  7. ^ Teresa de Lauretis, Freud's Drive (Basingstoke 2008) p. 119
  8. ^ Katharine Briggs (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York, Pantheon Books. "Wizards" p.440 ISBN 0-394-73467-X

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]