The Liminality Of Legends

January 23, 2023


From Latin limen.
Being on a threshold.
A state of transition.
The quality of ambiguity or disorientation.

I imagine many of us have played the Telephone Game where people sit in a circle and whisper a phrase to the next person until that phrase comes back full circle completely transformed. Apparently there’s an updated version, the Whisperer Challenge, where everyone’s required to wear headphones and listen to loud music, passing the message along through lip reading. One suggested phrase from a long list of possibilities: 
A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse. Feel free to dive down that rabbit hole yourself.

If a word or phrase can get distorted in just a matter of minutes by just a few people, I wonder how legends and stories passed down through millennia survive with any integrity. I appreciate the memorization required in the Druidic, Bardic, and Seanchaí (story teller) traditions in Ireland as an attempt to preserve that integrity. Yet even if the legends and stories remained the same, the cultural context did not. As those legends spiraled down through the course of history, they spiraled through shifting cultural perspectives and beliefs. Legends that at one time may have been considered been entirely plausible are today considered fantastical, well beyond the realm of reason.

Take shape shifting as one example. Myths and legends around the world are filled with stories of shifting between realms and shapes. Wise woman to hare is one of the most popular shape shifting legends in Ireland and even within the last hundred years, folklorists gathered accounts from those who swore this to be true. They had witnessed it. 

Ancient cultures, and apparently not so ancient cultures, held a very different knowing of what was possible within an alliance with natural world and other world energies. Thoughtful speculation aside, we can really only begin to imagine those possibilities. We can only begin to imagine the cultural consciousness present when these stories, myths, and legends came into being. There is indeed both a quality of ambiguity and disorientation in this together with a threshold, an invitation, for more exploration.

When Mary O’Halloran sent me this photo of the Callanish Stone Circle in Scotland, it was just such a threshold moment. One can immediately see the cloaked Druid shapes of the stones. Known as a Druid circle, legend tells us these stones were once people who were cursed by an evil witch. It’s a legend similar to stones of the Long Meg and Her Daughters circle that were once a coven of witches turned to stone by a wizard, the stones in the Nine Ladies Stone Circle who were maidens until they were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath, and the Piper’s Stones who were also a group of dancers and piper musicians turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.

That these circles of stones are millennia older than Sabbath celebrations begs a question of the original legend and lore and offers a glimpse of the many liminal layers within these stories and legends. These are the stories and legends today. What were the stories and legends long ago and how did those come into being? It’s likely we will never know.

But perhaps it’s enough to know, to appreciate, that there is a liminal quality of the myths, legends, and lore. Perhaps it’s enough to stand at the threshold and know there is much more beyond our current understanding.


1 thought on “The Liminality Of Legends

  1. I’ve read or otherwise been told many folklore stories about changes and transformations. I must admit I haven’t considered how real the changes might be and apply. We often are confused by what we see. What if actual shape-shifting were involved? Stone circles, even constellations might bear better consideration beyond memorial or static-story understanding.

Comments are closed.