Betwixt and Between
The anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep was one of the first researchers in Western thought to study and identify Rites of Passage. A “Rite of Passage” is an undertaking in which an individual or a group sets out to change their status within their community and mark it with ceremony. Modern, western society does not have the many rites of passage as in ancient times. But we do mark important life events. For example, marriage, Bar Mitzvah, Baptism even death is met with a rite.
Right of Passage could be summed up as an encounter with the soul by temporarily displacing everyday consciousness. Van Gennep noted that there are generally 3 stages in order as follows: Separation, Liminality, and Incorporation. An individual leaves the comfort of an existing routine or lifestyle (separation), steps into the liminal space which Van Gennep described as “betwixt and between” (neither here nor there) and finally incorporation (Return). Returning, the person or group brings wisdom or knowledge of one's inner gifts to share for the betterment and sustenance of their community.
It is nearly three weeks since completing my 450 mile walk across northern Spain to the city of Santiago. In retrospect, I realized that for me my journey on the Camino de Santiago was very much a rite of passage. In a conversation with a friend recently, in which she asked about altered states of consciousness, I also recognized that I had been in an altered state while walking. Up until that moment I had not thought of it as such.
I was in an altered state. Whether it was the pure physicality of the daily routine of waking up, packing and walking all day every day for days on end or the fact that I was following a path over 2000 years old, established by people on a spiritual quest older than Christ is anybody’s guess. It is a combination of the two and possibly even more factors that I have not become aware of yet. For me, the return is still unfolding and will continue to do so for some time.
In any case thinking back on those days and while it is still fresh in my mind, I did feel as though I was walking between two worlds. Some cultures believe that there are multiple worlds and realities that co-exist on the linear plane of time. And that these can be accessed through an altered state. My brother the scientist would probably disagree. But I’m not sure science can prove or disprove transcendent experience. There are people who also believe that there are mystical portals where the veil between these worlds is thin, very thin, where it is possible to cross a threshold from this world or reality to another. There are entire libraries rich with literary examples.
For my part, I spent years walking and living outside in the remote desert south west of the United States and this is where I first really noticed this phenomenon. There were numerous small un-named canyons and sandy drainages where I had walked time after time after time, over the course of years. For some reason on one particular day, things just looked and felt different. The landscape had not changed but I felt disoriented as if the world had suddenly shifted at an angle of 20 degrees. Did this really happen? I don’t eat funny mushrooms or smoke drugs. So, I can’t blame it on the use of mind altering substances as a reason. Did I step into the space between? Is it true in the sense of any reality being absolute? I can’t say. But it was accurate for me at that time as I did not have another explanation.
I believe I was walking between the worlds then in the desert. I felt like I was neither here nor there. Van Gennep called it “bewixt and between”. What happened while walking the Way of Saint James felt similar only this time there was no disorientation. I never felt lost, perplexed or frightened.
I was walking “between the worlds”. So the question now is what and where is that other world? Can it be defined as a 3 dimensional space, a geographic location on a map? It is an abstract reality in the unconscious mind, the one that connects the mystical to humanity; faith to experience?
The next question is where did I arrive?
Thanks for reading