Book Review – Learning to Love the Spaces in Between: Discover the Power of Liminal Spaces by Claire Gillman

Book Review

Learning to Love the Spaces in Between:

Discover the Power of Liminal Spaces

by Claire Gillman

Publisher: Welbeck Balance

200 Pages

Release Date: January 3, 2023



From the publisher: 

The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold. A liminal space is the ‘crossing over’ space, the time between ‘what was’ and the ‘what is to come’, and a place of transition and possibility. Each of us experiences liminality in our lives – learning how to navigate and embrace its power can enhance our wellbeing and our understanding of the world. Being in liminal space can be unnerving, yet it is often where insight, creativity and inspiration are found.

Liminality can be a metaphysical state – the place between sleep and wakefulness, between life and death where consciousness is altered – or it can be a physical space: an empty art gallery, or the moment just before it rains. In an age where so much is known, defined and explained, the feelings we derive from liminal spaces continues to enchant us and to disturb our equilibrium and complacency.

Using a combination of commentary and interviews with leading luminaries within their specific fields, Learning to Love the Spaces in Between explores both physical and metaphysical liminal spaces. The text provides not only an explanation from both spiritual and scientific perspectives but also suggestions on practical steps we can take to encourage us to explore the uncomfortable feelings that arise when we are in the unknown.

Welcome to the boundless possibility of liminality.

The first chapter of this book is titled ‘Transition and Change – the Fertile Void’. I am writing this review on Samhain, when The Cailleach rises to power. “The Cailleach (KAL-y-ach), is the Crone Goddess of winter and transformation. She arises on Samhain night using a slachdan to control the power of winter cold, winds, and storms.” (Sacred Wicca) Winter is the in-between time, the time for going within, for contemplation, for renewal, the feminine womb time of darkness. This is my interpretation and not from the book. When my editor offered this book, I had been contemplating the in-between places and the animals that frequent those places so I agreed to read and review it.

She begins the book telling of a walking trip across the Scottish Highlands. I have always been fascinated with Scotland, Ireland, and Wales because while I am American through and through, my ancestors came from the ‘auld countries’. I will not see those countries in this lifetime so I devour the descriptions such as this that tell me of the landscape – mystical, otherworldly, full of energy. Her guide told her she was ‘in a thin place – experiencing the liminal’. Where the land meets the sea is a perfect description of a liminal space. Another that I myself experienced and will never forget was when a friend and I journeyed up Cherohala Skyway one Yule. We were on a mountaintop and a cloud came down and kissed the mountain. It was ethereal. We were in two dimensions at once. The author further describes liminality as that state between sleep and wakefulness when you are totally neither.

She speaks of the Covid-19 lock-down and how it forced so many into changes they would not have made voluntarily. Many of them found out their lives were much better after the changes. It caused them to know they could cope with changes that came and be less fearful about what happens in their life.

“Psychologically and emotionally we crave homeostasis and predictability, though there are times in our lives when a decision or change is necessary and we’re just not sure what to do or are uneasy about making the wrong decision. At times like these, talking about your dilemma or taking yourself off to get a different perspective on your life can be helpful.”

She speaks of the traditional ‘vision quest’ and going off alone for several days to tap into the unseen wisdom all around you. Nowadays, you cannot always just ‘pick up and go’ but recognizing the call and being ready to go is important. “But for us, in Western culture, it can be at any time. It’s like answering the call. You can be 65 years old and you get the call. What is the call? Well, it’s this yearning. You know something needs to change. It can come literally at any time. It’s not about the physicalness of your life. It’s more in the realm of your soul. The important thing is to listen. So often people say, ‘Well, I don’t have time for it,’ or ‘I can’t do it now. Maybe next year.’ But, if you can just skid to a halt and say, ‘Okay, I heard you, and I’m ready,’ that decision, even before you go on a quest, that’s the point of power, because you’re listening.” A quest of any kind is a heroic journey.

She talked with Robert Holden and he has some excellent advice.

When we hover on the brink between living and dying, we are in a liminal space. Since nowadays, most people die in a hospital or hospital, we have lost sight of the stages of death a person goes through. Some cultures simply view death as a transition to another form of existence. Some see a continuous interaction between the living and the dead. Some see a continuing circle of life, death, and rebirth while atheists view death as the total end with nothing beyond it.

Felicity Harner, a soul midwife, says, “I’m fascinated by the three days leading up to death and the three days after death, because they’re so rich in the process that people go through. The things I’ve seen to support that have given me such insights about that transitionary state. Putting it in a nutshell, as people become more poorly and their bodies are deteriorating, they start to blossom on a spiritual level – there’s a sort of dynamic shift. For many, the body is getting weak but, inside, there’s something like a quickening really and, being trained, I can see this happening.

“When people are on the cusp of leaving this world, it’s as if their field extends and they become much more sensitive to things, almost as if they are inhabiting two worlds at the same time. So, they often see people that we don’t see, and they’ll often have a conversation with someone who you can’t see in the room, but the conversation is full of clarity and utterly extraordinary. They may see lights and colours. This is well-documented, and I just see it as them extending their vibrational range really. You get this real kind of in-between threshold energy and threshold experience. It can be a wonderful stage for people; not everybody, but most people, in my experience. Some who experience these states are incredibly calmed by them and reassured. It’s the most wonderful thing to watch.”

Some people fight death all the way until it claims them. Some welcome it gladly with a smile on their face like a longed-for friend. We should make peace with those in our lives at every stage in our lives and not wait until we think we are dying to ‘take care of business’. We may not have time to do so. She relates NDE (near death experiences) and OBE (out of body) experiences done by an ICU nurse.

She explores some questions that many people have and asks them of experts. How do you explain a near death experience? Can you give me a definition of consciousness? Why is it not possible to perceive this liminal information field all the time?

Science, it seems, is now lending credence and support to the age-old beliefs and views of the spiritual wisdom traditions. Nonetheless, Anthony Peake prefers to fall back on science, explaining that the Universe is a far stranger place than we can ever imagine, but that it works within the science. Yet he agrees that they do the research because they have an overriding need to understand what is happening.

Chapter 4 is on mind-altering practices and substances. “The entheogenic properties of plant medicines have been used for centuries in some tribal and shamanic traditions, not only as a way to commune with the spirits but also as part of a healing process. Our forebears relied heavily on tree and plant magic, and the local wisewoman would be called upon for her knowledge of the healing properties of local herbs and plants. We know that the botanical knowledge of these traditional peoples was broad, and it’s worth remembering that they used pharmacologically active plants not just as medicine and hallucinogens, but also as a poison – the difference often being only a matter of dosage. In the past, wise women knew that the active principals of certain European hallucinogens – including belladonna (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) and datura (Datura metel) – can be absorbed directly through the skin.” We have lost much of the lore of the past but the spirits are with us as much as they ever were. I do not recommend that anyone use any plant indiscriminately. The role of the shaman ranges from that of an enabler who holds the space while you partake, to someone who performs rituals and directs the ceremony.

In chapter 5, she discusses ‘tapping into the divine’. We are in a time of great turmoil and it is quite common for people to undergo transformation when they are in times of turmoil – health situations, climate emergencies (tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, etc), political instability, and so on. Spiritual developments is probably the most significant trend of our time. We are in between what we know and what we don’t know. It is a sense of God within as opposed to ‘out there somewhere’. “Spiritual awakening happens involuntarily”.

Accessing the spiritual realms – spiritual seekers from around the world have used methods such as meditation, prayer, solitude for contemplation and introspection, and being in nature to commune with the divine, with the gods, angels or with higher powers, depending on their beliefs. There is a very good discussion on prayer.

Chapter 6 is on tuning in to the natural phases and cycles. For the ancient Celts, the year was divided into the dark half and the light half. Winter (Samhain) and Summer (Beltane) were the festivals that marked the beginning – not the middle – of these seasons. The cross-quarter days of Imbolc and Lammas (Lughnasadh) came in between Samhain and Beltane. The cusps of the calendar year represent the in-between state when we move from one type of energy to the other.

You don’t have to wait for the changing of the seasons, though, for an ideal liminal time as we have two every day in dawn and dusk. Pause and reach out to spirit with your own inner voice. When you set your intentions, you are in sacred space.

Chapter 7 speaks of wilderness, thin places and pilgrimage. I am sure we have all come upon those places that are mystical and ephemeral, that seem to be only a step away from the otherworld. You may well have been! They are not as rare as you might think! I mentioned Big Junction Gap on the Cherohala Skyway earlier and the trip my friend Yzzy and I took that long ago Yule. I think, that at that point in time, not only were she & I standing on the TN/NC line, we were also standing before a portal of the otherworld. The feeling for me has never been duplicated. Yes, ley lines run all through these mountains but this was more! It also coincided with a route our Native ancestors once walked. Denise Linn says a combination of these can connect to a sacred space within you. That and the fact we were in two dimensions at once – earth and sky – connected to sacred space within us both and we connected to the liminal.

Eric Weiner says: “You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectations. Nothing gets in the way of a genuine experience more than expectations, which explains why so many ‘spiritual journeys’ disappoint.”

Mindie Burgoyne says: “You can look for thin places, but frequently they will find you. Once you set your spirit on finding them – they will actually find you. There is an intrinsic, mystical spirit woven into the fabric of nature, landscape and sky that calls out to every human heart – if only the heart is willing to listen.”

Phyllis Currott says: “We’ve forgotten that the natural world is our practical teacher and our spiritual teacher. When we come into the presence of the liminal, it’s all about touching the potential that comes from inside of us, but also comes from something greater. When we honour it and respect it, then it starts to trigger us to do that in harmony.”

Spend time in the natural world. Pay attention. It is as simple as stepping out with awareness and gratitude. Be thankful. Take time for reflection. Make an offering – even if it’s just a handful of bird seed or a libation of spring water.

Chapter 8 discusses our natural world on the brink. Is it too late or is there time to turn things around? We look at the havoc mankind has wrought and we despair. It seems to be beyond our ability to even begin to repair the damage, especially since so many refuse to admit there is a problem. We need a strong grassroots movement. Change can happen. Hope can be found. We have a collective responsibility. But it is a process and it won’t happen overnight. The earth can heal if we stop damaging her. Do what you can. Every little bit help. We need to become a Conscious Planet. She gives suggestions to help you cut your consumption, ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

It is well researched, well documented, and well written, There are a lot of good parts and a lot of good information. Even so, not everyone will be able to get into it. I learned a lot but I will be frank. There were some parts I had trouble getting through. If you are interested in liminal spaces, read this book. She has done a lot of your work for you.

About the author:

Claire Gillman is an experienced journalist, former editor of Kindred Spirit Magazine and the author of over 30 books. Claire specializes in writing on wellbeing and alternative health, parenting and spirituality for magazines and national newspapers. Prior to joining Kindred Spirit, she was the editor of a number of consumer women’s magazines, including Health & Fitness magazine. Claire resides in Lancashire, UK.


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About the Author:

Katy Ravensong

Katy Ravensong is a practicing green witch in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. She was raised here where she ran barefoot & free. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, voracious reader, crocheter, and amateur herbalist. She glories in the freedom that comes with being a Crone ~ when she is gone, she will not be known as a woman who could keep her mouth shut! She is disabled, yet tries to make disability work for her. She is an advocate for human rights. She is Dean of Wortcunning and Assistant Dean of Natural Philosophy at The Grey School of Wizardry. She has studied with various herbal teachers, with Witch School International, with Avalonian Institute of Metaphysical Arts, and is a priestess with the Sisters of Earthsong, Order of the White Moon. Her poetry has been featured in several publications including ‘Pagan Poetry for the Festivals and Seasons’ by Wyrdwood Publications edited by Edain Duguay, 2008. Her favorite quote is from Emily Dickinson “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”