When working with the concept of liminality within Middle Eastern religion, it is difficult to stop at one specific type. The type of liminality that I am discussing currently in the upcoming integrative essay is the intermediary that a cultural figure plays between social order and disorder. This brief moment of letting go of certain social expectations, brought on by firm belief in the cultural figures whose rituals require some deviation from the normative, holds the possibility for long term social and cultural change. But we will save that for the actual paper.
The idea of liminality, however, is not solely confined to finding that place or moment of chaos during which social change was most likely. When I first read the prompt, I was very confused and turned to Wikipedia to attempt to understand how liminality could possibly play a role with cultural figures. I read and reread the prompt before I understood the concept as, “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” (Wikipedia, Liminality) To me, this made perfect sense. Of course the Hamadsha and the Zaar ceremonies produced new people with new social identities and the thing that we were supposed to focus on in our paper was the trance. (This was all before I finally turned to Bilu on page 145 and read his definition.) Sidi Ali and Sidi Ahmed for the Hamadsha, the shuwwafat, and the initiates in the Zaar were the cultural figures that held the intermediary positions between Allah and man. This meant that as an intermediary, they ensured the safe passage between what one was and what they became during the trance. During the trance, it is assumed that the spirit possessor has full control of the participant in these ceremonies and it is only once the individual is able to pinpoint what the spirit needs that he or she are able to develop their working relationship. I assumed that this moment of liminality for all of the participants of the ceremonies (and the shuwwafa when they are vocalizing the needs of Aisha Qandisha) is where they must be protected while they undergo their journey.
The idea of this liminality that focused on being in-between who you were and who you will become fell through once I realized that we hadn’t talked enough about the status of one’s soul during the trance, but it also made me think about how we have seen cultural figures stand as intermediaries before. Saints, in particular, are the most universal and accessible figures to whom everyone prays and they are so powerful as cultural figures because people talk about miracles that require power that they gained from their close relationship with the spirit world. Zaar and Hamadsha participants, too, have to tap into the spirit world and become stronger because of their special connection with the spirit world that others don’t have. We have talked about this personal power being a placebo effect for those who need to believe they are powerful until they actually become powerful. While it is necessary for these people to believe in a power outside of themselves to create their new identity, the belief in this power is also a sort of belief in oneself. The need for these intermediaries who have connections to both these human and spirit worlds are powerful and abundant because people need some sort of sense that they can improve themselves. This duality of power coming from oneself and from the spirit world is flexible so that, like the Hamadsha, the personalization of the shuwwafa healing, and every other versions of healing we have experienced in this course, people are able to build themselves as a person using however much personal and spirit help they require.