ACIS Logo To the Sacred from the Wild: Liminal Place as Transformative Space in Early Medieval Irish Texts

This essay will explore in a variety of early medieval Irish texts the presentation of the wilderness as a liminal‚ that is, threshold‚ place that becomes a space which provides opportunities for individuals to move from one kind of existence and consciousness to another: from the human to the divine, from the secular to, paradoxically, the sacred. While this understanding of space/place may be found in both religious and secular texts, my essay will address only religious texts that offer similar but distinct portraits of the “wild,” or the natural world, as the place in which and from which the individual (sometimes a saintly figure, sometimes just an average person) moves from inchoate or latent belief in the holy to a more profound and definitive spiritual consciousness and recognition of the sacred, often articulated as a Trinitarian presence. I am in accord with the distinctive notions of place and space as articulated by Michel de Certeau: place as the basic structure wherein relationships are formed, each item with a location and configuration of locations, and space as the activity within a place incorporating time and direction, movement and interaction. So, for example, the “place” of a street becomes a “space” as people and other objects move within that place, or the place of a page of text becomes a space when someone reads the content of the page. For the purposes of this paper, I will argue that the places of the “wild” in early medieval (ca. 8th-11th c.) Irish poems (like the 8th c. Irish poem ‚”The King and the Hermit‚”) and devotional texts are liminal sites that become spaces of transformation as individuals experience or develop a relationship with God (usually in some form of the Trinity), a relationship that seems not available in the closed spaces of rooms or other enclosures.

Published on: March 31, 2020