What Did I Learn on My First Day at University? Liminality!

So far, studying at the University of Edinburgh is not quite what I expected.  I am making this very cunning judgment after one entire day, which is why I have such a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  Here’s basically how my day went:

  • Saunter down to George Square and arrive at Scottish Studies building right on time for first class: Celtic Literature.
  • Discover that professor for first lecture is not there yet.
  • Watch unfortunate alternate professor attempt to take up the hour with the syllabus and a general explanation of the topic.
  • Attend second class: Modern Gaidhlig.
  • Listen to programme coordinator explain the course and then finally pass it off to the prof.
  • Prof: “We aren’t going to learn anything today! Yay!”
  • Students: *dissatisfied stare of academically inclined individuals who have been lied to*
  • Prof:  “Well maybe two things.”  *teaches us how to say “How are you” and “I am well” in Scots Gaelic.  We dutifully repeat.  Class is dismissed early.
  • Attend third class with high hopes: Middle Welsh Translation!
  • Hopes dashed because it is the same professor as the first class and she is still not there.
  • Same alternate professor apologetically takes us through syllabus and dismisses us an hour early.
  • Hopelessly trudge to final class: Bibliography and Study Methods
  • A basic overview of the course ensues with some useful explanations followed by an offhand description of the previous year’s oral presentation theme: Liminality.

What does that mean?

And then I finally learned something.

Liminality is a word that is rarely used, but the incredible breadth of its meaning in terms of my area of study (Celtic literature, particularly the Otherworld) is phenomenal.  It is a word with a lot of various uses, but one aspect of it is as a threshold, turning point, or in-between area/stage.

When I heard this, the lightbulb was illumined and I sat up straighter, grinned manically at the prof, and felt like I had finally arrived.

Daytime or nighttime! Liminality in Scotland!

Liminality is the faerie hill, the standing stone, the crossroads, the dark forest, twilight, and the passing of summer into autumn.  In terms of Celtic literature, religion, and mythology, liminality refers to that place between places, time between times, and element of being in two places at once or in no place at all.

It really had nothing to do with that class, but the word has everything to do with what I’m studying.

So four classes later, I am content.  I am in Scotland, I am attending the University of Edinburgh, and I learned something today!


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on September 20, 2011, in Faerie, Fantasy, Language, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Words and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Liminality is a cool concept. But caveat emptor: the word has been so used to death in the literary journals, it has become such a scholarly fad to apply it to anything and everything whether it is relevant or not, that I cringe now every time I see it. It is such an interesting concept, as you just discovered, that you can see why this temptation exists. So: Enjoy the concept, but be wary of the word. Just a little friendly advice from a veteran of the wars.

    • I can imagine that such a cool word would become a bit overdone, though I find it surprising that in my three or so years of intensive research in Celtic studies, none of the articles I read ever used it that I can recall.

  2. The first day of school is always like that . . . a bunch of talking that has little or no purpose. Hopefully day two will be a little more productive. Regardless, it sounds like you’re in a beautiful place and will be learning some pretty fascinating things. 🙂

    • I am warming up to my classes. Today, we began a more intensive look at Irish history and I learned a whole wealth of inane sayings in Scots Gaelic. So long as someone asks me my name and how I’m doing, I can hold a conversation like a regular old native!

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