Communitas: Liminality During The Transition

Communitas: Liminality during transition

Everyone of us who has taken part in a pilgrimage knows that it is a special experience. Even so, we may know little about the concept of communitas. When we hike with strangers and we share a common goal with them, we form special bonds. A goal, a shared path, and an unexpected affinity can work almost magically on our relationships.

The anthropologist Victor Turner studied this phenomenon. He believed that pilgrimages can be divided into different phases. For him, a pilgrimage consisted of several phases. The first phase is leaving society. But the return of the pilgrim changed by the journey to society would also mark a phase of its own. Turner believed that the most important part of a pilgrimage was the community it created. He called this special relationship between travelers “Communitas”.

Passage rites

Passage rites, which also include the election journey, consist of three different phases that are connected to one another. These phases are:

  • Separation phase
  • Threshold phase or liminality
  • Reintegration

In the first phase, people separate from their previous social community. They leave their everyday lives. Above all, this act has a symbolic meaning and this phase consists of packing, saying goodbye and making inquiries about what to expect on the journey ahead.

Woman with suitcase

The second phase, that of liminality, denotes the actual journey that these people undertake. In this phase, the previously cultivated ideas of space and time change. Time passes differently, and pilgrims stop checking them all the time. They may walk more slowly to take in the scenery and views. The present moment becomes more important than the future.

In this phase, the travelers share a common goal, they share it with all other hikers who go on the same pilgrimage. That goal could be to achieve a goal, or at least to get through the next stage. These common goals lead to a common identity.

The final phase is that of reintegration. This means that the pilgrimage is coming to an end. The pilgrims return home to their normal routine. Your journey is over – and yet nothing is like it was before. People who finish a pilgrimage tend to return home more relaxed. They often enjoy a new social status. You see routine work and boring activities in a new light. The small details become more important and relationships with others are valued more.

But what happens on a pilgrimage that leads to this?


Of the above phases, the liminality phase is the most important. She is the one who shapes the pilgrimage. During this phase, something happens that changes us and how we see the world. That something is the experience of communitas.

There are no social preconditions in liminality. The daily rules and restrictions that we normally are subject to are no longer relevant and we enjoy a unique freedom. Our social status doesn’t matter, our job becomes a minor matter. What we have learned or what degree we have taken is not important. It doesn’t matter whether we are religious or not. All pilgrims are the same.

Travel partner

According to Turner, communitas is community, the feeling of social equality, solidarity and union. This form of human bond is based on irrational, egalitarian ties to other people. There is no reason for the other pilgrims to connect with us, but that is exactly what happens on the journey. In other situations, the same people would never become our friends. But under these conditions people become more than just friends. It doesn’t matter what we have in common with the other pilgrims in everyday life and what separates us from each other. It’s all about the here and now. It is a valuable time to experience communitas.

Creation and destruction

Communitas is a very intense experience. It increases our senses and activates our intuition. We are very emotional and tend to think less rationally and sensibly when we experience them. However, this experience is only temporary and does not always have a long lasting effect; it makes sense to search for them repeatedly.

Communitas can also destroy order. In this state, in which ordinary social rules do not apply, we can end up in chaotic states determined by destruction. On the other hand, communitas can lead to creation. The state of liminality can help to find new rules and values ​​or to restore lost values.

Types of communitas

Turner distinguished between different types of communitas: existential or spontaneous, normative and ideological.

  • Spontaneous communitas arises during cultural events that do not correspond to the mainstream. If we take part in such an event, the rules of which violate applicable cultural norms, we can experience community spirit.
  • Normative communitas, on the other hand, arise when social control is necessary. This type is derived from the spontaneous community. This category includes pilgrimages, for example.
  • Finally, we find ideological communitas in utopian societies. Here everyone shares an ideal or a utopia.
Several people walk on a dirt road.

While a spontaneous communitas arises outside of social norms and social structures, normative and ideological communitas are founded within established structures. Therefore, spontaneous community is freer and can more easily lead to change.

In summary, we can say that we often go on pilgrimages voluntarily, even if we may not call them that. We leave our home, travel to new countries and experience new states of being that let us experience communitas. Communitas overcomes the division between people and leads to social union. If we have already experienced this state, we know how great it is. If not, what are we waiting for?

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