The Liminal Odyssey
The Alchemical Power of The Spaces In-Between
Reveiw By Joey Madia
I don’t believe that anyone will argue with the statement that we live in deeply troubled and wildly complex times. No matter where you reside on the politico-economic–sociospiritual spectrum, you are probably facing an unprecedented diversity of challenges. As a 53-year-old, I can say that I lived a good part of my life in far simpler times, with far reduced stakes and far less daily stressors.
So… say what you will about the thousands of self-help and spiritual books on the market—there are substantial benefits to engaging with the best works of the acknowledged luminaries in this genre in these Interesting Times. If you have read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, and the works of Wayne Dyer, Brene Brown, Carolin Myss, and Gay Hendricks, then I am sure you have found considerable treasures tucked within their pages. Concepts such as Awareness, Intention, Authenticity, Grace, and Listening to Source and Your Higher Self, while the buzzwords of the genre, are also the alchemical keys to a Life Well and Peacefully Lived.
Given the plethora of books in this genre, the best that one can do is ascertain what is new and unique when the latest book is published. Elucidation of the same regarding The Liminal Odyssey is my primary purpose for this review.
Although several of the luminaries mentioned above are also referenced in Sande Hart’s The Liminal Odyssey, and there are abundant quotes from the likes of Meister Eckhart, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton, Aristotle, Paramahansa Yogananda, and James Hillman (as well as Hart’s five-year-old neighbor Maya!) and several other self-help and spiritual techniques are explored in considerable detail, Hart succeeds in bringing even the veteran spiritual journeyer something new and unique, encapsulated in the book’s subtitle: The Alchemical Power of the Spaces In-Between.
Central to The Liminal Odyssey is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which he developed in the 1970s to organize the common aspects of dozens of world creation and other myths into 12 stages under three headings: Separation, Initiation, and Return. As a writer, story analyst, and teacher, I have used and taught the Hero’s Journey for more than thirty years. It is central to my work and to how I live my life. It became increasingly popular with writers after Campbell’s involvement with George Lucas’s first three Star Wars films and the work of Disney story analyst Christopher Vogler in the 1990s, codified in his book The Writer’s Journey.
Hart brings tremendous insight to the Hero’s Journey by focusing not on the 12 stages (which she reduces to nine) but on the spaces in between them. This is a subtle kind of brilliance and makes abundant sense when she initially presents it. After all, the myths on which the Hero’s Journey is based are intricately tied to the principles of alchemy. By looking closely at making the most of the spaces in between the stages—by working with the nigredo, or raw material, that always awaits us there—we are truly alchemists, making gold from the baser substances of life and its many challenges, crises, and obstacles. The spaces in between are also fundamental to quantum physics, so it is no surprise that Hart references Indra’s Net, to which I was first introduced decades ago in Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics.
The macro truly resides, like fractals and holograms, in the micro of our personal and collective stories.
The Liminal Odyssey also provides valuable perspectives on several corollary ideas related to the Hero’s Journey: the pre-separation stage, at the threshold to the liminal; archetypes (e.g., maiden, mother, crone), slaying the dragon, and entering the cave (the alchemical zone of manifestation); seeing synchronicities as a kind of mile marker or GPS locator; and the arrival of “Ancestors, Allies, and Angels” (also a chapter name), encapsulated in Campbell’s phrase “help will come from unexpected places.” Another of his gems is the idea of following your bliss. Hart breathes new life into each and every one of these well-worn facets of the journey.
Hart’s attention to the Hero’s Journey is also central to the power of her stories. Predominant among them is the recurring story “What about the Dog?” about a happening in 1982 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena during an anti-nukes concert. A dog locked in a car (micro) became a more immediate and therefore important concern than the issue of the nukes (macro). Although not mentioning Brene Brown by name, Hart is clearly in harmony with Brown’s concept of “owning your story,” as she relates deeply personal experiences of her dysfunctional family, leaving home, marriage, and having children. She also shares the details regarding childhood friends with whom she has reconnected, conferences and festivals she has attended, and a visit to Auschwitz. All of these stories, which serve to take the spiritual theories of the book and explore them through tangible actions and events, can be tracked through the Hero’s Journey/Liminal Odyssey. Hart continually invites us to do so.
At the core of undertaking the Hero’s Journey is “Listening for the Call: Answering the Call to Adventure.” Fittingly, the book begins with a chapter titled “Invitation.” In Hart’s case, 9/11 was a powerful catalyst for one of her cycles of Separation, Initiation, and Return. Compelled to take action amidst the events of that tragic day, Hart engaged with interreligious councils comprising Jews, Muslims, and Christians. As her work expanded—as she progressed through the stages of the Hero’s Journey—Indigenous tribes throughout the Americas were also represented, through the Thirteen Indigenous grandmothers and abundant mentions of seven-generations thinking.
Hart and I, although we have never met, share a connection here. In the aftermath of 9/11, I worked closely with the Council of Churches in Marion County, West Virginia, and was invited to read my poem “A New Dawn Calling” at two of their convocations. These were sessions of healing for the community.
Yet again we see the wisdom in Hart’s use of the Hero’s Journey to explicate her Liminal Odyssey work. After all, Joseph Campbell was a comparative mythologist, studying overlaps in not only creation and other myths, but between the world’s religions.
Hart also founded a woman’s group, SARAH (Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope) that has convened two hundred sacred circles as of the time of writing.
Hart spends considerable time—as a result of her multiple Returns—on how to manifest your reality through the power of consciousness. She speaks with authority on the subject of Synchronicity, having experienced it consistently on her journey. And her descriptions of the rituals she has attended add further elements of practice to the theories she presents.
Speaking of, the book closes with a Reference Guide summating the 12 skills shared throughout the chapters, which can be used as an informal exercise manual so you can put these into practice for yourself.
Like a traveler into the desert needs plenty of potable water, the spiritual traveler should always carry plenty of inspirational stories—and Sande Hart’s The Liminal Odyssey is worthy of a prime spot in the spiritual traveler’s knapsack.