Victor Turner’s Ideas On Liminality And Initiation Rituals


Liminality refers to the characteristic of initiation as a stage of transition from one step to another. Thus can be said to be the quality of equivocation that happens in the middle of rites stages whereby the neophytes; a term used for beginners in a ritual do not have again their pre-ritual status yet they are have not yet achieved the status to be in when the rite under practice is done and finalized. Victor Turner was a reputable and experienced British cultural anthropologist who gained fame globally due to his good job on rites, symbols, and rituals. The paper summarizes his ideas on Liminality appropriately. (Brown Vega)

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Victor Turner argued that the initiates during the ritual become unclassified. By this Victor Turner demonstrated that neophytes usually were conveyed in symbolic forms on the processes which were like parturition and incubation. This involved the neophytes being given a treatment of infants that were just born recently or handled like embryos under development, Turner then argued that neophytes had a condition that is ambivalent and self-contradictive of various customary listings whereby the initiates were both living and dead in one aspect yet neither dead nor living in the other. Hence he stated that they are the utmost least betwixt and between recognizable fixed points in space in regards to structural classification (Nyamnjoh and Henrietta). The metaphor of dissolution is reflected by the Anthropologist where he indirectly viewed this as an indirect separation from one step to another.

Unstructured ness and being dirty. On this, Victor Turner argued that it involved the association of transition beings into bonds with supreme human power. Here he viewed the liminal beings as not only being in able structurally and polluting in terms of rituals but also secluded in both ends from the domain of cultural included status and states. Additionally, he said that the liminal beings do not have a social quo but have the physical being (Drewery and Claire).

Sexlessness and Prima Matera

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The British anthropologist argued that in the kinship dominated societies, the sex distinctions are vital in the structural composition, the viewed sex distinction is made of patrilineal and matrilineal rules. Whereby he discussed that the transition being is not regarded as female or male. Thus the neophytes were characterized by both sexes’ types regardless of the original sex. They were either bisexual or sexless thus regarded as prima Matera i.e. the raw resource not differentiated. Hence he emphasized on sex distinction being a vital component of structural status.

Unstructured ness and being dirty

Status and Rank

Victor Turner looked on both sides of liminality i.e. structural positive and the structural negative. Thus on the structural negative, the neophyte has absolutely nothing i.e. no status and no rank. Hence the neophytes have no right to good and services or property. He viewed this as a complete prototype of poverty (Edgley and Charles)

Flexibility and being shaped through initiation

Victor turner being a professional anthologist gave ideas on this based on the flexibility and malleability of the neophytes. He argued that the instructors in the ritual Aare key in enabling that there is a transition were the instructor demands total subordination whereas the transforming being requires absolute equity (Gewertz and Deborah). Turner used the example of initiation of girls in south Ndebele the girls are reefed to Orkut-yambisa meaning to germinate. He then stated that the transforming beings are given powers and ability to cope up with more steps of life.

Growth metaphor

Anthropologist Victor Turner viewed this in terms as an ontological progress i.e. the intent to grow. He termed rituals as being educational than the physical mutilation whereby there was seclusion in those who never participated n the ritual i.e. circumcision, the uncircumcised were driven out. The transforming being thus was given rewards by being orchestrated by the community. An example was the Xhosa the uninitiated men were called ilulwane literally a bat meaning no a land creature and an air creature (Turner et al).

Symbols and sacra

Victor turner viewed symbolism around a luminal person as bizarre and composite and was a module on the biological process of human beings whereas for sacra he viewed the vital factor of luminosity to sacra. The parties involved took the form of objects such as god depictions and masks. Turner viewed the communication of sacra as to strengthen the ability of transition beings to think broadly for wide reference scope. He stated that bit also acts as human transfiguration. He associated sacra with limitations such as mystery and frequent disproportion

Question Two

I happened to witness a ritual. Rituals are usually f three types i.e. rites of transition such as pregnancy and initiation, the rite of incorporation i.e. marriage and rites of separation such as the funeral. This one was a rite of transition as it was an initiation ceremony. The origin of the ritual is from the founding father of the Bukusu tribe, Was Khakaba (Nagy and Timothy 41). IT is mainly practiced by the Bukusu community who is a very large community on the southern side. The initiation ceremony in Bukusu is referred to as khwingila meaning to enter i.e.

Sexlessness and Prima Matera

referring to the transition from childhood to adulthood (Bolman et al). The procedure involves the father of the boy prepares everything accordingly. The boy is dressed in animal skins or sack cloths. A jingle (chinyimba) for the boy is prepared. The ceremony is attended by a variety of people including uncles to the boy. The paternal uncle and auntie of the boy are very vital in the occasion.

In the evening there is dancing while a beer pot is prepared. The pot is put in the center of the fathers’ house. As singing continues, ancestors are appeased by pouring beer on the ground. After this, the boy is allowed to sleep for three hours. At 3 o’clock, a grass is plucked and put on his head as a symbol. This symbolizes that the boy is now growing like the grass. At arrival at home, spoken words by aunties who carry sticks in an attempt to beat the boy. The initiate must block them. The symbol is that he should show courage and bravery. It is at this point that the boy now stands hands akimbo ready to face the knife (Thomassen 84)

Explanation of this event as a ritual using Turners ideas

The initiation ceremony by the Bukusu is a ritual phenomenon as it reflects all the views of Victor Turner for a ritual. The event is full of symbols such as the sticking of the plucked grass onto the boys head, the aunties of the boy trying to cane the boy using sticks is a symbol which aims at testing for the courage capacity of the boy. In turners view towards a ritual, there should be an implication to grow. The grass attached to the bot is an indication that the boy has now grown and is still growing just like the grass. In the event, there is no rank and status to the initiate.

Turner’s view of a ritual is that the transition being has got no rank and no status. The uncircumcised men are usually secluded and driven out of the community. This is true as per Victor Turner’s view on the implication to grow. There is unstructuredness in the event whereby the initiates are brought closer to the deities. The initiates here are brought to the supreme human beings through the appeasing of ancestors by pouring of beer on the ground.


Victor Turner as a renowned British anthropologist clearly brings out his perceptions and views on the rituals accordingly. He airs out the types of characteristics from rites of transition to rites of incorporation and rites of separation (Nyamnjoh and Henrietta). He has likened the rituals to African communities which clearly exhibit the rituals well. The personal encounter of a ritual was awesome as it enabled me to know more about rituals and also to relate the views of Victor Turner to the real-life situation. This makes the study of Anthropology more appealing and enticing.


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Brown Vega. “Ritual practices and wrapped objects: unpacking prehispanic Andean sacred bundles.

Drewery, Claire. Modernist Short Fiction by Women: The Liminal in Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair and Virginia Woolf. Routledge, 2016.

Edgley, Charles. “Victor Turner’s Dramaturgical Theory of Ritual.” The Drama of Social Life. Routledge, 2016. 60-73.

Gewertz, Deborah B. “The father who bore me: The role of Tsambunwuro during Chamber initiation ceremonies.” Rituals of Manhood. Routledge, 2017.

Nagy, Timothy. “Lens of Liminality: A Reflection on Faith Sharing in Young Adult Retreat Ministry.” Journal of Youth and Theology 17.1 (2018): 40-60.

Nyamnjoh, Henrietta M. Bridging Mobilities: Its Appropriation by Cameroonians in South Africa and the Netherlands. 2014.

Thomassen, Bjørn. “Liminality Rediscovered: With Victor Turner and Beyond.” Liminality and the Modern. Routledge, 2016. 83-100.

Turner, Victor, Roger D. Abrahams, and Alfred Harris. The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Routledge, 2017.