The symbolic displays that people encounter within ritual experiences can be overwhelming and difficult to interpret. So, when confusion is at its height, guides come forward to help participants understand and apply the meaning inherent in recombined symbols.
Ritual guides are the stage managers of the liminal performance, with the responsibility of maintaining a tricky balance in the threshold experience. In order to provoke transformation, they must expose participants to frightening dangers, and allow them to experience some hurt, while ensuring their ultimate overall safety. They must confront initiates with challenges to their beliefs, while also offering ideas that seem to arise authentically out of ritual participants’ own experiences. They must guide the way, but also allow participants to become lost before forging their own paths forward.
To navigate the apparent chaos of the liminal realm, the guides of ritual must be able to step inside liminal thresholds, yet maintain the perspective of social reality outside of the ritual experience. They are intermediaries who build bridges between identities, moving back and forth through the threshold between. They are boundary crossers, familiar and trusted by people both inside and outside the ritual. They are tricksters, but their role is to remain stable themselves, so that ritual participants who have become fluid can be placed in a mold that suits the new identity that they seek.