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Thin Places and the Other Side are linked. Sometimes just by existing (crossroads, cemeteries, etc.) and sometimes through sacred days (Samhain, Beltane, etc.)
If modern and ancient folklore can be believed, Samhain is the time when our world and the Other Side are the closest to being one.
In BBC’s Merlin, Morgana used this link to tear the veil between worlds.
But it’s more complicated than that…
The Celts believed the year was divided into two parts, the lighter half in the summer and the darker half in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the division between these halves. The Celts believed that the veil between our world and the other world was thinnest at this time. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day, when those who have passed away are remembered. According to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, Celts wore costumes to confuse the spirits now roaming our world and to avoid capture.
To read great Samhain folklore feats, go to http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/top-spooky-ancient-irish-myths-surrounding-halloween-229248101-237784691
Samhain is the first day of winter. It is the end of one pastoral year and the commencement of the next. It is the time when the hopes and plans of mortals focus below the earth and around the hearth, paralleling the germination of the seeds and plants, or the hibernation and byring of the beasts. It is the time when the night becomes longer than the day. During this festival, summer becomes winter, day becomes night, life becomes death; and the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed. It was at Samhain then, that the gateways to the ‘Otherworld’ or the ‘sídh’ were opened and divine beings, the spirits of the dead, and indeed mortals could move freely between one world and the next. Sídhe are the special dwelling places of the ‘otherworld’ people and have also been called Fairy Hills, such as Brugh na Bóinne, best known for the Newgrange site.
Many of the more curious and supernatural events in Irish mythology are associated with Samhain, including two of the legends associated with Newgrange and Aonghus.
In more recent times Irish folk memory led to such practices at Hallow Eve as leaving pairs of chestnuts by an open fire as auguries for betrothed couples. If they stayed together on being heated then harmony would prevail. If they scattered apart there would be strife in the union. A good fire was always left burning that night for the fairies. People avoided taking shortcuts across beaches, fields or cliffs for fear the fairies would lead them astray. A candle knocked over on Hallow Eve night was an ill omen. If a girl sat before a mirror at midnight eating an apple she would see her future husband in the mirror.
Like all main festivals, Samhain is a gateway, a transition from one season to another. In Celtic mythology, at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither and in both at the same time.
The old tales tell how the gates of the world stand open at this time. Journeys to the “other world”, either metaphorically or otherwise, may well be transformative. It is for this reason that Samhain can be seen as a time when the past and future are available to the present.
There’s much more to Samhain that can be read at http://www.tryskelion.com/sab_01_sam_folklore.html
Obviously Samhain is one of the great gateways to the Other Side. But there are others.
Llyn Cwm Llwch is a small lake that lies below the highest peak in South Wales called Pen y Fan. Legend tells that there is an invisible island in the lake that could only be reached by a door that was set in a rock. Every May Day the door would open and some of the bolder local people would enter and pass down a passage that opened up in a garden that was set upon the island. Although the shores of the lake could clearly be seen from the island, the island remained invisible to those on the shore.
Those who entered the door and visited the invisible island found themselves in an enchanted garden. This garden was filled with the most beautiful flowers of the most wonderful colours and trees hanging with luscious fruit ripe for eating grew all around. Beautiful birds sang happy songs in the trees and butterflies flitted between the flowers. It really was a most enchanted place.
For the rest of the legend, go read https://ztevetevans.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/welsh-folkore-legends-of-llyn-cwm-llwch/
Even folktales have whispers of the Other Side.
Anyone who’d ever read “The Juniper Tree” by the Brothers Grimm will know that it’s a horrid tale about stepfamily – but it’s also a tale about the Other Side and Thin Places.
“Then the juniper tree began to move, and its branches lifted themselves each from the other and came together again, just like someone rejoicing and clapping his hands. At the same time a mist rose from the tree, and right inside the mist a burning – like fire – and out of the fire there flew a beautiful bird, singing so it was wonderful to hear, and flew off high into the sky, and when he was gone the juniper tree was just as it had always been and the shawl and the bones were gone too. But little Malinka was light-hearted and happy just as though her brother was still alive – and she went back to the house, all cheerful, sat down at the table and ate up her supper.”
– The Juniper Tree, the Brothers Grimm.
As creepy as it is, the juniper tree gives a woman a child (let’s not get into that) and she dies after giving birth. Her husband remarries and his new wife kills his son – makes their daughter believe she’d done it and then cooks the boy in a stew. In the extract above, the little boy’s sister buries his bones in the shadow of the juniper tree.
Still a little unclear about what Thin Places are?
Some sacred places seem filled with great power and enchantment. Some folks claim to feel a connection to a deeper wisdom and experience break-throughs into alternate realities. These places are called “thin places.”
According to Edward C. Sellner in Wisdom of the Celtic Saints,
The early Celts believed in “thin places”: geographical locations scattered throughout Ireland and the British Isles where a person experiences only a very thin divide between past, present, and future times; places where a person is somehow able, possibly only for a moment, to encounter a more ancient reality within present time; or places where perhaps only in a glance we are somehow transported into the future. Some of the stories here that associate the Saints with intuitive and psychic powers attest to these “thin places.”
Thin Places and the Other Side are usually connected.
Food was often set out for loved ones who had departed, but it was a tricky time as you also had to avoid any other spirits that might not be up to any good. Samhain was seen as a kind of ‘nowhere’ time, neither part of the old year or the new. It was a night when spirits could cross the very thin veil between the dead and the living. Druids would wear masks to ward off evil spirits and people generally avoided graveyards and crossroads and any other place that might be a portal into the Underworld (there are more than you might think!)
What is a thin place? A thin place is a place of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.
Thin places aren’t perceived with the five senses. Experiencing them goes beyond those limits.
Fascination with the “Other world” has occupied our human minds since early recordings of history and likely before that. A thin place pulsates with an energy that connects with our own energy – we feel it, but we do not see it. We know there’s another side – another world – another existence. To some it is heaven, the Kingdom, paradise. To others it may be hell, an abyss, the unknown. Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are almost palpable.
For the full introduction to what Thin Places are, go to http://www.thinplaces.net/openingarticle.htm
I’ve always loved the mystical aspect of Ireland, the Irish fairy lore, the island’s lush greenery and frequent rainbows. Several years ago, my husband and I discovered tiny, hidden away Caldragh Graveyard on Boa Island in Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A prehistoric pagan stone is located there, with a face carved on either side of it. It’s the mysterious stone that draws most visitors to the ancient cemetery, where it sits amidst tall green grass, thick bushes and trees, and many broken headstones. After our first visit, I began to get ideas for my book, THE THIN PLACE. In Ireland, a “thin place” is a spot where the veil between our world and the Celtic Otherworld, where fairies dwell, is very thin.
For more on this author’s experience of a thin place, go to http://flightsafancy.blogspot.co.za/2014/03/the-thin-place-and-fairy-tree.html
The first essay in that volume, Jerry R. Wright’s “Thin Places and Thin Times”, discusses the Irish notion that our everyday world and the “other world”, that is, the invisible, fairy, or unconscious, are right next to each other, and in many places the barrier between the two is quite thin, and it is at these thin places and times that we can experience the other world.
“The Irish landscape and soul are very thin, which may account in large measure for the enduring fascination and love affair for all things Irish.”-p. 4, Wright
As Wright says, “in this borderland time the supernatural had the greatest power to influence the lives of mortals.”
A book to check out for more on the subject: A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend & Folklore (Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry / Cuchulain of Muirthemne)
Introduce yourself to the noble heroes and magical creatures of Irish mythology. Includes the two definitive works on the subject by the giants of the Irish Renaissance. W.B. Yeates’ Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry and Lady Gregory’s Cuchulain of Muirthemne.
The most commonly asked question by visitors to my Thin Places blog or my Who Cares What I Think blog is “what are thin places?” or “how do you identify a thin place?” Thin Places are places where the eternal world and our physical world meet and mingle. I didn’t coin the term, and it is widely used by mystics and those who write about Celtic Spirituality. The term thin place comes from the pre-Christian culture in western Europe – particularly Ireland – and refers to a place where the veil between this world the “other world” or the “eternal world” is thin. Old tales tell of people and beings of the other world being able to pass back and forth between worlds in thin places.
On how to identify a Thin Place, go to http://www.thinplace.net/2008/02/what-are-thin-places.html
In Irish mythology, a “thin place” was a divider between the physical, tangible world and the “otherworld” of dreams, the afterlife, and other unseen but very real dimensions hiding behind the veil of reality. Thin places could be actual places or they could be seasons of change. The night of Samhain (sow-in), the Celtic precursor to our Halloween, was believed to be a night where the boundaries between our world and the unseen world could touch, as the wall between them shakes and dissolves. (Do you watch Dr. Who? Thinking of this in terms of the Whovian parallel universes helps me visualize this as more than just a quaint, pagan concept.) Thin places were revered and afforded respect, but also feared because they were the places of the unknown.
Physical thin places on the Irish landscape include prehistoric monuments and markers. The peoples who built the cairns and dolmens we can still see today were most likely not the Celts, who arrived in Ireland later. They were an earlier people, living in Ireland as early as 5,000 years ago (and more! I’m going off memory here).
When the Celts arrived, they interpreted the dolmens and passage tombs as structures built by the gods and goddesses who inhabited the land — the Tuatha de Danaan, or the Tribe of Danu. These gateways were portals to the Tuatha’s domain and venturing too close could yield disastrous results for humans.
These beliefs gave birth to the stories and the eventual evolution of the “fairy people” who could steal humans away to their lands below and beyond the horizon. In many stories in Irish folklore and ancient mythology, contact between humans and fairies occur near a physical thin place (a fairy fort or a fairy ring) or a spatial thin place (Samhain or a night of a full moon).
More about Thin Places and their history can be read on http://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blogs/the-mythology-of-thin-places
Kealkil stone circle is in the western part of County Cork. It sits in a clearing – a sort of plateau – over a hilly, rocky, muddy region of a farmer’s field. The circle has five stones with a diameter of about eight to ten feet. Outside the circle are two tall stones – one eight feet high and the other thirteen feet high. References state that the tallest stone probably stood twenty feet high when the circle was first established. (Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames)
Kealkil was not on my agenda of things to see on that trip. I’d never heard of it. There are hundreds of stone circles scattered throughout Ireland, and west Cork has a large cluster. The day before I visited Kealkil I had driven the Ring of Beara, found and visited five stone circles, and walked nearly eight miles in order to do so. I saw Uragh Stone Circle, Shronebirran Stone Circle, Cashelkeelty (my all time favorite), Ardgroom and Kenmare Stone Circles. On earlier days on this same trip I visited Drombeg Stone Circle and the Grange Stone Circle – the largest in Ireland.
Stone circles hold a certain fascination to all of us. More on how finding Thin Places are important, go to http://www.thinplace.net/2013/03/kealkil-stone-circle-how-we-find-thin.html
More about Thin Places can be read at http://www.thinplace.net/
Thin places are specific sites with a mystical quality – where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. Ireland is littered with these places – some are very familiar to the traveler like the Hill of Tara, Newgrange, Drombeg stone circle, Glendalough and Carrowmore. But some are not so familiar and are a “must see” for the pilgrim traveler or those looking to connect with eternal world.
1. The Hill of Uisneach – County Westmeath
- Boa Island – Caldragh Cemetery – County Fermanagh
- Coole Park – Home of Lady Gregory – County Galway
- Glencolumbkille – County Donegal
- The Stone Circles along the Beara Way – County Cork
Using Thin Places and the Other Side made completely sense to me as I wrote a story taking place on Samhain.
“Green and blue lights skittered through the forest, followed by red and pink.
‘It isn’t just me: that is strange, right?’
‘What do you remember about Samhain?’ the rabbit asked carefully, hopping over another fallen tree.
‘It’s the time when the veil between realms are at its weakest. There are places where the living can walk through to the realm of the dead. And vice versa.’ ” – The Torn Veil, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the sixth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Do you believe that there are Thin Places? Can you think of more folktales where Thin Places and the Other Side feature?