Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stepping Through the Thin Places

Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between this world
And the next is cracked open for a moemnt
And the light is not all on the other side. 
– Sharlande Sledge

Many spiritualities in today’s world have a concept of “thin places.” These are the places where it seems the divine, the heavenly, leaks over into our everyday world. Relationship with and experience of the holy is somehow easier to touch in these “thin places.” One Celtic saying states that heaven and earth are three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is smaller. People flock to their own personal thin places and to communal thin places in search of numinous experiences at these liminal places.

The Burren, Co Clare, Ireland
The power of the other is right there, just on the other side, if only we could reach out and embrace it. In real life this translates into spiritual highs, religious experiences, and divine encounters. In the world of fiction, we are able to make manifest those unknown worlds. We are allowed to step through the thin places and enter the “Otherworld.” We must deal with beings and forces that have come through the “thin places” from worlds unknown.

Fae Lord
Traditional "thin places" often exist in marked places: cairns or rock structures placed there by people long ago so as not to accidentally stumble through, hedges marking the boundary between known and unknown, twilight and dawn marking the changing from day to night and vice versa, doors, thresholds, gates, graveyards, beaches, all these can mark liminal "thin places." We see examples of the dangers and wonders of what can come through these places throughout myth and legend. There are the Fae, the Fair Folk, the Others, unexplainable beasts and monsters, changling children. There are legends of people who walked through a "thin place," spent one night of revelry with the Fae and returned to find 100 years had passed in their own time. 

From these legends, this cultural memory, we tap our imaginations and write stories of the wonderful and awful things that happen when the two worlds cross. We push our way through mothballs and coats as Lucy steps into Narnia for the first time. We prepare ourselves for battle with the Winter Fae as Harry Dresden opens a door to the Ways in the Never Never. We run alongside Mac as she flees the death-by-sex fairy through the streets of Dublin. We look through fairy stones, cross over bridges, run directly into barriers between train platforms, crawl into cairns, and so much more all in an effort to experience this Other world along with our most beloved characters.

I have always been fascinated by books and stories about "thin places," especially those with a Celtic and/or Arthurian bent. Some of my favorite books as a child (and still) are Stephen R. Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle and his Song of Albion trilogy. Stories like this have shaped my experiences and my dreams. They have primed my imagination to look for the impossible and sense the amazing. I still feel the wonder and get shivers up my back when I stand on the very edge of a rocky outcropping, close my eyes, and just feel the spray from ocean as it hits my skin. The "thin places" closest to my soul are always those where water meets the land, whether it be at a beach, a cliff over the ocean or even the starting block as I am about to dive into a swimming pool. There is that moment when I close my eyes, take a deep breath and tumble into a world completely different from the one where I walk and talk and live my life. Anything could happen. Just once I would love to lift my head out of the water, having dived through a "thin place," and find myself in a completely new land or find myself breathing under the water because I have become a mermaid or ... or ... or ...


  1. Wonderful :)

    And we were only talking about 'thin places' this evening in class, talking about parallel worlds in the reflection from a mirror and the potential for the 'other' to exist beyond it.

    I'm a sea lover too, something very magical about the vast open spaces of water - as you say - another world so different from our own.

    Time for some cliff walking for me - air out the muse from his moth eaten cupboard.

    Great piece :D

    1. Thanks, Casey! I am jealous of whatever class you have that lets you talk about cool stuff like that. =)

    2. That's the beauty of writing your own classes. In science and esoterics this particular subject matter pops up a lot :)

    3. Sounds awesome! =)

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  3. I'm a little late (again) - but this is lovely! Thank you! So evocative of all the different mythos which use (and abuse) these 'thin places'.
    And before I'd even reached the 4th paragraph, I had Alice's rabbit hole in mind; and Diana Gabaldon's Cross-stitch series; and a couple of highland romances KMM had written before the 'Fever' books; and other stories I've read where someone 'falls' into a book or into a mirror, or steps across a threshhold :)


    1. Thanks, Carole Ann! I love Diana Gabaldon's writing (altho here in America it is called the Outlander series!). At one point I joked to a friend that I was reading 3 separate scottish historical time travel romance series (KMM, Gabaldon and J. Ardian Lee's Son of the Sword series). I think I might like the concept. =)