Celtic Beliefs–Thin Places
Just as the Celts believed in the Otherworld, or Avalon, they also believed in thin places. They believed that there were certain places on earth where the veil separating this world from the next was especially thin. These places range from hilltops to wells, from graveyards to shorelines. According to C. Page Highfill, the veil definition of thin places may have Biblical roots, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split…” Matthew 27:50-52 (NKJV)
The Celts believed that many places on earth were thin places. For example, they were intrigued by wells that were thought to be portals to the world beyond this one. The tradition of throwing a coin in a fountain and making a wish is thought to have come from the Celtic belief that wells were thin places.
Thresholds such as shorelines, sunrise and sunset and other marked places–hedges, doors, gates, graveyards and beaches–were also revered by the Celts. Because of this connection, thin places are also referred to as thresholds, or liminal places, places of transition from water to earth, from night to day.
The ocean is another thin place. The Celts believed that the dead traveled over bodies of water to reach the other side. All rivers lead to the sea and the sea leads to lands West where the Otherworld exists. In addition, the ocean has a shoreline, a threshold from land to water. This is thought to be a powerful thin place. Add another threshold–sunset or sunrise–and you have a double thin place.
Thin places can be found at sea level and on mountaintops. In Ireland, in honor of St. Patrick, a million pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick in the County Mayo each year.
This pilgrimage to the holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years. In the days of pagans, people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of harvest. It was on this mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD.
How appropriate to remember this tradition as we enter into the 40 days of Lent. St. Patrick must have known that this mountain was a thin place. Magnificent views of Clew Bay and the surrounding south Mayo countryside are spectacular from all stages of the climb. At approximately 2500 feet, it is one of the highest peaks in the West of Ireland.
Fortunately for us, we can find our own thin places all around us, though they may not always be like this view from Croagh Patrick.
May thin places surround you.