New Year resolution season is here. But fear not! Today’s post about ‘thin places’ shall not take you on a tour of Ireland’s gyms.
Instead, we’ll explore the Celtic concept of thin places – surreal physical spaces where heaven and earth seem to touch.
Now, I’m well aware “surreal physical spaces” is a term that could be used to describe a few fat rolls and muffin tops where heaven and earth and everything in between seem to touch, but let’s distract ourselves from diets and treadmills today by taking a mystical journey to discover Ireland’s thin places.
Celtic Origins Of The Term “Thin Places:”
Ireland is home to numerous thin places, so it may come as no surprise to learn that the term itself has Celtic origins.
Our forefathers believed some physical locations on earth are closer to the spiritual than others – places where God’s presence is more accessible to us as humans.
The exact origins of the term “thin places” may never be traced, but there is an ancient Celtic saying that beautifully introduces this terminology ….
“Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”
~ Celtic Saying
Ancient Celts spoke of mesmerizing, mystical places where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. Past, present and future seem to collide in these spaces. It is as if the visitor witnesses or even experiences an ancient reality, in just a passing moment.
There is a luminous quality to the air and light. Rugged seacoasts, rocky mountain peaks and windswept beaches call out to Ireland’s thin place pilgrims to this very day.
Ireland’s sacred landscape offers many sanctuaries of creation to visitors.
These mystical spots host no flashing lights, nor informational graphics to delight the senses. There are no tourist “rides” to satisfy our 21st century desire for instant gratification and entertainment.
Instead, Ireland’s thin places are raw and untamed, offering visitors a slow, seeping awareness of the magnificence of creation.
In these places it is important to pause, to feel the wind upon your cheeks, to drink in the landscape and the energy that exudes from the very earth and rocks.
John O’Donohue, the Irish writer and Celtic philosopher said the purpose of these places is “to anchor our longing in the ancient longing of Nature.”
Native Americans were keenly aware of thin places. I love this Apache proverb which beautifully encapsulates the concept. It simply states …
“Wisdom sits in places.”
~ Apache Proverb
And believe me, there is much wisdom just waiting to be discovered in Ireland’s wise old places and spaces.
Ireland – A Pile Of Old Rocks:
A few years back I was talking to an American mom at one of my children’s weekly activities. Once she heard my Irish accent, she said …
“My friend just returned from Ireland,
but she thought it was just a pile of old rocks.”
My heart stopped beating for a split second. You know those moments in time – when the world around you seems to freeze, and litanies of thoughts and emotions catapult from the deep recesses of your mind.
The term “a pile of old rocks” pierced my very soul. These words maligned our ancient stones, misrepresenting our mystical heritage to the world.
I wanted to scream out in anguish …
“How could your friend not fall in love with Ireland’s thin places,
marked out by our wise ancestors using cryptic stones
that have stood sentinel for multiple millennia?”
But don’t worry I held my tongue, fully aware such a response might hastily assign me to the loony mom bin.
I just smiled, and asked if this Irish tourist was reconnecting with her Irish ancestry on her trip. I soon learned she had no links to Ireland. A wave of relief rushed over me as I quietly concluded her lack of interest in ancient stones and mythical heritage may simply be a genetic thing. Or perhaps, she may be totally unaware of the magic of thin places.
Genetically Wired To Appreciate Thin Places:
Just like many of you, I believe Ireland is truly my spiritual home. There, I feel a divine presence more acutely than anywhere else on earth.
It’s as if I am genetically wired to appreciate Ireland’s thin places, and to even find such spots that are not marked on the well worn tourist trail.
Many Irish Americans feel an inexplicable link to the Emerald Isle, even if their forebears departed from Ireland’s shores generations and sometimes even centuries ago.
This deep spiritual connection to Mother Ireland gives many Irish Americans an uncanny ability to appreciate and experience the mysteries of Ireland’s thin places.
How To Recognize A “Thin Place?”
And here is the point in this blog post where I am going to try to do the impossible, fully aware that my words will fail. Describing what a thin place experience feels like, is simply beyond the power of language.
These places bring feelings and emotions, realizations and awareness to the fore. It is as if the line between all that is sacred and human meet for just a moment.
These are hallowed spaces, sometimes, though not necessarily, marked by a church or Christian symbols like Celtic Crosses. Many stone circles and ring forts were built in places where you can feel an ancient presence.
There is something otherworldly in the atmosphere, transcendent, even divine. Other dimensions seem closer than usual. There is a tangible stillness to the silence.
In a thin place something beyond words causes our spines to tingle, as if awakening our souls. Even our thoughts seem to be swept away in the moment, and something deep within our beings touches a luminous seat of knowledge.
You may visit a thin place as part of a group, but each person will experience something different. One man’s thin place may be a very thick place to another.
If you find your thin place, no matter how many others are with you, you will feel drawn by something powerful, yet unspoken. Despite the companionship of others you will be lost in a solitary world between past and present.
Your soul feels awash with time, eager to linger, while lost in the silence of natural prayer, and the confluence of worlds and dimensions.
The more spiritually skeptical or scientifically inclined amongst us may attribute these effects to electromagnetic fields that some rocks may generate to make some locations feel different. Or perhaps there is some type of seismic activity beneath our feet contributing to our mystical experiences?
But as for me, I feel no need to rationalize the experience of a thin place. Even if our science fails to explain the reasons, or our words fail to express the sublimity, the awe inspiring power of thin places is exhilarating.
The After Effects Of Visiting Thin Places:
I highly recommend visiting Ireland’s thin places as a form of spiritual renewal, whatever your faith or beliefs might be. Returning from a thin place is marked by a feeling of refreshment and renewal. Our awareness of the world around us becomes heightened.
In days, weeks and years to come, memories of sacred landscapes help us see glimpses of nature and the divine in the chaotic world around our urban existences.
The prayerfulness of these little corners on earth urge us to return to them in our imagination when we cannot physically visit them again.
When overwhelmed by the monotony of daily life, the tedious details of work and living, we can listen to our hearts and hear the silent music of thin places. Our souls guide us back to the peaceful presence of those ancient stones, and help us draw strength from the peace and serenity of our thin place experiences.
Have you ever experienced something you might call a thin place? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.
Where To Find Ireland’s Thin Places:
And so you may be thinking you too would like to undertake a spiritual walkabout or driveabout in Ireland.
You can choose an unplanned journey of discovery, keeping an open mind and open heart in search of your thin place to experience a spiritual revelation.
Or you can research with the experts. Mindie Burgoyne, is a travel writer, blogger, author, tour operator and speaker. Here’s what she says on her blog …
“Her focus is traveling within the context of a story to mystical – magical places that stir the mind and spirit.”
Her blog, Thin Places, is a wonderful, insightful guide to Irish Mystical Sites. She teaches us there’s far more than meets the eye to Ireland’s “piles of old rocks”.
Thank you, Mindy, for sharing and recording such important information about Ireland’s amazing heritage.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)