Ever wondered if this earth-bound reality is all there is to our existence or if there is more than meets the human eye? You are not alone. Many cultures around the world believe literally, psychologically, mythically or spiritually in other realms, dimensions, or ways of viewing the universe’s complexity. These different view points in turn shape what is deemed valuable or important to a culture, community, or group of people. Themes of a veil between worlds and Otherworlds are common within the fields of mythology, depth and archetypal psychology, trauma, grief and grieving along with various religious, mystical, and earth-based traditions. Yet, all of this in essence is theoretical. Experience is what brings the Otherworld to life, and I have been both blessed and challenged by the gift of being a connector between worlds. First, let me lay a little general groundwork and then focus more on Irish myth and culture.
There is a world beyond the physical world in which we live. Some would argue that my statement is too limiting, that there are in fact many worlds we cannot see and this is likely true … so let us hold the possibility that there is at least one other realm, perhaps more. Individuals within a community, who held or hold the role of shaman, healer, seer, visionary, connector, yogini’s, intuitives, mystics, artists, poets, and lastly the dying, see through the veil clearly.
Deliberately structured and conscious communities do not exist to the extent they did in early times. Each member of the community had a distinct role or function based on their gift or broader community need, so people knew who to turn to when they were sick, in need of advice, with help building property, or mending clothes. There would always be an individual or individuals who performed the spiritual or initiatory rituals. Just as there would always be someone in the community who could see beyond this physical realm. Theses individuals were tasked with journeying to the Otherworld, in order to bring back wisdom for the whole group. How the journey is undertaken is as wide as it is varied, it could have meant entering into the dream-time (as in sleeping dreams) to see what patterns, images, animals, or symbols presented themselves, or as in the case of shaman’s where a journey to Otherworld was more spiritually, psychologically, and physically demanding. These roles required someone of strong, stable character who was often both revered and somewhat feared. So to be clear, the person who had the ability to transverse worlds did so for the benefit of the whole community and not for themselves.
The veil between this world and the otherworld is diaphanous, as if it were a luminous piece of the finest silk, keeping separate while at the same time pointing towards the beauty and mystery just beyond complete transparency. However, when the veil is pierced, the Otherworld is fully accessible. In the case of dying persons, the veil’s existence and then it’s piercing occur as a natural part of the dying process. Lisa Smartt’s book,Words at the Threshold (2017,New World Library) does an excellent job at bringing to our attention the experiences the dying have of a world beyond the veil. If interested you can check out Lisa’s research at www.finalwordsproject.org
So why can’t most people see these other places?
Well, to be honest, it is pretty hard at times to cope with all that occurs within this one existence! Between daily routines, struggles, work, politics, family dynamics, red nuclear buttons within easy reach of greasy fingers, getting the kids to school, and picking up dog poop, how the heck would the majority of people psychologically and emotionally cope with another realm? The answer is fairly clear, most just would not. Some people would argue that there is nothing more than the physical existence of our own tangible reality and that is also true. Individuals who believe that the physical existence of earth is the only reality available, the veil is so inconspicuous it cannot be seen and therefore, does not exist at all. Hence, this earthy realm is all they know, see, and thus believe in! For people who believe reality is what you can see and therefore touch, that is great and I would argue for them essential to their wellbeing.
The consequences for walking around sharing that you have access to, or even glimpse another existence are, in most cases not worth the disclosure. In most western cultures, we have been raised not to discuss such experiences least we be deemed psychologically unstable, psychotic, manic, mad, crazy, unhinged, or cuckoo. Raised eyebrows and a sideways nod of the head along with a twirling index finger go hand in hand. Of course there are folks who need varying amounts of psychological support, perhaps medication, and sometimes even sectioning. As said earlier, it requires an individual of strong character, who is able to discern their “stuff” from the “stuff’ of the otherworld.
Rooted within Irish mythology and the lived culture are three consistent themes, thin places, thin times, and the Irish Otherworld. These three themes are embedded in the physical landscape of Ireland, folklore, and psyche of the Irish people. To pierce the veil, to see or experience the other realms of existence is perhaps the most normal element of human existence, yet the most disbelieved. Thin placesare the portals between the physical world and the Otherworld, Thin times are the times believed be the times when the thin places are more easily accessed: Samhain (pronounced So-ween) is an example and still practiced in various parts of Ireland. Halloween is the American version of Samhain. Although the same date applies, October 31st, and some of the same traditions such as dressing up on costumes and concealing face indicates a clear lack of worldview understanding behind the tradition. Are diluted ancestral traditions still valuable? I’ll write more about this in future blog posts and articles.
Invitation:If you are new to this kind of work or way of viewing the world, I invite you to begin paying attention to your natural surroundings. In order to see the “Other”, we first need to see and engage with the living elements in this world. Plants, animals, birds, bugs, the water, the wind, and rain all engage with us if we are willing to listen. What do you notice about the wildlife around you? Who or what (plant, animal) is offering you a connection? Pay attention for at least 10-15 minutes a day for the next 7 days.