Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. Celtic saying
Thin Places: There are unusual locations where the barriers between this world and that of the metaphysical, or spiritual, are thin. Sensitive people can perceive the harmonic vibration between the two worlds. Celtic people call these “thin places”.
Ancient people erected standing stones and stone circles across the Celtic world to mark such locations. Just by standing next to these stones, it is said one can pick up on the “vibe”. These are not always religious locations. (The photos in this article are from Longmen Grotto, near Louyang the ancient capital of 13 Dynasties under 105 emperors.)
Man has always felt a deep kinship with the earth, and this connection is stronger in some places. There is an ethereal magnetism that attracts those who are spiritually attuned. In these places, heaven and earth are closer, and the separation between them seems paper thin. That is why they are called “thin places”.
These thin places are a global phenomena and are not limited to the Celtic areas of Europe. From the sighting of colossal monuments to fairy rings, every culture marks places with ethereal spiritual energy. When you go there, you make a connection to something beyond the self. Just as certain stones or plants, animals attract or repel different people because some property connects one to the other, there are also places with just such power.
I have experienced the pull of thin places many times. There was a spiritual reason why ancient people erected stone monuments, temples, standing stones, and other markers on certain points of primordial energy. In a sense, we continue this tradition today in the way we decorate our homes or arrange collectibles. There is an indescribable magnetism beyond words that attracts an ancient lodestone in our souls. In the realms of the subconscious mind, there are senses at work that have been passed down to us since the original living cells first turned towards the sun.
We exist in multiple worlds, planes of existence, dimensions or whatever your preferred nomenclature. Each night we journey through those worlds in our dreams. Our dream mansions have many doors through which one can explore the endless chambers. And when we are awake our dream-minds seek out the places where the barriers to awareness are thinnest. I am sure you have felt these vibrations in your own life. They can occur in houses of worship, a quiet spot in the forest, or in a giant sports stadium.
I remember the first time I went to a major league baseball game with my Dad. Walking up the ramp to the upper deck, my heart beat faster, and I felt as if a great mystery was about to be revealed. I had played baseball since I was in first or second grade. My first glimpse of the brilliantly lit AstroTurf and blue sapphire sky had a deep and profound impact on me. There was always something more in that stadium than just my Dad and I watching a game together by the ancient muddy Mississippi River. Going to the games, we passed by the ancient Cahokia Mounds which has been a magical, thin place for over 1300 years.
Thin Places and Sacred Spaces: About 1600 years ago, on the opposite side of the earth from Cahokia, construction began on the monumental Longmen (Dragon’s Gate) Grottoes. The area is one of the most beautiful grottoes in China. The carvings are some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in the world. There are over 100,000 statues ranging in size from one inch (25 mm) to 57 feet (17 meters). It is said the site was originally chosen because of its powerful feng shui – feng – wind; shui – water. Feng Shui focuses on the flow of energy through a space, natural or man-made. I learned from my wife’s family who have been feng-shui masters for over four generations, but I will write more about that another time.
At Longmen the gigantic Guyang “Old Sun” Cave is the largest. It features the colossal Buddha flanked by giant carvings of Bodhisattvas. I read somewhere that the face of the central 17 meter tall Buddha was carved to resemble China’s only female ruler – Wu Zetian (624-705 AD). Standing in that sacred space you can feel the energy swirling about you as swallows explode from the various niches high above you. But it is not just the giant statues that have an aura of sacredness, even the diminutive statues were carved with reverential detail over the centuries by a veritable army of devoted monks and artists.
Grottoes held a special place in ancient China. Every village had to have access to a thin place where the sacred energy could be gathered and channeled into the body. The ancient Daoist in particular were attracted to grottoes. Grotto-heavens are sacred Taoist/Daoist sites. Grotto-heavens can be in caves, or other underground spaces. The altar, walls and ceiling in a Taoist/Daoist temple are designed to represent a grotto-heaven. There are sacred grotto thin places around the world, such as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
So many centuries later, you can still feel the power of faith in the faces of the statues. I am fortunate in that my wife is a great translator. I asked her about the writing on this large stone we saw at Longmen Grottoes. Although I can’t read the characters, I can appreciate the incredibly graceful artistry of the carving. We researched together and found that the stone monument was erected by the Fourth Son of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty – Li Yunji. The large letters at the top are the title: Yi Que Fo (Buddhism) Kan (Niche for statue). It was written to praise the prince’s mother in order to gain favor with his father the emperor. The artist was Zhu Sui Liang one of the preeminent calligraphers of his time.
One of Zhu’s teacher was the eminent calligraphy master Ouyang Xun. The Prince was killed, along with their older brother the Crown Prince when they tried to eliminate him in an attempted coup. He went on to become the Emperor Taizong the second emperor of the powerful Tang Dynasty. Taizong was one of the most powerful emperors in Chinese history, and under his rule the country experienced a Golden Age. The power of such a noble history, can still be felt in the carved stones of the Longmen Grotto.
But all the royal patrons and religious pilgrims can not stop time from taking its toll. The winds of political fortune change, and many of the planned carvings on the other side of the river were abandoned. There is still an incredible energy emanating from the living rock. This thin place is being protected by UNESCO and the rock art is being restored with modern methods. The energy of the water and the wind flowing through the Dragon Gate continues to charge the spirit with sacred vitality.
There is an ancient kinship with nature that far too many people dismiss by believing somehow, they are elevated above the natural world due to evolution or technological achievements. In fact we all, from rocks to rock stars and from stars to starfish, are manifestations of the universal vibration. Peace and Love.
*Portions are excerpted from my novella Positive Light
For more information on Longmen Grotto: