In last month’s post Samhain – Burning the Old Year I said “Samhain is the time when the Veil Between the Worlds grows thin” and also “the Veil is pretty much ripped to shreds these days.” That has raised the questions of just what this Veil is, and why some of us think it’s not nearly as solid as it used to be. That’s worth some exploration.
What is the Veil?
The Veil is the boundary and the barrier between the ordinary world and the Otherworld, the world of the Gods and ancestors. That’s all I can say about it with certainty. It’s what keeps most of us from communicating with spiritual beings and all of us from doing it easily. It’s what keeps the dead from returning to our world.
I can’t find the origin of the idea, but I strongly suspect the term (though not the concept) comes from Christianity. Immediately after Jesus died, the New Testament says:
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. Matthew 27: 50-52 KJV
This was a physical veil separating two portions of the Jewish temple, but the next verse mentioning graves opening and dead rising created an association that likely resulted in the term being appropriated for the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
There is one book on the Veil I can recommend: The Veil’s Edge: Exploring the Boundaries of Magic (2003) by Willow Polson. It’s a good intermediate level book that deals with more than just the Veil, and it’s about the only book out there that spends more than a page or two on the subject.
The Veil is a metaphor – the boundary is real
In Celtic traditions, it’s not a veil but mists that separate the two worlds. I like that imagery better, and it more closely matches my first-hand experiences. While a veil – a curtain – has thickness, it’s essentially a two-dimensional object. Mists have both density and depth. Sometimes the morning fog is so thin you can barely tell it’s there – other times it’s so thick you can barely see taillights in front of you. Sometimes you drive though it into clear skies in a mile, other times it obscures a whole city.
Likewise, sometimes the mists between the worlds are so thick we cannot see or hear our beloved dead. Other times they’re so thin we can practically touch them. And when we wander into the mists – as some of us have been known to do – sometimes we can get through quickly, while other times they’re so dense we can’t find the first landmark.
Mists are a better description than a veil, but they’re still a metaphor for an Otherworldly reality – the boundary between this world and the next.
Boundaries are an important feature of life, both spiritually and materially. If I drive east into Louisiana, all I see is a sign that says “Welcome to Louisiana.” But if I drive north into Oklahoma, I have to cross a real boundary – the Red River. One boundary is arbitrary, the other is tangible. We can argue that the difference between Texas and Oklahoma is also arbitrary, but whether it is or it isn’t the Red River is real, as you’ll learn first hand if you attempt to cross it without a bridge in place.
The boundary between the ordinary world and the Otherworld is real, regardless of which metaphor we use to describe it.
Why I think it’s shredded
Modern Pagan tradition says that the Veil Between the Worlds is thinnest at Samhain and Beltane, at the liminal times when Summer changes to Winter and vice versa. At these times we can most easily communicate with the dead, and various spiritual beings can more easily cross over into our world.
But many of us are seeing this kind of crossover year-round. In June, I saw a creature that could not exist, but there it was. There have been reports of ghosts, spirits, and demons. There have been accidents with no good explanation. There have been more reports of missing items turning up in impossible places than I can count – including one in my own office.
There’s a meme going around Facebook that says “killer clowns are terrorizing the streets and a billionaire villain is running for President. Batman, we need you!” Stop and think about how much truly weird stuff is going on. Once or twice is random chance. A few times is a short-term trend. But read the comments to The Otherworld Is Bleeding Through – you’ll see report after report after report. This has been going on for at least five years and it’s getting stronger all the time. That’s not random chance. Otherworldly beings and influences are bleeding over into the ordinary world at an ever-increasing rate and many of them aren’t particularly pleasant or benign.
What caused the shredding and can it be reversed?
I’ve seen some people speculate that malevolent magicians are working spells to shred the Veil and allow more spirits to cross over into our world. That sounds too much like opening the hellmouth on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to me. Very few people who would do malevolent magic have the focus and discipline to develop the kind of skills it takes to be truly dangerous… not that they can’t make a nuisance of themselves from time to time.
I tend to think that like much in Nature, the Veil waxes and wanes in natural cycles… albeit very long cycles. The stories of our ancestors tell us that the Otherworld used to be much closer to the ordinary world. If the Veil became thicker and harder at the same time as the rise of civilization, perhaps it’s time for it to become thinner and softer again.
If it’s a natural cycle, then it can’t be reversed, and what we’re seeing is only the beginning.
So what do we do?
In June, I recommended four actions: recommit to daily spiritual practice, firm up your spiritual relationships, firm up your this-world relationships, and most of all, pay attention. Those four actions help build a foundation that will support you in good times and bad.
But as the high weirdness continues to grow, I have one more recommendation: learn to fly.
This is the new reality. The ideas and skills that served your parents and grandparents (and for those of us of a certain age, ourselves) so well for so long are no longer enough. They could afford to pretend they lived in a rational world where progress would carry us onward and upward and the bad guys could be spotted by their black hats, a world where if you played by the rules things would work out OK, and maybe more than OK.
We need new skills, and most importantly, a new way of looking at the world.
The Veil is shredded. The Otherworld is bleeding through. Magic is rising.
Ignore it at your peril.