An expression heard
in pagan circles this time of year is, “The veil is thinning,” to which my question has always been, “What veil?”
The idea behind this seasonal slogan is as we get closer to Irish Samhain, Czech Dziady, and Nordic Alfablot and Vetrnætr, and The Dark Time, in many European and European diaspora traditions this time of the year represents fleeting light, emphasis on the Ancestors, Nature tucked in for root growth, and every effort focused on how to survive the winter on the spoils of our harvest.
Historically the cold and darkness took a deep toll on the human psyche and stirred emotions, psychology, and concerns around safety and survival. We’ve internalized that amalgam of seasonal transition as a thinner veil between earthly and spirit realms. The result of this seasonal sheerness is an uptick in spirit engagement and shenanigans.
When most people say ‘thinning veil,’ it’s suggested that the change of season makes the spirit world more evident. And perhaps in that historic transition, when the shift into darkness and bleak cold would have had more direct bearing on our well being, that would have been true. Perhaps it’s still true for folx who live closer to the land. As well, those atmospheric influences would have been a precursor to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We know now that when our neurotransmitters are affected, our internal filter for perception becomes altered. Our brain states shift so that we more effectively enter trance and experience other worldly phenomenon. The science and the woo function seamlessly.
In the settler culture, most of us are climate-controlled and relatively well cared-for compared to the survivalistic lifestyles of our Ancestors in the north. The jolt into winter does not cause us the same kind of hardship that it did our Ancestors. Without that threat against our livelihood and safety, as a culture we’ve not developed direct relationship to rituals and cosmology that would not only carry us in spirited connection all year round, but provide us with the tools to better cope with life transitions — seasonal or otherwise. We get our spells off the Internet, our cosmologies are plug-n-play, all as a response to the lack of elders and broken path of modern paganism. What has been our other choice?
My questioning of a veil is based in the truth that for some of us the awareness of and access to Other is perpetual, and always has been. It isn’t reliant on season or other selective or external factors. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the dark cold forces us to drop our pretenses that a veil exists. The seasonal shadows force us to acknowledge what the gold standard of sunlight allows us to deny: that we are among the spirit world all the time; that the mundane is spiritual.
I was raised in an animistic perspective, in which interspiritual connection remains an ever-negotiable state of understanding that soul and mundane are not and have never been separate. This is the base experience of animism, which is the awareness that all things have consciousness, or soul, that they all have agency, that they are all connected in that consciousness, and through that connection can communicate with and influence each other. They are in relationship and are interdependent.
Because of that infinite bond, it’s healthy to observe boundaries around the overlap. How we set boundaries with spirit-folx is the same as human-folx: we must identify and express needs, so that we can hold firm boundaries around them, for ourselves and Other folx. We do this not to thwart relationship, but to preserve it. These parameters solidify in the cultivation of direct relationship to rituals and cosmology, which provides a safe structure to shift focus between mundane and spiritual needs. They coexist all the time; it’s just a matter of where we place our awareness. That is animism.
That said, there’s a difference between observing boundaries around animistic engagement and segmenting it into different pieces and parts with brick walls, which is what has largely been done in modern spirit traditions. We conceive here and There as radical disconnected polar opposites, as with Earth and Other. In modern shamanism, the concepts of “ordinary” and “nonordinary” reality result in the same binary as “thinning veil,” as if they are two separate things we step in and out of. When we approach spirit engagement as a toggle, we are omitting animism. We are overlooking that we are already engaged in the spirit realm all the time. It is here. The spirits around us know that; we are the ones that don’t.
When we realize we’re the ones not reciprocating in that relationship, how we view boundaries with Other becomes less about whether there’s a veil and timing, and more about tending the needs of our animistic community — all the time. It leads us to explore what soul relationships we’re not showing up for all the rest of the year.
Ultimately how we each engage Other is deeply personal, and it should be done in the way that is healthy for us and provides the meaning and results we need in our lives and communities. Maybe the veil does thin at certain times for some folx. Maybe for some it never fluctuates, or is never present. However that boundary is observed and negotiated, it’s okay to explore if how we’ve constructed our understanding of Other still meets present needs, and to have the courage to learn a better way when it doesn’t.
S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.
I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.
#beyourcommunity ~ #youareecosystem
elder well, die well, ancestor well
We don't heal in isolationbut in community
Gift of the Dreamtime Reader's Companion
~S. Kelley Harrell