I have grown up with a fondness for “thin” places; places that have given me a sense that there is a “somewhere else” just a breath away. From a Celtic spirituality perspective, these places are described as sacred, close to the Otherworld, locations for pilgrimage and reflection (Béres, 2012). My thin places have rarely been those selected by tour companies; they are often liminal zones, edges of rivers, lakes, paths or woodlands, with a kind of somewhere-in-between-ness that makes me feel as if I have stepped out of the flow of time.
One of my clearest memories as a child of such a place was a family holiday to a cottage my uncle had recently purchased. The cottage stood in the middle of a ploughed and mucky field (yeay, muck!) and at the edge of the field there was a small stream running in a deep mossy ditch under trees. Though the ditch was deep, the stream was not. I liked to wade in to the middle in my wellies and stand in the quiet cavern under the green tree canopy. The sound of chuckling water and birdlife and my breath. The scent of water and moss and green and primroses. I remember the primroses most of all, as the banks were covered in them and the scent wrapped all around me. It was a magical spot; if I stood long enough and still enough, I thought, I will see fairies. To this day, the scent and sight of primroses makes me smile.
I’m thinking about these thin places as I am exploring connections to place, reading about Indigenous research methods, and thinking about my own cultural heritage. As Béres (2012) states, there is a valid concern about appropriation of the ways of other cultures. I want to draw on my own cultural heritage and wonder what exactly that is. I wish to encompass Béres’ approach as outlined below.
I am able to honour, respect and learn from North American and Australian Aboriginal ways of being with the non-human world and also from Celtic spirituality (European ways of being in pre-Christian and early Christian times) regarding the sacredness of the non-human world. (Béres, 2012; p.183)
I talked about Newgrange last week; another location that was special for me. Again, that same sense of somewhere-in-between-ness. Unsurprisingly, things have changed in the 20-odd years since I was last there! In an excellent article by Stephen Brown (2006), it seems that heritage-park marketing has run a little wild. If I return, it won’t be to the Newgrange of my memory, though it sounds like they may still be using the same light bulb to replicate the solstice. Brown’s article considers the various contested interpretations of what it means to be “Celtic” as an introduction a special issue exploring “Celtic marketing”. There are three elements to Celtic marketing, Brown suggests: practice, paradigm and philosophy. Practice is the marketing of Celtic “goods and services”, from events to merchandise and everything in between. Paradigm “celebrates intuition, idiosyncrasy, iconoclasm and irreverence” at the heart of the Celtic ethos, which sounds like fun. Philosophy, it seems, marketers share with the Celts, who Brown describes as “proto-entrepreneurs”. As with the Celts, Brown says, Celtic marketers are “simultaneously abhorred and admired, we attract and repel, we intrigue and infuriate”. What ties the practice, paradigm and philosophy together is storytelling; the Celts are renowned “yarn-spinners”. I inherited that tale-telling gene and wonder what the Celtic researcher practice, paradigm and philosophy is.
The articles may seem like strange bedfellows, loosely connected by Celtic association. However, both articles emphasise how places are not static, even those containing structures that have stood for thousands of years. My stream and the primroses are locked in a memory, as I do not know how to return to that location and the quiet cavern may be long gone. To know a place, and for a place to know us, is simply for the moment. My sense of thin places being those briefly outside the flow of time may be linked simply to my focus on being in that place at that time. Thinking about my research and connecting with other places at distance, the thin place may prove to be the shared online space with my participant, when they hold open the door for me to be with them in their place as I stand on a digital threshold. We will both be “somewhere else” and perhaps our shared places can allow us to feel as if we are just a breath away.
Béres, L. (2012) Celtic spirituality and postmodern geography. Journal for
the Study of Spirituality, 2:2, 170-185. https://doi.org/10.1179/jss.2.2.h84032u7246xg776 #paywall
Brown, S. (2006) Tiocfaidh ár lá: introduction to the special issue. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 14:1, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/09652540500511206 #paywall