The places in the world where the walls are weak
January 17, 2013 4:02 AM   Subscribe

I was thinking of this comment by humanfont - "The high Rockies are at the edge of the spirit world and not to be entered into lightly or alone." Where else is like this?

Does anyone know of a place or places that are like humanfont describes? The feeling of being out-of-the-world, of a closeness to something other. I've felt it before, but I'd like to know more.
Does anyone have recommendations, either fiction or non-fiction for books or other writing about the 'thin spots' in the world?
posted by the man of twists and turns to Religion & Philosophy (49 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

Sedona, Arizona is supposed to be like that.
posted by xingcat at 4:18 AM on January 17, 2013

I've heard people say similar of Uluru, but I felt nothing of the sort when I was there.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:27 AM on January 17, 2013

I believe the Door to Hell might just qualify? Or am I being over-literal?
posted by forgetful snow at 4:35 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Glastonbury Tor
posted by shibori at 4:44 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The cave systems in Belize.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:48 AM on January 17, 2013

Mount Olympus.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:07 AM on January 17, 2013

The Grand Canyon
posted by OmieWise at 5:11 AM on January 17, 2013

The idea of sentient landscape in Alan Garner's work, particularly Thursbitch, would match this; see also this lecture he did on the valley at the centre that novel.

Although, that otherworldly feeling could also change from person to person. Garner's work rings particularly true for me because I grew up in that landscape and to me it's very much one of those 'thin spots', but maybe it would just be scenery to someone else. Sometimes a place will resonate with you, and sometimes that's because of your connection to the place (or your history, or your family's history, or your culture's history) as much as it is because of the place itself.
posted by Catseye at 5:19 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Davit Gareja, Republic of Georgia.
posted by chaiminda at 5:19 AM on January 17, 2013

A useful search term here is energy vortex (a little woo woo for me, but useful).
posted by judith at 5:41 AM on January 17, 2013

Best answer: In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, we sometimes call holy places "thin places", so this would be most any place of pilgrimage for us. This essay talks about that a bit, notably the injunction to *make* thin places.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:42 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Peter Christopherson (of the group Coil) said this about Thailand:

Thailand is regarded as one of the most naturally spiritual places in the world, so I'm certain there's more to this. Is there anything to clarify?

I have mentioned this in interviews before: I believe that the combination of heat and humidity in Thailand results in humans having less awareness of their skin - where they end and the rest of the world begins. The consequence of this is that people here become more sensitive to other equally tenuous beings, spirits, ghosts, demons etc. and so naturally spiritual...

From this interview at Brainwashed.
posted by thylacine at 5:43 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Clarification: are you looking for names of places like that, or books about this particular phenomenon?

If the former: I'd personally recommend the whole of southern Utah. If the latter, though, you may want to read up about ley lines or songlines.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 AM on January 17, 2013

In Brazil:

São Thomé das Letras, Minas Gerais
Valley of the Dawn near Brasília
Alto Paraíso, Goiás
posted by Tom-B at 5:57 AM on January 17, 2013

Any truly isolated place is like this for me, though they all awaken different aspects of the divine.

Remote islands remind me that the world is big and the ocean is big and that there are forces of unimaginable power and majesty that rule this world and that don't care a whit for human doings.

Remote deserts remind me of the age of the world, of the slow, deep timescale by which rocks experience the passage of the ages, against which my own life and indeed all of human civilization is so brief as to not even merit a mention.

Deep forests remind me of the exuberance of life, of the diversity and the density and the sheer joyousness of living things in all their multitude of forms. They remind me that the beauty of nature far surpasses any art or artifice of human cities.

All of these places, and many others, reach deep into the core of my soul and awaken parts of me that are normally sleeping in my day-to-day meanderings through life. They connect me with a heritage that predates human affairs, in some cases predates life itself, and they help remind me of both the uniqueness of my experience and of the fact that the human experience is but one of an infinite number of ways to experience the world, most of which are fundamentally alien and inscrutable but which nevertheless can be experienced on some level, down in the root of my heart.

I would recommend to anybody that they seek out such places, but if you are moved to then I urge you to tread lightly and to avoid bringing too many other people. There are far too many stories of places of surpassing beauty and power (e.g. Sedona) being unfortunately ruined and rendered mundane and sad through the action of human feet and the development of human settlement.
posted by Scientist at 5:57 AM on January 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Clarification: are you looking for names of places like that, or books about this particular phenomenon?

posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:04 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Honestly, this has more to do with the viewer than the place. That sense is often called "a numinous feeling," that sense of the greater world full of awe and trembling. I feel this occasionally in cities (probably more often than I do in the outdoors), often when I am crossing a boundary -- say, stepping outside into a cold winter night or when I am exposed to an unexpected vista -- looking down a hill at the city below me or something. You probably could train yourself to feel this more often by working on observing more, living in the moment, and not expecting it to happen (I think it has to come somewhat as a surprise, maybe because it upsets your conscious train of though and leaves you open to impressions).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 AM on January 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

Best answer: For broader reading there's a field called 'psychogeography' that touches on this. There's a lot of overly head-up-bum critical theory stuff and a little too much woo, but there are some gems.

And of course there's Wordsworth, and the concept of a genius loci, and so on.
posted by forgetful snow at 6:09 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Faery rings in Ireland are said to be the place where the faery world and the real world overlap. Gateways. I'm not sure one would provide you that feeling of "closeness to something other," but they certainly have done so for me in the past. Probably because I was told so many stories about them in my youth. To pass one while walking alone in the fields can be an eerie experience.

So some of this might come down to cultural conditioning! I feel like your question is more about naturally resonant places, though.
posted by distorte at 6:21 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Empty Quarter, in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Jinn are there.
posted by ambient2 at 6:22 AM on January 17, 2013

Mt. Waialeale on Kauai.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:32 AM on January 17, 2013


both for the depth of human history and the sense of being on the edge of the world.
posted by Gilgongo at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The most vibrantly attuned to the world as part of a living system that I've felt was in the redwood forests of California.

The most detached that I've felt from my body has been during an hours-long on-foot exploration of the summer desert outside of Las Vegas.

And the most peace and serenity I get from the world, almost melding into the ground itself, is while sunbathing on an isolated sand beach in the tropics with a light surf rocking me back and forth.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:49 AM on January 17, 2013

Not that I've been there, but I imagine that Białowieża Forest might provoke this feeling.

It is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain.

For fiction, Alan Moore's From Hell and Algernon Blackwood's The Willows spring to mind - the concept of a place where 'the walls between the worlds grow thin' is used in a lot of uncanny / Weird literature.

If you want to stretch to films, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock is a classic example.

(Also, as a possibly-too-personal-to-be-helpful suggestion, if you go to the Tate Modern's Rothko Room when it's mostly empty and the lights are dimmed, you may detect a deep hum at the edge of hearing that a) is probably an air conditioner but b) sounds exactly like the noise the rocks make in Weir's film and c) will make you feel as though the paintings are windows, or possibly doors).
posted by inire at 6:55 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have experienced a particular eeriness while visiting Valley Forge. Don't know if that's exactly what you're looking for, though.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:01 AM on January 17, 2013

Ojibwes call Lake Superior "Gichigami," which means Big Water, and it is of serious cultural significance to Native Americans.

It's pretty damn impressive to everyone else, as well.
posted by lstanley at 7:06 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get that feeling from oceans and beaches, but I'm a Florida boy at heart. The Sea is vast, and beautiful, and shines like molten silver in the sunlight.
posted by nickhb at 7:14 AM on January 17, 2013

The strongest I've ever felt this sensation was camping in Canyonlands, Utah. FWIW, I recently saw an episode of Survivorman where Les Stroud spends a week in the same area and states that it has a special, uncanny quality unlike any other place he has been.
posted by newmoistness at 7:15 AM on January 17, 2013

Best answer: Many places in the Artic, I suspect - I specifically felt something like this in the foothills of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, near the Jago River.

It's a stunningly beautiful place, but in an unsettling way. Both I and the folks I was w/ felt the presence of an "other" at different points - something inhuman, or at least indifferent to humanity. Not an "entity", but a hard-to-pin down atmosphere that was part exhilaration, part awe, and part real fear. It is very clearly a place that you could be killed easily, or vanish.

While I was there, I thought about Thoreau and The Maine Woods a lot, particularly his comment about summiting Mt. Katahdin:

It was vast, Titanic, and such as man never inhabits. Some part of the beholder, even some vital part, seems to escape through the loose grating of his ribs as he ascends. He is more lone than you can imagine. There is less of substantial thought and fair understanding in him than in the plains where men inhabit. His reason is dispersed and shadowy, more thin and subtle, like the air. Vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. She does not smile on him as in the plains. She seems to say sternly, Why came ye here before your time? This ground is not prepared for you. Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?
posted by ryanshepard at 7:32 AM on January 17, 2013

Anywhere that I can get away from artificial light and see a lot of stars works for me.
posted by mareli at 7:39 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just finished reading the novel Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru which supposes that The Pinnacles in the Mojave Desert is one of these places
posted by canoehead at 7:45 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Lava fields in Iceland, if only for their remote, alien spookiness. It felt totally divorced form anything human-related or concerning.
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mary King's Close
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:53 AM on January 17, 2013

Dartmoor - twisted ancient trees, old drystone walls and wind-blasted tors that feel like the roof of the world.
posted by Otto the Magnificent at 10:33 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're interested, the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has the thinness of the world as a major theme, as exemplified by this poem from the book

This land is all too shallow
It is painted on the sky
And trembles like the wind-shook rain
When the Raven King goes by

posted by nickhb at 10:54 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Uluru also known as Ayers Rock or actually pretty much anywhere in the Australian outback. Being alone in the middle of such a vast nothingness is very spiritual. But then I can get the same feeling on a beach. Alone on a beach at sunrise in the calm after a night of storms is an amazing place to be.
posted by wwax at 11:04 AM on January 17, 2013

The top of any rocky cliff, in the wind, makes this indescribable joy rise up inside me.

Standing at the top of the escalators in peak hour at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, or at the crossroad at Flinders Street.

Beneath bridges.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:24 PM on January 17, 2013

Being in the deep woods on a wintry night, looking up at the stars through swaying pines.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2013

Definitely near Stonehenge and and the other henges.
posted by 3491again at 6:51 PM on January 17, 2013

Osun Grove, Ogbomoso, Nigeria. It looks busy, doesn't it? But it's big, quiet and spacious. And super-real. A place that seems to listen.

Delphi. I didn't like Delphi one bit - it felt threatening and thundery.
posted by glasseyes at 8:53 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh poo. Oshogbo, not Ogbomoso.
posted by glasseyes at 9:20 PM on January 17, 2013

South Point, on the island of Hawaii. When I stood on the cliff and looked out over the ocean, I remembered something I'd read in a guidebook -- there's no land between that point and Antarctica, about 7,500 miles away. I was struck dumb with fear and trembling and awe. The earth is very big and I am very small.

Thinking about that experience now still brings tears to my eyes and makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach -- even though it was 12 years ago.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:13 AM on January 18, 2013

glasseyes - do you mean Delphi as in the greek oracle? Or the Delphi in Ireland near Doolough in the West of Ireland?. I guess its more likely that you mean the one in Greece, but Delphi, near Leenane came to my mind immediately as one of these places. It is also full of ominous foreboding, and my wife felt the same way about it. It is spectacularly beautiful though, but also has some grim history.
posted by kev23f at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2013

I meant Delphi in Greece. From your pictures, yes, Delphi in Ireland is beautiful. Bleak though.
posted by glasseyes at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2013

This is less "transcendent" than "the endless horizon will make you go insane" but Bad Land by Jonathan Raban has some haunting extended meditations on the landscape of the Dakota/Montana badlands. It's a bit of a mashup of mediation on the landscape, travelogue, and regional history. Good, thoughful book.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:31 AM on January 24, 2013

The feeling of being out-of-the-world, of a closeness to something other.

I've felt this at Dachau. Not in a pleasant way.
posted by pompomtom at 8:13 PM on May 30, 2013

Owakudani in Hakone, the "Great Boiling Hell valley". Even though it is built up a bit with pathways, a visitors centre, and you get there by gondola, there are parts that look like the surface of some weird alien planet and there are all kinds of liquids and wispy vapors and gasses bubbling up, with nothing but crows and the smell of sulfur and wet, black, dead-looking scraggly shrubs and vegetation. It feels like an openly hostile place where humans are not meant to be, and when the sun starts to go down you can't help but feel like you need to get out before whatever lives there comes out and finds you.
posted by Hoopo at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2013

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