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The Shroud is the mystical barrier that separates the Underworld from the Skinlands (akin to the gauntlet). The Shroud makes the Shadowlands imperceptible to most living creatures and obscures Skinlands activity to the dead.
Wraithly lore holds that early in history, there was little difference between the living and dead worlds, and that individuals would often cross the two - as exemplified by legends of Odysseus and Gilgamesh. However, at some point (around the third maelstrom) a barrier separated the two, resulting in a Sundering that forever divided the Skinlands and Shadowlands. Since that time, the Shroud has grown progressively stronger.
The strength of the Shroud varies from location to location, and the weaker it is, the easier a wraith can impact the living world. In a suburban shopping mall during the middle of the day, the Shroud is almost impassible. In a cemetery on a moonless midnight, crossing over is far easier. Mortals can detect the shroud vaguely, with low-shroud rated areas considered "creepy".
The Hierarchy enforces the Dictum Mortuum, which treats the shroud as legally impassible even if it is low - Arcanoi which can violate the shroud are considered highly illegal. Certain Guilds are consequently highly interested in tearing down the shroud because of the power it would grant them: the Proctors and Puppeteers being good examples. Other organizations, like the Giovanni Clan of vampires, are also interested in tearing down the Shroud, although that may be a gross miscalculation on their part.
In Orpheus, it is shown that the Sixth Great Maelstrom caused the Shroud to thicken and twist into the Stormwall. This was due to efforts by grandmother awakened by the spirit nuke detonations and resulting maelstrom.