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Definition of a pilgrimage


While it’s true to say I’d never given the word “pilgrimage” any thought before flying to Marseilles, once I’d embarked on the journey, it soon became clear that I and my fellow travellers were all coming with our own unique set of assumptions about what our trip would or should entail.

For myself, I was fulfilling a calling and a dream I’d held for almost a decade to follow in Mary Magdalene’s footsteps through the South of France. Getting to visit all the places I’d read and heard about felt like such a blessed gift, for which I’d had been waiting very very patiently!

And in the weeks before our departure, I’d been tuning in to my intention, as well as asking for healing and guidance.

Although the manifestation of the trip had been totally magical (more on that in the next chapter), I’d been worn down by a lingering uti and treatment that had lasted the entire preceding month and was actually feeling so exhausted and out of shape, that I wasn’t able to walk what you might call my “Glastonbury prayer-rounds” in the way I’d intended as a form of preparation.

For me these walks are a way not only of keeping in shape, but of tuning in to the messages of nature, spirit and the land. To give thanks and send out intentions. To open myself to insight and inspiration. Along with dance and daily meditation, my Glastonbury prayer-round has become central to my gnosis and well-being. And ahead of this trip, it felt even more important, given that there are so many sacred sites in Avalon associated with Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail and the path of sacred union.

The fact was, however, that I’d spent much of the month before we left resting on the couch, lacking the energy to walk anywhere, dance or do any advance research. And as late in the day as the week of departure, I still had some doubts about whether I’d be in a fit state to go.

In hindsight, the great advantage of this is that I went with an uncluttered mind.

All the books about Mary Magdalene I’d read over the years. All the channellings I’d heard. All the practices I’d learned. Had not been refreshed as I anticipated. It felt like I could barely remember them.

And even though I tend to live and be this way anyhow, in the run-up to leaving, I simply had to take one day at a time without projecting forward, since I really did not know if I’d be going.

In ways I can more clearly appreciate in hindsight, my health challenge and the barriers it presented to preparing how I’d have liked to were already in themselves a part of my journey. Offering me an opportunity to see how I respond in the face of sustained discomfort and thwarted designs.

When I pulled cards from my Magdalene deck for the journey, the message I received was both of being called and setting intentions.

My prayer was to be well enough to go. To be able to – finally – fulfil this longing I’d held so dearly. And the intention that began to form itself was both to deepen in healing and release of any residual resentment I carried towards my parents, as well as to receive guidance and inspiration on my path of service in life.

Although as a group we set out with a very structured itinerary, I was of the mindset that every single step of our journey was an integral part of our pilgrimage. Just as my approach to life and spirituality these days is that EVERYTHING is divine, not just the moments of obvious devotion.

This awareness crystallised for me even more upon touching down in France, where my natural impetus to inner stillness, contemplation and observation of every aspect of our experience as meaningful showed itself as being in sharp contrast with another group member who seemed more focussed upon getting to as many sacred sites as possible without – or so it seemed to me – any inner or outer attunement.

This felt stressful for me, since attunement in every moment is how I live and work, but most especially how I wanted to approach this pilgrimage, both so as to be open to receive the insights and synchronicities that I most readily experience when in a state of embodied presence, but also to take care of my body and soul, that were still feeling worn out and weary after a month of ill health.

And so ironically perhaps, our very different notions of what a pilgrimage is was the cause of some conflict, as I and others in our group wrestled – as kindly and clearly as possible – with what we were there for and how we wanted to do it, seeking to balance our own unique pace, needs and knowing with everybody else.

Far from making this person wrong or our trip negative, however, for me this and any other moments of conflict were in themselves gifts of the journey. Part of what I’d come for. To see, feel and heal more deeply. In recognition that any triggers or niggles I experienced were a necessary reflection for MY growth. Right in line with my original intentions in fact!

As some of the definitions of the word pilgrimage given below suggest, it is both a journey to foreign lands and/or sacred sites, as much as an inner quest.

What arises for us along the way, as it inevitably will, isn’t to be regarded as an annoying diversion from our ultimate destination (even if it might feel like it), but rather as the very reason for and possibly even the most golden treasure of our journey.

Let’s take a look….

“A pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance. It is an inherently transient experience, removing the participant from his or her home environment and identity. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.”

“a journey undertaken for a religious motive. Although some pilgrims have wandered continuously with no fixed destination, pilgrims more commonly seek a specific place that has been sanctified by association with a divinity or other holy personage. The institution of pilgrimage is evident in all world religions and was also important in the pagan religions of ancient Greece and Rome.

Pilgrimage usually entails some separation (alone or in a group) from the everyday world of home, and pilgrims may mark their new identity by wearing special clothes or abstaining from physical comforts. Frequently, pilgrimages link sacred place with sacred time.

Apart from involving movement across physical and cultural landscapes toward a sacred goal, pilgrimages frequently involve ritual movements at the site itself.

A factor that unites pilgrimage locations across different religions is the sense, variously expressed, that a given place can provide privileged access to a divine or transcendent sphere. This idea is well expressed in the Hindu concept of the tirtha, a Sanskrit term encompassing the notion of a ford or intersection between two realms. The same word is used by Jains for any site where a prophet was born or died.”

“Pilgrimage' is a wide-ranging topic touching on many aspects of human existence, signifying not only a physical journey to a special place, but also an inner spiritual journey and indeed life itself.

Pilgrim' and 'pilgrimage' are words that have carried a range of meanings over the centuries.

The English term 'pilgrim' originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, or a temporary resident. It can describe a traveller making a brief journey to a particular place or someone settling for a short or long period in a foreign land. Peregrinatio was the state of being or living abroad.

Peregrinus was also used in the Vulgate version of the Bible to translate the Hebrew gur (sojourner) and the Greek parepidemos (temporary resident). These terms undergirded a central image of the Christian life. Christians were identified as temporary residents in this world whose true home was in heaven. They must therefore live and behave day by day according to the standards of their homeland as they journeyed through life. During the early centuries of the Church this was the primary understanding of the term.”

“What sets a pilgrimage apart from an ordinary trip? Sometimes it’s intention—people set out on a journey that they hope will draw them closer to spirit. Sometimes it happens without a traveler even being aware of it, and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that it becomes apparent that the journey was in fact a pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage, in short, is a spiritual journey that touches the heart and soul.

The impulse to go on a pilgrimage may come to you in the form of a dream, a chance encounter, or a persistent yearning that refuses to be silenced. On our journey we may be given insights in forms we don’t expect, so that when we return, we find our lives mysteriously enriched.

Pilgrimage is a nearly universal practice in religion, with Muslims journeying to Mecca and Jews to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to Christians walking in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints. Hindus travel to the Kumbh Mela, a festival said to be the world’s largest religious gathering, while Buddhists go to Bodhgaya in India where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Whether you set out alone on a deserted trail, or travel in the company of like-minded souls, pilgrimage is both an outer and inner journey. Ordinary trips bring a change in scenery; pilgrimages are meant to trigger renewal and rebirth. Travelers exist between worlds and are open to new experiences in ways that don’t happen when we’re in our familiar routines. Lives and hearts can be changed as a result of what we encounter on the road.”

This card is one I pulled in the days leading up to my trip from "The Mystique of Magdalene" oracle deck by Cheryl Yambrach Rose.

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