On my 59th Birthday, on September 30th, 2023, I embarked on an 11-day pilgrimage to the way of Mary Magdalene in Southern France.
This is the first in a series of blogs that explore my journey.
TO BE A PILGRIM
“Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent,
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
Can daunt his spirit:
He knows, he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
He’ll labour night and day, to be a pilgrim.”
It’s funny isn’t it? Even though I’ve just come back from one, I’ve don’t recall ever contemplating what a pilgrimage actually is or what the word “pilgrim” might mean for me.
But now - as I’m readying myself to start writing about it – memories and inspiration are flooding in from all directions.
Just this morning as I walked up the high street to buy some bread, a man was standing outside St John’s church regaling passers-by with a folky-sounding ballad. The line he sang just as I drew level with him was about being “a pilgrim”.
When I headed to the conference on Fostering Spiritual Unity a little later (organised by the Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre no less), a speaker representing St Margaret’s Chapel caught my attention when he referred to Glastonbury as being perhaps the biggest pilgrimage destination in Europe (or was it the world?) during the middle ages.
As I took a walk up Wearyall Hill the same afternoon, I suddenly remembered my school song. The song I sang on so many mornings for the entire 7 years of my secondary education. Yep. To Be A Pilgrim (see above). Which I’ve only just discovered was written by John Bunyan in 1684 as part of his famous book - The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Crikey! How had it escaped me that I LIVE in a town that IS and WAS such a prominent centre for pilgrims from all around the world?
That all the places I’ve just mentioned - plus so many more - are a part of that sacred trail, steeped, as they are, in centuries of mythological and spiritual significance.
And that I do, in fact, quite intentionally include them in my regular walking circuits in and around town. Or indeed make use of them in my every-day.
What was it that called me to visit and then want to live here in the first place?
Why do I feel almost compelled to walk my own kind of mini pilgrimage here almost daily, communing with nature, as well as meditating and praying in key places?
What new-found significance might I now discover in that jaunty old school song, that used to make me giggle (I mean “hobgoblin” – come on – LOL !!) and latterly take offence at ? It was an aspirational all-girls school, after all, so what were we doing singing a 17th century hymn about a male protagonist? No wonder I couldn’t relate to it!
And how might I now more deeply understand my calling to a Mary Magdalene pilgrimage in the South of France and the connections between that and this land?
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.