- July 02nd, 2010
- Meaning of Pilgrimage
During an evening of chanting in London recently, the devotional musician Krishna Das sang in the call and response tradition of kirtan, shared stories about his guru Neem Karoli Baba and answered questions about the spiritual path.
After a few hours he ended the night with the words, “If we know anything about the path at all, it’s only because someone has walked before us and out of compassion left some footprints for us to follow.”
Pilgrims Ancient and Modern
Modern day pilgrims along the Camino today follow an ancient path undertaken by pilgrims many centuries before and first recorded in the 12th century manuscript the Codex Calixtinus, also known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi or the Book of Saint James.
A compilation of texts associated with the legend of St. James, the Codex Calixtinus is organised into five volumes and the earliest known edition is held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago.
The Pilgrims Guide
Book V, called A Guide for the Traveller and known as The Pilgrims Guide, describes the French route of the Way of St. James and contains practical and spiritual advice for the early pilgrim. It stands as an invaluable source of information about the journeys undertaken centuries ago – places, people, customs and traditions of the Camino.
One of the earliest known travel books, it is believed to have been written by several different authors and compiled into a single volume by the French scholar, Aymerica Picaud. The first description of the Way of St James, it forms the basis of all modern day guides to the pilgrimage route across Spain.
Places of Pilgrimage
Places of pilgrimage exist around the world, throughout cultures and religions, from Europe to India and beyond where the sacred and the profane meet, embedded in deep belief. One place, The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, is spiritually significant within three religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Christians might pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ resurrection; Buddhists to Bodhgaya, the place of Buddha’s enlightenment; Muslims to Mecca, linked to both the prophet Muhammad and Abraham; Hindus to Benares, the sacred city on the banks of the River Ganges, founded, according to legend, by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva.
Pilgrimage as Metaphor
The Pilgrimage Museum in Santiago de Compostela explores the idea of pilgrimage as a universal phenomenon and explains, ‘to speak of a pilgrimage there must be a site, a journey, that entails some sacrifice and physical effort and finally a sacred aim.’
The journey, a metaphor of life on earth, has been explored throughout the centuries in literary and artistic works, ‘A personal transformation begins that is visible in a series of rites that culminate in a moment of arrival and re-birth into a new person.’
Wisdom from the 1st to the 21st Century
The Tabula Cebetis, a moral dialogue attributed to the philosopher Cebes in the 1st century, presents human life as a pilgrimage on earth that moves through three stages. From birth, constant choices are faced that can lead to joy or suffering and through a process of purification eventually lead to a temple symbolising wisdom and knowledge.
In the 20th century Joseph Campbell interpreted pilgrimage as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ through his study of comparative mythology and comparative religion. Campbell believed that all paths lead to the same fundamental truth, through a personal journey of self-discovery, summarized in three stages; departure – initiation – return.
The Pilgrimage Museum explains, ‘the notion of pilgrimage is used allegorically in all cultures to express similarities between the individual physical journey that takes them to a holy site and the spiritual journey that the same individual can travel during their lifetime.’
A multitude of published books, online e-books, forums and blogs exist in the 21st century, sharing the experience of travel and knowledge of the journey. Today the World Wide Web links travellers and pilgrims around the world and creates an unparalleled opportunity to learn from each other, share the path and leave a record for the generations to come about life itself as a pilgrimage.