Unforgettable journeys to the ancient sites of
England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France
 
 
 
 
Becoming a pilgrim
A pilgrimage is a prayer in the shape of a journey to a place
where spirit resides. - Mara Freeman
One way to fully experience the sacredness of the universe is to become a pilgrim. Since the dawn of time, people have sought out places of divine revelation in the landscape: on holy mountains, by curative springs, at oracular caverns and the shrines of saints.

Ancient Highways
In the sea-bound lands of northwest Europe, pilgrimage has been a deep-rooted part of the collective psyche for thousands of years. Although written records begin only with the journeys of monks in the Middle Ages, the landscape has another, older tale to tell. One of the most ancient roads in Europe is the Ridgeway, which runs for eighty-five miles across the chalk downland of southern England. From at least 5,000 years ago, it led pilgrims westward from the Thames Valley to the great megalithic temple complex of Avebury, West Kennet and Silbury Hill. Throughout the years, pilgrims have passed by and wondered at the sacred markers of different ages that can still be seen today: burial tumps, the stone chamber of Wayland’s Smithy, and the mysterious White Horse carved into the chalk, galloping forever over the downs.
 
Blue Remembered Hills
What blessed island do we hope to reach when we set out on pilgrimage? Will it be a place where we will find healing, clarity, inspiration, or perhaps a whole new perspective on life?And will we be able to recognize it when the shoreline comes into view? An ordinary journey as tourist or traveler leaves one unchanged, but pilgrimage is a journey of the soul as well as the body and changes one forever. We leave familiar surroundings behind, not only to discover a special place, but to discover the part of ourselves that seems to have wandered away from our everyday lives. Stripped of our usual context, we travel to find out who we are in relation to sea, sky and stone. As pilgrims, we move through an inner as well as an outer landscape, seeking the ‘blue remembered hills’ of our soul’s home.

Into the Mystic
Pilgrimage to sacred sites, whether to a distant land or to a hill you can see from your window at home, takes us ‘from the outside to the inside.’ It also involves an element of trust, that the journey will be worthwhile and not put us in harm’s way. The word ‘pilgrim’ derives from the Latin peregrinus, one who travels ‘through the land.’ In the Middle Ages, wandering monks called perigrini left their homelands and cast themselves on the mercy of the waves in tiny coracles to do the work of God in unknown lands. Although they were ostensibly driven by the promise of a reward in the afterlife, they surely must have been fired by the tremendous exhilaration that comes with leaving the safety of the known world for adventures in strange lands, where they had no material resources, no shelter, no food, and could not even speak the language. When we voluntarily loosen the reins with which we control our everyday lives, we are thrust into the present where at once we become more vibrant, more alive. With each breath, we sip the cup of life and surrender to the intoxication of the universe as it unfolds each moment.
 
 
Planning a pilgrimage
Seven pointers towards making a sacred journey

Pack lightly – the essence of pilgrimage is to find out who we are outside the cocoon of our familiar milieu, so don’t try to bring it along with you!

Take comfortable clothing and shoes – you will only get to know the land by walking on it, and many sacred places tend to be off the beaten track.

Be prepared to get dirt in your sandals – we are a society addicted to a lifestyle that promises to make us feel clean, safe, and protected from the environment, rather than free and open to explore it.

Less is more – if you try to pack in too many places to visit, you will spend precious time on the road – especially in countries where poor or narrow roads make distances deceptive. We can end up replicating our frenetic lives back home and return with spiritual indigestion, rather than feeling nourished. Choose two or three special places and prepare to spend time there for a few days, getting to know them – and the local people – in different lights, weather and moods.

Let go of expectations – pilgrimage is a gradual process of unfolding and discovery rather than a goal in itself. Spiritual experiences have a disconcerting tendency to happen at the least expected times and places, and require us to stay open to a higher agenda than our own.

Embrace your shadow – delays and inconveniences on the road or in less-than-perfect lodgings can make us annoyed and irritated. At these times, we tend to see these things as roadblocks to the spiritual experience we hoped to have, whereas they are all part of it. If we observe ourselves compassionately under stress, we can learn a lot about how we operate out of our comfort zone.

‘Wherever you go, there you are’ – or as St. Brigit once told some pilgrims:

 
 
‘Tis labour great and profit small
to go to Rome;
Thou wilt not find the king at all
unless thou find him first at home.
 
 
   
   
   
 
Celtic Spirit Journeys and Retreats. Spiritual journeys to sacred & ancient Celtic sites in Great Britain & Ireland.
Call for details: From USA: (free) 1 800 657 1520 • From UK: 01239 858 830 • Worldwide: (+44)1239 858 830
© Chalice Productions 2012 • info@celticspiritjourneys.com