Eight months ago, a few months after initiating as a Bard, I went on a pilgrimage. And I still don’t really know what happened.
I’m not where I started. I was in Seattle. Then wandering paths overlooking the sea amongst standing stones and ancient chapels in Carnac , trudging up a druid hill north of Quimper, hiking up an old heathen mountain near Strasbourg, staring at reflections off water by canals and waking in strange (but welcoming) beds in Berlin.
And then I was in Florida, and now in Eugene. I don’t think my pilgrimage ever ended.
At some point, my life became a story. Gods showed up, magic became the everyday, and I had a journey to make across the ocean, a pilgrimage to holy wells and druid mountains, walled cities and cobbled alleys, all to learn the meaning of the stories that were becoming my life. And it’s still happening.
I’ve been reading through my travel journals from the beginning of this pilgrimage, and I hope you don’t mind if I reprint a bit of them here for you. Well, actually, for me. I’m still trying to understand what this last year has been, how a man with Pagan sensibilities but no actual belief in the gods became who I am now, worshiping gods, courting land spirits, entertaining the dead, and writing about it. It’s a bit bewildering. Then again, if this stuff made sense, there’d be no use writing about it.
The sun set over the bay, brilliant and dark hues of purples, violets, blues mixing with crimson reflecting off the water of the bay (the tide had come in fully now). Greens of seaweed floated like islands upon the water, and silver danced in the waves where the last whites of the sun hit. The stones of the shore are black, but also dun, as was the sand though giving off a yellow-gold that seemed like trapped sunlight from the warm day.
I cried, but not from sadness.
The days are stringing together like a tapestry I didn’t know the soul could weave.
The fourteenth? Where…that was the day with the alignements and the deer and the heather, the day I lost the camera? No, that was a different–that is the same.
All is always now, except not, because the sun sets and I get sleepy, and the sun rises and I awaken, and between those moments is every color in which life is painted, every note in which life is sung, every word in which the world breathes itself into our souls.
I awoke, the dream of the giant sorting through my thoughts, my desire, his voice deep, his voice quaking, like an old lover I’d forgotten I had, who returned to ask who it was had visited my heart since he last went hunting. He held a fragment of cloth, a fragment of thought and asked, “whose was this?” And I had to answer that I hadn’t met him yet, but intend to, and I awoke.
The rains began, as Quimper seemed always misted, greyed, and doused of much life. But, well, no–anyone who’s lived in Seattle knows full well that a city can be grey and rainy yet still pulsing with some inner life–it’s just a question, then, for anyone to consider what sort of life courses through its streets.
Quimper’s f’ing gorgeous, and f’ing dark. It’s Kemper in Breton, or “confluence,” as it sits upon three rivers which meet before flowing out to the sea. These rivers cut gouges through the forested hills of the capitol of Finistere (“Penn ar Bed” in Breton, or “end of the world…” and it feels like it.), meet, flow away, sluggishly, as the people, as quickly, walk by it along the quays.
If you go there, don’t use the holy water. It’s been pissed in, and not by me. Possibly the angry drunk punks outside, possibly by some angry Breton. And there’s lots, and I don’t know how to explain it, but I think something’s waking up there. Not in the Cathedral, nor underneath, but something behind the dazed look on some of the faces of the Bretons you see on the street.
I don’t want to tell you about the Cathedral of Saint Corentin or about Saint Corentin himself. I’d rather tell you what I heard someone explain to me in a bar: “He took away our joy. He made us safe, him and the other christians, but we lost our joy.” This from an atheist.
I left Quimper with a strange heavyness. Really–those more minded in the earth and the material will certainly find my explanation problematic or just silly, but it felt like every step towards the train station became more difficult, like the city was…pouting. Or maybe I was. I don’t know, but I made certain promises to myself and certain promises, aloud, to the rivers of that city that I shall either return or help build a world in which others come to see its beauty, come to hear the whispering of the water flowing through it like veins, come to stand in awe of the ancient, waiting spirit of the hills. Mayhaps, even, come to learn and unravel better than I’ll ever be able to its mysteries.
There are gates everywhere. Doors, if you will. Cracks in walls which open when you push, gaps between things into which your thoughts can fit, squeeze through, and enter.
Some gates are made of light. Sunlight filtered through trees hitting stone. Sunlight filtered through trees refracted on water. Light dancing, still, not what it was, not what it will be when you look away. Starlight through pines. Candlelight against leaf.
Some of darkness and shadow. The abyss between elder at night, the blackness of open cave, the un-seeing of closed eyes in sleep, the depths in the soul where the heart’s light does not always reach.
But it’s all different now, isn’t it? You see the light refracted and remember it goes elsewhere, just as on the three rivers, by the pool in another land. The gods you’ve heard are here, too, and wonder at this as you drink mineral water and air and drink in the severe beauty of the people who pass, radiating out like the fire infused into coffee, heat slipping through your fingers into the air like their dreams and you suddenly remember how everything fits together.
Meet a friend at an abandoned airfield. Be so full of wonder you fret you cannot hold such happyness, standing where life grows from man’s failed plans, gardens and kites and children and old folks playing in a park birthed just as chamomile finds purchase between side-walk cracks. Watch the sun set with your friend, feel his happyness in what others might call sorrow, hope as air, hope as breaks in pavement waiting from life to fill it.
You can weave love, like stories, into the warmest of cloaks to wrap about you against the coldest of winds. Not all shields must be made of wood or metal, and not all which protects you must prevent you.
The night before I left I played in darkness, unknown songs pouring from my flute into the breathing air, the chill. Again, his voice, questioning–”did you forget? You should not forget.” Remembered always when most needed, when most required, awakening those who listen past life and death, awakening what hears past flesh and bone.
I’d gone for reasons near numerous as stars, but one, outshining the others, reminded itself to me, what I could not leave without addressing, what I could not part without deciding.
Another vow to gods and land and spirits, another vow to myself.
[P.S. I am presenting at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in July and am doing a fund-raiser for travel expenses. Any help, including just spreading the word, is much appreciated!]