Vacation as Pilgrimage

Vacation as Pilgrimage September 12, 2014

Unknown20I don’t take proper vacations. With the exception of a few one-off weekends (and isn’t a vacation supposed to be more than a weekend?) nearly all of my travels over the last ten years have been related to Paganism. I’m not going to complain, a week at a Pagan Festival is probably better than an extended road-trip with the family, but it’s often work too. My priorities at festival tend to revolve around workshops and not hard cider.

Next week my wife and I are headed overseas for our first extensive trip in many, many, years. There are no lectures on the docket and I’m even going to be taking a break from writing(!) but I’m not sure it’s a real vacation. (It certainly won’t be leisurely.) The word that best describes our upcoming journey to the British Isles (Scotland! England! I will miss you Wales! Next time Ireland!) is probably pilgrimage because much of out trip revolves around the spiritual and the holy.

pilgrimage: a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. I think I fit into that definition.

gbg2In many ways Great Britain is my spiritual home. I’m a practicing Wiccan, a religion that was born in England. As far as I know Wicca is the only religion created in England to spread around the world. Before that the English had done a fine job of refining other religious traditions (Methodists! Anglicans!) but had never had their own long-lasting one. I don’t revere Gerald Gardner as an infallible holy-man but to walk where he walked (Atlantis Bookshop) will be pretty cool. I’ve felt spiritually connected to my English forebears for quite some time now but the chance to physically connect on at least some small level is an indescribable rush.

My roots to Albion don’t run exclusively through Wicca though, there have been other moments of connection over the years that I look forward to exploring. It’s probably a cliche to be a Pagan fascinated by Stonehenge but I’m yet another Pagan fascinated by Stonehenge. I first became interested in things unknown in elementary school but as an adult my interest in Stonehenge lies less with the mystery and more with the awe. This is a thing my pagan ancestors built and it’s still here 4500 years later. I’ll never know exactly what those people believed or practiced spiritually but I’m hoping to catch an echo of it in the morning mists.

urshlAs we grow older it becomes harder and harder to find the children we once were still inside of us. When I was a child my hobby was cryptozoology. I collected stories about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster like some kids collected toys. As a kid growing up in East Peoria Illinois Sasquatch always felt far away, but Nessie felt like something from a world away. As an adult I have my doubts about any creatures living in the loch, but the eight year old boy who still lives inside of me is rather giddy about visiting the place of his third grade spirit-dreams.

boleskine-house2For most people Loch Ness is probably not a nexus point, but it’s a coming together point for several of the different threads that have made up my life. Nessie led me down a path of mystery that somehow ventured into comparative religion and the occult. Upon the shores of the loch lies Boleskine House which served as the base of operations for one Mr. James Patrick “Jimmy” Page during the 1970’s. If it wasn’t for my interest in obsession with Led Zeppelin during my early adult years I’d probably be in a different place today. Page’s infatuation with Aleister Crowley began my walk down the magical path, and before Page lived at Boleskine it was home to good old Uncle Al.

Rosslyn_chapel_green_menA little less obvious given my Pagan leanings but a trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Rosslyn Chapel. I’ve always been interested in religion, not just Modern Paganisms, and Rosslyn Chapel presents a whole lot of interesting. I’m sure that some of the more outlandish theories about the chapel are more modern myth than ancient history. But even if all the stories of Templars, Grails, and Masons aren’t true that they’ve all coalesced around one particular structure is still extraordinary. Oh and there are over 100 Green Men lining the walls of the sanctuary too. That alone makes it worth the visit. Green Men probably didn’t start out as Pagan icons, but they are today, and they are still on church walls. I see a silent prayer and a small devotional in my future nine days from now.

Our pilgrimage won’t be long enough for me to see all the things my heart desires. There will be no visits to New Forest England or the Witchcraft Museum in Cornwall. I also won’t be making it to Oxford, or stepping foot within Wales. Time and finances both only go so far and some things I had hoped to do were left on the cutting room floor. Some of our journeys will be smaller things: The British Museum, the Globe Theatre (where I will be wearing my Team Edward de Vere t-shirt), but even those sites hold some magic and mystery for us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing that didn’t end up on that floor will be a trip to Glastonbury Tor. It’s ridiculously out of the way from where we are staying in London but it’s something we are doing regardless. Any location that mixes Christianity, ancient paganism, and King Arthur is a must visit. That it contains the world’s most famous well and the grave of Dion Fortune is simply an added bonus. I never had a childhood infatuation with Glastonbury but as I’ve grown older I’ve simply felt drawn to it. I don’t expect it to stir up any childhood memories, but it just feels like the type of place where it might be possible to connect with something greater than myself and my day to day existence for a few hours.

I realize the danger in attaching so much investment in the places I long to see. They might never live up to my lofty expectations, but I’m not sure they have to. I just want the opportunity to add my own echo to the legacies of these sacred spaces. Perhaps my whispered prayers will be accepted by guardians of Rosslyn and live on forever within its walls, or that the photos I take of Stonehenge will carry their own message. We plan to return home with water from the Chalice Well and while I doubt the water we gather there will cure anyone of any disease, I think it’s energy might work nicely in our temple-space during the occasional ritual. Any space where people have prayed and worshipped for hundreds (if not thousands) will always contain some energy. I don’t believe prayers and mantras simply fade into the ether.

Our little pilgrimage starts in just six days from now and obviously “excited” isn’t a strong enough word for how I’m feeling right now. My bag is already packed, but my heart left long ago. I’m glad that my feet will finally get to catch up.

Help spread the Gospel of Pan by liking Raise the Horns on Facebook along with Patheos Pagan. While I’m away Raise the Horns will be featuring several guest bloggers. Interested in submitting a piece for me to run? You have until Sunday to send something to me.

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