Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?”

46. Ian S. McIntosh, E. Moore Quinn, and Vivienne Keely, eds., Pilgrimage in Practice: Narration, Reclamation and Healing

pilgrimage in practice

I think I’ve written here about the advice I’ve received from my supervisors about this project. They tell me I should be “skinning” the books I read: reading the introduction and the conclusion and skimming the chapters in between, looking for anything relevant to my project. I’m usually reluctant to do that, because you never know if you’ll miss something that might turn out to be important, but this book, a collection of essays on pilgrimage originally given as papers at the 2014 Sacred Journeys conference at Mansfield College, Oxford, was a prime candidate. Not because the essays are uninteresting–no, that’s not the case at all. Had I time, I would love to read about the experience of twelfth-century pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, or the explorer (not the actor) Richard Burton’s journey to Mecca in disguise, or pilgrimages in South Africa’s Eastern Free State, or Jerusalem as a contested (to put it mildly) pilgrimage site. But I don’t have time, honestly, and this volume contains an essay that is very close to my research: Matthew R. Anderson’s “Pilgrimage and the Challenging of a Canadian Foundational Myth,” a paper anticipating the 350-kilometre NWMP Trail walk, from Wood Mountain Historic Post to Fort Walsh in southwestern Saskatchewan, that took place in the summer of 2015. I’ve written about Matthew R. Anderson here before, too; he’s the friend who sent me a pile of essays about pilgrimage. Although I didn’t participate in the NWMP Trail walk, Matthew and I were part of the group that walked from Swift Current, Saskatchewan north to Battleford in 2017, and from Mortlach, Saskatchewan, south to the cathedral in Gravelbourg in 2018. Matthew’s essay–because I know Matthew, I’m going to refer to him by his given name, rather than by his surname–casts an important light on the work I plan to do, and for that reason I was very happy I read it.

First, though, I read the book’s introduction, written by its editors: Ian S. McIntosh, E. Moore Quinn, and Vivienne Keely. They begin with a sense of the range of activities that are collected together under the rubric of “pilgrimage.” “Pilgrimages are some of the most ancient practices of humankind and are associated with a great variety of religious, spiritual and secular traditions” (ix). They clearly disagree with Peter Jan Margry’s argument that secular pilgrimage is an oxymoron (14). In addition, they give a sense of the range of activity that can be considered pilgrimage: “330 million people embark on traditional pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, India, Japan and Spain” every year, they write, and “one-third of all international travellers are on some form of pilgrimage or spiritual tradition” (ix). Given this level of activity, “the taken-for-granted parameters around which the subject of pilgrimage was ensconced have come under scrutiny,” they write. “Can anyone say what pilgrimage, in its essence, is?” (ix). Their answer is no. While traditional definitions encompass sites such as Lourdes, Mecca, and the Japanese temple island of Shikoku, there are many other practices that could be considered to be pilgrimages (ix). The scope of pilgrimage leads McIntosh, Quinn, and Keely to ask a number of important questions: “Can ‘pilgrims’ be categorized, pigeonholed or deemed distinct from others who journey ‘for a purpose’? Can a distinction be drawn between the sacred and the secular?” (ix). “What is ‘pilgrim behaviour’? Can it be distinguished and quantified in meaningful ways?” (ix). The purpose of the anthology they have put together is, they write, “to explore some of the knotty questions confronting scholars of pilgrimage” by “inviting those from a vast array of disciplines who, it was hoped, would deal with the experiential, practical, historical, psychological and phenomenological aspects of pilgrimage” (x). The multiplicity of approaches reflects the fact that “the ground has shifted from unity to diversity” (xi). There are many approaches to pilgrimage studies, and many ideas of what pilgrimage as a phenomenon is, and that is reflected in the papers collected in this volume (xi). I find the editors’ openness to a variety of approaches to pilgrimage, and a variety of definitions of the phenomenon, refreshing; that openness reflects Simon Coleman’s contention that there is no point in making “dogmatic assertions” about what pilgrimage is or isn’t (364).

Matthew’s paper on the NWMP Trail pilgrimage begins with his discovery of the Trail’s history. NWMP stands for “North West Mounted Police,” the precursors of the RCMP, Canada’s national police force, and the trail ran from Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills to an NWMP post at Wood Mountain. The trail, Matthew writes, was “crucial to the historical and political developments that forever shaped both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada”:

It constitutes one branch of Canada’s own “trail of tears.” Along this path and others, thousands of starving Indigenous peoples were evicted from the very lands that some groups had only recently signed treaties for, and sent to walk helplessly towards security and food that were promised by Her Majesty’s Government, but that rarely materialized. (149)

“It was along this path,” he continues,

that the fate of Sitting Bull and his warriors, of a collapsing natural resource, of the Métis hunting economy, of the national boundaries of North America, and of a 1000-mile-wide natural ecosystem based on the prairie bison was decided. The NWMP Trail was a route of heroism and a path of ignominy, a place touted in parliamentary debate as destined for a bright future and one of the very real routes for a calculated policy of ethnic cleansing. (149)

Because of the NWMP Trail’s importance, he decided to organize (along with Hugh Henry, a naturalist and historian living in Swift Current) a walking pilgrimage along the trail. This paper reflects Matthew’s thinking about the walk before it took place; it would be interesting to read his reflections on the experience.

The draw of the NWMP Trail was not only historical. The walk also offered an opportunity to encounter the land in an intimate way; walking, Matthew writes, “allows a slower and more nuanced view of what is in fact a nuanced landscape” (150). That’s very true, particularly on native grassland, where one’s attention is divided between the grand sweep of the horizon and the plants and grasses one is walking through. There are many other attractions to the trail: “In short, walking this trail satisfies the historian interested a truer picture of the past, but it also intrigues the nature lover, storyteller, amateur geologist, documentary maker, cultural critic and political junkie” (150). It also would engage anyone with a sense of the land as sacred, something the previous inhabitants of the Cypress Hills–the Cree, Nakoda, and Saulteaux people–believed, and a central idea for the pilgrimage.

The emphasis of this pilgrimage, as with other walking pilgrimages, would be the journey, the path walked, rather than the destination–an emphasis that is characteristic of contemporary walking pilgrimages, Matthew writes. “[T]he slow and careful transformative experience afforded by walking pilgrimage seems ideal to the study and experience of the Trail,” he suggests, noting that

a trail by its nature emphasizes terrain, a sweep of land rather than a spot. Historically, it was the land, its grasses and coulees, its hawk and deer and elk and bear, its creeks and rivers and sloughs, its disappearing bison and its promise for cattle and crops, that were at issue for hunter, trader, smuggler, soldier, warrior, politician and surveyor. (151)

Again, one of the central goals of the NWMP Trail walk was to experience the land in a direct and intimate way, through “the body of the pilgrim” (151). “For a pilgrimage about land to be effective,” Matthew writes, the land must speak and be listened to. It will speak slowly, through soil, stone and grass, and through all those other aesthetic and physical factors that prairie naturalist Trevor Herriot calls ‘the givens of place'” (151). The reference here is to Herriot’s book The Road is How, which I wrote about in this blog some time ago. “[W]alking will allow for a sustained and close contact with the land, with its flora and fauna, its landscape and what could perhaps be called its ‘footscape,’ that no other form of mobility across the prairies can give,” Matthew writes (155). The possibilities that walking offers for encountering the land is an important part of my research, and I agree that it probably offers the best compromise between mobility and an experience of place we have. At the same time, as I’ve written elsewhere, “The more slowly you go, the more you apprehend. And yet, according to that logic, the best thing to do would be to stop” (129). That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with Matthew about the power of walking as a way of experiencing land; it’s just that, in my own experience, it’s possible to get caught up in the rhythm of walking, or the interior meditations it provokes, and end up ignoring the territory through which one is walking. Perhaps that doesn’t mean one’s body isn’t experiencing the land–the hills one ascends or descends, or the feeling of sun or wind on one’s skin–but it may mean that one isn’t entirely aware of those experiences.

Matthew is also interested in the idea of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and descendants of settlers, and that idea animates his hopes for the walk. He refers to the Two-Row Wampum as a metaphor of partnership between Indigenous peoples and settlers: according to the Two-Row Wampum’s symbolism, each group travels separately but in parallel, “in a spirit of mutual respect” (151). His hope was that the walk would articulate the spirit of that metaphor. Such an articulation would not be easy:

Of course, it is one thing for a descendant of settlers such as myself to hear the challenge to journey in this way, and quite another actually to identify a path and begin to walk with the intent of emphasizing, among other things, the repressed history of one’s ancestors’ dealings with others. (151-52)

He notes that other walks are made in Canada: Indigenous political marches to Ottawa or to provincial capitals that focus on issues of injustice, and there are many of those, as I  have learned in my own research; and a few non-Indigenous pilgrimages, typically associated with Roman Catholic shrines. However, “there has never been a specifically designed Canadian pilgrimage with the goal or re-walking, and therefore retelling, contested history. That is, there has never been a ‘Settler’ pilgrimage, at least not on this scale, in Canada” (152). As a pilgrimage characterized by unsettling and truth-telling, the NWMP Trail would require “intentional personal decolonization” and “an ongoing questioning on the part of Settler pilgrims of unconscious attitudes and privilege, including academic assumptions” (152).

Like most writers on pilgrimage, Matthew turns to the Victor and Edith Turner and their book, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture. Everyone who writes about pilgrimage responds to the Turners; I have to read that book. Matthew suggests that their work on the subject “overstated the positive aspects of pilgrimage, and yet their work points to the possibilities, at least, that pilgrimage offers for a certain rethinking, recasting and reliving of existing social and political structures necessary to the Indigenous-Settler relationship” (152). Those possibilities are the reason he thinks of the walk as a pilgrimage, rather than a hike. But there is another reason to consider the walk a pilgrimage:

While it may not be a fixed ritual, simply walking the prairie landscape for any distance, and almost singularly unusual activity, is extraordinary, and is widely perceived as such in the public mind. Rural Saskatchewan is normally a space approached by machine and understood in terms, not of land, but of vectors: (i) working on the fields; (ii) driving through on the way somewhere else; and (iii) watching for crops or cattle from within the comfortable confines of an air-conditioned or heated vehicle. Walking 350 km across land that is rarely walked turns the distance covered into a liminal space, with the usual potential of a liminal space for the upsetting and recasting of values. (152)

That transformation, that “upsetting and recasting of values,” is an important aspect of walking pilgrimages, as Nancy Louise Frey suggests in her book on the Camino de Santiago, which I wrote about this week.

The connection between this walk and reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and settlers is such an important aspect of this pilgrimage that Matthew returns to it in more detail. “To walk a pilgrimage while paying specific attention to Indigenous history and to contemporary Indigenous concerns, then, can be one way for non-Indigenous people to ‘attune’ themselves to a world normally neglected” (152). In addition,

There is an embodied aspect to walking pilgrimage that opens the pilgrim to a reconsideration of history and of the historical and cultural ‘other’ . . . and it is for this reason that walking pilgrimage seems so suited to a reclaiming of the NWMP Trail and a rethinking of the complex and difficult historical place of the Trail in Canadian history and contemporary Indigenous-Settler relations. My expectation is that the physical demands of the walk, and differing evaluations of its place in history, cannot help but occasion some conflict as the pilgrim group encounters First Nations individuals, Métis community leaders, ranchers, farmers and townspeople, with these groups often overlapping. (152-53)

He suggests that Ian McIntosh’s discussion of reconciliation in Australia can help to suggest a way forward for Canadians. McIntosh writes of the importance of “visioning,” imagining a reconciled future, and “backcasting,” working back from that imagined future to concrete steps one might take in the present to effect it. Both visioning and backcasting are future-oriented (153). However, looking to the future can only happen in Canada “after a basic precondition that is addressed by the NWMP Trail pilgrimage” (153): settlers need to know and understand the truth of our history. Matthew writes,

Awareness of the present condition of First Nations must come hand in hand with at least some awareness of the history that created the conditions in which so many Indigenous groups now live. In a situation where many Indigenous people know our shared history only too well, and many Settlers not at all, there is little doubt as to who must do the “moving.” Walking is one way to put feet to our growing awareness. (153)

Walking the NWMP Trail is “a gesture that may become an event; whatever importance it will have comes from the raising of awareness, especially among Settler groups in Saskatchewan and beyond” (153). For that reason, it would be important to tell the story of the pilgrimage (153). Descendants of settlers need to understand that the myth that the settlement of the Canadian west was kinder and gentler than the American version “ignores those government-approved policies of starvation and removal that did in fact take place” (158).

Given the strangeness of walking in Saskatchewan, that story might well find an audience:

Almost no one walks on the Canadian prairie. That is, no one walks unless they walk to or from a vehicle, they are in trouble, or they are too young or too poor to have a car or truck. In many cases, walking in rural Saskatchewan may denote low social status. It is certainly an unexpected sight. In the southern Saskatchewan countryside, a lone walker will not simply be stared at. In areas where one can spend hours without any sign of human activity on the horizon, hikers are as likely as not to encounter well-meaning good Samaritans, stopping their pick-up trucks to ask how they might help. (153)

As I learned walking to Wood Mountain last summer, these comments are absolutely true. To choose to walk here is to choose marginality, even if one is (like me) clearly a member of a privileged group (a white man). Still, Matthew continues, even if no one walks in this land anymore, people once did: First Nations peoples, European explorers, and homesteaders (154). “In terms of human history, it was not that long ago, on the Great Plains, when there was a relationship between the human body and the land, between muscles and distance, a relationship that has disappeared only in the last three-quarters of a century,” Matthew writes (154). “The decline of foot traffic on the prairies seems natural, even inevitable,” but it’s a recent phenomenon, caused by the rapid and widespread adoption of mechanized transportation and the rapid depopulation of the Canadian west. The weather–the heat and cold; thunderstorms, hailstorms, and snowstorms–also makes the prairies “not conducive to walking” (154). All of these conditions make a pilgrimage across Saskatchewan “particularly unusual” (154). It’s important to remember, though, that the use of the NWMP Trail by earlier walkers was much more difficult; they had no support vehicles, mobile phones, or farmers or ranchers to call upon for help (154).

Walkers are exposed on the prairie landscape. They are “often the only noticeable vertical line in a landscape of horizontals,” and that visibility (and their marginality) make them objects of “curiosity and even suspicion” (155). That too is a connection between walking on the prairies and pilgrimage. After all, in Europe, pilgrimage has a history as a subversive activity, something outside of official church structures, and shrines were often places where populist and uncontrolled ideas were spread (155). The pilgrimage along the NWMP Trail would be subversive in its own way, because although the trail is a public trust, it runs across private land. “[P]erhaps the most radical aspect of the NWMP Trail pilgrimage will be the walking itself,” Matthew writes (155), because farmers and ranchers are protective of their property, and there is no culture or history of public access to private land for recreation in Canada. “While we will make every effort . . . to respect landowners’ rights and wishes concerning the crossing of their property,” he continues, “such a walk by its nature makes certain implicit claims about private land and public access” (155). The multiple political aspects of the walk would be intertwined in practice: “the historical recollection of the political injustices to First Nations and Métis”; “the issue of public knowledge of, and access to, a trail which now exists largely on private lands”; and “the fate of the grasslands of the northern Great Plains, an endangered ecosystem that may only be saved if there is enough public awareness of its richness as a cultural treasure and its potential loss” (155).

“Pilgrimage is movement, and it takes its roots from the fact that all movements are transformative,” Matthew writes (159). “What the paradigm of pilgrimage can offer to Settler-Indigenous relations in Canada is a hopeful, but still open question,” he continues, but he hopes that the pilgrimage will function as a search for reconciliation, both personal and societal (159). The NWMP Trail walk would be a “dark pilgrimage”:

an attempt to address a lack of knowledge of a history whose full complexity has perhaps been forgotten in part for its shamefulness. In its public access and its naturalist dimensions, the trek also raises awareness of a common patrimony that is, as it once was, again under threat from sometimes distant economic interests. (159)

It is time for what Paulette Regan, in her book Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, calls “re-storying,” Matthew concludes, and this walking pilgrimage will be one of the ways to accomplish that “re-storying” (159).

There are many parallels between Matthew’s project and my own, although given the difficulties of planning a long walk on private land, I will probably end up walking primarily on secondary roads. However, we are both interested in walking as a way of apprehending land, and in walking as a gesture towards reconciliation. That is, assuming reconciliation is even possible: there have been too many disappointments since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report in 2015 for me to have much faith that descendants of settlers will find it in themselves to address Canada’s ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. There are differences as well; my project is rooted in the history of Treaty 4, for instance. But the similarities between our projects are important, and I hope an opportunity to read Matthew’s reflections on how the NWMP Trail walk worked in practice will present itself.

Works Cited

Anderson, Matthew R. “Pilgrimage and the Challenging of a Canadian Foundational Myth.” Pilgrimage in Practice: Narration, Reclamation and Healing. Edited by Ian S. McIntosh, E. Moore Quinn, and Vivienne Keely, CABI, 2018, pp. 148-63.

Coleman, Simon. “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, pp. 355-68. DOI: 10.1177/1463499602003805.

Frey, Nancy Louise. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, U of California P, 1998.

McIntosh, Ian S., E. Moore Quinn and Vivienne Keely, eds. Pilgrimage in Practice: Narration, Reclamation and Healing, CABI, 2018.

McIntosh, Ian S. “Reconciliation: You’ve Got to be Dreaming.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 1, 2014, pp. 55-81.

Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. UBC Press, 2010.

Wilson, Ken. “Wood Mountain Walk: Afterthoughts on a Pilgrimage for Andrew Suknaski.”International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, vol. 7, no. 1, 2019, pp. 123-34. https://arrow.dit.ie/ijrtp/vol7/iss1/13.

 

45. Nancy Louise Frey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago

pilgrim stories

I’ve been surprised to learn, over the course of my reading in the last couple of weeks, that the Camino de Santiago is not considered a typical pilgrimage. Peter Jan Margry, for instance, argues that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela “is not representative of mainstream pilgrimage culture,” and  “[i]t is therefore questionable whether, on the basis of this specific case, motion can be assumed to be the primary constitutive element of the pilgrimage as a universal phenomenon,” he suggests (26). For Margry, the point of pilgrimage is to be present at a sacred site, rather than in the movement (walking, usually, in the case of the pilgrimage to Santiago) towards that site, which would seem to exclude the Camino from his definition of pilgrimage (35-36). Not everyone would agree with Margry; Simon Coleman, for example, suggests that

The bodily and temporal modes involved in slow, effortful travel appear to subvert the rushing, mechanized world of the present, allowing space a kind of victory over time and helping to produce a sense of contact with the past. If the contemporary world appears to be about the compression of time and space, pilgrims to Compostela are entering a kind of sacred decompression chamber. (“From England’s Nazareth to Sweden’s Jerusalem” 66)

Ian Reader, for his part, acknowledges that in some pilgrimages, the focus is on the journey to the sacred site, rather than the sacred site itself (23-24), although he also notes that the way that many pilgrims no longer have religious motivations has led to accusations that it is turning into “a hiking route as much as a path of pilgrimage” (48). The question of the relationship between the Camino de Santiago and pilgrimage is an important one for me, because the pilgrimage to Santiago is the only one in which I have participated in a serious manner, and it it is outside the mainstream of pilgrimage, then clearly I have based my understanding of what pilgrimage is on a misunderstanding.

In hopes of resolving the question of how the Camino de Santiago is connected to the notion of pilgrimage, I turned to Nancy Louise Frey’s ethnographic account of pilgrims walking to Santiago, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago. Frey is clear at the beginning of her book that the pilgrimage to Santiago is complex, in terms of the motivations of its participants, and unusual in its emphasis on movement rather than being present at a sacred site. Frey writes,

When faced with the complexity of the contemporary Camino, the categories ‘pilgrimage’ and ‘pilgrim’ seem to lose meaning. Usually the words, especially in English, are associated with a religious journey, faith, or devout seekers. . . . Although the Santiago pilgrimage has a religious foundation based in Catholic doctrine regarding sin, its remission and salvation, in its contemporary permutation these religious elements endure, but they also share the same stage with transcendent spirituality, tourism, physical adventure, nostalgia, a place to grieve, and esoteric initiation. The Camino can be (among many other things) a union with nature, a vacation, an escape from the drudgery of the everyday, a spiritual path to the self and humankind, a social reunion, or a personal testing ground. It is “done” and “made” as a pilgrimage, but what does that mean now? The glue that holds these disparate elements together seems to be the shared journey, the Camino de Santiago. (4-5)

The emphasis on that “shared journey” is what separates the Camino from Marian pilgrimage centres in Europe, where the emphasis is on being at the sacred shrine:

The emphasis placed on the journey and how one reaches the shrine at Santiago struck me as marking an important difference between other popular western European pilgrimage centers such as Fátima in Portugal or Lourdes in France. With those other centers, whose devotion is centered on the Virgin Mary by a Catholic majority, the pilgrims’ essential ritual acts occur within the bounded sacred space of the shrine. The pilgrims’ mode of transport, or way of arriving, at the shrine is usually secondary or irrelevant. It surprised me that unlike the pilgrims at Fátima or Lourdes, these white, urban, European, middle-class men and women made the pilgrimage—from a week to a month—on foot, bicycle, and horse. Rather than a healing shrine of short-term visits, the contemporary Santiago pilgrimage is not confined to the city itself but consists of a long, physical and often internal (spiritual, personal, religious) journey. In many cases making the pilgrimage becomes for participants one of the most important experiences of their lives. Pilgrims want to feel and live the road step by step (or pedal after pedal). Non-Catholics, agnostics, atheists, and even seekers of esoteric knowledge go side by side with Catholics and Protestants.” (7)

Walking and cycling pilgrims, Frey notes, make up a minority of those who visit the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, and many of those who travel by bus or plane or automobile are motivated by their religious faith and a desire to be near the relics of St. James (18). For example, during the 1993 Holy Year, only 100,000 out of the six to eight million visitors to Santiago de Compostela walked or cycled the required distances (100 kilometres for walkers, 200 kilometres for cyclists) to receive a Compostela on arrival (22). (Those distances were established arbitrarily by the Church in the 1980s, and they “represent an idea of pilgrimage based on suffering and sacrifice” [22].) The fact that most of those who visit the shrine to St. James in Santiago de Compostela do not walk or cycle would seem to suggest a similarity between the cathedral in Santiago and other Christian pilgrimage centres in Europe, but Frey points out further differences:

The majority of the Marian-centered shrines (Lourdes in France, Fátima in Portugal, and Medjugorje in Bosnia) are based on miracles or apparitions (Church-confirmed earthly visitations of the Virgin Mary to a seer or seers) that occurred after 1850. The pilgrimage to Santiago is based on a tradition said to reach back to the foundation of Christianity. (7-8)

The historical roots of the Santiago pilgrimage, Frey argues, are very important; those who walk or cycle to Santiago become “part of an informal society whose membership goes back a thousand years and includes such notables as Charlemagne, Saint Francis of Assisi, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain” (7). In any case, the Camino de Santiago has become known as a walking or cycling journey since the 1980s, rather than a straightforward visit to a shrine, despite the fact that most of those who visit the shrine use motorized travel of some kind.

Unlike Margry, Frey accepts the idea of secular and even metaphorical pilgrimages (15), and what interests her in the Camino de Santiago is the variety of motivations, opinions, and experiences of those who walk or cycle to Santiago to Compostela. “Walkers and cyclists see a world of difference between pilgrims who travel under their own power and those who use some other form of transport to get to Santiago,” she writes (18), noting that walkers and cyclists typically consider those who go by bus, for example, to be tourists rather than pilgrims because they “do not understand what it means to be connected to the road and . . . to go the ‘human speed’” (18). “Pilgrims use their bodies and the ways they move to make a statement about themselves and their society,” Frey contends. “One’s movements and ways of traveling the Camino contribute to its consecration or desecration as a sacred space. Cars and buses (in the walkers’ view) tarnish the essence of the road” (18). The “sacred space” of the Camino, for walkers and cyclists, is the path they take, rather than or along with the shrine to St. James represented by the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

There are subdivisions among pilgrims. Aside from the division between those who walk and those who cycle (which Frey discusses at length), there are also full-time, part-time, and weekend pilgrims (20). Full-time pilgrims, the majority, begin at one point on the route and travel to Santiago de Compostela without stopping (20). Part-time pilgrims make short-term trips, typically lasting one or two weeks, and it may therefore take them a number of years to get to Santiago. Usually part-time pilgrims are prevented by time constraints from making the continuous journey, although “some, believing that pilgrimage is a process that requires the passage of time to bear the fruit of insight, choose to make the journey in stages” (20). Weekend pilgrims—and this is a group I had never heard of before—“are usually members of associations dedicated to the pilgrimage and its routes which organize walking excursions on various Jacobean paths. A portion of the Camino is selected, and the participants drive or are bused to the starting point and then walk the section” (20). Arriving in Santiago de Compostela would not be an important motivation for weekend pilgrims.

Those who walk or cycle, and those who drive or are bused, rarely understand each others’ motivations, Frey writes:

Pilgrimage, like all human movement, is patterned according to societal norms, lifestyles, class values, fashion, and cultural ideals. The questions become how and why certain modes of transport are used, what they mean to those who use them, and who the people are who use them. 

Foot and cycle pilgrims tend to call those who go by bus and car tourists, and themselves, pilgrims. To be labeled a tourist is pejorative and to be avoided. . . . The term “pilgrimage” signifies a religious journey made out of faith or devotion. Bus and foot or bicycle pilgrims also make the journey for a wide assortment of religious, cultural, sport, and personal reasons. Among both groups there are individuals who go to Santiago for strictly religious reasons, but the vast majority have multiple reasons for getting to Santiago. Therefore, when bus pilgrims are labeled ‘tourists’ by foot or bicycle pilgrims it is not a pejorative statement about their motives but about their movement choices. Tourists, understood to be frivolous, superficial people, travel en masse by bus, car, or plane. Pilgrims, understood to be genuine, authentic, serious people, walk and cycle. (26-27)

The distinction between pilgrim and tourist, as Simon Coleman has pointed out, is complex (“Accidental Pilgrims” 72), but Frey is interested in the distinctions that foot and cycle pilgrims make, and they (as I did on the Camino) overwhelmingly reject out-of-hand any notion that pilgrims can take a bus all the way to Santiago de Compostela and still be considered peregrinos.  (The Spanish word for pilgrim is universally adopted, in my experence, by those who walk or cycle to Santiago de Compostela, and since it’s a lot less awkward than the circumlocutions I have been using, I’ll refer to walkers and cyclists as peregrinos from now on.) 

As Frey notes, the motivations of peregrinos are bound up in their choice of mode of transportation:

It is not just devotion (an instrumental purpose) that drives pilgrims to walk and cycle to Santiago, but in choosing to go in a nonmodern way pilgrims make statements (expressive and communicative purposes) about their society and their values. Broadly speaking, these values include an appreciation of nature and physical effort, a rejection of materialism, an interest in or a nostalgia for the past (especially the medieval), a search for inner meaning, an attraction to meaningful human relationships, and solitude. (27)

Unlike Margry, Frey acknowledges that the pilgrimage peregrinos make is not necessarily religious or sacred in nature:

Becoming a pilgrim to Santiago does not necessarily mean making a religious journey, but it does often signify for cyclists and walkers an inner and an outer journey, a means of finding transformation. Some pilgrims with to give their leisure time meaning, to take a much-needed break from the rat race, and they are attracted to the possibility of adventure, of finding a link to the past and a way to connect meaningfully with themselves, others, and the land, to feel their bodies, and to use all of their senses, to see every blade of grass rather than pass rapidly through a meaningless countryside, to live with less, to relax for a while. They want a space to pray, think, or meditate. From the perspective of the road these things seem impossible to attain from behind the window in the air-conditioned bus. (27-28)

Here, Frey touches on the aspect of walking long distances—whether those walks are considered pilgrimages or not doesn’t matter: such walks offer an opportunity, at least in theory, to have an intimate experience with the land that is not possible with motorized transportation. Whether that theoretical intimacy is borne out in practice is the purpose of the conference paper I will be writing next week.

Frey notes—correctly, I think—that for peregrinos the goal is the road, rather than the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, and that many peregrinos lack religious motivations:

The underlying assumption among most people who know nothing about the modern pilgrimage is that the goal is Santiago and that religious devotion motivates the journey. The goal, however, is often the road itself, not the city. Unlike many pilgrims to Marian shrines, those who walk and cycle to Santiago often are not motivated by the pains of the suffering body but the pains of the suffering soul. (45)

I’m not sure the distinction Frey is making here, between pilgrims to Marian shrines and pilgrims walking the Camino, can be supported with evidence; after all, her ethnographic work was with peregrinos rather than those who visit Marian shrines, some of whom might be hoping to find some relief from “the pains of the suffering soul.” Nevertheless, Frey contends that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela typically has internal, emotional or spiritual motivations, rather than physical ones:

The pilgrimage does not begin with the first step or ride down the trail. Pilgrims begin to shape their journeys well before they leave the front door. The physical movement of arriving at the Camino is anticipated by some kind of internal movement—a decision, an impulse, an unexpected prompting, a long-held desire finally realized, a promise seeking fulfillment, a hope for change. The internal space is in some way already in flux before the journey begins—anticipatory, eager, confused, exhausted, open. (47)

That was certainly my experience before I walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela: I felt strangely called to make that journey (I know that language is religious and I am not, but that’s the only way I can describe the feeling I had). I was hoping for some kind of change, and thought that a month of walking might give me the time to figure out what form that change might take. In that way, I was very much like the peregrinos Frey interviews for this book.

The meanings of the pilgrimage, Frey suggests, “emerge through interaction with others, the road, and reflection” (64), and “the majority of the participants make the pilgrimage because it is the process, not the arrival at the goal, that is most significant in the experience” (64). Each peregrino experiences the journey in an individual way. One woman told Frey about her encounters with the land: the skies, plants, flowers, trees, colours, and birds filled her with joy (71). Other peregrinos report have a different sense of time compared to their normal lives: “Some describe beginning of the journey at a rapid pace and then slowing down, realizing that there is no rush to get to any particular place” (73). Peregrinos “become aware of their bodies, and in becoming attuned to different rhythms, some begin to guide their movements by them” (73). Some “report experiencing a strong sense of the ‘here and now,’” an “‘out of time’ quality” which “exists in sharp contrast to normal life, which is programmed by work, societal norms, and the daily planner” (73). That is true, to an extent, but in my experience the tendency of peregrinos to rely on guidebooks to the Camino—particularly, for English speakers, John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago—often means peregrinos feel obliged to reach specific destinations each day, and the fear of not having a bed often compels peregrinos to hurry, particularly in the afternoon. In addition, as Frey points out, many pilgrims have a fixed amount of time in which to complete the journey, and they may also feel pressure to get to Santiago de Compostela by a certain date (73).

Moving slowly and getting into the rhythm of a different form of travel “can also affect one’s sense of place and experience of the natural landscapes,” Frey suggests (74). One pilgrim, for example, told Frey that being in place, rather than passing through what seemed to be meaningless space (note the echoes of Yi-Fu Tuan’s argument here; he is cited in Frey’s footnotes) was 

directly linked to a growing awareness of his senses. It is his “being” in the world that is different too: he feels each step, is aware of himself in the new places and how he affects and is affected by those steps. The discovery of this sensation of place is in part based on how he moves, what he perceives, and what he touches. The roads are not just flat or bumpy, the hills green, or the birds singing. While walking it is possible to see individual blades of grass, feel every stone in the road (maybe painfully), and note how the senses are heightened. (75)

“Landscape, then, is not just a neutral backdrop but a multidimensional concept related to the understanding of space and movement and the creation of stories meaningful to the pilgrim,” Frey continues (75). One form taken by such stories—or perhaps one mnemonic device that assists with their recall—is the credencial, or credential, in which peregrinos collect stamps that will prove to the authorities in Santiago de Compostela that they made the journey under their own power:

As the pilgrim journeys over the vaguely conceptualized Camino the steps and encounters are like the stamps in the credential: at first there is a blank, structural frame, which is then filled slowly, day by day. A pause, a thought, a stamp, a cup of coffee becomes part of a memory, and the vaguely conceived-of whole—the Camino—takes on a new set of meanings. At journey’s end the spaces have been filled and marked with personal experiences. (75)

“The Camino, which begins as an abstract space, comes to be an accumulation of internalized places made up of stories, sensations, and changes in perception,” Frey writes (87). What had been undifferentiated space, then, becomes a series of places defined by the peregrinos’ experience rather than, as Tuan suggests, places where they stopped, however briefly. Place, then, is linked to mobility through walking, in a way that works against Tuan’s distinction between space (seen as mobility) and place (seen as stasis).

Those who repeat the pilgrimage experience often “express concern about losing the novelty of the unknown spaces, creating routine,” through that repetition; however, many of those repeat peregrinos discover “that the landscape is not the only knowable space or variable; each time the encounters with people, the self, seasons, refuges, and companions are different” (75). This point is significant; I’ve been thinking that the only way to understand space as place is through repeated engagements with the same location, but I hadn’t thought about the way that, for some pilgrims, “the novelty of unknown spaces” is part of the Camino’s draw—and that’s surprising, because that novelty is one of the things I have enjoyed, on the Camino de Santiago and during other walks I have made since then. 

Frey quotes Thomas Merton’s suggestion that people make two journeys, an inner one and an outer one, and she notes that many peregrinos experience some form of inner journey on the Camino (79). Some report feelings of a loss of self or the creation of a greater self in the environment, or of losing a sense of where one’s own body ends and the other begins (79). “Time appears to stop,” she writes, “the world becomes whole, and you know that you are connected to something much greater and inchoate” (79). Often such experiences or feelings are interpreted by peregrinos in religious terms (79). Some pilgrims sense the presence of those who walked the Camino before them: “The common human experience of walking gives one the sense of a shared journey” (82). Others report “that long-forgotten memories surface”:

memories of family members and friends, childhood places, secrets or painful circumstances. These new perceptions often take people to internal places not before visited. The days consist of many hours of walking and cycling. In these long moments, which may be experienced alone or in the companionship of other pilgrims, people are confronted with empty time, a concept distant from the lives of most of these urban dwellers. Into these quiet moments may spill unexplained tears. (83)

Such “outpourings,” Frey continues, are often described as “cathartic,” and “the catalyst that sets them in motion often mysterious to the pilgrim” (83). That catalyst “may be spatial (having distance, perspective, and free time), personal (another pilgrim), or experiential (walking in the meseta)” (83). (The meseta is the high, arid, flat plain that constitutes the middle third of the territory through which the Camino Francés runs.) Pilgrims report having strange dreams and becoming more aware of their own mortality (83). They may discover “hitherto unknown personal potential, experience a reorientation of values, have new visions of the self and others, and develop road maps for present and future actions,” Frey writes (87). Even though there are experiences of levity and play, those times do not detract “from what can be a profound spiritual experience or a reflective time” (92). They become “just another aspect of the journey” (92).

Frey notes that peregrinos experience both communitas and contestation on their journeys. “Through knowing one another in adverse circumstances and relying on others to help get through the fatigue of the day or the confusion of limited language,” she writes, “feelings of communitas (community) and a heightened sense of generosity emerge” (92). Many pilgrims also value the connections they make with people from different cultures, nations, classes, or age groups (93). Frustrations do occur, however, and friendships can be strained:

Sometimes the friction is caused by the different rhythms or a physical problem, which causes one of the companions to make a choice: continue his or her own way or wait with the friend. Existing friendships may suffer from the expanding sense of self, different rhythms, renovation, and experimentation that are common on the way. Paths begin to diverge, leading to a temporary rupture or misunderstanding. (94)

Walking pilgrims often resent the cyclists who speed past them, and for all I know cyclists may resent the pedestrians who block the path; no one likes those who get up early and make noise or shine lights around thoughtlessly in the dormitorio; and those who snore are sometimes reviled. “Nonetheless, through sharing a communal dinner and the day’s stories, curing blisters, or giving massages,” Frey writes, “there is generally a high level of congeniality among pilgrims, even under difficult circumstances” (96). Because “the Camino exists outside of normal time in neutral and inspiring places, where stress is reduced to a minimum,” she continues, “pilgrims open up internally and externally to those around them” (101).

How different is the Camino from other long-distance walking journeys, however? According to Frey, such journeys provide opportunities for “similar types of personal discoveries and triumphs and the use of the road as a metaphor for life” (102). But, she continues, there are important differences:

The Camino is unique, however, for its religious and historical traditions, the presence of nonpilgrims who encourage the journey, the pilgrim’s passport and the collection of stamps, its one-way nature, and its network of refuges and hospitaleros. One is not just a walker but a pilgrim to Santiago. (102)

“Pilgrims experience a powerful feeling of being guided toward a goal, of having a sense of direction, and of knowing where one is going that is not so clear in daily life,” Frey writes. “Each day is an act of accomplishment toward a stated goal in which everything seems to be going the pilgrim’s way” (103). I’m not sure that walkers on other long-distance paths, such as the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States, don’t have the same sense of a goal, or that everything goes the pilgrim’s way; I’m sure that some days, some peregrinos think that nothing is going their way at all. I would argue, in fact, that the relative ease of the Camino is one of the main differences between it and the Appalachian Trail (or similar hiking routes). After all, there’s no need to carry a tent or much food (beyond snacks or a lunch). Packs are therefore lighter—perhaps 10 kilograms rather than 20, which is a big difference—and days usually end with a shower and a change of clothes and a meal that typically includes a cheap bottle of vino tinto. I’m not saying that the Camino is easy, but it might not be as difficult as other long-distance walks. That comparative lack of difficulty might enable more people to participate.

There are challenges on the Camino, of course—blisters, injuries, getting lost—and overcoming them often gives pilgrims the sense that they are capable of dealing with the unexpected. As a result, they “acquire greater self-confidence, and have the sense of being more compassionate, generous, open-minded, and accepting of hardship,” Frey points out. “These experiences are part of how pilgrims explain how the Camino works on them to produce meaning and transformation” (105). Pilgrims interpret the pain and fatigue of their journeys differently: for some these are vestiges of the medieval Camino; for others, especially practicing Catholics, they are opportunities for penitence or sacrifice; for still others, pain and fatigue are gifts that bring greater insight (109). “For nonreligious pilgrims, the pain and fatigue are part of the challenge that must be overcome,” Frey suggests. “Testing one’s limits to feel one’s body is sufficient for many pilgrims. . . . Overcoming pain when it seems impossible to continue leads to a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, a better knowledge of and respect for one’s body, and a way of feeling alive” (110-11). Peregrinos often report greater body confidence and feelings of empowerment through physical struggle, along with losing weight and feeling stronger, which can boost their morale (112). They don’t just notice their increasing fitness, however; as norms of cleanliness or appearance become less important compared to normal life, they often joke about smelling bad (112). “The body and the sensations it opens the pilgrim up to become new unexplored territory,” Frey writes (112). Some peregrinos are not able to overcome pain or injury; Frey estimates that 20 per cent of those who begin the Camino in Roncesvalles do not complete the journey for a variety of reasons (114). 

For many peregrinos, the Camino becomes an opportunity for solitude and independence (117). “Overcoming a fear of being alone can lead one to personal understanding and change the Camino from an uncertain adventure to a more broadly conceived journey of self-exploration,” Frey suggests (117). “During the long stretches of continuous movement, which may be painful, boring, or exhilarating, the pilgrim also fills the time in novel or infrequently practices ways—thinking, praying, meditating, singing” (118). For some, the walk is a ludic or playful experience; others find themselves lost in the rhythm of walking; some experience existential questions (118). At the same time, Frey writes,

In this environment, in which new doors to the self are opened on personal, spiritual, and social levels and the pilgrims experiment with emerging parts of their identities, a sense of danger or guilt may also surface. These reactions frequently occur when one’s image of what a pilgrim’s behavior “ought to be” while making the Camino conflicts with the reality of the experience. (124)

Questions of authenticity, which on the Camino often mean the genuine nature of the experience, are one aspect of the pilgrimage, as John Eade and Michael Sallnow argue, a space of competing discourses (126). Conflicts “over what is an is not ‘pilgrimlike’” are frequently rooted in struggles for power, personal debates about the pilgrimage’s meaning, and claims to authority—particularly over questions of authenticity (126). In other words, “[a]lthough there is communitas, rifts exist” (129). “Without realizing it,” Frey continues,

pilgrims make sweeping judgments about others and at the same time put themselves into a category that claims to hold a “truth” about the Camino. The authentic says “We are all pilgrims,” but at the same time it is clear that “some are better pilgrims than others.” For some, being an authentic pilgrim raises one’s status instead of serving as an equalizer. (129)

“Distance from modern technology plays a crucial role in determining authenticity,” she continues. “Walkers reign supreme for their independence, physical effort, and slow pace” (131). In addition, I would, that sometimes those who have left cameras or smartphones behind sometimes consider themselves more authentic than those who take photographs or ask for the wifi password when they stop at a bar for coffee.

Questions of authenticity are important as vehicles of interpreting experience, Frey suggests:

Although authenticity is believed to reside in the past, pilgrims find their own meanings through identification, questioning, and reflecting on the image of the authentic pilgrim. The Camino has become a space in which meanings emerge for the individual who can play with identity, search the soul, find the past, create friendships, engage in serious religious or personal reflection, or simply have a good time. Pilgrims often find something essential (authentic) within themselves or others. The point is not that there is no authentic pilgrim but that there are many authenticities. Each person creates his or her personally meaningful experience. (136)

I wonder if this focus on authenticity isn’t another way in which the Camino differs from other long-distance hiking trails. Do hikers ask whether they are authentic hikers? I don’t really know the answer to that question—it’s another issue that requires research—but I would bet they don’t. I could be wrong, though.

As a form of transportation in modern, middle-class European or American life, Frey notes, walking is “essentially obsolete”:

It is the rare individual who commutes to work on foot. Walking is usually linked with leisure. What pilgrims often do not realize is that their venturing out to discover something true about themselves and the world has a long history in Christian and Western philosophy centered on the debate over whether the locus of change is found in stasis or mobility. (131-32)

I ought to familiarize myself with that debate, but Frey’s footnote here is uncharacteristically vague—perhaps because she is an anthropologist and not a philosopher. Still, she suggests, peregrinos who are uninterested in questions of authenticity tend to be those who are experienced travellers or long-distance walkers. “In other journeys they have experienced the pains and disorientation of solitude, the joys of stunning natural beauty, and the experience of living with little,” she writes. “The Camino is just one more such path” (135-36). Some of those experienced walkers are unmoved by the Camino; for them, it’s just another long walk (136). 

Although the peregrino’s focus might be on the journey, at some point he or she is likely to arrive in Santiago de Compostela:

While Santiago is an obvious geographic goal, it is not necessarily the end of the interior journey. Journey’s end and the pilgrim’s goal should not be conflated. The multitextured quality of endings is visible in the closure of the physical journey and the turn toward home. The pilgrimage does not simply end with the pilgrim’s arrival in Santiago but is a process that often begins well before the pilgrim reaches the city’s gates and is prolonged indefinitely as the pilgrim continues to interpret in daily life the experiences he or she lived while making the way. (138)

Often peregrinos feel a sense of arrival long before they reach Santiago de Compostela; their sense of time changes, becoming a countdown of the days left in the journey, and as they enter Galicia, the geography and weather changes (139). “A common sensation that pilgrims experience in the last portion of their journey is ambivalence,” Frey contends:

The end of the long physical, personal, and often spiritual journey is tangible. Each pilgrim’s journey has a different rhythm. One may arrive strong and powerful on a physical level—feeling new muscles, trust in knowing one’s limits, wearing the pack like a second skin—yet feel totally unprepared on a spiritual or personal level to reach Santiago. Awareness of this process often presents itself only in the return home. (144)

“Reaching Santiago often comes as an unpleasant surprise as the joy of discovery comes to a sudden halt,” she continues (146). Others who have been “seeking yet not discovering” may experience a sense of crisis “because the Camino has not opened them to what they hoped to receive” (146). “As a goal,” Frey writes,

Santiago is both a physical place and an abstract idea; an imagined vessel into which pilgrims may have poured hopes and dreams. As a place and an abstraction it can be attained by movement away form the starting point and mediated by pauses or rests. Reaching the physical goal does not necessarily entail a parallel arrival of other goals—spiritual enlightenment, a decision made—as is clear from pilgrims’ stories of arrival in the city. For some, the end in Santiago marks the beginning of a new journey. For others, it is a great letdown or simply a stopover point. Several of the salient issues at play in the end of the pilgrimage are reassessment of the journey’s meaning, search for closure, dialogue with the past, contemplation of the future, symbolic death of the self, and preparation for the return home. Just as pilgrims must draw the physical portion to a close at some point, the arrival in Santiago marks a geographic end, even if it is not the ultimate goal in an abstract way. (254-55)

The pilgrim, she concludes, still needs to find his or her way home, the journey that completes the experience (255).

Most pilgrims arrive at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where the rites they perform “rarely occur in solitude” because “[t]he cathedral is an important attraction for nonpilgrims, who also attend the Pilgrim’s Mass and engage in the same ritual actions as the pilgrims themselves” (158). For many peregrinos, both religious and nonreligious, 

the Pilgrim’s Mass serves as an essential rite of closure, a moment to contemplate what has come before and what lies ahead, to celebrate the Eucharist at the feet of the apostle, to rest at the long-awaited goal, and to languish in the joy of arrival. The Mass also serves a crucial social function: it is a common point of reunion and departure for groups of pilgrims that may have formed along the way. The Mass is personal yet communal. It is one more time to share together, an often cathartic experience and moment of closure. (159)

Receiving the Compostela is another rite of closure, although pilgrims report that it is often ambivalent or anticlimactic as well (159-62). Frey emphasizes the idea that the arrival in Santiago de Compostela can be disappointing, although not everyone is going to have that experience. My arrival was emotionally powerful, although after resting for a couple of days I was eager to begin walking again, partly because I wasn’t comfortable with the transition from peregrino to tourist, an experience that is not uncommon, as Frey points out (162-63). “By taking off the backpack and putting down the staff, walking into the streets of Santiago one is no longer a pilgrim as on the road,” Frey writes, and pilgrims often find themselves “engaging in activities involving consumption,” purchasing souvenirs, visiting monuments, and eating and drinking (perhaps to excess) (165-66).

In Santiago de Compostela, peregrinos go through a range of emotions, from joy to sadness (163). They often report experiencing a flood of memories about the journey (164). Part of the challenge lies in the shock the body experiences on arriving in Santiago de Compostela: “After growing accustomed to walking or cycling for five to eight hours a day,” Frey notes, “the sudden change produces a shock to the body now inhibited from maintaining its daily rhythm” (164). “The city is a point of supersaturation,” Frey writes. “Pilgrims begin to shed their months of experience, leaving a wake of uncertainty, joy, pain, and discovery. Eventually the break is made and the pilgrim puts away the scallop shell, packs the bag and staff, and makes the turn that ends the physical journey and returns home” (169).

Frey suggests that some peregrinos may have trouble letting go of the experience (164), as I suppose I did, although I had planned all along to continue walking to Finisterre, a fishing village on the Atlantic coast that is another ending to the pilgrimage, and after that, to Muxia, another village some 30 kilometres north of Finisterre. These journeys are discouraged by the church, Frey points out, although the Galician government encourages them (171). “The internal journey that did not find its end in Santiago may be resolved at Finisterre,” she writes:

It may give pilgrims additional time to reflect on the pilgrimage’s conclusion and the return home. It may also be a way to keep walking, a way to keep searching and possibly avoid resolution, a way to smooth a potentially difficult transition, a way to end a pilgrimage of initiation through confrontation with the natural elements. (176)

I got sick in Finisterre—a 24-hour virus of some kind—and as a result I found the walk to Muxia very difficult. I remember feeling that I had walked far enough, and that it was now time to stop. Being exhausted from both the walk and the illness contributed to that sense of conclusion. They helped me realize that the experience had come to an end.

Going home is another difficult transition. It raises important questions about “how the pilgrimage endures, if it does, and how the experiences are interwoven into daily life, influencing future actions and ways of being” (179). On what level does the peregrino change, if at all? Is the change personal, spiritual, creative, or physical? “What has been acquired through the pilgrimage needs to be renegotiated into daily life,” Frey writes:

Sometimes the experience of the pilgrimage results in changes in occupational or marital status, the pursuit of creative personal projects, the discovery of prayer, an emphasis on maintaining friendships or an identity developed in the way, or an enduring memory such as a lovely walk taken in Spain. (179)

Pilgrims are sometimes encouraged to talk about their experiences when they return home, but what they share, Frey suggests, “is selective and interpretive”:

In the retellings meanings of the journey continue to emerge and the adventure grows as the pilgrim edits and elaborates on the journey’s stories. The returnee may realize only in the retelling that she is or was a pilgrim and the secular journey a pilgrimage. Retelling plays an important part in the return, whereby one is able to reinterpret, process the experiences, and create oneself as pilgrim at the same time. In this way the reactions of family and friends often help the pilgrim put the Camino into context through the acts of narration and fielding questions. (186)

Some former peregrinos report losing their sense of direction or purpose when they get home (188-89). Sometimes feelings of stagnation or disorientation are “influenced by the inability to translate the Camino’s experiences into everyday life,” or the fact that “[v]alues garnered or clarified while in the Camino may not be compatible with a work or personal environment” (190). “The sharp contrast between the easy flow, purposefulness, healthy lifestyle, and directionality found and often lived on the Camino can in the long-term postexperience give way to feelings of failure when it seems that it is difficult to maintain these ‘lessons’ or ways of living in one’s own life,” Frey points out (192). On the other hand, “another outcome of the pilgrims’ interactions with the Camino that continues to work in their daily lives is a sense of personal empowerment acquired through the way” (192). “Perhaps even more profound is the sense of the ‘potential me’ the Camino reveals on the return home” (193). The experience of overcoming pain and fear and testing one’s limits often leads to feelings of groundedness and strength in daily life (193). “For most,” Frey writes, “the reality is that the Camino helps to open doors but that the individual must choose to walk through them to be transformed in some way. Pilgrimage does not ‘make one’ a better person. Personal change is often a long-term process of trial and error” (198).

“As a memory the Camino exists on at least two levels,” Frey contends: “that which is shared and re-created for an audience and that which exists privately for the pilgrim, the place that is revisited and remembered, bringing back the journey’s discoveries” (199). The Camino may not only consist of memories, however, According to Frey,

 Finding silence and peace in solitude, living and appreciating the moment, and making life less complicated are all ways that participants try to bring the Camino as pilgrimage home. Feeling oneself a pilgrim through personal and social encounters during the journey also marks the experience in the memory of the postpilgrim as more than a holiday adventure. It is described as an internal experience rather than an external one. (203)

“Postpilgrims,” Frey writes, “want to continue journeying, believing that a vital part of their identities is as pilgrims on the Camino” (203). I wonder if that belief leads some to repeat the experience. I haven’t been able to return to Spain to walk—I haven’t had the time or the money to do so—but I’d like to. I suppose I’m a repeat pilgrim who has yet to make the journey again.

Frey also touches on something Tuan writes about: the notion that the longest journeys lead to the most powerful experiences:

within the culture of the Camino there exists the commonly held idea that the longer the journey, the greater its impact on the individual’s life. It is generally those who make the longest journeys who support the idea of time/distance relationships, an idea that is further strengthened by the current ideal of authenticity. (214)

Frey’s research, however, suggests that “what appears to be more important is what the pilgrim brings to the Camino (state of mind, motivation) and how the Camino is remembered and acted on in the postexperience” (214). She refers to Tuan’s suggestion that while sometimes an intimate encounter with place is the result of a lengthy experience with that location, sometimes (Tuan’s metaphor is love at first sight) that intimacy can develop immediately (214). “A week on the Camino may immediately and radically shake some pilgrims’ sense of reality on the road and at home,” Frey writes. “For others, a journey of four months may produce infinite opportunity for meditation and reflection yet confusion and aimlessness back home” (214).

Frey’s conclusion summarizes her arguments. She notes that throughout the book, she has argued “that through movement pilgrims make statements about themselves and society” (218). One such statement is a belief in the power of contact, and that belief is one point of difference between the Camino de Santiago and European Marian pilgrimages:

In the implicit, and often explicit, critique of modern society there is a concomitant valorization of “contact,” felt to be either lost or hard to achieve in a fast-paced world characterized by mass communication and an apparently increased callousness toward human life on political and social levels. These types of contact are varied: with people, with the road, with the past, with nature, with the self, with silence and solitude, with less, with the spiritual and the religious. At the heart of this desire for contact is often an unspoken lack that pushes the person out of home and on to the road. On some level a wish for transformation—perhaps of both the self and society—or at least clarity and insight exists. For these reasons I call the modern pilgrimage a journey of the suffering soul rather than a journey of the suffering body, as journeys to popular Catholic shrines associated with miraculous cures, such as Lourdes, might be characterized. (219)

Another point of difference is the way that these contacts and transformations are “made fundamentally through the body and its movement through time and space”:

the truth of the way is felt on the road. The pilgrim’s body is not only a conduit of knowledge but also a medium of communication, a means to connect and make contact with others, the self, the past and the future, nature. The body can also be used as an agent of social change (“cause pilgrims”), as a way to protest the fast-paced, disheartening aspects of modern society, and as a way to peacefully ask for change. Pilgrims are noticed, and on some level may want to be noticed: perhaps they are making a cry for help, a show of grief, a testament of faith, a plea against resignation and personal and social stagnation, a statement about an alternative way of living, or a public protest. In this way pilgrims not only pray with their feet but also speak with or through their feet or their bicycles. (219-20)

The body’s movement also constructs the meaning of the peregrinos’ journeys:

Throughout the journey pilgrims are confronted with personal, physical, and mental challenges as well as unexpected acts of kindness and patience. Pilgrims encounter new sights, sounds, and ways of feeling and perceiving the world and often develop surprising friendships. Each day’s journey becomes filled with anecdotes and stories that become models for future action. Pain and the limitless horizon may lead one to a greater sense of humility. Being invited into someone’s home may serve as a lesson in generosity and lead to a greater faith in humanity. Receiving unexpected gifts can lead to one’s own desire to give. Being unable to sleep because of thirty snoring people reminds another of the ludic. Feeling God’s presence in the sunset over the sea brings another closer to his religion. Surviving a difficult day lost can bring greater self-reliance or the knowledge that there are not accidents. Singing at the top of one’s lungs in the middle of the meseta may give another a sense of freedom and wild abandon. Sleeping on the floor reminds another of how easy it is to live with less. Making new friends gives another a feeling of sociability and belonging. Each story becomes part of the pilgrim’s journey which can later simply be recalled or applied to another life situation. (220)

“Feelings of one’s potential and a sense of renewal can also emerge during the pilgrimage and at the same time reveal more clearly the everyday lacks that pilgrims suffer,” Frey writes. The interpretation of such experiences as meaningful “sometimes leads to feelings of physical, spiritual, personal, and social renewal—which is why some pilgrims call it the therapy route” (221).

As a result of these feelings and experiences on the pilgrimage, “these new visions of the self and others,” 

pilgrims often express the desire to make a decision, to take action, or to be less materialist, to be more generous with others, to bring decisions—to quit a job, to change careers, to move, or to alter a relationship. The confidence and strength that come while walking and cycling lead many to bring these feelings back to daily life. (221)

“Others experience disappointment,” Frey acknowledges, “but few feel unmoved:

Instead of transformation and clarity, more questions than answers arise. For some, the Camino simply provides good memories and a sense of accomplishment, which can be sufficient. Others are haunted by the inability to make it to Santiago or to find solutions, for examples, to personal crises, social failure, or unexplained pain. Some come to the Camino believing that the ‘therapy route’ will give them the quick fix or the spiritual insight they crave yet feel frustrated when it seems that only others end up with the solutions. Some accept the lack of discovery as ‘not being their time’ and repeat to find what is missing, or they may reject the Camino itself. (221)

For many, she continues,

the pilgrimage appears to be a continuous process, at least on the level of memory, if not of action. The arrival in Santiago marks the beginning of the next phase: the pilgrim’s translation of the stories to home life, which may seem as difficult or as unlikely as the legend of the apostle’s own translation. How does one bring together two distinct realities, life on and life off the road? The challenge is complicated by how the inner journey appears actually to be a series of inner journeys. Pilgrims may feel exhilarated on a physical level yet not feel that their spiritual questions have been resolved. Or perhaps the journey was meant to be a time of personal reflection on a love relationship, and instead of greater clarification the pilgrim felt distracted by body pains, a resurgence of unpleasant childhood memories, or an unanticipated spiritual awakening. (224)

“The simple pairing of an inner and an outer journey,” Frey continues, “is too narrow a metaphor to understand contemporary pilgrims’ experiences” (224).

“The modern pilgrimage to Santiago is ecumenical, even though its symbols and infrastructure have a distinct religious history and meaning,” Frey writes (228). “In what appears to be a desacralization of pilgrimage by alternative and competing interpretations,” she writes, 

many, especially the religiously devout, fear the loss of its essence: faith, belief, community, communion, and religious and spiritual sentiment. In general the proliferation of individualized spiritualities is interpreted as the rejection of religion and, by analogy, the loss of community and a sign of further social fracture. Yet is appears to be more accurate to say that for participants faith and belief actively life and grow in the contemporary pilgrimage. (228-29)

Like Coleman, Frey accepts the idea that pilgrimage—at least, this particular example of pilgrimage—is complex and multivalent, best approached as “a case-study rather than focussing on the institution itself as a firmly bounded category of action” (“Do You Believe in Pilgrimage” 363), unlike Margry, who sets out to establish clearly defined boundaries for this phenomenon. But, more importantly, Frey is interested in the Camino’s potential to effect personal transformations in its participants:

Many, at least temporarily, taste something different but are unable or unwilling to integrate the Camino reality as a deep, personal, structural change. The simple act of making the decision to go and follow through with a dream may be sufficient and the greatest achievement. Most pilgrims, however, find that deep personal transformation occurs over time through action and reflection, that the Camino may have provided the catalyst, but they work to integrate the Camino and daily reality. In a sense one chooses to be changed. (230-31)

As a case-study, and one involving a phenomenon I have experienced, I found Frey’s book useful, even illuminating. I was particularly interested in her suggestion that walking can be a way to experience the land. She contends, several times, that it is a way to “see individual blades of grass” (75), and while I think the relationship between mobility and place is more complex, I think there is some truth to this claim. At the same time, her emphasis on the importance of constructing stories about the experience of the Camino is important, particularly as a way to engage with the territory through which one walks as place. I am also convinced by the argument that long-distance walks can lead to personal change. I was changed by my experience on the Camino, and the walking projects I’ve engaged with since then, particularly Muscle and Bone, my walk through the Haldimand Tract in southwestern Ontario, have led to further changes. I’ve been warned about the subjective nature of such feelings of transformation, but I think they are true, and I think they are powerful. In any case, I’m glad I read Frey’s book—particularly since it’s the first time in quite a while that I tackled something that was actually on my reading list! In other news, it’s time I revised that list. Perhaps I’ll spend some time on that after I write my conference paper.

Works Cited

Brierley, John. A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago. 16th edition, Camino Guides, 2019.

Coleman, Simon. “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe.” Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. 22, no. 1, 2015, pp. 71-81.

——.Coleman, Simon. “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, pp. 355-68. DOI: 10.1177/1463499602003805.

——. “From England’s Nazareth to Sweden’s Jerusalem: Movement, (Virtual) Landscapes and Pilgrimage.” Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. Edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade, Routledge, 2004, pp. 45-68.

Frey, Nancy Louise. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, U of California P, 1998.

Margry, Peter Jan. “Secular Pilgrimage: A Contradiction in Terms?” Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries into the Sacred. Edited by Peter Jan Margry, Amsterdam UP, 2008, pp. 13-46. JSTOR. Accessed 14 September 2018.

Reader, Ian. Pilgrimage: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2015.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. U of Minnesota P, 1977.

43. Simon Coleman, “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond”

do you believe in pilgrimage

“Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation, and Beyond,” by Simon Coleman–another in the bunch Matthew Anderson sent my way–presents an intellectual rapprochement between two texts on pilgrimage that are typically considered to be completely at odds with each other: Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, a 1978 study by Victor and Edith Turner; and Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage, a 1991 anthology of essays edited by John Eade and Michael Sallnow. I’ve read neither of these works–I’m waiting by the mailbox for them to arrive–and that’s unfortunate, because they are clearly the most important works on pilgrimage, given the way that every scholar seems to refer back to them, and because when I finally do get a chance to dig into them, I’m going to be influenced by Coleman’s powerful argument.

Coleman begins with the Turners, particularly their notion of communitas as a theoretical construct which “described the individual pilgrim’s temporary transition away from mundane structures and social interdependence into a looser commonality of feeling with fellow visitors” (355). That idea, he writes, “clearly drew on metaphors of liminality within rites of passage,” which it also was “the result of voluntary rather than societally enforced removal from the everyday world” (355-56). There have been many critiques of the Turners (356-57), but the most powerful has been the challenge Eade and Sallnow made “to the anti-structure hypothesis” of the Turners, and the “new, general approach to the anthropological study of (Christian) pilgrimage” articulated by Eade and Sallnow. The critique Eade and Sallnow made of the notion of communitas was powerful: communitas “failed to take account of the mundane conflicts inherent in pilgrimage” (357). Eade and Sallnow saw communitas “as just one idealizing discourse about pilgrimage rather than an empirical description of it” (357). Pilgrimage, in their conception, is “a capacious arena capable of accommodating many competing religious and secular discourses” (357). In addition, it’s important to examine “historically and culturally specific instances” of pilgrimage rather than trying to understand it “as a universal or homogenous phenomenon” (357). “The Turnerian image of pilgrimage appears to have been shattered” by the anthology Eade and Sallnow edited, Coleman writes, but he continues, “in this article I want to suggest that we run the risk of devaluing the work of both the Turners and Eade and Sallnow in viewing our theoretical options in this way”–that is, as a contrast between communitas and “contestation” (357).

Coleman’s paper has three goals. First, he intends “to assess briefly why there has been a recent efflorescence of anthropological studies of pilgrimage” (357). Second, he wants “to demonstrate that the arguments of Image and Pilgrimage and of Contesting the Sacred are in certain respects not all that far apart”–indeed, he hopes “to show that they reveal some striking theoretical similarities, once a nuanced view of their respective approaches is taken” (357-58). Finally, he seeks “to consider some of the future directions for an anthropology of pilgrimage” (358).

So, why has there been an increase in studies of pilgrimage? One reason is that both pilgrimage and tourism “have become metaphors for a world on the move” (358). Coleman notes that James Clifford, to take one example, argues that “the notion of pilgrimage is of particular use as a comparative term in contemporary ethnographic writing since (despite its sacred associations) it includes a broad range of western and non-western experience and is less class- and gender-based than ‘travel'” (358). Clifford’s use of “pilgrimage,” Coleman continues, “relates to a broader project of exploring how practices of displacement are not incidental to, but actually constitutive of, cultural meanings in a world that is constantly ‘en route,’ made up not of autonomous socio-cultural wholes but complex, interactive conjunctures” (358).

Next, Coleman thinks through the nuances of the communitas and “contestation” paradigms. He notes that the examples Eade and Sallnow present suggest that “the degree of overt conflict at any given site may vary” (359). “Just as the Turnerian argument about communitas was rejected by scholars who went looking for it and could not find it in a way that they found ethnographically convincing,” he writes, “so the contestation paradigm could potentially be challenged by a simplistic reading that looks for it at a given site and instead finds a predominance of apparent harmony” (359). “In my view,” he states, “it is far more useful to regard contestation as an umbrella-term for multiple if shared orientations, and then to start refining its meaning” (359). For example, the various Jerusalems “criss-crossed by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant evangelical Christians” suggests sometimes contention for “ideological hegemony,” but also sometimes it suggests an agreement to “simply look (and walk) past each other in embodied confirmation of discrepant imaginaries which have been pre-formed at home” (359). Sometimes, he continues, “individuals or groups take account of but do not necessarily specifically interact with each other” (359). “It becomes possible,” then, “to see how the juxtaposition of varied interpretations and practices need not be regarded as, by definition, reflecting overt struggles for hegemony in restricted cultural and geographical space” (359). Chapters in Eade and Sallnow “emphasize conflict and discrepancy at the shrine-level,” Coleman notes, “but retain the right to depict coherent, shared structures of meaning within specific communities of interpretation” (360). At the same time, their book also suggests “the possibility of a kind of communitas within contestation, or more accurately the existence of (relative) fixities of meaning that correlate with socially discrete units” (360).

“Just as contestation is more complex than it might at first appear,” Coleman continues, “so the apparent whole deconstruction of universalist narratives”–a reference to the Turners–“deserves to be examined more closely” (360). “[D]espite their deconstructive tendencies,” Coleman writes, “Eade and Sallnow do depict pilgrimage shrines as having a kind of ‘essential’ character and function: precisely that of containing and objectifying multiple discourses. Perhaps other institutions do this as well, but we are given to assume that major shrines must do so” (360). Eade and Sallnow’s work needs to be read carefully, Coleman argues, “rather than plundered by those looking for an off-the-shelf, easy-to-use theoretical tool with which to ‘analyse’ pilgrimage” (361). But the same is true of the Turners’ work; it is “more complex, and in my view richer, than it is sometimes given credit for,” Coleman contends (361). Communitas, for example, is “a multi-faceted paradigm, with the ideal and spontaneous manifestation of ‘existential’ communitas usually going way to ‘normative,’ systematized forms at particular shrines” (361). Communitas is also easily compromised by social structure, “with its associated divisions and pragmatic accommodations” (361).

In fact, Coleman suggests, there are important similarities between the Turners and Eade and Sallnow: “The idea of a shrine accommodating a multiplicity of discourses is not so far from the Turnerian notion that dominant symbols contain within them a fan of meanings” (361). In addition, both are aware of “the possibilities of dynamic tension between official and lay or popular views” (361). Both use similar dominant theoretical metaphors as well (361). “[W]e do the authors and ourselves a disservice if we see their work as one-dimensional and entirely mutually antagonistic,” Coleman claims. “Neither communitas nor contestation should themselves be fetishized in order to produce neatly symmetrical anthropological theory, made up of views that appear to constitute a simply binary opposition” (361).

“So does pilgrimage remain a useful analytical concept?” Coleman asks. He notes that there has been a lot of ethnographical work done on a variety of different pilgrimages, and that there are many different definitions of the the term “pilgrimage” that have been generated as a result. However, Coleman continues,

It seems to me that it is important that people continue to try to define what they mean by ‘pilgrimage,’ but I am not convinced that the content of any single definition matters very much. I mean here that we should always be made aware of what a given author thinks he or she is talking about , but should not assume that over time we shall collectively achieve an ever more precise and universally applicable set of criteria with which finally to pin down ‘the’ activity of pilgrimage. (362)

The idea of pilgrimage has changed over time, for example, “as systems of transport, articulations of spirituality, secular ideologies, forms of syncretism and so on are transformed” (362). Scholars should be aware that they “are always performing a definitional balancing act, that we are suggesting comparisons that can never be seen as all-encompassing or as emerging ‘naturally’ from the data” (363). In addition, Coleman writes, it’s important

that we do not fall into the trap of confining our work to a pilgrimage ghetto, a theoretical cul-de-sac where it is assumed that the only relevant points of debate relate to other studies that purport to focus on pilgrimage. . . . Sacred travel frequently overlaps with tourism, trade, migration, expressions of nationalism, creations of diasporas, imagining communities . . . this list could go on, too. The point is that we must not adopt the rather western habit of treating the category of religion, and everything associated with it, as ideally an autonomous, isolated realm of human activity, and therefore as an autonomous, isolated realm of anthropological theorizing. (363)

One topic he omits from this list is art. Can pilgrimage overlap with forms of art or performance? Possibly. Why not?

“Why should we assume that pilgrimage must be ‘about’ any one thing, whether it be heightened conflict or the heightened absence of it?” Coleman asks.

The logic of my argument leads me to conclude that the most valuable work in this area is that which looks outward, making points about human behaviour through using ‘pilgrimage’ as a case-study rather than focussing on the institution itself as a firmly bounded category of action. (363)

He cites examples of work on pilgrimage that can stimulate our intellectual imaginations, and concludes,

Pilgrimage as a religious activity still provides meaningful places for people to visit, while as (fuzzy) object of academic discourse it continues to offer significant room for anthropological theorizing. In delimiting an area of research for ourselves, we should not allow such ethnographically rich spaces to become prisons of limited comparison. Belief in the worth of studying pilgrimage can become self-defeating if it turns into dogmatic assertions of what sacred travel must, or must not, contain. (364)

Three things come out of this article for me. The first is that I’m not likely to discover a generally approved definition of pilgrimage against which I can measure my walking practice. The second is that if I’m going to understand the history of scholarship on pilgrimage, I’m going to have to read the Turners’ book and Eade and Sallnow’s anthology. Finally, I’m going to have to read more about non-sacred or secular pilgrimages. Luckily, there’s an article on that topic sitting on my desk! But my crash course in the anthropology of pilgrimage will have to conclude soon, because it’s almost time to start writing my paper for the Sacred Journeys conference in Ireland.

Works Cited

Coleman, Simon. “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage?: Communitas, Contestation and Beyond.” Anthropological Theory, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, pp. 355-68. DOI: 10.1177/1463499602003805.