Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: Simon Coleman

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.

44. Peter Jan Margry, “Secular Pilgrimage: A Contradiction in Terms?”

margry shrines and pilgrimage

Peter Jan Margry’s take on pilgrimage is very different than Simon Coleman’s, whose work I spent the weekend reading. Margry begins this essay, an introduction to his anthology of essays by a variety of scholars, entitled Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries into the Sacred, with the suggestion that the term “pilgrimage” needs to be re-evaluated and redefined, because despite all of the research into the topic over the past decades, “[t]here are still plenty of open questions, and distinct perspectives and schools of thought still exist” (13). Margry clearly wants there to be one perspective, one school of thought on the topic of pilgrimage, which puts his position quite far from Coleman’s contention that fuzziness in definitions of pilgrimage is inevitable (Coleman 364). Margry may be seeking for a unity of perspective that is impossible to achieve, but in this essay he makes an attempt at constructing a clear definition of pilgrimage that avoids Coleman’s notion of fuzziness and distinguishes what is a pilgrimage from what is not.

According to Margry, the authors whose work he has assembled are interested in “contemporary special locations and memorial sites and graves of special individuals in order to determine whether apparently secular visits to these sites and adoration or veneration of them has a religious dimension or may even be religiously motivated and—if this is the case—whether it is in fact appropriate to refer to these visits as pilgrimages” (13). The intention of the book, Margry writes, is “to define the distinction between secular and religious pilgrimage more precisely” (13-14). That’s not quite correct, however, because Margry immediately makes his central claim: “it is contra-productive to use the concept of pilgrimage as a combination term for both secular and religious phenomena, thereby turning it into much too broad a concept. The term secular pilgrimage which is bandied about so much today actually contains two contradictory concepts and is therefore an oxymoron or contradiction in terms” (14). In other words, a pilgrimage is not a pilgrimage if it is secular; it must be religious. The apparently secular instances the authors collected in this book discuss—the case studies here range from Deborah Puccio-Den’s discussion of the tree that memorializes the assassinated Italian anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, to the journeys people make to the village in Croatia where the former Yugoslavian leader Josef Broz Tito was born, to veneration of the grave sites of popular musicians (the Hungarian singer Jimmy Zámbó, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and Jim Morrison), to the memorial to American long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine in Eugene, Oregon, and the cancer forest in Flevoland, Netherlands—must therefore be redefined as religious, because, for Margry, a pilgrimage must be defined as a religious event. In that sense, Margry’s argument might appear to be close to Coleman’s, since Coleman describes pilgrimages as “sacred travel” (364), but I don’t see anything of Margry’s determination to come up with a singular definition of pilgrimage in Coleman’s writing on the subject.

Why has the definition of pilgrimage broadened to include—wrongly, for Margry—secular concepts? Part of the blame rests with the media, which has, since the 1980s, used the term frequently (and, I would assume, sloppily) (17). As a result,

the concept of pilgrimage has become embedded in common parlance, all the more because the massive “subjective” turn in Western society meant that basically everyone could decide for themselves what they regarded as a pilgrimage destination, and sanctity or sacrality could be attributed to anyone or anything. (17)

The term “pilgrimage” could therefore “be applied in a society where mass culture and personality cults such as those associated with film and rock stars, sports celebrities and royalty took on an increasingly important role, and media coverage followed the trend” (17). As a result, “[a]ny place where people met occasionally or en masse to pay their respects to a special deceased person soon came to be referred to as a ‘place of pilgrimage,’ although it was not clear what this actually meant” (17-18). Margry uses the term “mass culture” a number of times in his essay, and the echoes of the Frankfurt School’s rather dismissive take on popular culture strike me as important in his argument. There is, it seems, a truth about pilgrimage, which is sullied by mass media and mass culture, and that is, for me, a rather surprising perspective for an ethnologist to take. Perhaps that’s because his academic training was in history, rather than anthropology, although I could be wrong.

In any case, Margry doubts whether those who visit “the house where Shakespeare was born, the military Yser Pilgrimage in Flanders, a papal Mass in Rome, the D-Day beaches in Normandy, the Abbey Road zebra crossing, the World Youth Days, personal journeys, Disney World, or shopping malls can really be categorized as pilgrims” (18). There is, he admits, a “civil religion” element in commemorations of war dead or visits to the homes or graves of national heroes, or to famous battlefields (18). But today, “[i]t is mainly pop music and the rise of fan culture which stimulated their own culture of visits to the graves of rock stars and icons” (18). Graceland is the most famous example, but there are many others (18). “However,” Margry writes, “it is certainly not clear how attributions of holiness to the last resting places of music stars in general should be interpreted” (18-19). Secular pilgrimages may not convert musicians’ graves into pilgrimage sites, although “the visual and material culture associated with these graves does in fact seem to connect them with cults and pilgrimage” (19). Nevertheless, Margry wonders whether that connection is true: “Is it a matter of individuals visiting a grave or have the locations acquired lasting and universal sacred significance?” (19). The word “universal” is also used several times in this essay; Margry is searching for a definition of pilgrimage that will hold true across times and cultures (after all, that’s what “universal” means). I doubt that search for a universal truth of pilgrimage is likely to be successful. In any case, Margry doubts that the graves of famous musicians can be easily defined as pilgrimage sites. “At most of the sites,” he writes, “the meanings attributed by the visitors to the individual and the individual’s grave are confused or contradictory” (19). That suggestion comes from his ethnographic field work among people visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but I would think that visitors to sites that are more easily defined as pilgrimage sites would also be confused or contradictory. When I visited the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, where relics of three saints, including St. Jean de Brebeuf, are housed, I was merely curious. I was no pilgrim, in that instance, merely a tourist, but there I was, at a site others would consider sacred. Isn’t that likely to be the case for any such site? It will be considered by sacred by some, but not by others. How could it be otherwise?

Margry doesn’t like the way some researchers use the term “pilgrimage” metaphorically, and he cites Alan Morinis’s interest in allegorical or metaphorical pilgrimage, as well as his suggestion, in the introduction to his anthology Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage, that “[o]ne who journeys to a place of importance to himself alone may also be a pilgrim” (Morinis 4), for particular scorn:

No matter how titillating it may be to thought processes and the imagination to combine these apparently similar phenomena, constantly linking them to each other does not seem to have provided any essentially deeper insights into the ‘traditional’ pilgrimage; in fact, its main result has been to increase the confusion surrounding the concept. (20)

Margry notes that “in recent decades the question of what the term pilgrimage means exactly and what should be regarded as the criteria for a pilgrimage has only become more complicated” (20). This complication “applies even more strongly to what is referred to as ‘secular pilgrimage’—a term consisting of two concepts which are troublesome to define and difficult to unite” (20). In order to “deconstruct” the concept of secular pilgrimage, Margry writes, “we need to evaluate the main academic research themes relating to the constitutive elements of pilgrimage” (20). That evaluation will enable Margry to define what pilgrimage is and what it is not.

The first theme Margry considers is the relationship between the individual and the group, and the possible interference between these two categories during a pilgrimage (20). He begins this discussion with Victor and Edith Turner’s suggestion that pilgrimage creates an alternative social structure because it develops a new community of pilgrims (21). “The liminal and transitional character of pilgrimage temporarily eliminates the pilgrim’s normal situation and status,” Margry writes, “and in consequence spontaneous, egalitarian ties are created which Turner refers to as the group experience or ‘communitas’” (21). This claim, however, is not always borne out by ethnographic studies, and if there is no communitas, what is there? “Undeniably, during a pilgrimage there are various important group connections and forms of sociability,” Margry states, but although in Christian culture “pilgrimage has collective elements which are identity-forming or demonstrative in character, in essence it is more individual than is often thought” (21). Here he cites, approvingly, Morinis’s suggestion that pilgrimage is an individual, personal affair, rather than a social one (Morinis 8). “To an increasing extent it is a personal journey, which is undertaken collectively when there is no alternative,” Margry writes (22). I’m not sure what the phrase “[t]o an increasing extent means in that sentence; is Margry arguing that pilgrimages across history are becoming more and more individual, rather than collective? He contends that pilgrimages are “personal visits, with strictly personal intentions towards the cult object” (23). That is one of the findings from his study of visitors to the grave of Jim Morrison; those who travelled there in groups turned out not to be among those with religious motivations for their visit, as compared to those who travelled there alone (23).

The second theme is movement versus place (23). “Movement is an inherent part of pilgrimage,” Margry writes. “But at the same time the pilgrimage site is fixed in space” (23). “This is why it is important for the theoretical discussion about the primary aspect of pilgrimage to continue: should the focus be on location and locality, with the sacred site as the ultimate goal, or should it be on the journey and being on the way?” he asks (23). For Margry, the shrine is, in the Christian pilgrimage tradition, clearly more significant than the journey; the cult object is associated with a specific location which “gives shape to the sacred, both physically and intangibly,” and since sanctity is attributed to that object, it is also attributed to the object’s environment, which becomes “a space where the pilgrim expects salvation, healing and solace, or hopes to effect a cure” (24). “The fact that things have changed is due to a development in which the pilgrimage journey has also become an end in itself,” which is the case in the contemporary interest in walking pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. “Whereas before the mid-twentieth century the cathedral of Santiago was the pilgrimage destination in the classical sense,” Margry contends,

it is now largely the other way around: the pilgrimage in the sense of a spiritual journey has become the rationale. Santiago has been discovered and reinvented by spiritual seekers and lovers of cultural history and tranquility. For many walkers the journey along the camino, or the ‘transit’ as I would call it, has become an individual rite of passage. (24)

The media and politics have played a role in this change:

Without the lengthy and wide media coverage of this ancient pilgrimage and the cultural politics of Spain, the transition from a destination-oriented pilgrimage to seeing the journey as a pilgrimage in itself would not have been so universal. It was due to this process that “transit” pilgrimage made its appearance in the west. Transit pilgrimage does not really have a beginning or an end, or at any rate they are not relevant. Moving, walking, the accessibility and freedom of the ritual, being in nature, and tranquility are all elements which have contributed to its success. (24)

“For many walkers,” Margry notes, “the shrine in Compostela is now so far removed from their new experiential worlds that when they arrive there they are disillusioned” (25). The Catholic church has also played a role in this change; since the 1970s, it has emphasized the journey more than “the cult object” (26). However, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela “is not representative of mainstream pilgrimage culture,” and its existence suggests that there is more than one kind of Christian pilgrimage (26). “It 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,” Margry concludes (26).

The third theme Margry discusses is the connection between tourism and pilgrimage (28). He notes that many researchers see similarities between tourism and pilgrimage, and that tourism is part of the motivation of pilgrims, a fact confirmed by ethnographic data (28-29). However, he contends that “the main goals are the sacred, the religious, the cultus object; without them, there is no pilgrimage” (29). Tourism would be, for an authentic pilgrim, a secondary motive (29). But if the only motive is tourism, “then there is no question of pilgrimage; the journey is for tourism or other motives” (29). Of course, people pay visit pilgrimage sites as tourists, without any religious motivitation—like me at the Martyrs’ Shrine—although they may be affected by the sacred place nonetheless (29). (Or, I have to point out, they may not.) Nevertheless, tourism and pilgrimage are not interchangeable: “Intersections between the two only come to the fore when tourists allow themselves to be carried away—intentionally or unintentionally—by the sacred experiences of the shrine or the pilgrimage” (29). That is the case even when the shrine is not conventionally religious. “The grave locations of Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison are both tourist attractions where mass tourism is manifestly present,” Margry writes. “However, apparently visits to Graceland and Père Lachaise are stratified and contested” (29). From his own research, Margry has learned that “the religious factor” is present at Morrison’s grave, and the narratives offered by his fans “are distinct from those of the tourist masses” (29). I find myself wondering how these notions of stratification and contestation fit with Margry’s desire for a universal definition of pilgrimage. Perhaps he would argue that the apparently inauthentic “tourist masses” are on the wrong side of that contest, while the authentic pilgrims are on the right side? I’m not sure.

The fourth theme is the distinction between the secular and the religious (30). “No matter how complex and stratified pilgrimage may be, not all phenomena related to travel and veneration can simply be included in the concept,” Margry writes (30). There is an analytical need to distinguish between different behaviours (30). “Not surprisingly,” he continues, 

use of the oxymoronic concept of “secular religion” leads to constant epistemological confusion. Practically all studies which work with this concept fail to reveal what they actually mean by it. Moreover, because of its vagueness, it stimulates over-interpretation, tending either toward the secular or toward the religious. (30)

“The obfuscating effect becomes even stronger if the concept is also used in a metaphorical sense,” he continues (30). Margry wants the term “pilgrimage” used literally and carefully, and never metaphorically; otherwise, the concept becomes too confused and undefined.

“If one assumes that the religious dimension or motivation is a constitutive element of pilgrimage,” Margry continues, “then the next question is whether the ‘secular,’ modern and non-confessional shrines and pilgrimages, outside of the traditional (Christian) pilgrimage culture, do in fact have a religious dimension” (30). To answer that question, those “special places and their associated veneration” need to be approached on their own terms as much as possible, apart from institutionalized religions, to determine whether forms of religious devotion can be discovered at those sites (30). In fact, Margry wants to exclude “the epithet ‘secular’” from the discussion of what happens at those “special places” (30). While he agrees that “the boundaries between the religious and the secular are highly artificial and permeable,” he contends that “we still have to make the distinction,” because otherwise we lose any sense of the difference between the religious and the secular (31). “In short, the existing view that the sacred and the profane are not two separate worlds but are closely connected with each other has led mainly to further blurring of the boundaries,” and he calls for “a more precise distinction between the secular and the religious in relation to pilgrimage on the basis of ethnographic research” (31-32). That research, it seems, will uncover the motivations of those who visit “non-confessional shrines,” and whether those motivations are secular or religious in nature.

Margry’s fifth theme is ethnography and analysis (32). “In their external appearances, visits to graves, shrines and special places display parallels in rituality, materiality or (religious) vocabulary, but these say little about their religious meaning,” he writes (32). This statement leads to several important questions:

As religious experiences or impressions are difficult to pin down, how can religiosity—the condition of being religious—be identified? How does it manifest itself, and what exactly does religiosity consist of? Is it purely a belief in supernatural powers or a transcendental reality? (32)

The answers to those questions constitute Margry’s definition of religion:

As religion is seen here as a human, culturally determined activity, it makes sense to reflect on what people may possibly expect from religion. Here we must consider elements such as finding meaning in life, membership of a living community and identification with its deceased members, safety and security, strength and support, comfort and hope, and healing and resolution, but also the expression of gratitude and possibly the expectation or hope of salvation and eternal life after death. (32)

Religiosity, he continues, is not only about “having certain ideas, expectations, motives or feelings inside one’s head,” but also about “the articulation of actions and practices” (32). “It is in behaviors and rituals and through the attribution of meaning to material culture that religion can manifest itself most clearly, while as a rule its most precise expression is through oral or written communication or information about its content,” he writes (32-33). “However, in practice it still proves difficult to identify the religious element unequivocally in the course of research. There are often several religious narratives that unfold simultaneously or are intertwined with each other” (33).

Motives are central to Margry’s sense of what is religious and what is not. He suggests that “pilgrimage expresses the efforts the individual has to make to give meaning and direction to his or her existence,” according to ethnographic data (33). “Where the traditional religious contexts are no longer present or functioning, or are barely so, significant existential insecurities can develop, and people will look for alternatives,” he writes (34). This explains why new “expressions of of religiosity” take shape, including those that take shape around non-confessional shrines and similar sites (33).

“Because of the falsification or inadequacy of pilgrimage concepts, the understanding that pilgrimage has different meanings for different pilgrims and the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach to the phenomenon,” he concludes, “it remains difficult to formulate a general definition of the term ‘pilgrimage’” (35). Nevertheless, Margry sets out to construct such a definition. First, movement is not the central focus in pilgrimage, he argues: “for pilgrims the essence of a pilgrimage is to approach the sacred, to enter it, to experience, to draw near, to touch, to make it their own, and if possible to hold onto it for their everyday lives” (35-36). Walking pilgrimages, like the one that leads to Santiago de Compostela, would seem to be excluded from this definition. Margry approves of the definition of pilgrimage developed by a team of Dutch researchers (he was part of that group): 

Pilgrimage was defined in advance as a journey undertaken by individuals or groups, based on a religious or spiritual inspiration, to a place that is regarded as more sacred or salutary than the environment of everyday life, to seek a transcendental encounter with a specific cult object, for the purpose of acquiring spiritual, emotional or physical healing or benefit. A pilgrimage must therefore entail interaction between the sacred or the religious, an element of personal transition and the existence of a cult object. Without these objects, there is no pilgrimage; there is thus an essential distinction between pilgrimage and “secular pilgrimage” . . . in that pilgrimage has a transformative potential to give meaning to life, healing, etc. (36)

But nonreligious events, objects, or sites also have transformative potential to give meaning to life or to heal. Margry’s argument, it seems to me, can only make room for “secular pilgrimage” by claiming that what appears to be secular is actually religious. So the shrines and journeys that are discussed in this book, while ostensibly secular, will have to become religious (through analysis) in order for his argument to hold water. The confusion he abhors, then, becomes a foundational part of his argument.

For me, Coleman’s theoretical openness is far more congenial than Margry’s tightly controlled, even monological definition. I mean, any definition of pilgrimage that downplays the importance of the Camino de Santiago, as Margry’s argument attempts to do, is one I can’t get behind. Nevertheless, it’s been a valuable read, if only to see yet another version of pilgrimage, and to come to an understanding of the kind of push-back my paper’s argument might occasion. Better to know and be prepared than to remain ignorant!

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.

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.

Morinis, Alan. “Introduction.” Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Edited by Alan Morinis. Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 1-28.

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.

42. Simon Coleman, “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe”

accidental pilgrims

In the group of essays recently sent my way by Matthew Anderson were a couple by Simon Coleman. You may recall him as the co-editor of Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, the anthology of essays on pilgrimage and motion I read last week. He is, Matthew tells me, a very influential writer on pilgrimage and currently the Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. In this article, Coleman begins with a funny anecdote about supporters of the far-right political party UKIP mistaking Westminster Cathedral for a mosque. Coleman enjoys the joke, but he draws a serious conclusion from it: religious spaces are “deeply ambiguous” (72). “Capacious and complex buildings such as Westminster Cathedral–simultaneously a tourist site, the mother church for English and Welsh Catholicism, and a shrine housing saints’ relics–operate in a multicultural, multi religious milieu,” he writes. For that reason, “it cannot be assumed that regular citizens will have any idea how to read their architectural or liturgical signs in ways that art and ecclesiastical authorities would recognize as accurate” (72). I am embarrassed to admit that I’m one of those people who struggles to understand cathedrals; pretty much all I know came from the guided audio-tour I rented when I walked around in the cathedral in León, Spain, although I always visit cathedrals when I’m in Europe. There aren’t many ancient cathedrals in Canada, after all, and the stonework and architecture and engineering in cathedrals are pretty remarkable. Despite my lack of knowledge, though, I’d like to think I could distinguish between a cathedral and a mosque!

Religious tourism–pilgrimage by another name–is big business, Coleman points out. In Europe, it generates $18 billion in economic activity every year, and some 300 million people travel to a religious site in that continent. However, “we clearly need a more precise idea of how people understand (and misunderstand) these shrines and other religious spaces, just as close ethnographic observation is likely to imply that we should be wary of making sharp distinctions between pilgrims and tourists” (72). That caution is repeated throughout what I’ve been reading, and I would agree that the division isn’t clear-cut. When I walked the Camino Francés, I considered other walkers (and, grudgingly, cyclists) to be pilgrims, while those who flew to Santiago de Compostela were mere tourists. I’m sure that’s not an uncommon division for walkers on the Camino to make. However, when I got to Santiago de Compostela and rested for a few days, I felt myself becoming a tourist. My clothes were clean, I wasn’t walking (well, except here and there around the city), and I was taking in the sites and even buying souvenirs (tasteful ones, of course). It wasn’t until I started walking again, to Finisterre and then Muxia, that I reclaimed my identity as a pilgrim. My point is that the two apparently opposed identities are actually rather fluid, although given the powerful effect the walk had on me, I wonder what people who fly directly to that city and take a cab to the cathedral actually get from the experience. Something, I’m sure, or they wouldn’t do it. But what?

In any case, Coleman states his main argument very clearly in this essay:

we need a much more subtle and multifaceted appreciation of how much pilgrimage and tourism to Christian sites interact with other forms of mobility. In particular, the latter might include streams of migration that have, for instance, long marked–and made–the European cultural landscape and that are currently producing a crisis of identity. (72)

The travel Coleman traces in this paper “must be seen as complex, combining a mixture of motives and influences, both planned and unplanned” (72), and his intent is “to highlight and explore such complexity by demonstrating how religious tourism exists alongside, and indeed often intersects with, other forms of mobility, particularly though not exclusively in major, urban, religious contexts” (72).

Coleman distinguishes between tourism and pilgrimage: “it is conventional to see tourism as an exercise of leisure and free time or as an expression of preference,” he writes. “By contrast, pilgrimage carries connotations of subjecting oneself to the rigors and disciplines of religious regimes of authority, tracing routes formed by the sacred landscapes of a given tradition” (72). If this definition of pilgrimage is accurate, then the walks I make in Canada are not pilgrimages, because they are idiosyncratic, not subject to any discipline at all, and not part of any tradition at all. I might be appropriating the form of pilgrimage, but if that definition holds, I couldn’t be inventing pilgrimages of my own.

Migration, he continues, is different from either tourism or pilgrimage: it “ranges from the strategic progress of economic entrepreneurs to the forced mobilities of refugees, but is normally perceived as a very different activity than those other two forms of movement” (73). That’s very true, and I often think of how my walking is privileged in comparison to those who walk to Europe from Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, or even those who walk across the Canadian border in inadequate clothing in winter. That sense of privilege is one of the reasons I’m not interested in the European Peace Walk, which follows a route from Budapest to Trieste. While wealthy tourists (or pilgrims) are encouraged to walk in Austria and Croatia and Slovenia, penniless migrants are held in camps and behind fenced borders patrolled by soldiers and dogs. I couldn’t accept facing, or flaunting, my privilege as the holder of a Canadian passport in that way. It would make me sick.

So, tourism, pilgrimage, and migration are typically considered to be separate things. “I wish to question such assumptions,” Coleman writes, “by indicating how tourism, pilgrimage, and migration can merge and intersect in unexpected, accidental ways, prompting negotiations over forms of access and exclusion at different scales and contexts of operation, from those of the local shrine to those at the borders of the nation-state” (73). One way to examine those intersections is through the cathedral, which, “as it currently functions in European urban space, may provide a laboratory for the burgeoning if ambiguous forms of pilgrimage and religious tourism that we are seeing in many parts of the continent” by “providing both spectacular public architecture and multivalent, capacious spaces, in which numerous roles can be enacted serially or simultaneously” (74), such as in my own experience in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral “provides the perfect place for what I call ‘accidental pilgrims’–travelers whose relationship to Christianity is often unclear, or whose roles even within the same journey may shift between that of pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (74). Pilgrimage in these terms,” he writes, “is just one more element of a more complex mixture of identities and mobilities within the moral geography of Europe” (74).

Coleman offers examples of situations where emigrants return home from their adopted countries for their summer holidays, a time that coincides with annual celebrations or festivals (75). One such site is the pilgrimage shrine of Medjugorge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which attracts visitors with a variety of motivations, from Europe and elsewhere, combining pilgrimage, tourism, and visits to the “home” country (75-76).

The increasing number of people who travel to Christian shrines, festivals, journeys, and heritage attractions in Europe, fascinates Coleman. “Such developments have occurred at a time when activities at the congregational level have often declined,” he writes. “More visiting does not mean an increased interest in religion per se, but it does expose people to religious themes and activities in a vicarious sense” (76). The Camino de Santiago is a prime example and a successful model, in terms of the numbers of visitors or pilgrims who participate, and Coleman notes that it is being emulated by pilgrimages elsewhere in the world (76-77). “Arguably, this tale of success for the Santiago pilgrimage has emerged not only form mixing religion and heritage, but also from fostering flexibility and ambiguity of engagement,” he writes (77). Travellers can walk, cycle, or drive; some see themselves as Christians, others as being more broadly spiritual, and still others (like me) have no faith at all (77). The Camino de Santiago welcomes them all.

From here, Coleman shifts to a discussion of–what else?–the work of Victor and Edith Turner, particularly their notions of liminal space, set apart from everyday space, and communitas, in which “everyday statuses were temporarily stripped away, allowing pilgrims to bond with each other directly, without intervening hierarchies” (78). I have to say that I experienced both of those on the Camino Francés, although that doesn’t mean that there weren’t conflicts along the path as well, particularly between walkers and (grumble grumble) cyclists. However, as Coleman points out,

Subsequent scholarship has often criticized this picture of pilgrimage, with some justification, as being overly idealized and ignoring the conflicting interests among pilgrims, as well as potential clashes between those who administer and those who attend sites. However, critics have also oversimplified the picture of pilgrimage provided by the Turners. The latter understood, for instance, that some of the same impulses that had promoted contemporary pilgrimage were also behind the growth of tourism, given the democratization of mobility and the growth of leisure time in many parts of the world. In addition, they argued that pilgrimage was a phenomenon that could be understood in relation to much larger historical trends. . . . Thus they indicated that pilgrimage has long been associated with forms of mobility that have not been exclusively religious, and indeed that it must be seen as an intrinsic part of the wider political economy of historical, as well as contemporary, periods in the West. (78)

He re-emphasizes the notion that pilgrim and tourist are shifting and connected identities: “both of these roles involve the person shifting between structured and unstructured activity, temporality, and experience” (79). In fact, he continues, “sometimes the division of roles and types of experience can actually be split three ways between pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (79). In addition, the “structural divisions” of “forms of spatial practice” between “liminal and non-liminal, sacred and secular, cannot be maintained” (79). “As a consequence, it is useful to try to understand pilgrimage shrines through theoretical perspectives that are not drawn from the analysis of religion per se” (79). The urban cathedral, then, is “not only a place of worship, but also . . . a place that enables urban movement through the forms of flexibility (and accidental confluences) that I have been emphasizing,” Coleman writes (79).

Coleman turns to the work of cultural geographers Karen Franck and Quentin Stevens, who write about tight versus loose spaces in cities (79). Tight spaces are defined by surveillance and constraining behavioural norms, whereas loose spaces provide opportunities for exploration, discovery, and unregulated, spontaneous, and even risky behaviour (79). “Loose spaces allow for the chance encounter or spontaneous event,” Coleman writes, “and are most likely to emerge in cities, where free access to a variety of public open spaces combines with anonymity among strangers, diversity of persons, and fluidity of meaning” (79). Loose spaces, he continues, “express well the tensions and complexities around and within cathedrals–and some other shrines–as multipurpose spaces of behavioural fragmentation, translation, adjacency, and articulation” (79). Cathedrals combine flexibility and rigidity, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes serially. A mass might be happening, for instance, while tourists wander around listening (like me) to the guided audio-tour. “Pilgrimage in this kind of space,” Coleman concludes,

is not confined to the set-apart zone of the liminal and it is not isolated from other activities. Nor is the pilgrimage-tourism spectrum the only relevant behavioural and motivation index along which movement to and within cathedrals should be measured, given the salience of other forms of mobility, including migration. Thus Christian shrines are not irrelevant to a continent that is often simplistically labeled secular, nor is their influence only religious or confined merely to the diversions of heritage tourism. They can still rouse passion—often because of, rather than in spite of, their ideological and ritual ambiguities. (80)

I’m sure that Coleman’s take on cathedrals is accurate, although in walking pilgrimages, as I have experienced them, the destination is often less important than the journey. Even if some of the walks I have made shouldn’t be considered pilgrimages–and I’m still thinking about what the connection between walking and pilgrimage might be–often my arrival at the destination has been an anticlimax. When I reached the mouth of the Grand River when I walked through the Haldimand Tract, I found myself on a private beach lined with cottages. It was important to finish the walk, and I was happy, but the contours of the place of my arrival weren’t that important. Arriving at the cathedral in Bath, the terminus of the Cotswolds Way, was also less important than the journey there. The same goes for my arrival in Wood Mountain last summer. On the other hand, I was quite moved when I reached Santiago de Compostela. Perhaps it was the length of the latter journey, and its emotional and physical difficulty, that made my arrival so powerful? At the same time, though, I have to admit that getting to Santiago de Compostela was much less affecting than the long walk I had just completed.

I’m sure it wasn’t Coleman’s intent, but his essay has left me wondering about destinations and journeys, and about what a pilgrimage is or might be. That definition is important, but the more I read, and the more perspectives on the question I encounter, the less clear the definition becomes. Pilgrimage is a contested term, and the definition Coleman offers at the beginning of this paper, one I would have been happy to settle for, turns out to be one he calls into question in his argument. Perhaps I should abandon the notion of pilgrimage altogether when I think about my walks, especially the ones I make in Saskatchewan, but at the same time there is some kind of relationship. Those walks enable me to experience, in a limited way, what some would describe as the sacredness of the land, and that might be their connection to pilgrimage. I’m still not sure. At this point, I don’t have to be.

Work Cited

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.

41. Michael Agnew, “‘Spiritually, I’m Always in Lourdes’: Perceptions of Home and Away among Serial Pilgrims”

agnew lourdes cover

Michael Agnew’s article is one of the essays on pilgrimage my friend Matthew Anderson sent me last week. As I read these essays, I am gaining a sense of the contours of the field of the anthropology of pilgrimage, and that’s the purpose of this research: to come to some definition of pilgrimage that satisfies me, for the time being, and to determine how my own walks are similar to and different from pilgrimages. Since I walked the Camino Francés in Spain in 2013, I’ve thought about other walks I’ve made as pilgrimages, but that may or may not be the best way to think about them. Gaining a clearer sense of what counts as a pilgrimage in the academic literature is important if I’m going to be able to sort this question out.

Agnew begins by referencing work by James Clifford on mobility as “constitutive of cultural meanings in and of themselves, and not merely a supplement, a transfer or an extension of these cultural meanings” (517). Travel or mobility, he continues, is not secondary to dwelling, for Clifford, and dwelling itself is not merely the ground from which travel occurs (517). The opposition between mobility and dwelling that concerns Clifford is clearly related to Yi-Fu Tuan’s opposition between space and place, and so it would probably be a good idea to track down the texts Agnew cites here: Clifford’s essay “Travelling Cultures,” which is in an anthology on cultural studies I think I have at home, and his 1997 book, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. I found this starting point interesting, because Agnew is actually interested in two places: the pilgrims’ homes in the UK, and Lourdes. The actual process of moving from one place to another is ignored, perhaps because it is less interesting than the pilgrims’ experiences in either place.

After that theoretical introduction, Agnew explains that his interest is in “the process of conceptual ‘home-making’ that is initiated by repeat visitors to religious shrines” (517)–particularly by repeat visitors to Lourdes in France. “I suggest that in the experience of serial pilgrims to Lourdes, that is, pilgrims who return to Lourdes each summer and in some cases several times a year as a habitual element of their lived faith,”

an existential state or physical site of dwelling is not only no longer the fixed, bounded space from which one departs and returns. It is also carried with the traveller to their destination, the destination is carried physically and cognitively back to their typical place of residence, and the destination itself may also be a secondary if not primary idealized site of dwelling in the truest sense. (517)

According to Agnew, “individual pilgrims can and do perceive and interact with them”–that is, the shrines that are their destinations–“as a ‘home away from home,’ a ‘second home,’ or in some instances their one true home, the one place in the world where they are at peace with themselves, where they belong” (517-18). “[T]he boundaries once erected between the home of the pilgrim and the away of the religious shrine are disrupted by the often habitual and indeed addictive nature of pilgrimage, ritual cross-currents continuously flowing and binding together ‘home’ and ‘away'” (518). I know people who have made multiple pilgrimages (in Spain, France, Portugal, and Japan), and although I wouldn’t describe their experiences as reflecting an addiction or a habit, I would acknowledge that there is something about a walking pilgrimage, its relative balance between exertion and comfort, and between new experiences and repeated ones, and even its potential for spiritual experiences, however those experiences are defined or understood, that makes it the kind of activity many people would like to repeat. I’d like to return to Spain to walk someday, not necessarily on the Camino Francés, but perhaps on one of the other routes to Santiago de Compostela. First, though, I need to finish this degree.

Next, Agnew refers to Nigel Rapport and Andrew Dawson, who write about “perceptions of home in a world of movement, a concept that is increasingly subject to a great deal of flux and yet nevertheless still holds a significant store of nostalgic resonance in an otherwise dispersed and fragmented world” (518). Therefore, Rapport and Dawson argue, we need to shift our thinking from places to spaces (518). A sense of home as a community in microcosm is, they argue, “anachronistic” and “not reflecting a world of contemporary movement”; for that reason, they contend that we need a mobile conception of home (518). Home, they continue, is a resilient concept, and people don’t necessarily fix their identities to places (518). I’m more interested in place, myself, but I probably should take a look at their 1998 book, Migrants of Identity: Perceptions of Home in a World of Movement, if only as an example of the kind of argument that values a postmodern consideration of fragmentation and movement.

Agnew notes that home and movement are important concepts in the study of tourism as well. John Urry, for instance, writes that the appeal of leisure travel rests in a desire to leave home and “revel in an unfamiliar locale’ (518). The differences between the familiar and the faraway produce liminal zones, according to Urry, and the places visited by tourists need to be distinguished in some way from their regular homes (518). “Holidays for Urry are less about reinforcing collective memories and experiences and instead find their basis in the pleasure that comes from out-of-the-ordinary experiences,” Agnew writes (518-19). However, Agnew also notes that Edward Bruner problematizes “this binary between the ordinary and extraordinary/home and away that Urry sees as the hallmark of the appeal of tourism” (519). Bruner’s examples include package tours, in which hotels or resorts become temporary homes for groups of tourists, and he suggests that tourists typically experience a sense of home created by the tourism industry. Tourists expect to experience some things that are familiar to them; they want the comforts of home and to interact with people like themselves (519). Despite Bruner’s deconstruction of Urry’s distinction between familiar home and unfamiliar destination, Urry’s argument still has some merit; I remember reading an early edition of the book Agnew refers to when I was studying the travel writing of James De Mille at York University.

From there, Agnew turns (as most writers on pilgrimage seem to do) to Victor and Edith Turner and their writing on pilgrimage. The point of pilgrimage, as Agnew summarizes their argument, is to go to a far away holy place which is approved by others (the church hierarchy, for example). It’s a collective goal, then, rather than an individualistic or idiosyncratic one (520). However, Agnew argues, the Turners’ perspective “does not capture the full range of pilgrim experience, particularly that of serial pilgrims” (520). For Agnew, the more important writings on pilgrimage are to be found in John Eade and Michael Sallnow’s anthology Contesting the Sacred, which scrutinizes the Turners’ conceptualizations of pilgrimage, particularly the notion that pilgrimage fosters communitas (520).

Another critic of the Turners is Erik Cohen, who contends that they were too focused on Christian pilgrimages, and ignored examples from other religions where religious and political centres were fused, and where the pilgrimage centre is not a centre “out there” somewhere, but the centre of the world itself (520). I don’t understand Cohen’s argument, but then again, I haven’t read it. Another text to add to my “maybe” list!

Agnew cites Simon Coleman’s understanding of Walsingham in the UK as “a sort of second home for habitual pilgrims” which derives its meaning from its exceptional quality as well as its familiarity (521). He suggests that other studies of pilgrimage, such as Thomas Tweed’s Our Lady in Exile, an ethnography of Cuban-American Catholics and their relation to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami, and Zlatko Skrbis’s research on Croatian immigrants in Australia and their connections to the Marian apparition shrine at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, bear out Coleman’s argument in different ways (521-22).

After this literature review, Agnew turns to his own ethnographic study of UK pilgrims who make repeated visits to Lourdes. People go to Lourdes for different reasons. The sick, elderly, and disabled hope for a dramatic cure; others volunteer as caregivers for pilgrims who need assistance (523). Returning pilgrims conceive of Lourdes “as a place set apart from quotidian life as the ideal, while still remaining intimately familiar and safe” (523). They value the sense of community they find there, which they see as an experience of “the Christian love command, fully realized in a unique and highly charged environment” (524). Lourdes also provides them with an opportunity to enact their faith in an embodied manner (524).

The emphasis here on community recalls the Turners’ term, communitas, which Agnew defines as “the dissolution of social structures and boundaries and the formation of spontaneous and immediate personal relations,” an experience evoked by many pilgrims to Lourdes (525). Perhaps it’s because of communitas that so many Lourdes pilgrims describe their pilgrimages as addictive experiences, and Lourdes itself as a place they feel compelled to return to (525). Nancy Frey, in her writing on pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, and Ian Reader, in his writing on walking pilgrims on the Japanese island of Shikoku, both recognize that for some pilgrims, the state of being transient becomes, ironically, a permanent state, a new way of being at home in the world (526-27). I met people like that on the Camino Francés: they simply didn’t want to lose the intensity of their Camino experience, and so they scratched out a living working in hostels or albergues and walking here and there along the pilgrimage route.

Lourdes pilgrims feel at home there, particularly in the grotto where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared (527). Touching the rock in the grotto is a tactile, grounded experience, premised on the shrine’s fixity, Agnew suggests. “[T]he appeal of a fixed, grounded place clearly still holds,” he admits, despite his argument that “travel and movement inform processes of home-making for Lourdes pilgrims” (528-29). “Indeed,” he writes, “it is the conception of these spaces as established and rigid that likely inspires movement to them in the first place” (529).

Lourdes home-making, Agnew continues, is a “reciprocal, back-and-forth loop” (529). It’s not enough to remain in Lourdes; rather, “some element of the experience, some reminder, some touchstone had to be brought back home with them”–the pilgrims–“to England” (529). They build replicas of the Lourdes grotto, or put statues of Our Lady of Lourdes in their homes (529-30). Some take water from Lourdes home and use it “both as a sort of morning cleanser and as a spiritual aid” (532). Many pilgrims value the sense of community at Lourdes, and describe the UK as cold and unfamiliar by comparison, and as a way of maintaining a connection to Lourdes, they participate in reunion masses for pilgrims in the UK (532).

“The centre may still indeed be out there on the geographical and cognitive margins, as Turner posits, but particularly for serial pilgrims returning to Lourdes, it is also intimately familiar, a storehouse for memories of pilgrimages past, and a site for continued spiritual refreshment,” Agnew concludes (533). I can’t speak to the experience of Lourdes, but I would suggest that repeated experiences of any space–at least, any space of any complexity or richness–are likely to turn it into place, as it becomes a known and familiar quantity, something of which the individual develops a deep and intimate knowledge. So it’s not surprising that serial pilgrims to Lourdes develop a sense of the shrine as “intimately familiar.” How could it be otherwise?

I’m not sure that Agnew’s essay has much bearing on my own research, but it adds to my understanding of pilgrimage, and as I suggested at the beginning of this post, I need to know about pilgrimage if I’m to understand how (or even whether) my walking practice is related to that phenomenon. So, for that reason, Agnew’s essay was a worthwhile read.

Work Cited

Agnew, Michael. “‘Spiritually, I’m Always in Lourdes’: Perceptions of Home and Away among Serial Pilgrims.” Studies in Religion vol. 44, no. 4, 2015, pp. 516-35. DOI: 10.1177/0008429815596001.

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

38. Simon Coleman and John Eade, eds., Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion

reframing pilgrimage

When I finished Ian Reader’s short introduction to pilgrimage as a field of inquiry, I decided to dive headfirst into the literature on the subject. My first stop: this 2004 anthology on mobility and pilgrimage, edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade. Coincidentally, as I was reading the essays collected by Coleman and Eade, my friend Matthew Anderson, an expert on pilgrimage, as a scholar and a practitioner, suggested Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion as one possible starting point, which reaffirmed my decision to crack open this book.

The most useful part of this anthology, for me, is the editors’ introduction, “Reframing Pilgrimage,” which begins with a discussion of Victor and Edith Turner’s 1978 book Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, which occupies an outsized place in the literature about pilgrimage—and which I have yet to read. According to Coleman and Eade, the Turners consider movement in pilgrimage—the topic of Reframing Pilgrimage—as an “embodiment of populist, spontaneously articulated ‘anti-structure,’” although the Turners’ argument is “largely place-centred”—that is, centred on the sacred place that is the pilgrims’ destination (2). (How interesting to see the term “populist” used approvingly.) The essays Coleman and Eade have assembled pick up on that interest in movement in pilgrimage, focusing on “various forms of motion—embodied, imagined, metaphorical—as constitutive elements of many pilgrimages” (3). Those essays, they continue, “examine both movement to and movement at sites (and sometimes from sites as well), and in certain cases trace the ways in which mobile performances can help to construct—however temporarily—apparently sacredly charged places” (3). This emphasis on movement is “intended to move the study of pilgrimage away from certain aspects of conventional anthropological discourse on the subject” in an attempt “to widen the theoretical location of studies of ‘sacred travel’” (3).

Much of this introduction wrestles with the significance of the Turners’ work on this subject. For example, Coleman and Eade note the resonance of the “Turnerian notion of pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon, which is productive of social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (3). I’m sure the Turners explain what they mean by “liminoid” in their book on pilgrimage, but not having read it (yet), I found myself wondering what the distinction between this new (for me) word, “liminoid,” and the word “liminal” might be. According to an essay by Victor Turner that I stumbled across online, “liminoid” and “liminal” mean very different things, although they both derive from the same Latin root, which means “threshold.” “Optation pervades the liminoid phenomenon, obligation the liminal,” Turner writes. “One is all play and choice, an entertainment, the other is a matter of deep seriousness, even dread, it is demanding, compulsory” (74). Turner is discussing different forms of rites of passage here (building on the notion of the threshold, a movement from one place to another), and in some cultures those rites of passage are obligatory, or liminal, while in others they are optional, or liminoid. Turner continues:

Liminal phenomena tend to predominate in tribal and early agrarian societies possessing what Durkheim has called “mechanical solidarity,” and dominated by what Henry Maine has called “status.” Liminoid phenomena flourish in societies with “organic solidarity,” bonded reciprocally by “contractual” relations, and generated by and following the industrial revolution. (84)

In addition,

Liminal phenomena tend to be collective, concerned with calendrical, biological, social-structural rhythms or with crises in social processes whether these result from internal adjustments or external adaptations or remedial measures. Thus they appear at what may be called “natural breaks,” natural disjunctions in the flow of natural and social processes. They are thus enforced by sociocultural “necessity,” but they contain in nuce “freedom” and the potentiality for the formation of new ideas, symbols, models, beliefs. Liminoid phenomena may be collective (and when they are so are often directly derived from liminal antecedents), but are more characteristically individual products, though they often have collective or “mass” effects. They are not cyclical, but continuously generated, though in the times and places apart from work settings assigned to “leisure” activities. (85)

Turner’s third point about the distinction between “liminal” and “liminoid” phenomena suggests that the latter is marginal and experimental:

Liminal phenomena are centrally integrated into the total social process, forming with all its other aspects a complete whole, and representing its necessary negativity and subjunctivity. Liminoid phenomena develop apart from the central economic and political processes, along the margins, in the interfaces and interstices of central and servicing institutions—they are plural, fragmentary, and experimental in character. (85)

Unlike “liminal” phenomena,

Liminoid phenomena tend to be more idiosyncratic or quirky, to be generated by specific named individuals and in particular groups—”schools,” circles, and coteries. They have to compete with one another for general recognition and are thought of at first as ludic offerings placed for sale on the “free” market—this is at least true of liminoid phenomena in nascent capitalistic and democratic-liberal societies. Their symbols are closer to the personal-psychological than to the “objective-social” typological pole. (85-86)

Finally, liminoid phenomena can participate in social critique; they can expose “the injustices, inefficiencies, and immoralities of the mainstream economic and political structures and organizations” (86). So, if pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon, it would be optional or voluntary; focused on the individual at least as much on the collective; marginal, fragmentary, experimental, and plural; and playful or “ludic” to some degree, rather than being obligatory, collective, central, and serious. I’m not sure, though that leads to “social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (Coleman and Eade 3), or what the relationship between pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon and Turner’s notion of communitas might be. Clearly I’m going to have to read the Turners’ book about pilgrimage, which I’ve ordered, since it’s for some reason not held by this university’s library.

I didn’t intend to get carried off on such a tangent, but that’s sometimes what happens when one is reading about something that requires an understanding of specific and even idiosyncratic terminology. In any case, the point Coleman and Eade is making, I think, is that the Turners’ suggestion that pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon is useful and productive, while at the same time, their paradigm risks “taking studies of pilgrimage down a theoretical cul-de-sac, both in its all-encompassing character and in its implication that such travel could somehow (or at least should ideally) be divorced from more everyday social, political and cultural processes” (3). The dialectic the Turners construct “between structure and process,” Coleman and Eade continue, “has provided an inflexible analytical tool, according to which the relationship between pairs of dichotomized variables is seen as a zero sum—the more of one, the less of the other” (3-4). Coleman and Eade wonder “whether pilgrimage needs by definition to be seen as ‘exceptional,’ and to ask whether a different approach can help the topic emerge from a theoretical ghetto that is still contained largely within the anthropology of religion” (4). In particular, Coleman and Eade want to think about the importance of mobility, of movement, in pilgrimage. They note that James Clifford and Zygmunt Bauman argue that the figure of the pilgrim is “emblematic of aspects of everyday life,” and that “the era of unconditional superiority of sedentarism over nomadism and the domination of the settled over the mobile is grinding to a halt” (5). Of course, that notion of the pilgrim is a metaphorical one, and as we see in contemporary politics, the valorization of rootlessness and nomadism provokes a powerful (and populist) response in favour of fixed identities (national, ethnic, and/or religious). To be fair, Coleman and Eade do not claim that pilgrimage “can be brandished as an all-purpose metaphor for ‘our times’” (6); rather, they are “more interested in the fact that certain forms of travel, labeled pilgrimages (or the rough equivalent) by their participants, appear to be flourishing in many parts of the world,” and that such journeys “prompt further investigation into the specific cultural, social and economic dimensions of these examples of contemporary travel” (6). Nevertheless, Coleman and Eade do find two aspects of Clifford’s and Bauman’s thinking useful. First, “the assumption that both mobility and change are chronic—or at least not unusual—conditions of many people’s lives goes some way towards challenging dichotomies (evident in Image and Pilgrimage) between structure and process” (7). Second, “when mobility can be regarded as mundane, pilgrimage—as either metaphor or institution—is less likely to be seen as rigidly exceptional or set apart from society” (7). In fact, “[s]ocially informed examination of the history of travel has also tended to emphasize the need to understand pilgrimage in the context of other, roughly parallel activities, and this has sometimes blurred the boundaries between genres of mobility” (9). The distinction between pilgrimage and tourism, for instance, is one of those boundaries that becomes blurry when one ceases to view pilgrimage as something set apart from other genres of travel.

Coleman and Eade also discuss Nancy Louise Frey’s ethnographic account of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, another book I need to read. They note that in Frey’s account, distinctions between religious and non-religious travellers (or religious and non-religious forms of pilgrimage?) are not significant, and that reaching a specific sacred place (such as the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela) is often less important than the mode of journeying (for most pilgrims on the Camino, that means walking). Walking, according to Frey, is a form of self-sacrifice and a way to engage with the past, as well as a way of subverting or transcending “the rushing, mechanized world of modernity and postmodernity” (11). Frey’s arrival in Santiago de Compostela is anticlimactic, and she barely touches on the shrine in her book (11). According to Coleman and Eade, “the intense experience of the journey almost blocks out interest in the destination, and renders overtly analytical (and necessarily distancing) techniques of writing problematic” (12). 

Another account of pilgrimage which focuses on movement rather than destination is Michael J. Sallnow’s Pilgrims of the Andes, “a detailed account of a group pilgrimage that is also a kinesthetic mapping of space” in which the style of movement—the pilgrims dance, rather than walk—“has symbolic significance” (12). Sallnow’s work, Coleman and Eade contend, “shows how pilgrimage can indeed provide a release form the everyday, but is also a recurring event, building up local memories and putting down strong roots in local networks of cooperation and competition. In this context,” they continue, “pilgrimage emerges as deeply embedded in peasant life, rather than as an isolated social phenomenon” (13). Many medieval pilgrimages in England were similarly part of everyday life; they often did not take pilgrims more than a few days from home, and were more routine and regular activities than the lengthy, distant, and one-off pilgrimages the Turners describe (13).

Literal movement need not be a part of pilgrimage at all, according to Coleman and Eade, referring to the work of Alan Morinis. For example, some Hindu mystics and Sufis “have developed a concept of the inner pilgrimage by which the person visits sacred spaces within the microcosm of the mind and body” (14). Therefore, “to gain an understanding of any given journey we might well need to consult a number of possible semantic fields, and not merely . . . those associated with movement” (14). Moreover, according to Morinis, the symbolic meaning of movement in pilgrimage “may be informed by and juxtaposed with cultural representations of its opposite, stasis, and so for Morinis a good part of the meaning of sacred journeys is uncovered in culturally sensitive analysis of this central opposition” (14). Therefore, Coleman and Eade write, returning to the Turners, it is possible to view the 

opposition of structure to anti-structure/process as consisting of a contrast between fixity and fluidity that is powerful both symbolically and in rhetorical terms, even if it fails to take into account the much more complex and mutually enmeshed relations between continuity and transformation, home and homelessness, so-called “everyday life” and sacred travel. (15)

There is a larger significance to this discussion, one I’ve already touched on: studies of globalization suggest that there is a “precarious balance . . . between ‘global flows’ and ‘cultural closure,’” and that being aware of their involvement in open-ended global flows may trigger, for some of us, a search for fixed points of orientation and efforts to affirm old boundaries and construct new ones (15). In other words, “Build that wall!” Isn’t this what motivates Trump and his base of supporters? It might motivate some pilgrims as well: “many pilgrim sites, rather than being contexts for the cultivation of anti-structure, can provide arenas for the rhetorical, ideologically charged assertion of apparent continuity, even fixity, in religious and wider social identities” (15). In other words, globalization can “stimulate the rediscovery of different kinds of particularism and localism,” and the construction of such ideologies within pilgrimage discourses may act in opposition to those who, like Marc Augé, celebrate the “‘non-places of super-modernity” or other examples of postmodern rootlessness (15).

“These perspectives on movement clearly do not yet add up to a discrete analytical debate,” Coleman and Eade write, “in contrast to the ways in which communitas and contestation have often been explicitly juxtaposed in pilgrimage studies” (16). Instead, they provide a number of distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive understandings of movement in pilgrimage. One is the notion of movement as performative action: “the sense that movement can effect (not always consciously) certain social and cultural transformations” (16). Here Coleman and Eade refer to de Certeau’s claim that walking can be constitutive of social space the way that speech acts constitute language. “Performative,” here, doesn’t mean performance; rather, “performative” is being used in the sense of a performative utterance, a speech act that makes something happen, like “I now declare you husband and wife” or the Biblical “Let there be light!” Another is movement as embodied action, or the way that pilgrimage can provide “the catalyst for certain kinds of bodily experiences” (16). A third is movement as part of a semantic field: “the need to contextualize the meaning of ‘pilgrimage’ within local cultural understandings of mobility” or “such terms as place, space and landscape,” or to recognize that “a given style of mobility may take on particularly charged meaning as a marker of difference (just as the label ‘pilgrim’ may be adopted in rhetorical contradistinction to that of ‘tourist’),” so that “the movement involved in pilgrimage may invoke, play on, appropriate, domesticate, sometimes even negate another form of journeying, such as tourism or migration” (16). “The broader point,” Coleman and Eade suggest,” is “that we must avoid essentializing movement as a category” (!6). Finally, movement can be understood as a metaphor: “the ways in which pilgrimage-related discourses may evoke movement rather than require its physical instanciation,” including the idea that pilgrimage is a metaphor for the journey of the Christian soul (17). 

“Is there any connecting thread that might link these dimensions of mobility?” Coleman and Eade ask. “One is that we see both informants and ethnographers coming to regard movement as a marked activity: it becomes an object of attention and reflexivity, and is transformed from a largely taken for granted physiological act into a cultural performance,” they write. “Much of this book is precisely concerned with such processes of translation, within a framework that seeks to understand actors’ own models of pilgrimage or sacralized travel but does not assume that such marked travel is, by definition, divorced from other aspects of social, cultural or indeed religious life” (17). “If pilgrimage can be seen as involving the institutionalization (or even domestication) of mobility in physical, metaphorical and/or ideological terms,” they continue,

such a focus can be located on various levels. Within the macro-context of the political economy of travel and the globalization of (religious) cultures, dynamic interplays between transnational, national and regional processes may be evident. Theorizing around themes of mobility and movement can also be located within—and integrated with—micro-level examinations of the embodied motion inherent within pilgrimage practices, combined with analyses of the sacred geographies and architectures that provide the material and symbolic background to such motion. In such cases, the focus on pilgrimage as ritual and performance is to the fore, with it involving sometimes unpredictable encounters between liturgical forms, personal imagination and memory translated into acts of the body. (17)

The essays they have collected view the phenomenon of pilgrimage from the perspective of movement, although movement is not the only way to think about pilgrimage: “there are many paths for us to trace,” they write (18). The essays in the anthology explore diverse cultural and religious contexts, although “each case study involves diverse processes of sacralization of movement, persons and/or places” (18). In addition, the essays they have brought together explore “movement within movement”—“particular styles of episodes of motion within the broader framework of a journey”—to show “how pilgrimage can provide opportunities to reflect upon, re-embody, sometimes even retrospectively transform, past journeys. We therefore examine journeys about journeys, and which in the process often turn history into both myth and ritual” (18).

For me, the case studies Coleman and Eade are somewhat less useful than their introduction, although they do suggest the range of activity that can be captured by the term “pilgrimage” and their authors suggest additional readings that would broaden my understanding of pilgrimage. In “‘Being There’: British Mormons and the History Trail,” Hildi Mitchell discusses the importance of embodied knowledge, which is “central to the way in which Mormonism works” (26). That embodied knowledge is produced by visiting places associated with Mormon history, including museums, as a way that “Mormons are able to actively participate in their theology and cosmology” (26). Her essay is divided into three sections. The first explores Mormon history and its central importance to Mormon theology. The second considers how this relationship “echoes the interplay between persons, place and both text and object in wider Mormonism, most especially in Mormon temples and in the Mormon practice of testimony bearing” (26). The third examines “how this Mormon engagement with temples and testimonies works to shape their interaction with historical sites, thus illuminating the extent to which pilgrimage activities are different or similar to everyday religious action” (26). Her purpose, she writes, is “to show how embodied memory acts as the interface between individual experiences and wider religious structures, which perhaps helps to integrate the apparent opposition of the individual/structure dichotomy” (27). For example, she suggests that emotion should be considered “as an embodied and collective phenomenon” (32) as a way of explaining collective religious experiences (32-33). She also uses Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to think about this embodied knowledge (36)—yet another sign that I need to read his Outline of a Theory of Practice. Mitchell concludes that British and American Mormons experience historical objects and sites “not merely as secular travel, but as faithbuilding explorations of sacred places and feelings,” and that “embodied memories are important in giving rise to religious feelings,” as well as an entry point to the history of their faith (43).

In “From England’s Nazareth to Sweden’s Jerusalem: Movement, (Virtual) Landscapes and Pilgrimage,” Simon Coleman examines two separate pilgrimage events: the annual Anglo- and Roman-Catholic pilgrimage to Walsingham in the UK, and Swedish evangelicals of the Word of Life church who travel regularly to the Holy Land. His aim is to demonstrate how these two groups “reveal significantly different attitudes towards ritual, time and materiality,” and “to show how they are united in their focus on movement itself as a marked activity, as a cultural performance that incorporates performative action” (46). These two very different constituencies can “be seen as providing significantly divergent ways of negotiating the relationship between macro-processes associated with the political economy of travel and micro-level forms of actual physical mobility” (46). Like Mitchell, Coleman refers to habitus in order “to show how rigid distinctions between supposedly sacred and supposedly secular actions cannot be sustained once one sees how forms of worship become embodied dispositions that cannot be shut off once the believer leaves a service” (46-47). He also wants to explore “how ‘non-pilgrimage’ activities and assumptions leach into those making up sacralized travel, not as forms of ‘impurity’ but as constitutive aspects of the travel itself” (47). It’s easy to see the connection between his case study and the book’s introduction: Coleman’s interest is in contextualizing pilgrimage activities, rather than in seeing them as exceptional or special. 

Unlike the pilgrims who travel to Walsingham, the Swedish evangelicals are developing “a charismatic theory of idealized global action,” with people travelling overseas for mission work, and with guest speakers arriving from elsewhere (53). “In travelling to all continents,” Coleman suggests, the Word of Faith believers “are delineating a landscape of evangelical agency, where faith is shown to transcend barriers of culture, territory and nationhood” (53). One distinction between the pilgrimages he is discussing, then, is the distinction between the global and the local that he and Eade made in the book’s introduction. After all, one of the important activities at Walsingham is walking—through the town and between various important religious sites (56-57). Yet both groups of pilgrims are seeking legitimacy for their faith through travel—the Walsingham pilgrims by invoking history (65), and the Word of Life pilgrims “through a global landscape of missionization oriented theologically and imaginatively, temporally and spatially, towards Jerusalem” (63). “If Catholics seek a kind of ‘recurrence’ of history,” he suggests, “charismatics look more to a metaphorical and literal ‘progression’ towards a future that leads ultimately to the Last Days” (65). At the same time, both groups use pilgrimage “as a form of witness, a defence of identity in relation to religious and secular alternatives” (65). There are, he concludes, “many ways to move, just as there are many ways to be modern” (66).

For me, the most valuable part of Coleman’s essay is his brief discussion of walking and slowness, particularly in relation to pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela: 

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. (66)

Slowness and effortfulness (which my word-processing software tells me isn’t a word) are essential aspects of walking as a form of travel, and along with a sense of contact with the past, I would argue that walking may also provide a sense of contact with the land through which one is walking.

In “‘Heartland of America’: Memory, Motion and the (Re)construction of History on a Motorcycle Pilgrimage,” Jill Dubisch explores the Run for the Wall, a cross-country motorcycle rally from California to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, as a pilgrimage of connection (107). Although the Run for the Wall is arguably a secular pilgrimage, Dubisch argues that it has a “sacred destination” and “combines the individual search for healing and identity with the creation of a collective narrative” (107). Through the construction of that narrative, the Run for the Wall becomes “a ritual performance that constructs a collective view of the past as well as contributing to the construction of a common identity” (107). However, 

this narrative and this collective memory are not developed in the context of the pilgrimage alone. Although the riders are the ones who are making the journey, the ones who are moving across the ‘heartland,’ this heartland itself is created by the many individuals and groups along the way who host the Run, who honour the veterans, and who utter the words that have become part of the ritual of the Run: “Welcome home, brother.” (107-08)

A repeated pilgrimage event, the Run represents issues—PTSD and healing, and POW/MIA accounting (109)—as well as provides an opportunity for a search for belonging or acceptance that Vietnam veterans feel was denied them when they returned from the war (109-10).

Dubisch provides her definition of pilgrimage early in her essay:

Pilgrimage usually involves the conjunction of a moving body or bodies of individuals with a specific geographic location, or locations, which will have their own cast of characters involved in various ways in the pilgrimage. In addition, a specific pilgrimage is an ephemeral production (although much the same could be said for any social activity) and certain pilgrimages . . . may take place only once a year, or in some cases even less frequently. (111)

Unlike Coleman and Eade, Dubisch acknowledges that pilgrimage may be one of the “extraordinary and exceptional events that may radically shape individual and collective lives” (112). The Run, she recounts, generates experiences of “liminality, communitas, the power of ritual, suffering and transformation,” and even though she is not a Vietnam veteran, she was able to experience these concepts “in a vivid emotional, even physical, way,” providing her with “an understanding of pilgrimage I am not certain I would otherwise have had” (113).

Participants in the Run for the Wall identify themselves as pilgrims, and that identification is collective rather than idiosyncratic: “the run is not mere travel, but a journey with a mission, contrasting with trips taken for novelty and pleasure” (113). That sense of mission, of being serious travellers and not just tourists or sightseers, is what makes the Run a pilgrimage (114). This description, however, does not suggest “that seriousness is always a defining characteristic of pilgrimage, nor that there is no time for fun or socializing during the course of the Run. Rather, what is important here is the participants’ own view of what distinguishes their journey from other mundane trips, and particularly from purely recreational motorcycle rides” (114). In addition, the Run is transformative: it transforms meaning, history, and the emotional states of those who participate (114). It also creates a sense of communitas through shared experiences and common goals (116). Through her participation in the Run for the Wall, Dubisch concludes, 

It also became clearer to me . . . that pilgrimage can be many, even contradictory things at once: a political movement and a personal journey of healing, a celebration of the warrior and a memorial to the tragedy of war, an experience of liminality by the marginal and a mode of integration and the overcoming of marginality, a place of communitas but also riven with divisions and conflict, a journey and a coming home. (128)

That description resonates with my own pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago, as well as on other walking journeys that I have characterized as pilgrimages. That complexity is, I think, part of what makes pilgrimages so powerful, and which leads people to want to repeat the experience.

In “Coming Home to the Motherland: Pilgrimage Tourism in Ghana,” Katharina Schramm notes that there is a struggle over the meaning of homecoming and pilgrimage versus tourism, particularly for African Americans seeking their roots in Africa. “The recent literature on pilgrimage has shown that the framing of pilgrimage within the discourse and practice of the tourism industry is far from unusual,” she writes. “Rigid distinctions between (serious) pilgrims—always on a journey to a sacred site—and (playful) tourists—always on a trip to places of secular pleasure, has become blurred” (134). Strict divisions between sacred and secular are therefore called into question (134). Pilgrimage and tourism are also “brought together within wider theories of travel and identity” (134-35), such as Zygmunt Bauman’s suggestion that pilgrims and tourists are “opposing metaphors, each standing for a distinct conception of identity”: pilgrims as metaphors for the modern subject, “constantly preoccupied with the building and sustenance of an identity through which he can give meaning to the confusing world around him,” and tourists (like strollers, vagabonds, and players) as metaphors for the postmodern subject, for whom “fixation needs to be avoided and identities must be prevented from ‘sticking’” (135). Still, Schramm continues, a longing for a stable identity is not outmoded, even if, as a goal, such stability cannot be reached: “as I would like to demonstrate in my discussion of homecoming,” she writes, “the promise of fulfilment and arrival lingers in the notion of return to Africa—even though such expectations may be unfulfilled and the journey towards an ‘African identity’ may have to continue” (136).

Neither tourist nor pilgrim are fixed or one-dimensional identities, Schramm argues: “Both categories are open to transformation and inclined to internal diversification and hierarchy” (136). She refers to Erik Cohen’s writing on the phenomenology of tourist experiences, which may work as a way to grasp the continuum of tourism and its motivations. Cohen divides travel into five types: recreational, diversionary, experiential, experimental, and existential. “For my discussion of homecoming,” Schramm writes, “the categories of experiential and existential tourism are the most significant” (136). Experiential tourism suggests a quest for authentic experiences and meaning, whereas existential tourism suggests the traveller is engaged spiritually, although that engagement may be marginal to his or her society and culture (136). The notion of centre is important here: “the pilgrim is seeking to reach the centre of his own world, no matter how far away it might be in place,” and the “archaic pilgrimage,” where distance isn’t spatial but temporal, is a special case: “This archaic centre is associated with a pristine existence and is mythically constructed as a paradise forever lost—never to be fully restored, yet always longed for” (137). 

According to Schramm, African Americans who travel to Ghana in a search for their roots have many different motives and aspirations, and therefore their activities cannot be grouped together in a single category (137). This heterogeneity “is mirrored in varying understandings of the meaning of homecoming as well as the perceptions of the actual process,” she continues (138). As a result, “the ambivalent meaning of pilgrimage tourism becomes particularly clear” (139). This complexity is also revealed by Paul Basu in “Route Metaphors of ‘Roots-Tourism’ in the Scottish Highland Diaspora,” a discussion of genealogical tourism in Scotland. Participants in such tourism tend to refer to their journeys as pilgrimages, homecomings, or quests (151). Basu’s objective is “to explore the dominant ‘root metaphors’—which are, inevitably, also ‘route’ metaphors—through which roots-tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Islands typically characterize and understand their journeys” (152). He examines the denotative and connotative qualities of these metaphors—pilgrimage, homecoming, and quest—which, he contends, 

together provide a more appropriate ‘grammar’ (including a repertoire of actions and attitudes) for roots-tourism than tourism itself is able to offer: a grammar, furthermore, which has the potential to bear fruit and empower these journeys with the capacity to effect personal transformations, rendering them quite literally ‘life-changing’ experiences for many participants. (153-54)

Such metaphors, however, can obfuscate as well as illuminate, so it’s important to be aware of “the potentially misleading persuasiveness of metaphors” (156). 

Basu suggests that “as roots-tourists leave behind the ‘ordinary’ world of their diasporic homes and enter the ‘non-ordinary sphere’ of the ancestral homeland,”

they do appear to enter a ‘liminal’ zone where they often report supernatural occurrences and altered states of mind (feeling ancestral presences, having premonitory dreams, etc.). Such other-worldly experiences add to the transformative potential of these rites of passage, and roots-tourists may return to their ordinary homes significantly changed, sometimes experiencing difficulties re-adjusting to domestic routines and commitments or else determined to resolve outstanding problems. (168)

I find myself confused, again, between the related concepts of “liminoid” and “liminal,” particularly since the latter term is used by Dubisch and Basu to describe pilgrimage experiences, while Coleman and Eade use the former. Clearly, despite my brief reading of Turner, I have more work to do in order to understand the distinction between these terms.

For Basu, roots-tourism journeys are “are once homecoming, quest and pilgrimage,” and “qualities of these differently symbolic ‘other’ genres of travel and their respective destinations are clearly ‘active together’ in engendering meaning and transformative potential” (173). As pilgrimage, these journeys are simultaneously literal, or “terrestrial,” and metaphorical (173). As homecomings, they are journeys “to the source, to the cradle of belonging” (173). And yet, as quests, their destinations remain “essentially elusive and incommunicable” (173). “By implicitly and explicitly drawing on the route metaphors of homecoming, quest and pilgrimage to provide a composite grammar for roots-tourism,” Basu concludes, “roots-tourists are also provided with a repertoire of appropriate actions and attitudes for their journeys . . . and their vague, incommunicable longing is thus given form” (173-74).

One can’t expect that every essay in an anthology will speak to one’s interests. Two of the essays collected here are primarily useful to me for their citations of other writers on pilgrimage or travel. For instance, Eva Evers Rosander, in “Going and Not Going to Porokhane: Mourid Women and Pilgrimage in Senegal and Spain,” refers to John Urry’s typology of movement—physical, imaginative and virtual, and corporeal (70), which might be helpful in my research. Similarly, Bente Nikolaisen, in “Embedded Motion: Sacred Travel Among Mevlevi Dervishes,” discusses the introduction to the second edition of John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow’s Contesting the Sacred, which suggests that no universal definition of pilgrimage is likely to be useful (93). 

In any case, thinking seriously about pilgrimage is useful for me, because it helps me distinguish my artistic walking practice from the very different practice of pilgrimage. These two types of activity are related, but they are different, and being able to understand pilgrimage literally, rather than metaphorically, is something I very much need to be able to do. At this point, I am thinking that my walking practice appropriates the form of pilgrimage while focusing on a very different style of content—although as I continue to read and think about this topic, I will no doubt change or refine that notion. In any case, being able to discuss pilgrimage coherently will be essential preparation for my conference paper on the subject, which I will be writing over the next few weeks. Until then, I have time to continue my research into this subject.

Works Cited

Coleman, Simon, and John Eade. Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. Routledge, 2004.

Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.” Rice University Studies, vol. 60, no. 3, 1974, pp. 53-92. https://hdl.handle.net/1911/63159.