Tag: Pilgrimage

The Importance of Pilgrimage in Today’s Fast-Paced World

Our Tour Leader Phil Cousineau recently sent us a copy of an interview he did with another of our Tour Leaders, Virginia Schenck, back in 2006. The interview is compelling reading, delving into the importance of pilgrimage in today’s fast-paced world and how critical it can be in the lives of the younger generation in particular. We’ve edited the original interview a little to make it easy to read in this blog format. Our thanks to both Phil and Virginia for sharing this insightful piece with us.

Virginia: What is it about a pilgrimage that calls out to us?

Phil: Traditionally, the call to pilgrimage came during either a spiritual crisis or an opportunity to fulfill a spiritual obligation. The long walk down what used to be called “the glory road” was meant to give a pilgrim ample time to contemplate deep issues that couldn’t be answered at home. Today, the call may even be more intense because life has become so frenetic that most of us claim not to have enough to think about spiritual issues on the traditional level, but also other deep concerns, such as failing marriages, job crises, or the general malaise. The cry for pilgrimage is an antidote to our over-amped lives.

Phil Cousineau pilgrimage
Phil Cousineau leading pilgrims on a recent journey in England

Virginia: [In your book] The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, you talk about pilgrimage as being a “powerful metaphor for any journey” and a “universal quest for the self”. Would you expand on this?

Phil: When I wrote that pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey I meant that virtually any journey, whether a family vacation or a business trip, has the potential to be deeper, more meaningful, more purposeful. When interviewed by CNN about the book they asked if the book could be used by people who travel for business and I immediately responded, Yes, if they turned it into a micro-pilgrimage. By this I mean, time is short. For people who take their lives seriously, as a gift, as numinous, there’s no such thing as a “throw-away” trip, no such as thing as small talk. Every person you encounter is an angel in disguise, as the Greeks used to say; every journey has the potential to reveal the divine in life. If, that is, you pay attention, have the intention.

Of course, sometimes we want to just relax. But the potential is always there.

And yes, pilgrimage as “universal quest for the self” is a reference to the mythic dimension of the sacred journey. For me, all art, drama, and myth reveal the various means human beings use on the search for the self. In that sense, pilgrimage provides a road map, the physical counterpart to the psychological search.

phil cousineau sacred travel
Phil enjoying a local meal with fellow pilgrims on a recent journey to Greece

Virginia: Also in The Art of Pilgrimage you outline several ways to make the pilgrim’s way sacred, to practice “the art of seeing” such as choosing a theme, journaling, and drawing.  Do you have more to suggest for the young pilgrim?

Phil: Just because young people aren’t accustomed to writing or drawing doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Almost without exception, young people who are at least nudged will learn far more about themselves and the world if they learn to exercise these unused muscles. Otherwise, travel, even pilgrimage, for young people becomes little more than one more video game. Remember, the danger is passivity, for adults as well as youth. That’s the tourist-trap, not just rip-off joints. The trap is passivity, which is a nice way of saying voyeurism. So anything that turns us into active travelers helps move us toward pilgrimage.

However, the other track is ritual and ceremony. Ritualizing the entrance to a site. Walking in silence up the sacred way to Delphi; entering Notre Dame or a little shrine on the road to Santiago, puts us in what I like to think of as “the pilgrim mood,” which is one of respect, even reverence. Lighting a candle, singing songs, reading local poets, Neruda in Spain, Yeats in Ireland, etc. Reading sacred texts and discussing their merits, either alone or in a group also helps.

sacred travel to greece
Phil and our group discussing Greek art, literature and spirituality at Eleusis

Virginia: In your book, Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives, you devote an entire chapter to the importance of mentorship. You define a mentor as one who cares for the soul and seeks to draw out the best in his/her student. Is there more you could say about mentorship and the pilgrimage experience?

Phil: I ardently believe that pilgrimage is one of the greatest recommendations that a mentor can make. Traditionally, the shaman or elder recognized the transition moment from childhood to adulthood and announced to the child and the group that it was now time for the vision quest, the walkabout, the pilgrimage, the outer manifestation of the inner transformation. Today, for an adult spiritual counselor to take a youth on a pilgrimage is the very expression of saying, I want to help you more than tell you how to get a good job or get famous; I’m here to help you find yourself, “make up your own mind,” as the very meaning reveals. A youth recognizes the import of this: Wow, he or she is taking time out of their own lives to lead me on this journey!

Virginia: Once we’ve been on a pilgrimage, how do we carry that experience and newfound wisdom with us in our hearts, lives, and communities?

Phil: By keeping it alive. To do that you bring home real souvenirs, not fakes, by that I mean crafts, art, music, and especially something we’ve created out of it all. If our memories are in a shoebox under the bed or on a disc we’ll forget as surely as that dream that was never written down. Only by turning the journey into something new: a scrapbook, a journal, a story, poem, song or now what are called “soul boxes” then the trip will become – guaranteed – just one more hazy memory. If we don’t honour it, it, the memory, will fade, almost as if angry with us for not respecting it more. For millennia it was believed a returning voyager, adventurer, pilgrim, had an obligation to keep the story alive. That’s worth reviving.

lou ann granger
Our participant Lou Ann Granger showing her travel journal during a journey to Ireland with Phil Cousineau. Lou Ann subsequently published her journals as a book, With Love for the Journey

Virginia: In your 1987 film A Hero’s Journey, a biography of noted mythology expert, Joseph Campbell, Campbell states that there isn’t a myth that fits our global world and people often regress to old groups, familiar ways. [Thirty] years later, have we found a myth that fits? Have we created one? If not, how do you see us faring in the world today?

Phil: Oh, but Joe also said, in my companion book to the film, and elsewhere, that there was and is indeed an emerging myth: The Myth of the Planet. Joe saw this in the early ’80s and is being proved prophetic. And to my lights this phenomenon of pilgrimage is one of the most profound manifestations of this vision. To take an authentic pilgrimage is a gesture to our personal and collective souls that the future will be determined by whether or not we, as human beings, stop demonizing the Other. As idealistic as this is, I think it’s virtually impossible to do so without either deep travel or prodigious reading. Otherwise, it’s a fatuous and amorphous idea. We have to have a meal in another culture, dance to their dances, worship in their places of worship, have a conversation that reveals our common humanity. Pilgrimage exhorts us to do this. And it’s the greatest gift we can give our youth. It was in this sense that the greatest American writer of all, Mark Twain, said, “Travel is the death of prejudice.”

virginia schenck sacred travel
Vocal artist, and our interviewer here, Virginia Schenck (in black hat), leading a group on a Singing pilgrimage to Ireland

If you’re inspired to take a journey of pilgrimage after reading this interview you can travel with Phil or Virginia in 2018 with Sacred Earth Journeys.

Phil is leading a wonderful spring-time journey to Paris to discover the literary, spiritual, cultural and epicurean heart of the City of Lights: Passion for Paris with Phil Cousineau. 

In the fall of 2018 Phil is also leading 2 fabulous pilgrimages to Greece: The Heart of Ancient Greece: An Odyssey with Phil Cousineau will transport you three thousand years back in time to the roots of classical Greece and forward to the modern Mediterranean of magnificent land and seascapes. The Hydra Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau is an all-new mythopoetic approach to crafting your story on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra.

If you’re looking for something a little more musical, Virginia Schenck is leading a Sacred Singing Journey to Ireland with special guest Nóirín Ní Riain, Ireland’s acclaimed spiritual singer, in October 2018.


The Holiest Mountain in Ireland

I’m currently lucky enough to be in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Saint Patrick’s Day – Paddy’s Day as it’s known here as elsewhere – is an unofficial holiday, not least because it often falls mid-way through lent giving those who observe this fasting period a “day off” and time of celebration before Easter. While winter still lingers in Newfoundland and the Shamrock green has yet to burrow its way up through the snow, my thoughts today warmly turn to memories of Ireland, with its rich folklore, inspiring landscapes and shrines connecting its spiritual past with our present pilgrimages.


Croagh Patrick, Ireland

Phil Cousineau, best-selling author, teacher and TV host, has been taking pilgrims to Ireland with Sacred Earth Journeys for some years now, and one of the places he will again lead a group to this September is Croagh Patrick, the holiest mountain in Ireland. It was on the summit of this mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD, and the tradition of pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in honour of Ireland’s patron saint stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption.(1) For the 2013 Sacred Earth Journeys tour Phil will lead the group up to the first prayer station – around a half hour walk – and will there share a fascinating history of St. Patrick and the tradition of pilgrimage.
Colloquially known as The Reek, Croagh Patrick also presents one of Ireland’s most breathtaking vistas from all stages of the ascent. Located close to the picturesque town of Westport, the mountain stands tall and proud distinguishing itself from its neighbouring rolling hills by its stature (2,500 ft above sea level) and conical presence. The place where, according to legend, Saint Patrick banished snakes from Ireland forever! Today, a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick is a fitting place to banish our own – more metaphorical – snakes and breath in that lung-expanding pure Irish air while absorbing the spectacular views over County Mayo.
There are still some places on the 2013 sacred journey to Ireland: The Mythic Heart of Ireland with Phil Cousineau if you’d like to experience for yourself the majesty of Croagh Patrick as well as discover Ireland’s stunning landscapes and vibrant cities. Until then, as the old Irish blessing goes, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.
Visit the Press section of the Sacred Earth Journey’s website for a couple of recent fascinating articles by Phil Cousineau about the art of pilgrimage and what it means to be a pilgrim: http://www.sacredearthjourneys.ca/sections/about-us-x.htm
(1) Factual information taken from the Croagh Patrick Visitor’s Centre: http://www.croagh-patrick.com/visitorcentre/holy-mountain
~ Kim Bridgett

Sacred Pilgrimage

Have you ever longed to embark on a journey of pure wonder and transformation, a journey that may stretch your personal boundaries and open your heart, mind, and spirit to new possibilities and new insights? If so, a sacred pilgrimage is the trip for you. For centuries, people of all cultures have gone on pilgrimages to sacred sites around the world. These journeys acted as rites of passage, an expression of faith and devotion, an answer to a sacred call, or merely a seeking of spirit. In his book, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, Phil Cousineau writes that “in each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred… What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what, when contemplated, transforms us utterly.”
The reasons why modern day pilgrims embark on a pilgrimage are very personal and individual. For many, there is a deep desire to touch and connect with the sacred energies that are palpable at sacred sites. Perhaps one has a lingering question and feels drawn to a certain place for answers, or perhaps one wishes to find a community of like-minded spirits by venturing on a pilgrimage with others. There are many soulful reasons why one chooses to go on a pilgrimage rather than just travel some place new. Essentially, pilgrims are spiritual seekers, people who are searching for the divine, a force which can be found in a myriad of spaces. Cousineau describes a pilgrim as a “poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.”Phil Cousineau also explains how the sacred can be found all around us if we travel with a certain mindset. “The practice of soulful travel is to discover the overlapping point between history and everyday life, the way to find the essence of every place, every day: in the markets, small chapels, out-of-the-way parks, craft shops. Curiosity about the extraordinary in the ordinary moves the heart of the traveler intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism.” If you are able to see, feel and experience the sacred even in the most mundane of things and places, then you are already on your way, you have already become a pilgrim.

There is no better time to begin your sacred pilgrimage than the present. If you have been drawn here and are reading this article, then you have already been called. It is now in your hands to heed this call and respond as you will. I wish you an exciting, enlightening, and transformational journey, wherever the road may lead you.

~ Daniela Masaro

Ireland Forever

As I try to wrap up my thoughts, I realize there is so much more I can write about. For brevity sake, I will encourage anyone who reads this to visit Ireland and discover her many wonders. And I would direct you to the poetry of W.B. Yeats, the writings of John O’Donoghue, and the music of Christy Moore and Seán Tyrrell, just to name a few.

The last stops of our tour end in Galway and Dublin ~ urban, sophisticated, yet with a lyrical ambience. How serendipitous that we should be in Dublin for the misty full moon of autumn equinox, and the following day, September 23, 17:49 to raise a toast to Arthur on International Toast Arthur Day! For those of you who don’t know about Arthur Guinness, he is a revered man who founded his brewery in Dublin in 1749. He provided us with plenty of refreshment during our pilgrimage.

I write this last blog in the wake of Black Thursday, September 30, which feels all the more devastating after seeing Seán O’Casey’s play, The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre. Such a tumultuous history! But I leave with a bright vision for Ireland from atop the Hill of Tara; panoramic vistas, as far as the eye can see, and feeling the surge of energy coursing through the land as I joined hands with my roommate, Susan. This is a country that is no stranger to adversity, yet survives with a strong spirit.

At our farewell banquet, a final feast after days of consistently excellent meals, my fellow pilgrims and I are filled with gratitude – For Helen, who organized all the logistics and attended to every important detail. For our attentive driver Gregory, who took care of us with his unfailing hospitality and good cheer. For the great chemistry of our group; all of us undoubtedly have been changed by this experience. We are anam cara. For our extraordinary leader, Phil, who brought us soulful magic, mystery, literature, and music. And for all the people we met along the way who touched our lives.

What a blessing this pilgrimage has been. We can create our own Book of Kells with these rich memories and new understandings of the understory that is Ireland.

Suaimhneas (deep peace),
Joan Ishibashi