By Tanis Helliwell
“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And small fowles maken melodye
That slepen al the nyght with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in hir corages.
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”
—Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, 1387
Pilgrimages have existed since the dawn of time. People came from all over the known world to ask a question of the Oracle at Delphi. Even now, pilgrims in India journey to shrines associated with Buddha, Krisha and Kali, and Christians flock to Lourdes and Fatima where Mother Mary is said to have appeared. Pilgrimages are not always to religious sites and might be to a John Lennon memorial, to an ancestral home, or to the burial place of a famous poet such as Yeats.
The object of a pilgrimage is not to go on vacation, but to journey to one’s centre, one’s core. There are as many ways to make a pilgrimage as there are people, and pilgrimages can last anywhere from a day to a lifetime. It is not the destination so much as the focus of the journey that defines a pilgrim.
Pilgrims hear a soul call that set’s them on the path. Perhaps we are fired from our job, our spouse leaves us, a beloved dies, or maybe we realize that we are getting old and feel death’s fingers closing. Perhaps nothing dramatic happens, but we feel a deep malaise that is impossible to shake and know that we must cut ourselves free from our ordinary life in order to discover a deeper self that longs to be born.
An American woman named Peace Pilgrim heard the call during a Rose Bowl parade and devoted the remaining 28 years of her life to walk for peace. In Australia aborigines who hear the call during lunch, or at work, leave immediately to go ‘walkabout’ in the footsteps of their ancestors. I heard the call in my first year at university when a professor read the opening lines from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and I have been a pilgrim ever since.
Pilgrims feel a need to set their affairs in order before leaving. Before modern times this made sense as there was a fair chance that they would die on the pilgrimage through illness, or murder, or be robbed of all possessions and therefore, unable to return home. Even today it is likely we will return changed. That’s the whole point! It’s helpful to do rituals of completion before departure such as a communion, fasting, abstinence from sex, prayers, and pack your bag light—very light—unburdened by your past. Perhaps bring a sacred object to help you focus on your purpose for the pilgrimage, or for inspiration read books and listen to music from the country you will visit. Also, bring gifts of gratitude to give to people you meet and to leave at sacred sites as an offering.
Many pilgrimages take place on foot and this is the ideal way to enter the inner mystery that all pilgrims seek. Walking allows us to slow down and move fully into the present moment, to be awake to the smells and the sights. How many days do we do this in a life? Too few. We need to remove ourselves from the world of work, paying bills and relationships. Even to remove ourselves from clutching to a past, or hoping for a future. It is in that sacred space in our pilgrim’s heart that the answers to our questions lie if we open ourselves to listen.
The word ‘sacred’ comes from the word ‘sacrifice’ meaning “to cut up”, and the pilgrim is often confronted by an ordeal, or series of difficulties. Pilgrimages are not meant to be easy, or no transformation occurs. Blisters on your feet, no food, attempting to walk in silence while people greet you on the way, or being disillusioned by the tourists at your longed for pilgrimage site, are all outer ordeals. Just as important are the inner ordeals of darkness, emptiness, anger and tears that accompany your unravelling, as you cry for yourself, others and the world.
Arriving at your goal is to arrive at your heart’s centre. What question do you ask of the Oracle? How do you interpret the answer? This answer may be profound, life changing and so dramatic that you can no longer return to the life you led. The answer might as easily be a simple knowing that a mother’s kiss, a sunset, a playful puppy is as important as a vision of Christ. Do not race away from the moment of arrival, but fully embrace and assimilate your inner and outer journey to that place.
Returning with the Gift
Often a returning pilgrim undergoes an immense shock in realizing that he, or she, feels more isolated with friends and family than with the strangers met on the way. This is unexpected, but normal considering what changes have transformed you. Not everyone will want to hear about what happened, and it will likely be impossible for you to tell them even if you want to, as a pilgrimage can only be experienced. Others can sense some change in us and are affected by this, which is the greatest gift we can offer. Even when we outwardly return to the same town, same work and same companion the gifts for the pilgrimage infuse our life.
Bring journal. Reason for walking: Go to Beatles Cavern, Mecca, promise made to a friend
Tanis Helliwell, a mystic in the modern world, has brought spiritual consciousness into the mainstream for over 30 years. Since childhood, she has seen and heard elementals, angels, and master teachers in higher dimensions. Tanis is the founder of the International Institute for Transformation (IIT), which offers programs to assist individuals to become conscious creators to work with the spiritual laws that govern our world.
Tanis is the author of The High Beings of Hawaii, Summer with the Leprechauns, Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns, Embraced by Love, Manifest Your Soul’s Purpose, Hybrids: So You Think You Are Human and Decoding Your Destiny.
For information on Tanis’ courses, click here.