For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Quiet Pilgrimage

The volume and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those on foot will ever experience. HILAIRE BELLOC

Place works on the pilgrim . . . that's what pilgrimage is for. ROWAN WILLIAMS

Not long before I went to Spain, I read an essay in the journal Artesian by a Czech writer called Vaclav Cilek, cryptically entitled Bees of the Invisible. Cilek — himself a long-distance wanderer — proposed a series of what he called 'pilgrim rules', of which the two most memorable were the 'Rule of Resonance' ('A smaller place with which we resonate is more important than a place of great pilgrimage') and the 'Rule of Correspondence' ('A place within a landscape corresponds to a place within the heart.') 'The number of quiet pilgrims is rising,' he observed. 'Places are starting to move. On stones and in forests one comes across small offerings — a posy made from wheat, a feather in a bunch of heather, a circle from snail shells.' I had come across such DIY land-art often myself: the signs of unnumbered 'quiet pilgrimages', of uncounted people improvising odd journeys in the hope that their voyages out might become voyages in.

Perhaps, though, each era imagines itself to be increasingly on pilgrimage. As Merlin Coverley notes in The Art of Wandering, the pilgrim is among the most venerable figures of literature. The true boom-years of religious pilgrimage were, of course, medieval — but the Victorian decades saw a strong surge of interest in pilgrimage both as practice and metaphor. Hilaire Belloc's bestsellers The Path to Rome (1902) and The Old Road (1904) — the former an account of what he called his 'mirific and horripilant adventure' of walking to the Holy Sepulchre — carried that interest over into the 20th century. 'Pilgrimage,' wrote Belloc permissively and encouragingly, 'ought to be nothing but a nobler kind of travel, in which, according to our age and inclination, we tell our tales, or draw our pictures, or compose our songs.'

ROBERT MACFARLANE From his recent Guardian essay Rites Of Way: Behind The Pilgrimage Revival. (You can read this excellent essay in its entirety here.)

18 comments:

George said...

I have to follow up, Robert, and tell you how mesmerized I was with Macfarlane's article. A brilliant syllabus of writing and thoughts on pilgrimage! For those who wonder why we do this, Macfarlane is on point when he says that pilgrimage is a term that describes "how more and more people are choosing to make sense of their place and themselves." So many good quotes in the article: the Spanish maxim—"The path provides the natural next step." Belloc's observation: "The volume and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those on foot will ever experience."

Very rich indeed! I'm copying this article and saving it as a kind of roadmap for what I want to do with the remainder of my years.

am said...

La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural – "The path provides the natural next step"

Thanks for the link that provided this palindrome (-:

Goat said...

Yes, some great quotes here as always. I'll catch up on that linked article while absorbed in "lesson preparation" today (wasting time on my computer in the staff room).

Just yesterday on Pointyhead (see my latest post) I found a little pile of tiny pebbles carefully arranged on a boulder. I too have noticed such transient markers on trails in lots of different parts of the world. When I got down from the mountain I found a reconstructed ancient village on the river bank, with the mountain top towering over the thatched roofs. I wondered for how many centuries that little peak had been climbed.

I've realised that as a creature of habit who constantly seeks out places of special meaning and serenity, even in a raucous urban setting, I am treading an invisible network of private pilgrimage trails all over this corner of the country - as I have in others before. I also wonder if I'll come back in 20 or 30 years and re-walk them from memory...

Rubye Jack said...

'A place within a landscape corresponds to a place within the heart.'
I just love that sentence so very much!

Are there many women who go on pilgrimage? It seems it might not be so safe for a woman but then perhaps that would not be one's main consideration.

Goat said...

As promised, I've "wasted" half the day with browsing while the students are doing tests. Found this interesting interview which I think you'll enjoy: http://thebrowser.com/interviews/colin-thubron-on-travel-writing

And also Christopher Hitchens' obituary for Leigh Fermor: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2011/06/the_last_of_the_scholar_warriors.html

And I haven't even got to your link yet. Solvitur ambulando!

Ruth said...

I was arrested by the first quote by Belloc. It resonates deeply. I know this post is about pilgrimage, but I think it is true also for walking in general. My daughter found the lifestyle in NYC very rich because of walking. For instance (forgive me, but I think I have shared this before), on Valentine's Day, seeing men carrying flowers on the sidewalk added much visual interest to the day, compared to the Midwest where we drive everywhere and don't see individuals except for little peeks through windshields.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thought you might like this article, George. I believe you've already got Macfarlane's 'The Wild Places'. His new book 'The Old Ways' looks equally as compelling.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, as always, for reading, am...

The Solitary Walker said...

... and Goat, yes, so many trackways are much older then they might at first appear, and they can tell us a great deal about history, landscape, customs, private and public pilgrimages. And the universality of cairns and other markers is astonishing. I've written some other posts about cairns you might be interested in: here http://solitary-walker.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/nearly-heaven.html
and here http://solitary-walker.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/cairns.html for example. Thanks for your links which I will check out shortly!

The Solitary Walker said...

Ruth, that Belloc quote is fabulous, isn't it?

I agree — it can be equally true for walking in general. Occasionally folks tell me my walks and pilgrimages are merely escapes from 'real' life. If that's the case, then give me the 'unreal' life.

Anyhow, I actually believe they are escapes INTO 'real' life.

It's a lot to do with heightened awareness and deep appreciation, and the visceral, tactile, sensual nature of the experience, don't you think? Plus all the cultural and historical resonances...

Friko said...

I read part of the article today; have you read Sebald? He's one of my favourites, I love all his stuff; I think you would too.

Goat said...

Cheers, I can now add the words "cist" and "petroform" to my collection of cool words!

The Solitary Walker said...

Sorry, Rubye, I somehow missed out replying to your comment... There are lots of women who do these pilgrimages — probably 40-50% are women, some of them solo walkers. It's perfectly safe.

The Solitary Walker said...

And, yes, Friko, I have read Sebald and you're right — I like him very much. I may do a post on him before long. I love his originality, and the way he crosses genre boundaries in his books. How does one describe his work? Fiction, autobiography, history, travel? A unique mixture of all. He's a one-off.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

I am very much intrigued by the thought processes and the keenness in others of trying to squeeze meaning from the act of existing. That has been going on endlessly. The life journey that each individual must take is unique and yet a common thread is always found. It's as if, like spiders, humans must leave behind an artifact, a trace that they've existed.
Even the moon has a footprint!
Quiet, what a powerful word next to pilgrimage. Real calm and peace are very rarely found in life yet so much sought.
An image of afterlife comes to my mind.
You are a remarkable solitary walker who has found a means to tell his story.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Heidrun, and all the others you left recently on earlier posts. I like your analogy with the spider web, and your metaphysical reflections on the idea of quietude.

'To squeeze meaning from the act of existing'... yes... that's what we try to do... 'Seeking slender meaning in chaos', as I say on my blog header...

ShirleyHS said...

Hello, Solitary Walker!

I found you because I googled snail shells and pilgrimage! I took a small pilgrimage on The Pilgrim's Way from Bearsted to Canturbury this summer.

If you are interested, here's my first post.http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/2012/09/17/how-writing-a-memoir-is-like-a-pilgrimage-part-i-overview/

I'm working on my second post with yearning as the theme. Will include a link to this great site and post.

All best on your journey.

Shirley

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Shirley — for reading and for linking. Will check out your own blog soonest.