A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred site. It can demonstrate the depth of your devotion, be it to your deity, your community or to yourself and your practice. It is a key feature in many religions, such as Islam, which mandates that everyone of able body conduct a pilgrimage to Mecca.
In this technological age, there are few places that cannot be reached in relative ease and comfort. For a pilgrimage, however, the journey is as important as the destination.
Travelling through southern England, I came to understand just how much that land is steeped on magick. With my trained eye I could see its influence everywhere I went. On the long coach journey to Cornwall, for example, we repeatedly passed by burial mounds. I might otherwise have presumed each one to be isolated. You gain much by connecting with the environment through which you are travelling. It lends context to the site you are visiting as well deepening the sense of achievement felt at the end.
Pilgrimages can also be secular. My grandfather, a lifelong Elvis fan, conducted a pilgrimage to Graceland. He describes the experience as a release . His idol was someone he had previously known only in his mind. After visiting Elvis’s home, my grandfather’s idol became a tangible part of his reality.
Choosing a destination
The destination for a pilgrimage should be somewhere you are passionate about. Don’t necessarily choose a pilgrimage to a famous site simply because you feel you ought to visit it. You may well find yourself disappointed. For example, I have spoken with many who found that Stonehenge failed to live up to their expectations.
The destination for my own pilgrimage was London. There I visited sites associated with John Dee, Austin Osman Spare and Aleister Crowley, three men who inspired me to study magick. Though all the places I visited were significant, it was my personal interest, and personal connection, which made visiting them most rewarding.
There are many possibilities for esoteric pilgrimages. An ancient Pagan monument like Avebury stone circle can visited in honour of a revered deity. Visiting the birthplace or burial site of a predecessor, such as the grave of Dion Fortune in Glastonbury, shows respect for their life and work. Identify what is at the core of your chosen esoteric path and identify somewhere which resonates with that.
For my pilgrimage, I calculate the minimum the journey will realistically cost. I then added a cushion to afforded myself a little more as a security.
Low-costs options may seem daunting at first, but they often afford you the best experiences. A rural bus service will take you through fields and villages that a train would have sped past. In a hostel you will be able to interact with fellow travellers. To avoid dodgy hostels look for those which are members of Hosteling International. This is a federation of reputable hosteling associations covering more than 80 countries.
You can learn a lot about an area from the patrons of a local independent pub or bar, but checking out online reviews is a good way to avoiding unpleasant surprises. Alternatively, be bold and seek the opinion of locals during interactions.
There will be many sites of interest which, though they are not the focus of your pilgrimage, will enrich your experience. A detour to Glastonbury added a day of travel to my pilgrimage, but still proved to be a highlight. Standing atop Glastonbury Tor, I was able to put the progress of my pilgrimage into context. I had traveled far to reach this spiritual place and had just as far to travel yet.
Two weeks is just long enough to make the journey significant. Consider adding further significance by timing your pilgrimage to coincide with significant dates. The Wheel of the Year or the phases of the moon can provide inspiration.
Above all else, do not rush your journey. Afford yourself time to immerse yourself in the experience.
As a pilgrim you should be prepared to take no more than you can carry on your back. You can reduce the amount of clothing you require by looking for fabrics with wicking properties as they actively draw sweat away from the body and dissipate it into the air allowing them to stay fresher for longer.
Microfiber towels are another good way to reduce weight. While hotels usually provide towels, hostels increasingly charge to rent them. Those with a smooth feel cost a little more but are considerably more effective. They work best when used to pat yourself dry rather than rubbing yourself.
Decent footwear is essential. Nothing will derail a pilgrimage faster than a blister. Specialised walking boots or shoes are to be recommended. They will be durable, lightweight, breathable and frequently waterproof. Rest assured they are considerably more stylish than they used to be. When looking for the right pair, find an establishment which offers a fitted service.
A cash capsule is a simple way to avoid a disaster. If your money is lost or stolen during your pilgrimage you may find yourself isolated far from home. Cash capsules allow you to carry a bank note hidden about your person. They are typically durable and waterproof. Even in a worst case scenario you will have enough money to pay outstanding costs and contact friends or family.
Once you’ve reached your sacred site
The end of a pilgrimage can seem daunting. Compared to the time it has taken to reach your destination, the time spent there will be brief. I spent two weeks reaching London but only two days in the City itself.
Having spent so long planning and completing a pilgrimage, once you arrive there is an overwhelming sense of “What now?” Mitigate this by channeling the positive energy generated from completing your pilgrimage.. If it is appropriate, you can perform a ritual at your chosen site.
Sometimes it’s also possible to take something from the site to use in a ritual when you return home. I collected material to craft a new wand when I returned home. Consider a creative project inspired by your experiences. Sharing your experience with others, as I am doing with this very article, can prove rewarding.
After the journey
I found many benefits to completing a pilgrimage. It is an experience you will always have to your name; a tale to tell. In moments of doubt you can remind yourself of what you achieved. Above all else such an undertaking establishes your legitimacy. You are not just an ‘armchair magician’. You have put your esoteric knowledge to the test; selecting an appropriate destination, honouring your path as you travel and profiting from the experience. You have proven your dedication to your chosen path.
Image credit: True New Zealand Adventure