For my presentation on pilgrimages I was given a section from the book Wanderlust: a history of walking.
The very first line of the reading described walking as a necessity that has evolved. On our walks we are usually looking for something. The simplicity of the line "we are looking for something", read loud and clear and put the act of walking into the simplest terms that apply to everyone. Walking has and always will have a purpose in our lives and if we are aware of what we are looking for or not, we always know when we find it.
Pilgrimages are then the most basic form of walking. The walks often have a set goal or destination. A pilgrimage, most often, is about walking in search of something intangible. While on a pilgrimage everyone has a different and personal experience while sharing some commonalities. The shared factors are the quest in search of something and the walk towards a goal. The journey becomes about personal transformation. What was most interesting about the reading was how the author described when you are on a pilgrimage you become a "walker among walkers". You become removed from the complications of real life and adapt into this state of possibilities between past and future. Being part of this technology obsessed generation, the idea of leaving behind attachments to your "real life" seems stripping and cleansing. The need to not be connected to anything but yourself and the journey seems like an experience one must have.
Before reading this, I had the uneducated assumption that all pilgrimages revolved around religion. The book lead to different ideas about pilgrimages that I wanted to explore away from the popular ideas of religious pilgrimages.
First that came up in my research was Mildred Norman, who went by the name “Peace Pilgrim”. She walked from 1953 to 1981 in the name of peace. She said in an interviews that “a pilgrimage can be to a place or for a thing. And mine happens to be for a thing.” She vowed to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." After watching several interviews with her, you can see how her passion is contagious and how walking can change the world if you let it.
Modern types of pilgrimages also came up in my research. Now "walk-a-thons" are considered our form of pilgrimages. First known walk-a-thon was in 1953 in Puerto Rico where a man walked 80 miles to raise money for the fight against cancer In 1968, the first America walk-a-thon was held by the American Freedom from Hunger Foundation. Although when I first read that a walk-a-thon was considered a pilgrimage I found it humorous, it is important to refer to the definitions of a pilgrimage from Wanderlust. Pilgrimages will always have three things in common:
- Health and healing
- Community of pilgrims
- Learning through suffering
Overall, the reading was nothing short of thought provoking. Pilgrimages can be these hard and suffering experiences but it seems that the overall outcome and journey is worth it. The power of walking is seen through pilgrimages, all different kinds.