Tourist or Pilgrim? Which Are You?


PhilGreeceThe pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

In October of 2012 I was invited to make a presentation at Journey Conferences, an annual gathering of Jungians.  There I met Phil Cousineau, an author, filmmaker, lecturer and expert on mythology, and learned that he leads trips to some of the world’s most sacred sites.

Fred and I love to travel, so when we heard about his trip to the sacred sites of Greece with Sacred Earth Journeys this fall, we signed up.  My favorites among Phil’s many books are The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, and Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Modern Time.  Since our return last week I’ve been thinking about how this trip combined the themes of these two books in a magical way that made this my favorite travel experience ever.

“In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.”

The focus of our previous guided tours has been on the outer world. What drew me to this one was the promise of equal time for the inner life of the soul.

I was not disappointed. Each morning began with an hour-long conversation about the sites we would visit, the ancient myths associated with them, and the way they are still being played out in our lives today. Phil’s passion for mythology combined with his passion for mentoring turned what could have been just another interesting tour into an extraordinary personal odyssey.

Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi
Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi

“The force behind myths, fairytales, parables and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.”

For me, one of the most problematic aspects of past tours has been the lack of opportunity for close observation and reverie. Not so this time!  At least once a day Phil offered prompts for writing poetry or essays or making sketches. Always, he built in plenty of time for reflecting on how the celebrations and myths associated with sacred spaces triggered lost memories and inner stirrings. As if that were not enough, he provided even more time for sharing our impressions, insights and healing experiences with each other.

Our task in life is to find our deep soul work and throw ourselves headlong into it.”

At the ruins of Eleusis, site of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries which celebrated the sacred death/rebirth fertility myth of Demeter and Persephone, we rested in the cave reputed to be the portal to the Underworld. There some of us shared evidence of the buried spiritual depths that lie beneath the surface of our lives. I spoke of how I shut down painful emotions and lost my tears at the age of 11 when my father died.  That night I dreamed I was as angry as I’ve ever been at family and friends who were thoughtlessly trashing my house and expecting me to clean up.  The dream ended with me hurling volleys of creative curses at them like Zeus throwing his thunderbolts, then laughing in delight at my uncharacteristic behavior!

The Starting Line at Olympia
The Starting Line at Olympia

Where was the anger coming from?  Was being in Greece influencing me to channel my inner Persephone, Dark Goddess of the Underworld?  Is she still mad at Hades for violating my personal space and stealing my father away? What about the laughter? Could Persephone finally be lightening up about a personal crisis which she has learned to view as a mere speck in the cosmic view of things?

Over drinks two evenings later, a woman in our group shared a shattering life-changing experience she had as a young adult. At dinner she made a mind-blowing connection: The myth of Demeter and Persephone is her story, one she has lived ever since her youthful trauma. She never knew it until that moment!

“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 night after we visited Olympia, site of the original Olympic games, I dreamed of another Dark Mother who reminded me of Ereshkigal, cruel Queen of the Underworld who hung her sister Inanna, Sumeria’s Queen of Heaven and Earth, on a meathook to die. In a show of unwanted patronizing attention, dream Ereshkigal asked her attendants to escort me down some stairs. I refused to go. As I was falling asleep that night she visited me and gave me a light kiss on my lips. Her presence was oppressive and filled me with dread.

Why does the Goddess of the Underworld visit me now?  It seems obvious. I’ve entered a phase of life when my task is to make peace with death.  I’m not thrilled about this, but I’m ready to face what comes next.

“What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.”

Skotino Cave, Crete
Skotino Cave, Crete

The bearlike rock formation in the Skotino Cave in Crete reminded me of Elephant in the Cave, an early dream which showed me how frightened I was of reflecting on my inner life.   Greece’s ancient goddess figurines; images of snakes and initiation rituals; sacred vessels and ceremonial masks; ruins of labyrinths and altars; the sacred tree worshiped at the Palianis nunnery:  all these and more symbolize issues that used to haunt me in waking life and appeared at night in some of my most memorable and life-changing dreams.

Greece’s antiquities are not meaningless historical facts to me.  They are living realities within me.  Having experienced these realities for over 25 years, I feel blessed by this trip and the direct contact with the sacred it provided every day.  I guess this makes me a pilgrim.

How does travel impact you?

All quotes are from Phil Cousineau’s Art of Pilgrimage.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

  1. Synchronistically, astrology blogger Gray Crawford writes that this time of Mercury retrograde is a good time to visit the underworld, which might be another reason why you have been dreaming about it. He also mentions that for him the tarot card of 4 Swords, which is associated with the III decan of Libra (where the conjunction of Mercury and the Sun will take place) evokes the sense of a pilgrim.
    Thank you for sharing your journey and your dreams! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Zarah, for your comment and for providing a link to Gray Crawford’s post. I don’t really understand much of the language of astrology, but find this post fascinating, and, indeed, synchronistic! With warm appreciation, Jeanie

  2. “Greece’s antiquities are not meaningless historical facts to me. They are living realities within me.”
    Love this quote and this post. The trip sounds great, both the interior and exterior ones.
    I often wonder why so many of my dreams have me traveling with such a strong sense of movement and going from place to place. Perhaps the soul needs movement and sees by means of the journey?

    1. Thanks, Debra. I think your comment about your travel dreams is very insightful. I came across this Jungian quote today which seems to apply: “For it is the function of consciousness not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.” CW8, para. 342.
      I think the soul is constantly moving and being moved: taking in impressions, seeing things from different perspectives, responding with different emotions, forming new impressions, testing, experimenting, etc. Some of us notice this; some do not. I suspect you are one who does. Perhaps your dream imagery of movement from place to place is mirroring not only the inner movement of your soul, but also the soul work in which your consciousness is actively engaged: integrating your outer and inner worlds?

      1. “Perhaps your dream imagery of movement from place to place is mirroring not only the inner movement of your soul, but also the soul work in which your consciousness is actively engaged: integrating your outer and inner worlds?”
        This is a wonderful idea Jean! I like to think of it as integrating the inner and outer worlds. Perhaps bridges are being built between inner and outer worlds in the work of the dream.
        Thank you.

        1. You’re very welcome. Yes, I see dreams as bridges to wholeness, and imagine lots of them are under construction in both of us! I hope so. 🙂

  3. This is a wonderful “coincidence”. Today I have been working on a blog which is not quite ready. But by Thursday it should be posted. It is entitled “Travel, Writing and Magic.” I will return with the link because it will be at least a partial answer to your question.
    I expect that I am by nature an explorer of a whole range of myths and as such directly connect life experiences with creativity. That is, I associate travel with the chance to bring back something new. The trip you describe sounds exactly like something I would like. I first became acquainted with Cousineau’s writing through a study of Campbell and Jung.

    1. “Travel, Writing and Magic.” What a great title. I look forward to receiving the link when it’s finished. Thank you for your comment about associating travel with your need for creativity. It made me realize how true that is of me as well. This trip was especially fruitful in that regard, (you sound like someone who would have loved it!) I also wrote two poems that connected my dreams with the sites. I don’t like the poems but I loved the creative challenge! Thanks so much for writing.

      1. Yes that trip would have been perfect for me. I, too, have often longed for periods of time for reflection on travels. Usually so little opportunity to savour. I believe Mr.Cousineau had trip to Ireland which would have played to my heritage. I’ll get back to you with the link in a day or so.

  4. Brian Carlin commented on Tourist or Pilgrim? Which Are You?
    Like every journey, physical,or mental, travel has made inroads to our soulS and on our understanding.
    The journeys in the past year or two to rome, Berlin, the Nile, Carthage, Morocco: we went there for the history, to feel in the presence of where our pasts have been etc.
    Then we return home, and the experience has changed us, maybe slightly. We see home differently. We see more than the immediately familiar. We feel the local pasts. Not just of the people, the city, but the land. We are more aware of our place in the order of things. Outward and inward travel does indeed broaden our minds!
    On making peace with death, well there’s a journey we all will make and despite the difficulties, successfully make. I have been privileged over the years to be beside several folk as they made the final steps, it gives you small preparation for the approach. Hopefully having embraced the various possibilities, the Living through the dying will be marginally less difficult and be dealt with bravely.
    And certainly when death comes, we are all pilgrims.
    Brian, WordPress is doing something weird with your comments. I received notification that you had written the above via e-mail, but it doesn’t show up here in my comments section! So I’ve copied your comment and my reply is below!
    Thank you for your insightful comments. I’ve experienced the same sense of seeing my country and way of life quite differently after experiencing other cultures. Usually my enlarged view is composed of equal parts of admiration for the strengths and dismay over the weaknesses (or limitations) of both cultures!
    I’m particularly interested in your comments on the final journey of death. Actually, I suspect it’s not the final journey, but just seems so from our ego’s limited perspective! In a way, I think our entire lives are preparation for death, and much of the reason we’re here is to awaken to this truth. I’m finding that living with death hovering just over my left shoulder has been an extraordinarily broadening experience. It heightens my appreciation of the present moment and lessens the emotional impact (especially negative emotions) of fleeting events that will be soon forgotten. Constant awareness of my mortality evens out my life, brings more balance and less drama, more gratitude and less annoyance, more comfort and less fear, more knowledge of what’s really important and less fretting over trivialities. I could go on, but I think this may be one of the most valuable lessons of all that we’re meant to learn while living in these physical bodies!

  5. Thank you for sharing part of your journey insights here. I’m thrilled that your experiences on the tour seem to be all that you had hoped for. When you said that “Always, he built in plenty of time for reflecting on how the celebrations and myths associated with sacred spaces triggered lost memories and inner stirrings.” I was nodding my head in the affirmative — so happy he did this for you. When I went on my pilgrimage to Crete, the guides leading us were receptive to this need as well and I always had plenty of time to reflect and write, and the book I wrote about that journey goes into a lot more detail on these reflections. P.S. I *LOVE* Skotino Cave!!! It was a profound experience for me… Blessings! So happy you are home safely and I can imagine that more insights will emerge…

  6. Thank you, Darla. I actually read you post “Artemis in Crete” from your book before I left for Greece and copied it to take with me. I loved it, and kept it in my journal to remind me of t he many qualities you associate with her, my favorite Goddess! So you were with me when I went! I understand the column in Skotino Cave was thought of as Artemis by the early worshipers. That felt right to me. We have a very special time with her down in that dark cavern. We all turned off our flashlights and Phil asked if someone wanted to sing a song and a young man with us sang an exquisite song. The acoustics were beautiful and for a few moments we were spellbound in that pitch black magic space. for a few moments nobody moved, we barely breathed, and held the silence for several minutes after he finished. What can you say in the face of an experience like that? As I write this I have Jean Shinoda Bolen’s new book, Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman, in front of me. Love the “Indomitable Spirit” part the most! Blessings, my friend.

  7. WordPress is not giving me the opportunity to click ‘like’ so that’s what I want to say. I ‘like’ this post and the conversation. This idea of pilgrimage seems profound. I can’t help but notice the words ‘pilgrim’ and ‘image’ put together which you so powerfully experience(d) in your dreams as well as in the outer world.
    And this quote is fantastic: “The force behind myths, fairytales, parables and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.” I’ve wanted to go to Newgrange + other sites for some time now but never contextualized it as ‘pilgrimage.’ This definition (and your article) puts a whole new spin on it. Thank you.

    1. You’re so welcome, Steven. Thank you for being such a thoughtful reader, and especially for sharing your thoughts with me. It’s always a special pleasure to connect with like-minded “travelers.”

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