Life is a journey. And it is important that in life, we take journeys; that we experience the world actively rather than passively. That we connect with the energies of places near and far in order to draw them in and make them part of our own.
Whether you call it a journey, a pilgrimage, or a quest, it need not be long or perilous: it need only be fulfilling and leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Set out to see the sights of the world and you will see them: you just need to get out there. Go take a walk around the block or through a city park. Go to the nearest beach, river, or meadow. Chances are the spirits of these places have been imbued with power or worshiped in the past, and if they have not, then your active energies may just perk up the local nature gods and bring them to your aid. One of the biggest rewards of these jaunts is to commune with nature, to connect with the positive energy of the landscape and incorporate it into yourself.
The focus of this first edition of Sacred Pilgrimages is something I like to call ‘water communion’. Flowing water, like a river, any river, be it a big famous one, or your local meandering creek, is a great philosophical symbol for the life journey you are traveling. The river meanders, it grows, it takes unexpected twists and turns and faces rock-hard obstacles before finally freeing itself into a wider source of water ~ symbolic of us finding a wider understanding of the universe in life and death. Rivers, streams, and creeks are also active purifiers which can help you wash away negative energies. Your assignment: Go visit a local water spot. Revel in its beauty and bring home part of its spirit.
I recently found myself on one of the oldest popular pilgrimages to water known to modern man: I visited the River Jordan and Dead Sea in the Middle East. For millennia it has been a site of worship and devotion, pagan and monotheistic alike: all mankind has recognized the power of this lively river flowing through the desert landscape. Revered from its spring (most notably by the cult of Pan at Baniyas), downstream (think John the Baptist or the later Crusaders), to its endpoint in the Dead Sea, the Jordan River is a potent symbol of life which flows through the dead landscape into the underworld. For me, it was a personal family quest: one of my ancestral names is Giordano ~ Italian for ‘Of the Jordan River’ ~ a name taken by Italian Crusaders who had been baptized in the river during their misguided quests in the Middle Ages. And while living in the Middle East it seemed most fitting to take a day and revel in the ancient landscape.
My journey to the river was two-fold. First I went above the river, to Mount Nebo in Jordan, (incidentally another sacred site of Christendom) to view the river from the heights and witness its endpoint in the sea. Then I went down the mountain and went swimming in the Dead Sea. And my-oh-my, what a bizarre otherworldly experience! The buoyancy from the high salt content defies common sense and you can literally walk on water for a bit. The salt leaves everything a bit sticky when you come out but at the same time I felt entirely purified and highly recommend the benefits of Dead Sea Salt in your baths at home. And if, on your own local journeys, you can swim in your local river or at your local beach ~do so. Or at least put your feet in the water or let it flow through your hands. But whatever you do, be aware that while beautiful, nature is also dangerous, and mind the local safety rules and regulations.
I did a bit of meditation in the Dead Sea, with the sun setting and the crescent moon rising. I left an accidental offering to the spirits of the place: the bone necklace I had purchased at the local gift shop fell off and into the water while I was floating. I bought a new one from the same shoppe, but consider that first one a toll paid to the water gods for the offering I rightly should have made them during my visit. And I collected a sample of the water to take home with me. A keepsake yes; but more importantly, a powerful ingredient to be used later in rituals or simply placed on my household altar as an amplifying focus. I used a plastic water bottle to fill up and tote it through customs and back to the states, but have since transferred it into a series of much more dignified potion bottles.
Pilgrimages, journeys, quests, water communion, whatever you like to call your experience, it need not be as extreme as this distant trip of mine. Just as interesting as it is to see faraway places, it is even more important to be familiar with, and be a part of, your local landscape. There is much beauty and glamor all around you if you choose to see it. So go.
Go this weekend, go on your next day off. Find a quiet little space near the local creek or along the lake shore, a spot on the river beach or by a pool and take a few moments and really breathe. Look. Experience. Touch it if you can. And bring a little bit of it back home with you.