.................................................................................................... Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage:

...............................................................Comparisons with Medieval Pilgrimage and Twentieth Century Religious Tourism

................................................................................................................ Michael York

.................................................................................................... ...Bath Spa University College

Within the current Western religious world, contemporary Paganism is often cited among the fastest growing spiritual orientations.[1] We find this development in particular among Euro-American and Euro-Oceanic youth. The spirituality involved places a strong emphasis on sacralisation of place and in this respect shares the same intense sensitivity to geographic contour we understand for traditional pre-classical paganism in the Graeco-Roman world. Contemporary Western Paganism involves itself with localising the sacred as well as honouring the sacred in specific locality. In this respect, ancient and contemporary paganism has strong affinities with the dynamics of pilgrimage – especially ecclesiastical practices during the medieval ages. While the time-honoured practice of visiting sacred places for purposes of holiness or healing has persisted into the present, a modern transformation has occurred which we can term religious tourism as opposed to traditional pilgrimage per se. The question this paper wishes to address concerns the ways in which religious tourism differs from medieval pilgrimage and how does the use of and/or visitation to sacred place by contemporary Pagans relate to the pilgrimage-religious tourism continuum and differentiation.

.................................................................................................................. Pilgrimage

A general purpose of pilgrimage is the acquisition of merit. It is most often thought to consist in the movement of focused people to a revered place. This is understood as exterior pilgrimage. It may also comprise metaphorical movement to a particular condition of holiness or healing. In contrast to exterior pilgrimage comprising journeying to a physical place, this is an interior form of pilgrimage. This last describes an individual's transformation from a spiritless or degrading position to one held in relatively high esteem according to the religious framework involved. The established Christian version of interior pilgrimage is John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. But each of the major religions (e.g., Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc.) describes the possibilities and parameters for revelatory experience and spiritual awareness becoming purely internal or mental journeys. In such contexts, the non-literal but metaphysical world of pilgrimage becomes a spiritual metaphor.

On the other hand, in contrast to the purely metaphorical or psychological, exterior pilgrimage in terms of journeying to a physical place is a tangible and overt process. It is associated with a particular religion's goals or the location of venerated objects believed to assist the religious seeker. Whether these last are relics of a Christian saint or the bathing facilities of a sanctified Hindu religious centre, the idea of being physically present in a particular aura of holiness is paramount. It is in this sense of the literal pilgrimage that I address the issues which follow in this paper.

In an overall sense, the entire pilgrimage undertaking approximates a rite of passage in which the aspirant seeks absolution, healing, holiness, special knowledge or enlightenment. A pilgrim may journey to a sacred site in response to a vow, to undergo penance or to celebrate an event associated with the location. The Christian retraces the steps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem; the Moslem performs the hajj to the Ka'ba in Mecca during the month of Dhû'l-Hijja in commemoration of Mohammed's last visit; and the Hindu bathes in the Ganges on the day of Makar Sankrantî when the sacred river was first believed to descend to earth. This re-enacting of events of the past suggests the inevitable link between the religious festival and the religious pilgrimage centre. The celebration of holy days may, in fact, be seen as the temporal equivalent of the geographic sacrality of the pilgrimage site.

So while each major religion has its particular timetable which is expressed in a religious calendar, each also provides a topographic orientation through a mapping of physical territory in terms of the sacred. Pilgrimage refers to the physical counterpart of commemorating auspicious moments – whether birth dates or death dates of religious leaders, various saints or divine incarnations, or whether holy days dedicated to a particular deity or one celebrating the anniversary of a collective rite of passage. Literal or external pilgrimage involves the physical half of a religion's worldview that encompasses the dual dimensions of both sacred place and sacred time.

As with the festival, everyday life and its values are suspended during a pilgrimage and at the pilgrimage centre. The holiday character becomes characteristic of the value and status inversion described as liminality. In identifying three key elements in passage rites, Van Gennep located marginality in between the separation and temporary removal of an individual from ordinary life and the person's subsequent re-incorporation into society.[2] In the rite de passage, the liminal phase is the most precarious in terms of psychic and spiritual vulnerability: it represents the position between social roles after the subject's preparation for change but before the affirmation of new status. In Van Gennep's sequential understanding of transition comprising rites of separation, rites of marginality and rites of aggregation, the actual moment of initiation, the middle moment of liminality, is a time in which the individual is subject to restrictions and taboo.

The holiday atmosphere of pilgrimage, however, places it often closer to the proverbial carnival as a time in between time, a tempus interregnum, rather than to the initiatory transition involved with circumcision, mortuary ceremonies and other rites de passage. Certainly this carnivalesque festivity is closer to the feeling involved with modern religious tourism in contrast to the ordeals often involved with Hindu pilgrimage fasting and hardships or medieval Christian pilgrimages of penance and vow fulfilment. Perhaps the one of the greatest differences between traditional pilgrimage and religious tourism is the absence in the latter of liminality in the sense of initiatory danger. While there may be risks involved with both travel to - and movement in - unfamiliar places, whatever change in perception and status that occurs for the tourist, it is not something which is deliberately and formally undertaken in explicit accordance with religious rules and procedures.

It is perhaps this very risk of danger that the pilgrim accepts to undertake which distinguishes his or her sacred journey from that of the twentieth century tourist. The pilgrim accepts the fact that he/she might not return the same person he or she was before the undertaking. A true pilgrimage entails transformation. There is also anticipation that the pilgrimage experience might become one of intense rapture. In other words, there is a greater range of emotional extremes that the pilgrim is willing to tolerate than is the modern-day tourist. While ecstatic passion is one thing, hardship is another. It is something the pilgrim expects and accepts. By contrast, difficulties, inconvenience and ordeal are not things the average tourist either expects or is willing to accept.

Conventional pilgrimage is virtually ubiquitous – appearing the world over. The annual hajj to Mecca is perhaps the most well-known, and, since Islam enjoins all Moslems who are able to visit Mecca once in their lifetimes, it involves the greatest numbers. But apart from Mecca, the holy cities of Jerusalem, Rome, Benares, the sacred mountains of T'ai Shan, Fuji, Sinai, Kailash, Abu, Athos, Croagh Patrick, the Roman Catholic sites of Santiago de Compostela, the shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, of Fátima in Portugal, of Medjugorje in Bosnia, and of Lourdes in the Pyrénées, the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi all draw countless numbers of devotees annually. These attest to the universality and perdurable popularity of pilgrimage throughout the world. In Britain alone, revered places include Walsingham, Canterbury, Winchester and even Glastonbury. Hindu India is itself a massive circuit of pilgrimage destinations. The country appears to be meticulously divided and parcelled between sacred temples and shrines, holy cities, mountains and rivers, and places associated with particular saints or deities. Each of these can attract huge numbers of worshippers from far or near at the time of the annual feast associated with the locality. Other places to which pilgrims journey every year include the Camargue in France, the island of Shikoku in Japan, Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, the Sikh Gurudwara of Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, and the places associated with the key events in Gautama Buddha's life: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara.

But while pilgrimage is intimately associated with every major religion, whether the Jewish 'aliyah to Jerusalem – now centred on the Wailing Wall, or Mount Abu in India for the Jains, or even – despite Guru Nânak's emphasis on interior rather than exterior pilgrimage - the Golden Temple and the baoli or bathing place at Goindval for Sikhs, it is also traditionally a part of paganism. Pausanias, for instance, describes the sacred topography of ancient Greece in the second century A.D. Paganism possessed the same associations of sacrality with place as we find now with the thriving world religions: sacred mountains, springs, rocks, trees, shrines and temples. Because, however, of its eclipse through Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and relative marginalisation in world consciousness even where it does survive, it is a religious orientation that remains largely unknown. Before I am able to compare pagan pilgrimage and modern pagan use of sacred sites with either medieval pilgrimage or twentieth-century religious tourism, I must first present a brief understanding of paganism as a coherent theology and spiritual practice.

.................................................................................................................. Paganism

In reconstructing an understanding of paganism as a non-Abrahamic and non-Dharmic world religion, it is necessary to examine various indigenous as well as global practices. The religions I have in mind include the tribal spiritualities of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, Japanese Shinto, the classical folk religion of China as well as Confucianism and, to a lesser extent, Taoism, and the Afro-Latin spiritist religions of Santería (La Regla de Ocha, Lucumí), Candomblé, Macumba, Umbanda and so forth. Each of these exhibits an intense locality in their respective perception of and encounter with deity. They are primarily this-worldly orientations, and while they have absorbed or at least been influenced by other traditions, there is little fundamental interest in soteriology or afterlife affairs. Most important, however, is the realisation that even when interest occurs in what we might consider the 'purely spiritual', this does not occur in rejection of or by degrading the physical.

While pagan practice is local, indigenous, often ethnic and always highly varied, its underlying theological apprehension remains remarkably consistent. It understands the godhead as immanent within the world rather than as something radically and transcendentally other. The godhead is in addition both personal and impersonal as well as male and female. Moreover, traditional paganism by and large understands the godhead as comprising a plurality of gods and goddesses. In other words, we can say that the pagan godhead comprises an understanding of a pantheistic, polytheistic and immanent reality that is identified with or at least includes the natural and tangible realms of being.

The dichotomy expanded by Catherine Albanese[3] concerning nature as real versus nature as illusion is perhaps helpful here. When the world is taken as mâyâ, an illusory veil to be penetrated, we have what we could broadly consider the gnostic religions of Hinduism, Pythagoreanism, Neo-Platonism and Gnostic Christianity. If the world instead is seen to be real, in fact, as divine, we have the pagan understanding of godhead and reality. Christianity and Theravada Buddhism occupy to a large degree a more intermediate position. In Christianity, the world is real as the creation and gift of God though still as something separate from God. In Theravada, while the world may be real, it is of little or no value. It remains something from which to escape. Pagan religions, by contrast, do not posit the world as something to reject or something from which to escape or even of secondary importance vis-à-vis any transcendental godhead.

Consequently, paganism, like Christianity, considers the world, humanity and the supernatural as all real - at least in some sense. But beyond this common stance toward this equivalent acceptance, the two religions take radically different stances on the identity and relationship between these three components of reality. Christianity, in fact, gives its God an absolute monopoly on the supernatural in a binary or dualistic interpretation: whatever is not strictly of God (e.g., astrology, tarot, magical practice, spiritism, etc.) becomes by default 'of the devil'. In other words, Christianity dichotomises the supernatural into a black-and-white duality.

Paganism, by contrast, allows a greater spectrum of colour within its godhead and the approaches to it. As magic itself may be 'white', 'black' or 'neutral', supernatural reality is considered neither good or evil but potentially a mixture of the positive and negative - perhaps in some kind of hierarchical understanding, or perhaps as a plethora of intermingling tendencies. The key distinction between Christianity and paganism with regard to the supernatural is that Christianity takes an exclusivistic attitude, whereas paganism is perhaps infinitely more inclusive in navigating whatever is deemed to be the supernatural. In Christianity, therefore, the 'salvational' agenda is much more clearly defined and pursued. For paganism, on the other hand, the cosmogonic program remains more open to individual and community interpretation.

Consequently, as magic practice is not automatically under the authority of an antithetical principle, it finds a more conducive home within the diversified range of what we can accept as pagan practice. While the two are certainly not synonymous, there is a recognisable overlap between magic and paganism. Christian magic, if it does exist, is more likely to be found in prayer as well as the doctrine of transubstantiation. While Christianity might be said to involve a hierarchy of sanctification of physical reality, and the entire world is itself the creation of the Genesis God, the world may be sanctified by God but is still not to be identified with 'Him'. Only in the magical transformation of bread and wine through the Eucharist do they then become the body and blood of God himself. The complex interaction between God and the world as achieved through the Incarnation relates to the possibility of matter transcending even sanctification into pure divinity. But this intersection of the divine and tangible reality is really a unique and once only instance in Christianity. For paganism, by contrast, the world itself is the godhead - perhaps, although speaking in a Christian context, what Grace Jantzen identifies as the 'body of God'.4

But this different attitude toward the world and its relationship with the divine suggests important differences between Christian and pagan notions of pilgrimage and the reason for undertaking a sacred journey. For the Christian and any transcendent spiritist, the pilgrimage must ultimately imply a metaphorical event – one which simply augments the internal or spiritual transformation of the individual who visits a holy place. For the pagan, on the other hand, it is the magical act of contact with a sacred site or object which is crucial and leads to the acquisition of fortune, power or healing usually, though perhaps not always invariably, in tangible terms.

While there are many contrasts to be made between paganism and Christianity, it is enough for present purposes to recognise that a pagan theology does exist, albeit one which has been historically marginalised and largely ignored. Drawing from the figures edited and projected by David Barrett in the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982),[5] we understand the adherents to global paganism to represent approximately five to six percent of the world's population. By contrast, the largest spiritual following would be Christianity with approximately one-third of the world's inhabitants. A fifth of world citizenry are each represented by Islam, by the combined number of Hindus and Buddhists, and by those who are non-religious – including agnostics and atheists. The new, syncretistic mass religions of Asia appeal to essentially two percent of the world's population, while all other religions together – including Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism and Baha'i – would be identified by less than one percent of the people on the planet. In other words, despite its global invisibility, paganism ranks with the fourth largest number of adherents after the Abrahamic, non-religious and Dharmic religious coalitions.

.................................................................................................................. Pagan Pilgrimage

As Jennifer Westwood explains, "In conventional pilgrimages a physical shrine or other holy place, having acquired a reputation for sanctity, exerts a spiritual magnetism that draws pilgrims to some fixed geographical location in the quest for the divine." [6] In this sense, pilgrimage is as much a part of paganism as it is of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism. A place is considered sacred because it encapsulates in some way proximity between the divine and the mundane. The Sanskrit term is tirtha which refers, literally, to a 'ford' [of a river]. The tirtha or sacred shrine is supposedly where the veil between this world and the otherworld is the thinnest – allowing for easier passage from one to the other. In this way, the tirtha becomes a place of inspiration, revelation and encounter with the divine. It is a 'spiritual ford' – a place of crossing.

Paganism is no exception in presenting the tirtha or pilgrimage centre as a revered place where merit, healing and communion with the godhead are considered to be optimally possible. Its shrines include the Saut d'Eau waterfalls near the Hatian town of Bonheur, the Externsteine or Dragon Stones of the Teutoburger Forest of northern Germany, the Navajo Prophecy Rock in north-east Arizona, the Arthurian woods of Brocéliande west of the French city Rennes, Mount Fuji in Japan, and the Hong Kong temple of the oracular and healing god Wong Tai Sin. Pilgrimage was also a major activity for pagans of the classical world during as well as before the Roman Empire.[7] In Greece, pilgrimages included travelling home to attend one's civic festivals, but they also involved various pan-Hellenic sanctuaries. The example par excellence of this last is the great festival of Zeus in Olympia every four years in which the Olympic Games were celebrated as part of the worship. Other significant sacred pilgrimage foci included centres famous for divination, prophecy or healing such as Delphi, Dodona, Epidaurus, Abae, Amphiaraus, Branchidae, Trophonious or, even further afield, the shrine of Ammon in Libya. Apart from these, we also have such centres for initiation mysteries as Eleusis or Naxos.

The diversity of ancient pilgrimages most clearly resembles not only the practices of Hinduism but also those of the pagan religions that survive today. For instance, apart from the Sodo or 17th of July pilgrimage in honour of the goddess Elizi and the Vierj Mirak, Haiti also hosts the annual pilgrimage of Ogou, chief of the Vodou pantheon, syncretised with St. James, in its Plaine du Nord. Here, pilgrims anoint themselves with mud mixed with the blood of bulls and drawn from a series of potholes near the Church of St. James. Some will even lie face down into the rain-produced sludge pits and then engage in frenzied dancing. The three-day festival is accompanied by rhythmic beat of sacred drums. People have come for blessing, healing, vow fulfilment and honouring the god at his most important shrine.

If Vodou and other Afro-Latin pilgrimage expression is seemingly more frenzied and ecstatic than Christian and Islamic equivalents, the difference is only a matter of degree. Many spiritual sites of Christianity, in fact, were formerly homes of pagan temples and shrines: e.g., the Cathedral of Chartres, Aix-la-Chapelle, Notre Dame in Paris, the Church of Aracoeli in Rome, St. Paul's in London, the cathedrals of Mexico City and Peru's Cuzco, and the church of Uppsala in Sweden. Whatever the reasons behind these transformations, the continuity of many pilgrimage sites has been long and uninterrupted, and the passion we often detect in pagan as well as Hindu pilgrimage seems equally similar to that found in many popular Christian sacred places. In fact, pagan pilgrimage then and now may consist of arduous experiences: fasting, long travel, walking barefoot, absence of creature comforts, sexual abstinence, general inconvenience, over-crowded venues, etc., and for these reasons it is often more similar to pilgrimage in the contexts of Christianity and other world religions than it is to twentieth century spiritual tourism.

.................................................................................................................. Contemporary Western Paganism

A modern spiritual resurgence calls itself Paganism. This is often referred to as Neo-paganism by sociologists and other scholars of the day – a term which is generally rejected by contemporary Pagans themselves. But in designating themselves as 'pagans', 'witches' and/or 'Wiccans', we must consider the degree that the modern development represents a continuation of pre-Christian paganism or to what degree is it simply a new religious movement?

Contemporary Western Paganism may be said to include most broadly Neo-paganism, reco-paganism and geo-paganism. The predominant form of contemporary Western Paganism is clearly the Wicca-inspired/Goddess Spirituality new religious movement we can identify as Neo-paganism. Neo-paganism is certainly a religion in itself – one which is identifiable by its congregational structures, its calendar of eight sabbats, and its bi-theistic understanding of the divine as God and Goddess. Margaret Murray hypothesised that those persecuted by the Church as witches during the Middle Ages were the descendants of pre-Christian pagans. This theory has now been largely discredited, and most Pagans themselves no longer accept it. Instead, modern witchcraft or Wicca is recognised as a new religious movement founded by Gerald Gardner (1884-1964). In most respects, Wicca has been the informing or seminal influence behind Neo-paganism as a predominant form of Goddess Spirituality. In speaking of contemporary Western Paganism, it is essentially Neo-paganism to which we are referring.

Contemporary Western Paganism, however, is not totally subsumed by Neo-paganism. There are also several current attempts to recreate or reconstruct particular pagan traditions such as the Egyptian and Greek mysteries, the Odinist or Asatru Northern Traditions, Druidry and other Celtic-inspired developments, and so forth. These 'reco-paganisms', however, need not be only attempts to revive ancient traditions but include in principle even such new formations as Feraferia, the Church of All Worlds, and perhaps the Discordian and Erisian movements.

On the other hand, geo-paganism is a convenient label for the more unstructured earth worship celebrated in general by individuals or small communities. Folk practices would be included here as well. For the geo-pagan there is little articulated theology per se but more of a general and spontaneous orientation to the natural, to nature and to whatever are considered haphazard eruptions of the divine. Geo-paganism consists of subliminal practice and may be expressed in earth-based or quasi-earth-based rites that are automatic and largely unconsciously performed. Even when geo-pagan ceremony is done deliberately and consciously, its rituals are simple and without elaboration.

In referring to traditional paganism, Margo Adler describes it as animistic, pantheistic and polytheistic.[8] The Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Nordic pantheons we encounter in reco-paganism are obviously polytheistic. To a lesser extent, the spontaneous bias of geo-paganism is also polytheistic, though perhaps less clearly articulated or formulated. With Neo-paganism, however, the many gods and goddesses which are encountered or invoked are generally thought of as simply different names for either the Goddess or the God. Consequently, contemporary Western Paganism is largely less polytheistic per se than traditional paganism. Its pluralism as such is erected upon a gender dualism and is often directed as a contrast and critique of the patriarchal position of the Abrahamic monotheisms. In other words, the polytheism of Neo-paganism is more nominal than actual, and this constitutes its chief contrast with the indigenous and traditional paganisms found more universally. In some sense, then, the term 'Neo-pagan' as a pagan religion is a misnomer.

The pantheism said by Adler to delineate contemporary paganism is also in part an inaccurate attribution. Pantheism in itself describes the theological position in which the all is God. Or, vice versa, God is all. The thrust of Adler's understanding, however, is that whether or not the all includes 'everything', it does at least include the physical, tangible universe. Once again, it is this material bias which constitutes the sine qua non of paganism. The earth is seen as sacred. Materiality is divine. It may also be the source, matrix or mother of all existence, but it is the inherent, immanent divinity of the physical that comprises paganism's unique stance vis-à-vis the theological perspectives of the world's other major religions. On this front, Neo-paganism, contemporary Western Paganism and traditional paganism all share a basic outlook which is fundamentally the same.

Whether the state or tribe, paganism has always been concerned with its immediate society and culture. Contemporary Western Paganism has stretched this concern to include both the community of the individual and the community of collective humanity. Its ethical declaration known as 'The Pagan Ethic' fully endorses this position: An it harm none, do as thou will. What this means for the contemporary Western Pagan is that, as long as no one is reduced or harmed against their will, whatever a person wishes to do is permissible. Contemporary Western Paganism more often than not includes nature as well as one who is not to be detrimentally aggrieved through the proper actions of both individual and community. As the primal reservoir for both physical and spiritual sustenance, nature as a reified construct is perceived to be under threat by modern industrial and technological advance. Consequently, the ethical focus for contemporary Western Paganism is primarily ecological.

But apart from its emphasis on nature as the chief locus of spirituality and chief source of religious metaphor and its predilection or incorporation of magic, another way in which contemporary Western Paganism in general relates to classical paganism is still through its pluralistic understanding of the godhead. It draws its inspiration to understand deity through three cherished sources: the natural, the human and the exotic. For the worshipper of a pagan persuasion, the 'other' invokes fascination and the desire to honour or venerate it. To the degree that the other becomes personified, the supernatural becomes understood either bi-theistically à la Wicca or as a range or plethora of gods and goddesses. But whether these deities remain exotic or in some sense 'foreign', pagan worship attempts to connect them with the natural and human worlds of activity. It is the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity, which seek to understand the other as the 'wholly other' – rendering its God as totally transcendent to the worlds of time and space.

Where Neo-paganism and traditional paganism differ, however, might also be seen in the issue of idolatry. We find this last throughout much of the indigenous paganisms – including Shinto as well as classical Graeco-Roman paganism. Contemporary Western Paganism in general is or seems to be much less overtly idolatrous than traditional paganism. But while there may not be a pantheon of foci, as in traditional paganism, there is also no single theological focus, as in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. If there is a resistance to biblical condemnation of idolatry, paganism goes one step further and exalts the tangible expression of divinity in graphic, representational form. As with the ritual phallus or Hindu lingam, however, the idol is simply an instance of translating a universal idea or constellation of ideas into a tangible object of the here-and-now. It is this very transformation of the idolon into something corporeal which represents in part at least paganism's attempt to make the other intimate and accessible.

As paganism continues to move beyond its tribal and ethnic origins into a position commensurate with a modern/postmodern world, the other is not excluded through either outright rejection or assimilation to the Hegelian logic of the same but becomes instead incorporated into the base community of identity. Paganism's pluralistic/polytheistic foundation, which not only recognises but endorses variety of choice, exemplifies the spiritual consumerism of new religious movements in the West. The concrete idol is not only an affirmation of the divine in physicality but also one more attraction within the range of competitive goods in the spiritual market which has increasingly come to signify our times.

Consequently, paganism in both its contemporary and traditional forms finds nature, humanity and the spiritually exotic as divine embodiments with which to transact. The assistance of the sacred is what is sought for both worldly concerns and transpersonal exploration. Paganism is of course not at all immune to approaching the divine in tangible form. If the whole ultimate point of a god is to become manifest, paganism takes this one stage further and manifests its gods in corporeal existence – whether 'man-made' idols, natural phenomena or nature as a reified construct in itself. But the location of the sacred in the physical is also the ultimate justification for the notion and practice of pilgrimage – the 'going to' a sacred geographic place or object. Pilgrimage and paganism, in fact, are the most natural of allies.

....................................................................Pilgrimage, Spiritual Tourism and the Contemporary Pagan Use of Sacred Space

For contemporary Pagans in the West, pilgrimage is still an important undertaking. In the current 'scene', Great Britain and sometimes Ireland are high on the lists of places to be visited by Neo-pagans from the United States, Canada and Australia if not elsewhere as well. In line with my own research, I have offered to be a contact source residing in England through Circle Sanctuary, the former Pagan Spirit Alliance and the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. I also frequently receive requests and subsequent visitors through the New Age and Pagan Studies Programme that is sponsored by the Department for the Study of Religions at Bath Spa University College. As in ancient Greece where much pilgrimage involved returning to one's native habitat for civic festivals, modern Pagans often feel an umbilical pull to what they consider their mythic and ancestral 'homeland'.

Pagans who come to the British Isles, however, come in the capacity of both pilgrim and tourist. The prime purpose of their journey is to visit the 'holy places' of Britain, but they will also frequently include such tourist destinations as the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum and the West End. They usually come as individuals on these journeys; sometimes as couples. There are occasions, however, when Pagan pilgrims travell to Europe in small groups – generally ranging between seven and twenty people. I have attended sunrise in Stonehenge with a group of approximately twenty-five Neo-shamans who had arrived from the United States for this purpose as the highlight of their visit.

Indeed, the foremost pilgrimage destinations for Pagans who come to Britain are both Stonehenge and Glastonbury. Many will also visit the stone circle of Avebury. Those who have the means and time to travel further might include the stone circle of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, those in the Orkneys, the tumuli of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in Ireland's Boyne Valley or the Irish coronation centre of Tara. Another popular destination is Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame in the English midlands. Druids would include the Island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. In fact, throughout the British Isles, there are more tumuli, passage graves and stone circles per capita than virtually anywhere else in the world. Pagans will undertake a sacred journey to as many of these ancient sites as becomes feasible or possible.

In the United States, on the other hand, more local pilgrimage sites for Pagans include Mt. Shasta in California, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, even the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Ohio's Great Serpent Mound or other Indian sites along the Great Miami River, and for some the Niagara Falls. Australian Pagans will consider a visit to Ayer's Rock (Uluru) as a sacred quest journey. More regional sacred places include Flinders Ranges in South Australia, the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains outside Sidney, and Mt. Franklin in Victoria. All these as well as the other sacred sites in Australia have strong Aboriginal associations. In continental Europe, pilgrimage centres appropriate for Pagans include Germany's Black Forest and Herz Mountain, the island of Gotland, the former Druid centre of Chartres, the megalithic sites of Bretagne, the Old Prussian site of Romuva and the classical ruins of Italy and Greece (e.g., Delphi, Delos, Olympia, the Acropolis, the Capitol, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Paestum, Agrigento's Valle dei Templi, etc.)

One frequent characteristic of the traditional pilgrimage is dress code: the white dress of the Moslem hajj and the Buddhist Kôbô Daishi circumambulation of the Japanese Island of Shikoku; the penitential dress of medieval Christian pilgrimage such as that of Santiago de Compostela; the black clothes worn by Hindus for pilgrimage to the Sabarimala shrine of Sri Ayyappa. For the feast of St. James focussed on Haiti's Plaine du Nord, pilgrims arrive in either blue suits and red scarves or in the multi-striped garb of a penitent. While contemporary Pagans may be indistinguishable from ordinary tourists when they are travelling, they will often wear special amulets, cloaks and/or robes at the time of visiting a sacred site such as Stonehenge, Chalice Well or the Glastonbury Tor. Black is a favourite colour. Otherwise Pagan pilgrims might wear greens and browns in emulating organic earth hues. Others will dress as shamans, witches or Druids. As with traditional Hindu, Buddhist and Christian pilgrims, many modern-day Pagans will walk barefoot. Few, however, would countenance sexual abstinence as a prerequisite for pilgrimage or ritual.

But if contemporary Pagan practice, through its theology of immanency, encourages visiting sacred places as part of a vision quest and to absorb a local aura of divinity, it also uses such places for the performance of its rituals. In fact, the chief contemporary Western Pagan ceremony consists in the creation of sacred space in which to conduct its rites and celebration. If this creation can occur within a revered place, so much the better, and often for the solstices and other key moments, one can find Druidic or Pagan circles performing various rites at Avebury, Stanton Drew or – depending on weather, governmental permission and crowd management – even Stonehenge. Otherwise, for more local and daily purposes, the Pagan sacred circle of space is constructed in an immediate woods or field, at a beach or municipal park, in a member's garden, a rented university hall or, for security reasons, within the privacy of an individual participant's home.

The standard procedure today is to invoke the ruling powers of the four cardinal directions – beginning with the east. Each direction has a particular element associated with it, and one of the differences between traditional paganism and contemporary Western Paganism is the more universal association of the east with fire by the former but with air by the latter.[9] But once the spirits of the four directions are called forth, the magic circle is believed to come into existence – removing its participants from ordinary, mundane time. It is then within the ad hoc sacred space and time that contemporary Pagans perform their various rites for both collective and individual healing and for political and social change. Within the confines of this liminal space, Wiccans and/or Witches will raise what is called a 'cone of power' to effect their declared wishes. Another ceremony is the Drawing Down of the Moon or the power of other deific entities. The sacred circle is also used for handfastings (marriages) as well as naming and initiation ceremonies. The Pagan sacred circle, in short, is where Pagan rites of passage are conducted and sanctified, but it is also primarily where all rites are performed.[10]

The ceremonies conducted within a sacred circle will usually conclude with what is called a spiral dance. The participants in the circle have generally been holding hands. One person then lets go of the person before him or her and leads the others in a spontaneously meandering human chain – often until everyone forms one great knot of adrenalin-charged people. This is the peak moment for the Pagan circle and the time in which its 'cone of power' is raised and sent forth. Then, reforming the original circle, the spirits of the four directions are thanked with the words, 'Hail and farewell!' It is then declared by the presiding officiate that the 'Circle is open but never broken!' Each participant will kiss the person to his or her right and left with the words, 'Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!' Consequently, the ritual circle and the ceremonies involved with it constitute all together what we may consider to be a 'micro-pilgrimage' in and of itself.

The ceremony of the Neo-pagan sacred circle is fairly standardised and recognisable throughout its Western world practices. Its primary purpose is the establishment of liminal space and time in which to work magic and effect change. In this sense, it differs little from the objective of pilgrimage which includes the stage of liminality and endeavours to remove the pilgrim from ordinary life and return him or her a transformed person. Both pilgrimage and the ceremonial creation of sacred or magical space seek to achieve personal – if not also collective – change in a spiritual context. The single most prominent difference between pilgrimage movement and circle performance, on the one hand, and religious tourism, on the other, is intent. The former is greatly more dependent on singlemindedness of purpose; the later is more akin to the American idea of vacation as a 'chance to get away from it all'.

.................................................................................................................. Conclusion

"Pilgrimage is a pan-human religious behavior, practiced by all cultures in much the same manner and for similar reasons – boons, expiation of sins, healing, nearness to God and enlightenment."[11] For Pagans in particular, a pilgrimage site usually allows a closeness to nature as well as to a location sanctified by their pagan predecessors. It becomes also a place in which to augment personal power, to feel or connect with the numinous, and to perform magic. But unlike their pagan 'ancestors', there is little consciousness of 'seeing' the divine, that is, of having a direct encounter with the sacred in the Hindu sense of darshan. Traditional pagans wish to see their deity's image housed in its revered sanctum. He/she wants to see the holy rock, holy spring or holy tree associated with the pilgrimage shrine. The pagan pilgrim wishes to be close to the divine in the same way that the Hindu considers the tirtha the fording place between this world and the other. And in this sense, the modern Pagan seeks the same inter-penetration between the two worlds: that of nature and that of supernature. The modern Pagan quests for identity or inspiration or both.

But in his or her willingness to encounter both enchantment and personal enhancement, the modern Pagan is willing to undergo the discomforts and hardships of pilgrimage. In this way, the Pagan pilgrim follows a course which is comparable to that of the medieval Christian pilgrim. Details vary, but the essentials remain the same. We might note that the sacred bath and the shedding of refinement or even shaving of the head which is found with traditional paganism both past and present, as well as in pilgrimage more generally, are not major concerns for late twentieth century Witches, Wiccans, Druids and followers of the Northern Path (whether Asatru, Odinism or Vanirism). But, all the same, while the Neo-pagan of today is less concerned with ritual purity and spiritual regeneration as such, he/she nevertheless still surrenders to inclement weather, long journey and other sacrifices in order to experience the awesome.

By contrast, the modern religious tourist, like virtually all tourists, is reluctant to tolerate discomfort and inconvenience. This and the lack of devout intent are what distinguish the twentieth century spiritual tourist from the pilgrim – whether Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Shinto, medieval Christian, modern Christian, traditional pagan or contemporary Western Pagan. In general, the tourist is not willing to risk personal peril as is the pilgrim. The religious tourist's visit to spiritual places is part of a fuller agenda of sightseeing. It is at once more casual and superficial. There is no deliberate intent for transformation and no framework in which to rationalise whatever hardships that arise.

Of course, this difference is often only one of degree. 52 pilgrims died in January 1999 when a hill collapsed during the annual Makar Sankrantî pilgrimage to Sabarimala in India. But tourists too can die while travelling – as the bus disaster involving 26 elderly English travellers in South Africa in September 1999 only exemplifies. If, by contrast, a pilgrim expires during a pilgrimage, this is often considered to be a fortuitous transition in an opportune and exalted state of grace. But even without death, the hardships frequently persist. In more traditional sites, especially in the Third World, the logistics involved with attempting to expedite the convergence of large numbers of people into small shrines can make the sacred journey and the moment of darshan a tortuous ordeal. The pilgrim, however, and unlike the religious tourist, is motivated by single purpose: the desire to experience deity in situ. He/she tends to have a motivation that the tourist does not, and this motivation is what allows the pilgrim to put up with what the tourist will not.

Moreover, the pilgrim is usually not cluttered with secondary purposes such as visiting with relatives, handling business or meeting professional concerns. But here we can see that for the modern Pagan pilgrim, the going away from worldly life toward holiness is not necessarily the agenda. For one, for most Neo-pagans, there is no separation between the secular and the sacred. If a dichotomy does occur, it is one between nature and civilisation. But, secondly, most Pagans I have met who have made a sacred journey to Britain are also interested in meeting other Pagans. Sometimes they are even collecting data for a research or academic project. So in this sense, the line that distinguishes the pilgrim from the tourist becomes blurred and less clear. Consequently, the 'true' pilgrim and the religious tourist are increasingly ideal types at best. They represent polar extremes along a single continuum. If the pilgrim has a spiritual intent and the tourist instead is concerned with pleasure, the dynamics of modern travel and a greatly more complicated lifestyle may make the distinction between the two more and more obsolete. For paganism in general and the contemporary Pagan in particular, spirituality and pleasure are no longer separate and distinguishable concerns.

.................................................................................................................. Addendum

The dynamics between traditional paganism and twentieth/twenty-first century religious tourism, however, are increasingly determined by the steady augmentation of global population. At the turn of the millennium, the countries of China, India, the United States and Brazil each have populations greater than 100 million. The nations with the highest urban population growths after these are Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria. While New York has increased from twelve million in 1950 to an estimated sixteen and a half million in 2000 and a projected 17.6 million for 2015, the figures for the years 1950, 2000 and 2015 in some of the other cities of the world are truly staggering. Mexico City reads 3.5, 17.6 and 19 million for these years; São Paulo, 2.3, 17.3 & 20.8; Lagos, 1.0, 12.2 & 24.4; Cairo, 2.1, 10.5 & 14.4; Karachi, 1.1, 11 & 20.6; Mumbai, 2.8, 16.9 & 27.4; Calcutta, 4.45, 12.5 & 17.3; Dhaka, 0.4, 16 &19; Beijing 1.7, 11.7 & 19.4; and Shanghai, 4.3, 13.9 & 23.4. The cities of Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Jakarta show similar increases.

While the mid-point of the twentieth century saw six of the ten largest cities of the world in Europe and the United States, by the year 2015, the ten largest cities will be found in Asia, Africa and South America. In 1950, thirty percent of the world's population lived in urban areas. By 2005, it is projected by the United Nations that half the world's population will live in cities. Meanwhile, population figures for the world as whole expand comparably. The U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate that the number of world inhabitants reached one billion by 1804. That figure doubled by 1927. The figure again doubled by 1974 to four billion. Five billion was attained in 1987; six by 1999. The Census Bureau's World Population Profile: 1998 (1999) expects the number to become seven billion by 2012, eight billion by 2026, and nine billion by 2043.12

The implications of this prodigious expansion of human numbers on the global scale present an incontestable physical threat to the very possibility of pilgrimage. The physical viability of the traditional shrine is increasingly endangered. Whatever the ratio between populational figures and numbers of pilgrims, the exponential increase of the former translates into an exponential increase of the latter. The ultimate suggestion is that pilgrimage itself must become, at least relatively, a decreasing phenomenon. In this light, present-day tourism may be viewed as a spontaneous attempt for a palatable alternative to an increase in pilgrimage traffic. It represents a containment of numbers as well as a compromise between virtual/vicarious reality and 'hands-on' pilgrimage contact.

The world's shrinkage into a global village is accompanied and, in fact, augmented by the vast telecommunications networks. Perhaps the actuality of globalisation and the recognition of the emerging virtual community reached its apogee during the Millennial 2000 celebrations watched on television around the world as each time zone entered the new millennium. One-by-one, t.v. viewers joined into the new year's eve festivities in Sydney, Tokyo, Delhi, Moscow, Cairo, Rome, Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc. as midnight occurred locally.

.................................................................................................................. Endnotes

[1] Anodea Judith, The Truth About Neo-Paganism (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1994). While there has been as of yet no empirical study to ascertain whether Neo-paganism is expanding more rapidly than other religions, the cover blurb of Judith's book asserts: "The facts about the world's fastest growing religion!" The first paragraph of the book itself qualifies that "Neo-Paganism is the fastest growing religion in America." The consensus between myself and other colleagues I have communicated with who study new religious movements and contemporary Western Paganism is that it is currently at least a rapidly growing religion.

[2] Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965 – first published 1908). See also Victor W. Turner, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974); Victor Turner & Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).

[3] Catherine L. Albanese, Nature Religion in America from the Algonkian Indians to the New Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

[4] Vide John Macquarie, Twentieth-Century Religious Thought (London: SCM Press, 1988:438f).

[5] David B. Barrett (ed.), World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Study of Churches and Religions in the Modern World A.D. 1900-2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).

[6] Jennifer Westwood, Sacred Journeys: Paths for the New Pilgrim (London: Gaia Books, 1997:28).

[7] In classical pilgrimage temples, one found "a world of preliminary rites, of sacrifices, of dreams and purifications which frequently involved fasting or abstinence from certain foods. … Visiting a temple such as that at Epidaurus offered access to the supernatural through dreams and visions, through miracles and cures, and through inscriptions which recounted histories of previous encounters with the god" (Simon Coleman & John Elsner, Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred travel and sacred space in the world religions, London: British Museum Press, 1995:21).

[8] Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986:25).

[9]The full association between the directions and elements for traditional paganism is east-fire, south-earth, west-water and north-air. For Neo-paganism/contemporary Western Paganism, the associations are: east-air, south-fire, west-water and north-earth. As far as is determinable, this last is a derivative of Freemasonry associations which Aleister Crowley bequeathed to Gerald Gardner, the 'founder' of modern Wicca.

[10] By contrast, unlike contemporary Western Paganism which has focussed on the creation of sacred space within the confines of the ceremonial circle, traditional paganism is more processional in orientation and centred on the altar, shrine and temple. In this sense, the activities of traditional paganism entail more the movement of people: from shrine to shrine or from home to pilgrimage centre. Twentieth-century Western Paganism is instead more concerned with centring with the immediate presence of an ad hoc time and location. There is less 'going to' – at least on a daily basis. The traditional pagan has 'sacred rounds' within his/her home environment. In contemporary urban environments, the modern Pagan has 'venues' to reach and in which sacred space is created and rituals are performed.

[11] "Sacred Pilgrimage," Hinduism Today, May, 1997:30.

[12] The New York Times Almanac, ed. John W. Wright (New York: Penguin, 1999:483).