Pilgrimage: Some Lecture Notes
See Pilgrim's Journey Diagram
Whether it be an individual or group pilgrimage, the fundamental structure that orients a pilgrimage is that of a "rite of passage," albeit, framed within a journey over a landscape to some sacred place. Examples include the Huichol pilgrimage to Wirikuta, the sacred land of the Peyote, the Hindu tirthayatra to Benares along the Ganges River, and the Muslim pilgrimage or the Hajj (Discovery Channel 2006 44 min) or Hajj (Nightline 2006 22 min) to Mecca.
1. The Call - Orphaned Status: the Goals
the primary purpose of a pilgrimage involves the general obligations and needs relating to filling a void
responding to god’s commands, as when Muslims carry out a hajj (to "surrender") to Mecca to renew one’s spiritual commitment
when a specific individual is fulfilling a vow or seeking a cure, as when pilgrims travel to Marian (Virgin Mary) apparitions to seek a cure or to refresh their spiritual lives or to fulfill a vow made when ill or for someone else’s illness
but the primary purpose may not be necessarily linked to reaching a specific place per se, though often is, but of the journey itself and what is encountered and experienced along the way
in the Western Literary tradition of Bunyan and Dante, the pilgrims’ wanderings, albeit toward a particular destination, served as an allegory for personal growth and the passage through life. For example: the Canterbury Tales concern pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, southeastern England, but are really about the journey itself.
there maybe a series of mini-pilgrimages embedded within the pilgrimage.
the Islamic hajj involves traveling to the Ka’ba (most holy structure in Islam situated in Mecca, the relative approximation of which orients the direction to which you pray 5 times a day, and is according to Islam the center of the world; where Abraham journeyed to sacrifice his son, Ishmael and built this shrine for God; and in 630 Muhammad re-consecrated). But to complete the journey, having (1) circled the Ka’ba at Mecca (7 left-handed circles), you next (2) run back and forth between Marwa and Safa (commemorating Hagar's search for water for her son Ishmael and where God created a well), then (3) to the Mount of Mercy on the Plain of ‘Arafat to reflect on one's life and to show humility before God as the sun is setting (where Adam and Eve reunited after expulsion from garden and where Muhammad gave his final sermon), then (4) back to the city of Muzdalifa and to the Three Pillars (representing the devils that tempted Abraham but whom he stoned) near Mina, and then (5) back to Mecca, and around the Ka’ba again. Its all about retracing the sacred steps originally taken by Abraham and Muhammad; and not just a visiting of some holy places per se.
2. Departure, Separation, Journey and Sacrifice
the destination (be it the "goal itself" of the pilgrimage or the justification for doing a "journey") is defined as a "sacred site or place,"
which is revered as spiritually endowed, a place where Mircea Eliade calls an "heirophany" - a shining through of the sacred, a place where God speaks and is heard, and an "axis mundi" - a spiritual center of the cosmos
it can range from a formidable natural feature in the landscape, a mountain top, a great river, etc., not so easily accessible - with difficult and challenging quest to reach.
to a very accessible, human-made environment, oriented and linked along major commercial travel routes, such as a building, temple, mosque, shrine, a monastery, or even city itself.
For example: for a Muslim, Ka’ba at Mecca; for a Jew, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; and in the Hindu tradition, a tirtha (a "crossing place" between the earthly and spiritual worlds), like Vārānasī (Benares) on the Ganges. There are also many examples of more secular sites, though for the pilgrims it can be a "divine experience."
but in a pilgrimage, it is in the act of traveling to this place that distinguishes a pilgrimage from other forms of rites of passage.
which necessarily entails a symbolic and physical separation for the ordinary, the mundane, from your current social and spiritual status and identity.
you got to leave home and do some serious traveling
often discard your everyday cloths to wear distinguishing religious-oriented clothing, marking out to you and to others your special mission
while on the Hajj, the pilgrim is understood to be in a consecrated state, called, ihram.
and typically some sort of reverence and prayer is offered, as well as hardship and dangers await along the way, and their is self and collective sacrifice - pilgrimages are not suppose to be "luxury vacations," with all the conveniences and comforts -
take the example of Hindu ritual bathing, daily offerings and prayer, or puja, during which time the names of certain Gods are repeated, a japam.
providing alms to the needing along the way
often food restrictions, what can no longer be eaten while on the pilgrimage, as well as restrictions on sexual intercourse
simply the cost itself to travel the great distances require huge personal sacrifices, months and years of saving up for the journey
as an extension of your own sacrifice, animal sacrifices might be offered, such as while on a Islamic hajj a goat sacrifice in memory of Abraham’s submission to God
3. Acquisition of Power and Knowledge
the direct encounter with the heirophany, be it retracing the steps of the Buddha, Christ or Muhammad, kneeling before and touching the sacred relics, consumption of the sacred waters or plants, can bring spiritual transformation, gnostic and esoteric knowledge, enlightenment, revelation and visionary experiences
you may become, for an eternal instance, the object of the quest - the sacrament, the deity, the divine personage
you have faced the Divine and your Soul, and have undergone a cleansing, renewal and reward as a result
For example, in Islam the act of touching the Black Stone at the Ka’ba in Mecca will confer a baraka, a divine blessing upon the pilgrim
In the instance of Hinduism, one seeks to have a darshan, an "exchanged vision" or "seeing" with the gods, and to do so as many times, and at as many places along the journey as can occur. So a tirthayata (the pilgrimage) is a series of encounters, of "seeings," at the "crossing places," the "fords" in the river, the tirtha places, a sort of "scared sight-seeing."
4. Affirmation and Rebirth: Bringing Home the Gifts
religious status changed, as your experiences and possible visionary insights increase your understanding and awareness of your changed place in the spiritual world - a void is filled as you enter a new spiritual status.
upon a successful return from the Hajj, a man is called hajji and a woman hajjiyah, and have the right to wear white clothing while attending the mosque as a signal of their new status.
social status changed, as looked upon with heighten favor by others in the community - elected to public office, obtaining a bank loan
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