What is a Pilgrimage?
Carol Christ who was the leader of the Pilgrimage I embarked on in 2017, answered this question in her October 29, 2018 post: Goddess Pilgrimage: A Sacred Journey for Women. https://feminismandreligion.com/2018/10/29/goddess-pilgrimage-a-sacred-journey/
A pilgrim leaves home and sets off on a journey, seeking healing, revelation, and direction in her life. She finds companions along the way whose stories reflect her own, validating her quest and shedding light on her journey. According to anthropologists Victor Turner and Edith Turner, pilgrimages have common structural elements. A pilgrim separates from family and friends, work and obligations. She steps across a threshold into “liminal space” in which daily routines are suspended, opening herself to discovering new ways of being and living.
For spiritual pilgrims, the goal is a place or places said by others to be a “sacred” because healing or revelation have occurred there through the intervention of a deity, a saint, or spirits. The place is often on a mountain, in a cave, or near a spring. Along the way, pilgrims meet and share stories as in the Canterbury Tales. Some pilgrims say that the experience of sharing community with other seekers is as important as the revelation gained at the destination. When the pilgrim returns home, she must re-integrate into the community she left behind or find a new one.
Goddess pilgrims visiting shrines of the Goddess are self-consciously challenging the religions they have inherited.
A contemporary Goddess Pilgrimage undertaken by culturally western women, differs from other pilgrimages in that the journey begins in dissatisfaction with or rejection of the dominant Christian religion or its antecedent, Judaism. Goddess pilgrims go to places known to have been sacred in the past, before Christianity proclaimed older Goddesses and Gods to have been surpassed and superseded by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and reluctantly, Mother Mary and the saints.
The places visited by Goddess pilgrims may have been destroyed and now recovered by archaeologists.
Goddess pilgrims visiting shrines of the Goddess are self-consciously challenging the religions they have inherited. Goddess pilgrims seek healing from the “illnesses” known as patriarchy and patriarchal religions. The insights they gain may be considered “heretical” or “fantastical” by friends and families.
Contemporary Goddess pilgrims visit sites of pre-Christian worship in Greece, Crete, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Lithuania, Malta, Egypt, and elsewhere. While many pilgrims visit temples such as those at Delphi that were constructed in patriarchal times, others prefer to visit prehistoric sites such those in as Crete or Malta where the patriarchal overlay is absent.
Birth, Death and Regeneration
Our lives are full of “little deaths” followed by birth and regeneration. When the sun sets each evening the day dies. The night is born and will die at dawn. We rest overnight and greet the new day with energy. We regenerate. We know this cycle.
I wanted to refocus my attention on this reality of death and regeneration being closely entwined. Somehow I knew that this particular pilgrimage offered me the chance to grow and to learn what I needed to know. I’ve written in earlier blogs about my goddess connections beginning in the mid-1970s when I lived in Kansas City, MO. I know that at the root of all people’s cultures, if you dig far enough, is a reverence for Mother Earth and a celebration of the natural cycles throughout the seasons. Before leaving for Crete, I wrote “I want to remember who I am.”
Marija Gimbutus, draws on her own archeological findings as well as the work of others in her field, then considers folklore, historical texts, including images and texts from ancient Greece and the ancient Near East to describe the Old European civilizations. According to the evidence amassed by Gimbutus, the religious symbolism was based on the life-creating female body and the cycles of life. For thousands of years this was the central belief of all our ancestors! Gimbutus notes that in Old Europe (Neolithic Europe and Asia Minor, also known as ancient Anatolia, during the time period between 7000 BCE and 3000 BCE) “religion focused on the wheel of life and its cyclical changing”.1 Modern archeologists have gathered evidence from burial sites all over the region. Gimbutus writes about the strong womb and tomb connection known to our ancestors.
The womb constitutes one of the most potent funerary themes of Old Europe. In the old European cyclical view of the life continuum, new life arose from death in the spiraling pattern of birth, life, death, and rebirth. The Old European tomb is also a womb, from which new life emanates. Often as in the Maltese megalithic complex at Mnajdra, the tomb-shrine took the shape of the goddess. The shrines at Lepenski Vir were triangular, evoking the pubic triangle, an abstraction of the goddess. The floors were made of red limestone and clay mixture, perhaps reflecting the blood of life.”2
Where is Lepenski Vir?
The previous passage led me on a new avenue to explore! Where is Lepenski Vir? My internet search led me to these photos from Serbia. The site of this ancient village is recreated here.
Yes, I’ve been directed to a new avenue to explore as I learn about Lepenski Vir, an Old European settlement in Serbia. This important Mesolithic archaeological site is located in southeast Serbia on the central Balkan peninsula. Here is the evidence of a civilized society built on the banks of the Danube River about 7-8 thousand years ago, but only discovered in 1965. The vast territory lying between the Black sea and the Adriatic sea comprising the modern states of Romania, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro was known as the Balkans. Certainly this is part of the area Gimbutus calls Old Europe.
Yesterday was winter solstice marking the longest night and shortest day of the year. Today begins the next phase of the sun cycle with each day slightly longer until the peak at summer solstice. After we cleaned the build up of sticky black creosote from our stovepipe, I’ve spent much of my day thinking about the ancient past and considering my own mortality. Marija Gimbutus tells me, ” Old European tombs reveal the holistic spirituality of the culture. The tomb was a place of healing, both of the living and of the dead, a place where the goddess not only held the lifeless body but regenerated the dead into new life.”3 I believe Marija Gimbutus was a wise woman and continue to read her words as one would listen to a mentor. I’m continuing to be excited about exploring the concept of the “tomb as womb”. My own pilgrimage continues into 2019 as I seek more revelations.
1 The Living Goddesses, p.3
2 Ibid p.70
3 Ibid p.71