On a pilgrimage, we seek the Center, but it is the journey that shapes up.
Rachel Pollack’s Six of Trees from the Shining Tribe shows us a particular and rather whimsical journey. Rachel describes how the woman in the image is walking through a forest of Tree Spirits, in whose bark can be seen eyes suggestive of owls. Below the woman are symbols of the underworld. In this rather wild and mysterious landscape the woman walks forward energetically followed by her dog. There is no cliff, but she could be The Fool who journeys with a confidence carved from a heart that remains light through both delight and difficulty.
The Six of Trees has a special journey meaning from its association with one of Rachel’s Wisdom Reading, in which she asks the Tarot questions on not personal matters but spiritual and philosophical topics. Rachel’s first such question to the Tarot was: What is the soul? The answer came in the form of the deep-eyed owl shown on the Ace of Birds. When Rachel asked What is the Tarot?, the Six of Trees with its owl-filled forest appeared. The Tarot describes itself as a journey through the forest of souls. This could also be a definition for pilgrimage.
Each card of the Tarot then might suggest a precept, rule, or guideline for how to journey on pilgrimage. This kind of guidance is often given to pilgrims as they begin their journey. In The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau tells us that medieval pilgrims had 27 such articles to guide them as they traveled through foreign lands. I won’t go through all the cards (though it might be a worthwhile pilgrimage activity for someone to take on) but instead consult the cards in a Wisdom Reading on how to make our pilgrimage journeys.
To create this Wisdom Reading for Pilgrimage, I used two central oppositions that I found in pilgrimage writings:
- As we journey, we must remain alert, but also detached.
- The journey is made in the external world (our bodies walking the landscape), but the vital action is interior (it is our souls that make the journey).
To lay out the reading, I set the Six of Trees in the middle of four cards. The card to the left of the Six of Trees guides us in how to stay alert while the card to the right shows us what we can detach from. The card above guides us in living the exterior reality while the card below shows us how to tend the interior. Of course, I used the Shining Tribe.
The Speaker of Stones guides us in to how to be alert. Rachel describes this figure as inspired by European pre-historic carvings and cave paintings that suggest conceptual symbolism despite the simple, natural forms. Rachel writes: “Through the silent voices of such paintings and carvings on rock and bone, these vastly old cultures still Speak to us, telling us of the power of the earth and the mysteries of the human intellect.” As we travel, we listen and look below the loudest sounds and most apparent images to direct our attention to the earthy and the natural. In these quieter and less obvious offerings are the symbols from nature that point us to the deeper mysteries and what we most need to know.
The Ace of Rivers shows us an image of what we would do well to detach from. A river of emotion rushes from the mouth of the cave. We can detach from the emotions that arise as we journey. Pilgrimage takes us through new terrain and out of our comfort zone. Here we are vulnerable, and emotions – both the familiar and the unusual – arise in us. I do not believe the counsel here is to block these emotions, but rather to let them flow, don’t hold on to them. Let their release be a kind of purification. We grow stronger when we let the emotions flow through us as we make the journey.
The Hermit shows us how to live and walk in the exterior world. The figure here holds the pilgrim’s staff and stands before both a tree cradling the sun and the suggestion of a doorway leading to a lantern. The tree could be anywhere and the doorway is not attached to any specific place, but both are connected to sources of light. This reminds us that the source of the pilgrim’s enlightenment could be anywhere along the journey route, not just at the Center. Each moment contains the potential for enlightenment. The turtle below the figure certainly counsels, “Take your time. Don’t rush. Give yourself fully to the journey.”
The Seven of Trees guides us in how to tend our interior experience. This image of a spine connects us to both the physical realities of our bodies and symbolic systems such as the Chakras that chart the energetics within. The circle on the spine locates the place of the heart and invites us listen to the heart as we tend our interior movements through pilgrimage. Rachel writes: The heart is the seat of love, and it is love that connects the sensory and the spiritual. And so we find on the spinal tree a radiant sun at the place of the heart. There is no head in the picture. The openness of the card takes us beyond the separateness of ego”. Heart messages nurture us within and from this place of interior focus, we paradoxically come to know our connection to the Whole. Separateness and divisions fall away on the journey when as we follow the heart’s guidance.
From these musings emerge pilgrimage precepts for Walking the Ways of the Summer Light:
- Open to earth’s mysteries. The smallest creature or movement might carry the wisdom that speaks to your pilgrimage seeking.
- Let your emotions flow as you make your journey. Don’t hold on to them.
- Be awake to each moment’s potential for enlightenment.
- Be guided by Love. Let Love open you to your own soul and the soul of the Whole.
Your journey may be challenging or fun, signs may be abundant or scarce, your plans may be realized or not, but know you are touching into something sacred just in the making of the journey. You are entering into the great tradition of pilgrimage. The Art of Pilgrimage includes a quote from mythologist Joseph Campbell about the hero’s journey. I’ve changed the word “hero” to “pilgrim” to offer this quote as a blessing for the journey.
We have only to follow the thread of the [pilgrim] path,
and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god[dess].
And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
Look for a post early next week on The Center.