El Camino de Santiago is one of the world’s great pilgrimage routes and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, with monuments of historical significance all along the way.
Its origins predate Christianity, though it is best known as a path walked by Christians and others for over a thousand years to visit the tomb of Saint James the Apostle in Santiago. Once a Roman trade route following the Milky Way to the Atlantic Ocean, it also served as a pre-Christian Celtic ceremonial journey westward to the setting sun in Finisterre, considered the end of the world at the westernmost point in Spain.
Legends and myths also link the road to prehistoric fertility cults of Aphrodite, Mari, Ishtar, and Kali, and designate the path as one of the great energy leylines of the planet.
Whatever cultural or spiritual significance given to the route, El Camino represents a powerful and highly traveled path to fulfilling one’s intentions.
I was drawn to making the journey not only for the purpose of meditation, but also because it allowed me to walk and intimately experience the region of my grandfather and ancestors. Pilgrims choose to walk the way for many other personal reasons, as well. Some that we encountered included mourning the death of a loved one, petitioning for a pregnancy or new baby, curing a loved one’s illness, working out one’s sexuality, deciding on a life change, sparking creative inspiration, or just figuring out next steps.
Although there are many routes and starting points, most pilgrims begin El Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees and walk 500 miles across Northern Spain to Santiago. Some use guidebooks to plan and navigate their routes, while others go in complete trust, following the yellow arrows and scallop shell signs that mark the path the entire journey.
The way is rich with symbolism, offering many opportunities to release the burdens carried through life. “Imagine walking with people who have dropped the walls surrounding them,” wrote one blogger who had recently completed El Camino when I was doing my research for the journey. He then went on to describe the deep connections made between travelers who continually lost and found each other again along the route. The blogger described the process of shedding personal belongings in each town as a metaphor for lightening your load and stripping down to what is essential in your life.
He also wrote of his experience at the Iron Cross, erected in Roman times on the point of highest elevation, and the practice of pouring your regrets and concerns into a stone carried for hundreds of miles and then left behind on the towering pile at the monument.
The final ritual of El Camino came at the very end of the world in Finisterre, a three-day walk beyond Santiago to the ocean, where pilgrims burned their clothing or other offerings to mark the beginning of their “new” lives.
For more information on walking El Camino de Santiago, please click here.
(Excerpt from Do You Think You Will Break?)