“The pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage
In October of 2012 I was invited to make a presentation at Journey Conferences, an annual gathering of Jungians. There I met Phil Cousineau, an author, filmmaker, lecturer and expert on mythology, and learned that he leads trips to some of the world’s most sacred sites.
Fred and I love to travel, so when we heard about his trip to the sacred sites of Greece with Sacred Earth Journeys this fall, we signed up. My favorites among Phil’s many books are The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, and Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Modern Time. Since our return last week I’ve been thinking about how this trip combined the themes of these two books in a magical way that made this my favorite travel experience ever.
“In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.”
The focus of our previous guided tours has been on the outer world. What drew me to this one was the promise of equal time for the inner life of the soul.
I was not disappointed. Each morning began with an hour-long conversation about the sites we would visit, the ancient myths associated with them, and the way they are still being played out in our lives today. Phil’s passion for mythology combined with his passion for mentoring turned what could have been just another interesting tour into an extraordinary personal odyssey.
Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi
“The force behind myths, fairytales, parables and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.”
For me, one of the most problematic aspects of past tours has been the lack of opportunity for close observation and reverie. Not so this time! At least once a day Phil offered prompts for writing poetry or essays or making sketches. Always, he built in plenty of time for reflecting on how the celebrations and myths associated with sacred spaces triggered lost memories and inner stirrings. As if that were not enough, he provided even more time for sharing our impressions, insights and healing experiences with each other.
“Our task in life is to find our deep soul work and throw ourselves headlong into it.”
At the ruins of Eleusis, site of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries which celebrated the sacred death/rebirth fertility myth of Demeter and Persephone, we rested in the cave reputed to be the portal to the Underworld. There some of us shared evidence of the buried spiritual depths that lie beneath the surface of our lives. I spoke of how I shut down painful emotions and lost my tears at the age of 11 when my father died. That night I dreamed I was as angry as I’ve ever been at family and friends who were thoughtlessly trashing my house and expecting me to clean up. The dream ended with me hurling volleys of creative curses at them like Zeus throwing his thunderbolts, then laughing in delight at my uncharacteristic behavior!
The Starting Line at Olympia
Where was the anger coming from? Was being in Greece influencing me to channel my inner Persephone, Dark Goddess of the Underworld? Is she still mad at Hades for violating my personal space and stealing my father away? What about the laughter? Could Persephone finally be lightening up about a personal crisis which she has learned to view as a mere speck in the cosmic view of things?
Over drinks two evenings later, a woman in our group shared a shattering life-changing experience she had as a young adult. At dinner she made a mind-blowing connection: The myth of Demeter and Persephone is her story, one she has lived ever since her youthful trauma. She never knew it until that moment!
“What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what, when contemplated, transforms us utterly.”
The night after we visited Olympia, site of the original Olympic games, I dreamed of another Dark Mother who reminded me of Ereshkigal, cruel Queen of the Underworld who hung her sister Inanna, Sumeria’s Queen of Heaven and Earth, on a meathook to die. In a show of unwanted patronizing attention, dream Ereshkigal asked her attendants to escort me down some stairs. I refused to go. As I was falling asleep that night she visited me and gave me a light kiss on my lips. Her presence was oppressive and filled me with dread.
Why does the Goddess of the Underworld visit me now? It seems obvious. I’ve entered a phase of life when my task is to make peace with death. I’m not thrilled about this, but I’m ready to face what comes next.
“What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.”
Skotino Cave, Crete
The bearlike rock formation in the Skotino Cave in Crete reminded me of Elephant in the Cave, an early dream which showed me how frightened I was of reflecting on my inner life. Greece’s ancient goddess figurines; images of snakes and initiation rituals; sacred vessels and ceremonial masks; ruins of labyrinths and altars; the sacred tree worshiped at the Palianis nunnery: all these and more symbolize issues that used to haunt me in waking life and appeared at night in some of my most memorable and life-changing dreams.
Greece’s antiquities are not meaningless historical facts to me. They are living realities within me. Having experienced these realities for over 25 years, I feel blessed by this trip and the direct contact with the sacred it provided every day. I guess this makes me a pilgrim.
How does travel impact you?
All quotes are from Phil Cousineau’s Art of Pilgrimage.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.