The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

I have always regretted that We could not find time to make a Pilgrimage to Saint Iago de Compostela. We were informed ... that the Original of this Shrine and Temple of St. Iago was this. A certain Shepherd saw a bright Light there in the night. Afterwards it was revealed to an Archbishop that St. James was buried there. This laid the Foundation of a Church, and they have built an Altar on the Spot where the Shepherd saw the Light. In the time of the Moors, the People made a Vow, that if the Moors should be driven from this Country, they would give a certain portion of the Income of their Lands to Saint James. The Moors were defeated and expelled and it was reported and believed, that Saint James was in the Battle and fought with a drawn Sword at the head of the Spanish Troops, on Horseback. The People, believing that they owed the Victory to the Saint, very cheerfully fulfilled their Vows by paying the Tribute. ... Upon the Supposition that this is the place of the Sepulcher of Saint James, there are great numbers of Pilgrims, who visit it, every Year, from France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, many of them on foot. -- John Adams

These travelers were called pilgrims, and their symbol was the scallop shell. -- Paulo Coelho

The devil is an angel, too, but he is a free, rebellious force. I prefer to call him a messenger, since he is the main link between you and the world. -- Petrus

Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels ... and though I have the gift of prophecy ... and have all faith so that I could remove mountains ... and have not love, I am nothing. -- Saint Paul

The road of the Tradition is not for the chosen few. It is everyone's road. -- J

In my Father's house, there are many mansions. -- Jesus

Let not your sword remain long in its scabbard, lest it rust. And when you draw your sword, it must never be replaced without having performed an act of goodness, opened a new path or tasted the blood of an enemy. -- J

I looked up at the sky; the Milky Way spread across it, reflecting the immensity of the Road we would have to travel. -- Paulo Coelho

Father Brendon Prior of Aylesford Priory with a copy of The Pilgrimage Paulo Coelho was high up in the mountain range of the Serra do Mar, close by the Agulhas Negras. He was there for a ritual with his master J and a few close associates. He had buried his old trusty sword and was about to receive a new sword from his master J. As he reached down to pick it up, J stamped on his fingers. He was found to be not worthy of the new sword.

Paulo was participating in a ritual of RAM, Rigour, Adoration, Mercy (regnum, agnus, mundi), an ancient Catholic Order founded over five centuries ago, otherwise known as The Tradition. To have received the new sword would have recognised Paulo as a Master, but he was deemd by J as not being worthy.

J set him a task to earn his new sword, but as with the task recounted in The Valkyries, J is never specific, he gives hints, no more, of the task to be undertaken.

Paulo was told via his wife, to look at a map of Spain for a medieval route known as the Strange Route to Santiago.

What Paulo Coelho was requested to follow, was the medieval route trod by millions of pilgrims, the Road to Santiago, with the final destination being Santiago de Compostela.

Paulo Coelho puts this medieval route on a par with the Muslim trek to Mecca, something all good Muslims are required to undertake at least once in their lifetime. He also mentions two other important medieval Pilgrim routes, the pilgrimage to the tomb of St Peter in Rome and the pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher of Christ in Jerusalem.

Just as the Muslim tradition requires that all members of the faith, at least once in their life, make the same pilgrimage that Muhammad made from Mecca to Medina, so Christians in the first millennium considered three routes to be sacred. Each of them offered a series of blessings and indulgences to those who traveled its length. The first led to the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome ... The second led to the Holy Sepulcher of Christ in Jerusalem ... There was a third road, which led to the mortal remains of the apostle, San Tiago – Saint James in English ...

Paulo Coelho fails to mention another important route of Christian pilgrimage, what is now known as The Pilgrims' Way, the route from Winchester Cathedral to the Tomb of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The route follows an ancient prehistoric route running along the the southern slope of the North Downs, a chalk escarpment. The money from the pilgrims helped to pay for a major rebuilding of the Cathedral. Pilgrims' tales are recounted in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Sadly much of the old Pilgrims' Way has become upgraded to major highway. The North Downs Way runs parallel.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the registers of the Inquisition at Carcassone … we find the four following places noted as being the centres of the greater pilgrimages to be imposed as penances for the graver crimes: the tomb of the Apostles at Rome, the shrine of St. James at Compostella, St. Thomas' body at Canterbury, and the relics of the Three Kings at Cologne.

The Road to Santiago was of such importance that militant religious orders were established to protect the route, especially from Muslim invaders. These militant orders could be compared with The Knights Templar who guarded the pilgrim route to Jerusalem. As with the Knights Templar, these orders were seen as too powerful, and were destroyed. With their destruction, the Road to Santiago was almost lost.

In 1118, Hugh de Payens and eight other knights, formed the Knights Templar to defend pilgrims in the Holy Land on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Two centuries later they were a very powerful military and religious order. Too powerful for the corrupt religious and secular leaders of the day and the Knights Templar were destroyed. The day this occurred, Friday 13 October 1307, led to today's fear of Friday the 13th as an unlucky day. The remnants of the Knights Templar fled to Spain, where their services were welcomed to guard the Road to Santiago. They were absorbed into the Spanish orders guarding the route, one such being the Order of San Tiago of the Sword.

That the route was not lost with the destruction of the orders guarding the route and today's pilgrims follow the same route as medieval pilgrims is thanks to the French priest Aymeric Picaud who walked the route in 1123. He recorded his travels and experiences in five books Codex Calixtinus, presented as the work of Pope Calixtus II, a devotee of San Tiago. In Book V of the codex, Picaud identified all the natural features, mountains, streams, fountains, hospitals, shelters and cities to be found along the route. Many of the places pilgrims stayed are still available for today's pilgrims

The route was also recorded in the paintings of Bruñuel, The Milky Way, and Juan Manoel Serrat, Wanderer.

El Camino de Santiago is now a European Cultural Route and a World Heritage site. Various documentaries, the account by Paulo Coelho, have all conspired to make it a trendy route to travel. But at the time Paulo Coelho was instructed to travel the route, it was rarely travelled and was all but lost.

The Road to Santiago, the ancient medieval pilgrims' route, this was the road Paulo Coelho had to follow to earn his sword.

The sword is important to all Warriors of the Light. It should not remain in its scabbard for too long, lest it rust. But once drawn, it must be used, be it to perform good, to open a new path, or to taste the blood of an enemy. With his old sword, Paulo had been able to perform many magical functions. It was now consigned to the earth. Without his new sword, he had to set forth in the world powerless and defenceless. [see Manual of the Warrior of Light]

Once I had returned my old sword to the earth, I could not retrieve it. And since the new one had not been given to me, I now had to begin my quest for it all over again, powerless and defenseless.

We all want to achieve things, but fear holds us back, we do not want to lose what we already have, but if we are to achieve our destiny, we must learn to take risks. [see The Alchemist]

On his first steps along the Road to Santiago, Paulo picks up his guide, but not first without encountering the Devil.

As part of the lessons to be learnt on his pilgrimage, Paulo has to learn to throw off the shackles of the past, a lesson he is forced to learn again in his encounter with the Valkyries. [see The Valkyries]

We are all capable of miracles. This is what Jesus taught his disciples. Deepak Chopra describes something similar in How to Know God, where when a man cures a problem, what is more outstanding, is when he says everyone has his powers, you just have to believe.

The Path to True Wisdom, like the Road to Santiago, is a path anyone can follow.

The guide Petrus, not his real name and we do not learn his true identity, is a member of the fraternity known as The Tradition, also acts as a spiritual guide and mentor.

When I had read the works of Carlos Castaneda, I had wanted very much to meet the old medicine man, Don Juan. Watching Petrus look at the mountains, I felt I was with someone very much like him.

During their journey together Petrus teaches Paulo meditative exercises and introduces him to elements of mystical thought and philosophy.

One of the exercises, the second of their journey, is the 'speed exercise'. Walk along much slower than your normal pace for twenty minutes, repeat over seven days.

If I am walking in the countryside, I do not like to hurry along, I like to take my time and be aware of my surroundings.

I tried the speed exercise, to be repeated over seven days. It is not as easy as it sounds. I slowed my pace down, but like Paulo, I found it very difficult to keep to this slow pace. My awareness was heightened. I did it for a few minutes only (you should do it for twenty minutes). I returned to normal pace. It was as though the brakes had been suddenly released, I seemed to shoot forward.

At first, I looked only in the direction of the tavern, a small, ancient, two-story building with a wooden sign hanging above the door. We were so close I could even read the year when the tavern had been built: 1652. We were moving, but it seemed as if we had not left our original spot. Petrus placed one foot in front of the other very slowly, and I did the same ... I tried to pay more attention to the Road, the plain, and the stones I stepped on, but I kept looking ahead to the tavern – and I was convinced that we hadn't moved at all. I thought about telling myself some stories, but the exercise was making me anxious, and I couldn't concentrate ... I breathed deeply and tried not to think ... I calmed myself more and more and began to perceive the things that surrounded me through new eyes ... The world was there around me, and I realized that seldom had I paid attention to it.

The only comparison I can give is when I strapped weights around my wrists during stretching exercises. I did not notice much difference, other than I tired sooner, until I unstrapped the weights and stretched again. Then it seemed as though my arms had achieved some strange buoyancy, and as if of their own accord, they seemed to rise into the air.

Another of the exercises Paulo Coelho has to carry out, is the Buried Alive exercise. We may not fear death, but what we do fear is the manner of our death. Is there anything more terrifying than being buried alive? The full horror of being buried alive is described. Almost as terrifying as the short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Several of the exercises were already familiar, for example, the Breathing Exercise. This is a standard yoga technique, which only serves to emphasise the point often made by Paulo Coelho, that there are many paths we can follow. As Jesus said, there are many mansions in my Father's house.

On one day they spend several hours trekking to the top of a peak, only when they get there to find hordes of tourists who have travelled by a different route, music blaring out. Paulo was not best pleased

We had to climb a mountain called the Peak of Forgiveness. The climb took several hours, and at the top, I was shocked to find a group of tourists sunbathing and drinking beer; their car radios blasted music at top volume. They had driven up a nearby road to get to the top of the mountain.

I know the feeling. Around the time Paulo undertook his pilgrimage, I used to go on a pilgrimage of sorts. I used to walk along the coastal path in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, in the southwest of England. I could go for hours and not meet a soul. I remember one fateful day, way in the distance was an interesting spot, or so I thought. I think it was Black Ven, the highest point along that stretch of the coast. When I got there I found people, litter. Much to my disgust, the National Trust (charged with protecting our natural heritage), had built a nearby car park and marked this location as a beauty spot worth visiting.

In The Devil and Miss Prym the characters are actors in a cosmic play engaged in an epic battle between Good and Evil. A guardian angel urging good, a personal devil urging evil.

Paulo Coelho learns from from Petrus that our personal devil can take on a different role, that of a messenger, can become our friend and ally, but first we have to learn to control our devil, else our devil will control us. Petrus alludes to the time Jesus spent in the desert confronting the Devil.

If we exorcise our devil, we lose him, if we become fascinated by his power, he controls us.

... the only way to deal with our messenger is to accept him as our friend – by listening to his advice and and asking for his help where necessary, but never allowing him to dictate the rules of the game.

To prevent the messenger from dictating the rules of the game, it is first to know what you want and then you have to know his face and name.

To learn these, Petrus teaches Paulo the Messenger Ritual.

This portrayal of the Devil, which may conflict with the simplistic portrayal by the Church, accords with that portrayed by Orhan Pamuk in My Name is Red.

Lest we forget, the Devil too is an Angel, only a rebellious angel.

The devil is different yet again in The Tradition.

In the Tradition, the devil is a spirit that is neither good nor evil; he is considered to be the guardian of most of the secrets accessible to human beings and to have strength and power over material things. Since he is a fallen angel, he is identified with the human race, and he is always ready to make deals and exchange favours.

On crossing the Pyrenees, Paulo and Petrus spent the night at a monastery, where Petrus said he would meet a sorcerer. He met a monk, Father Jordi. Later Paulo questioned Petrus, he was to meet a sorcerer, but met a monk, what had magic to do with the Catholic Church. Everything responded Petrus. The monk discussed with Paulo four routes for pilgrims. The first was the Road to Santiago, which he was currently travelling, the second was the Road to Rome. The Road to Rome, Paulo was to travel some time later, and in conversation with Juan Arias he called it the 'feminine way'. [see Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim]

At the end of their journey together, Petrus tells Paulo that at the end of his journey as a pilgrim, he painted 'a beautiful, immense picture' that depicted all that had happened to him. He advises Paulo to do the same, and if he cannot paint, 'write something, or create a ballet'.

A common theme running through the works of Paulo Coelho, apart from destiny, learning how to read the signs, is that of coincidence or synchronicity.

Paulo Coelho gives a lovely example of synchronicity involving Petrus:

It has been said that there is no such thing as coincidences in this world, and the following story confirms the truth of this assertion once again. One afternoon, I was leafing through some magazines in the lobby of the hotel where I was staying in Madrid, when I noticed a piece about the Prince of Asturias Prize; a Brazilian journalist, Roberto Marinho, had been one of the prize winners. A closer study of the photographs of those at the awards dinner startled me, though. At one of the tables, elegantly dressed in his tuxedo, was Petrus, described in the caption as 'one of the most famous European designers of the moment.'

The earliest records of pilgrims walking to the shrine dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela date from the 8th century, during the time of the Kingdom of Asturias. It was customary for those who returned from Compostela to carry back with them a Galician scallop shell as proof of their completion of the journey.

A scallop shell is now the symbol of both the route and the pilgrims. A scallop shell was also the Christian symbol for St James. A stylised scallop shell is used to way mark the route.

Petrus had the symbol of the scallop shell on his rucksack to mark him out as a pilgrim.

El Camino de Santiago is also the Spanish name for the star formation the Milky Way, believed to have formed from the dust raised by travelling pilgrims. Compostela means 'star field'. At night, the pilgrims used the Milky Way to find their way.

'Official' pilgrims carry with them the credencial, a document that is stamped en route as proof that they have actually travelled the route. On completion of the route, they present their credencial, and in return are presented with Compostela, a certificate that is awarded to all pilgrims who have completed the journey.

A Pilgrim's mass is held each day at noon in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the Compostela the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the mass.

It is customary for pilgrims on arrival at their final destination to lay their hands on the pillar just inside the doorway. So many pilgrims have done so, that a groove has been worn in the stone.

Twenty years later, Paulo Coelho was to repeat his pilgrimage, only this time crossing three continents.

At the end of 2009, Paulo Coelho wondered, if, in this age of computer games and virtual reality, would anyone be interested in a real life quest, thus set in play the Quest of the Sword.

One of those who took up the challenge was Carolena Sabah, actress and co-producer of The Witch of Portobello (based upon the novel by Paulo Coelho). She came within minutes of claiming the sword. She has written an excellent illustrated account of her journey. A wonderful complement to The Pilgrimage.

Historian Dr Catherine Ferguson gave two talks at St Nicolas Church in Guildford on Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The Pilgrimage was originally published as The Diary of a Magus (O diario de um Mago).

Synchronicity: New Year's Day, as I was writing this page, I watched an interesting programme, Coast (BBC 2), an exploration of the British coast. It panned along the Dorset Coast showing from the air, the Dorset Coast, the path along which I had walked, Lulworth Cove that I had visited, further along the coast I could see a high point, possibly Black Ven. Then further along the coast Devon and Cornwall, then into Wales, Cardiff Bay, then Swansea Bay, the long sandy beach, along which I had walked the previous month when I was in Swansea for the Beyond TV International Film Festival.

Synchronicity: In conversation with Juan Arias, Paulo Coelho mentions The Black Cloud, a novel by Fred Hoyle in which a large cloud is devouring galaxies. I happened to look at the BBC News on-line, and saw that a large cloud was approaching the Milky Way! [see Paulo Coelho and Huge gas cloud will hit Milky Way]

A copy of The Pilgrimage has been registered as BookCrossing book. [see BCID 5745345]

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

On a pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory The Prior Father Brendon was given a copy of The Pilgrimage.

For all pilgrims, past, future and present, who travel the Road to Santiago.
Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2008-2010 -- July 2010 rev 4