In an essay about walking, Thoreau talks about the origin of the word ‘saunter’. He says “going à la sainte terre” means going to the Holy Land, and also offers ‘Sans terre’ – without land – as another interpretation. Both suggesting to him the idea of pilgrimage. The online etymological dictionary – – has it as a word from the 1660s to mean walking about in a leisurely way, and there’s no agreed history to the word aside from that.

However, poetic interpretation is just as interesting and valid as agreed history, and I like the idea that a saunter is in some way connected to the act of pilgrimage. From a Pagan perspective, it works very well indeed.

In a conventional pilgrimage, the journey is as important as the destination, but still the point of the journey is the place, or places you are going to. A person could not be a dedicated Christian pilgrim by sauntering slowly around a couple of fields unless a saint had left their relics there or some other dramatic event made said fields a religious focal point.

A Pagan pilgrim can saunter anywhere. Moving with less purpose, less intent and more presence changes how we experience a space. It makes it more possible to both see and dwell upon the details of our surroundings. Anywhere you might go, even in the most urban of spaces, there will be tiny signs of life. Or even big ones – it’s surprising how easy it is to miss large manifestations like urban trees if your head is down and you’re mostly thinking about what’s coming next.

A saunter gives us time to see a place afresh. Often the wonder is in the details, and if you want to immediately connect with what’s around you, noticing and rejoicing in the details is a big part of that process. It’s possible to become complacent about and oblivious to the wildest and most officially beautiful or picturesque of landscapes. Sauntering provides an antidote to jaded awareness.

A slow walk encourages us to stop and look more closely. Turn around and see the locality from a different angle. Sit down in it, lie down perhaps – if there’s no hurry and nowhere to be, then these things can all be part of the mix. At a slower pace there’s more scope to chat as well and this is not necessarily a distraction from the spiritual experience of being in a place. Sharing our responses to what we experience can broaden and enrich our perceptions, and this is an idea I’ll be back to again at some other point.

Humans are busy things. We’ve got a hectic schedule to fill, we’ve got to be achieving something. We’ve got to be somewhere else, or we’re running through the landscape for fitness. Slowing down is a magical thing, regardless of where the word ‘saunter’ really comes from. Slowing down opens out what’s in front of us, revealing the gems of water droplets on the intricate spider web, or the brilliance of a toadstool, the fragile beauty of flowers in the grass, or the presence of birds. Occult means ‘hidden’. If you want what’s hidden, slow down, and what was once obscure and unavailable becomes perceptible.

Walk on the ground beneath you as though you are walking on holy land. Every walk can be a journey to the most sacred place, because both you and the earth are present. And at the same time be sans terre – without land. If only we could let go of this mad human urge to own and control the land, everything would change. Be on the land and with the land, move over the land, find ways to explore your intimacy with it. Approaching without a desire to own, to conquer and subdue also opens the land to us in entirely different ways. In not seeking to possess, we make room for respect, and reverence, and create opportunities to be moved and possessed ourselves, instead.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Sauntering

  • Ryan

    Reblogged this on Endless Erring and commented:
    Walking is a big part of my own Druid practice, and is an excellent way to slow down and observe the rhythms of nature. As always, Nimue offers a thoughtful and moving look at this simple practice.

  • cassandralathamjones

    Excellent post! Sauntering is the way to Walk the Land – nothing much gets achieved by whizzing about imo. 🙂

  • Amreen Bashir Shaikh

    A nicely written post well done!

    Do read my latest post too and share your ideas >>

  • landisvance

    Sharing with my Buddhist friends who are into walking meditation. This is what I find when I am walking in the mountains. Wonderful thoughtful blog post!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    As I did a lot of walking in cities. I often explored them and it was life in unexpected places and unexpected beauty that often caught my attentions.

    Forty odd years ago I used to sell in the Saturday Market, what was then an Artist Market under the Burnside Bridge in some of the old town of Portland, Oregon on our northwest coast. and then the semi ruins of old town on a bare parking lot. Old town was pretty much a slum still, just beginning the process of gentrification that would later turn it into a hip area where the planned tram line would come from outside the city.

    So you still had drunks, winos and homeless people and of the just poor people who would later get forced out of the area by rapidly rising rents as it became gentrified. It could be rather harsh even ugly with trash and broken bottles. Yet it also had some very interesting architecture, such as old 1850 row buildings with cast iron fronts to to cheaply imitate the look of cut stone on what were basically brick boxes of building. We faced the rubble wall that was once between that building and another one long since been torn down, both that had been it was five stories tall like the rest of the block. That wall was on the north side of the building and never got sun light on it, and just across a gap of parking lot where the fumes of the exhausts of the cars creeping during rush hour across the Burnside Bridge above us and our stand where we sold polished agate slabs and polished agate Oregon geodes.I had plenty of time to stare at that broken brick rubble wall right across from me and wonder about it.

    Wonder about it? Yes because, four stories up on the rubble brick flourished a large leaf very dark green plant with large deep purple flowers that was obviously doing quite well on its unlikely spot of environment. How had the seed got planted there. Perhaps in a bit of bird poop that dropped down from above? Remember this was the north shaded side of the building. What was it growing on or in? Perhaps a bit of brick dust crumbled mortar dust, and maybe a bit of bird poop? Nevertheless the plant prospered and I watched in wonder for the six years that I would sell there during the Summer touris season.

    All of that is likely long gone as that part of the ruined section of Old Town would be torn down and redeveloped However I still remember that plant quite clearly in spite of all that I have forgotten from that time.

  • Rachel

    Perfect, I shall saunter through the woods tomorrow. I especially enjoy the last sentence. Thank you for the inspiration. ❤

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