Easter Pilgrimage

What is Easter doing in a Pagan walking calendar? It’s a time when my son is likely to be off school. It’s close to the equinox, but I’ve never quite known what to do with equinoxes. It’s a massively important Christian festival and many of my ancestors were Christian. But the real truth is, it joined my calendar by accident.

I suffer from depression, and the relationship between mental health and walking is something I’ll explore in more detail later on. I was in a desperately bad state, and made the decision to spend a day walking with my husband, to try and take me out of myself, to create the space to feel differently. We walked, for hours, through woods and hills, on a route I’d not done before. Two Iron Age hillforts, at the Cotswold edge, huge skies, and then down into the city of Gloucester, with leg muscles tightening, feet sore, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, we came to the cathedral. And I realised it was Easter. I was almost in tears. This was the moment when the whole idea of pilgrimage started to make sense to me. I had not set out to make a pilgrimage, and yet at the same time knew I had definitely done that.

I have a longstanding relationship with Gloucester cathedral, and I have a story about my great grandmother seeing a ghost there. It’s a place of deep ancestry for me. Walking in, exhausted, and sitting in the cool quiet of the space, and letting the space fill me was a powerful experience that cannot easily be described. I was mind-blown from the enormity of the journey, wide open to the place, and profoundly affected.

We tried a second version of the walk the following autumn, with my son, and without one of the hill forts, and while that too was a powerful journey, the absence of a hillfort was clearly an issue.

We set out for the third time on what was explicitly an act of Easter pilgrimage, taking in both hillforts. Our route introduced us to an incredible oak tree, we met a lot of wildlife including a breathtaking close encounter with a deer. Coming into the cathedral my body and mind were, despite the challenges of preceding weeks, clearly in far better shape than they had been on my first Gloucester pilgrimage.

The cathedral used to be a major focus point for pilgrims – the tomb of Edward the Second (murdered just down the road at Berkley Castle) was the major attraction. These days very few people walk as we’ve done, and most people in the cathedral are there as tourists. There’s a strange irony to coming in as a Druid pilgrim to sit reverently in the cathedral while all around the tourists take photos and chat. One of the things I love about the cathedral is how it takes all sound and changes it into something like music.

It’s worth noting that historically, the lines between pilgrimage and tourism have always been blurred. Religious sites have made a lot of money out of pilgrimage, as well. It is not a thing set apart, but a thing of this world.
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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

4 responses to “Easter Pilgrimage

  • Scott Tizzard

    Glad to read you’re back on your feet. I enjoyed your comments about pilgrimage as it ties back to your previous comments about meditative walking. Walking through hill forts to an ancient cathedral; how awesome is your land! I went on a tour to Eire to visit my Irish ancestors. I did a lot of walking in the country and in the Cities. I know what you mean when you refer to your experiences in Cathedrals, as being in these places invokes similar feelings in me as well. Perhaps the Gloucester Cathedral was built on a former pagan religious site? Or, perhaps they have been there so long that their physical structure has woven itself into the land and now exudes deeper resonances? In Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, I personally saw 4 spirits. But, there are other Cathedrals as well. Some build by our ancestors such as Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and the circles of stone throughout England and Wales and Scotland. Some Cathedrals are less recognizable but still powerful. These Cathedrals can be found in striking landscapes, in the bright souls of loving and peaceful people and within ourselves, too.

    • Nimue Brown

      Gloucester cathedral was founded by the Saxons, but the city itself has had humans in it pretty much as long as there have been humans in the UK – so i suspect there was something before then, as well. But yes, old enough to have very deep roots anyway. I am very lucky with where i live, there’s a lot of history and story in the landscape. I’ve lived other places that were nothing like as rich.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I am a great believer in what works. As you get good results it is obviously what you should do. As has already pointed out, the site may well be Pagan as well, knowing the tendency of the Church to reuse sites already sacred with the people of the land.

  • lornasmithers

    How wonderful. Sometimes the land takes us unknowingly to where we need to be 🙂

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