Walking in nature is a very healthy thing to do. It’s exercise, it fills your lungs with good air and your eyes with beauty, it reduces stress and blood pressure and depression. It is a sacred activity and, all by itself, constitutes an “informal” Atheopagan ritual.
This article is about adding a symbolic, ritual dimension to a hike in nature: turning a walk into a pilgrimage to a special place with meaning and significance.
1. Identify a destination for your hike: a spring, a pool, a waterfall, a rock formation, a particular stand of trees, a mountaintop, a spectacular overlook.
2. Decide what that destination stands for (a theme or intention for the ritual), and name it: “The Fountain of Good Fortune”; “The Glade of Restoration”; “The Pillar of the Ancestors”. It is to this destination that your pilgrimage will proceed.
3. Bring a libation to pour, or other (completely non-artificial, non-aesthetically-displeasing) offerings. Be aware of the potential impact of any food items on wildlife: non-toxic flowers, nuts and thin-skinned fruits are generally okay; bread and citrus fruit are not.
4. At the outset of your hike, prepare yourself by observing a moment of silence and contemplating the goal of your pilgrimage. Any special practices you prefer for centering and calming your mind are appropriate here.
5. As you walk, identify “special places” along the way—a large tree or one with a hole in it, for example, or a rock outcropping, or a spring: anywhere that seems special—where you will pour a libation or leave a little offering. Make each offering “in the name of” a Quality with which you wish to imbue your pilgrimage or a commitment you make in the name of securing the blessings of the destination.
6. At your destination, set out symbolic items to create an impromptu Focus. Make your final offering and speak your wishes at having completed your pilgrimage. You may want to stay and eat a snack at the destination, to “share a meal” with the essence of the place. If it’s a water source, you may want to gather a little water in a bottle and keep it for usage in rituals later.
7. Thank the place for its blessings before you go, pack up your Focus and leave the destination looking as you found it (save, perhaps, for a small, biodegradable offering).
Pilgrimage hiking can help us to “overlay” a sacred, metaphorical landscape of symbolic meaning over the physical landscapes of the natural places we love. Over time, your landscape can come to be filled with special places that have particular meanings. Perhaps you can develop mythology to explain why these places are associated with these meanings.
In any case, it’s a way to enjoy our sojourns in nature in a different, intentional way.
Give it a try!