"Soul" is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.
"Pilgrimage is transformative travel to a sacred place." This is how Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage, describes it. A sacred place in this context is a place to which people travel in search of meaning, which could be a baseball field in Boston, Peru's Machu Picchu, or Vatican City. What makes a place sacred is not so much what happened there, but what meaning we ascribe to the place itself.
It was 9 years ago that I left a high tech career in Silicon Valley and moved to Portugal to be with my husband. Since then, I have fallen in love with Portugal and have hosted people here on pilgrimage. In 2013, I completed a master of wisdom studies that has served to ignite my interest and explorations in mythology, transformational art, and earth energetics - particularly place-based legends and myths.
"The earth is full of Soul,” wrote Celtic mystic John O’Donohue, and in my experience place-based myth is the initation doorway into the soul of a place. Jeremy Taylor, founding member and past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, has said that “dreams have multiple layers of meaning and significance woven into them,” from the physical to the spiritual. Like dreams, myths, too, can be understood in layers of meaning and significance. "A myth is a sacred story set in a time and place outside history, describing in fictional form the fundamental truths of nature and human life," writes Thomas Moore. Thus place-based myths offer insight into the deeper truth of a place and our experience of it.
A place-based myth is a legend or mythical story associated with a particular location. Sometimes the place name itself hints at the myth, for example, Rome is named for Romulus, its founder and one of the twins suckled by a she-wolf in Roman mythology. Richard Leviton, author and geomantic researcher, suggests looking at place-based myths “upside down and in a mirror” to peer into the deeper truth about what people have experienced at that site.
Mount Rushmore, for example, was a sacred site for Native Americans long before its granite face was carved into the likeness of four US Presidents. Mount Rushmore was known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. It is interesting that the creators of the monument, envisioning the faces of four influential men on the peak, had a similar - although cruder - response to the mountain. Having never visited South Dakota, it makes me wonder if being at the mountain itself (without taking into account the sculpture), one would have the sensation of being in the presence of a council of wise male elders. If so, perhaps this reveals the soul of the place.
Ultimately, it could be said that in every place we encounter we find in some way a reflection of ourselves. On pilgrimage into the soul of a place, thus, is where we meet ourselves. And this is why I go on pilgrimage, and why I invite you to join me. Pilgrimage offers us the opportunity to see ourselves anew, and thus within every pilgrimage is the possibility that we will be transformed.