Pilgrimage Day 1

Bernadette Judaea
6 min readFeb 24, 2023

Pilgrimage: “act of journeying through a strange country to a holy place, long journey undertaken by a pilgrim;” from pilgrim + -age and also from Anglo-French pilrymage, Old French pelrimage, pelerinage “pilgrimage, distant journey, crusade,” from peleriner “to go on a pilgrimage.” Modern spelling is from early 14c. Figurative sense of “the journey of life” is by mid-14c.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Yesterday, I drove nine hours on I-10 headed west bound. It was the official beginning to a journey that has been bubbling under the surface for over two years now. I wasn’t aware of that when we made the plans to visit Holly’s land. As a Coven we’ve been meeting for several months now in the virtual space. The intimacy of our discussions led us all to this idea of an in-person meet-up. Its become the normal thing for internet friends to do post-pandemic, but I don’t think any of us realized what this convergence would mean.

This takes me back to the word pilgrimage. This trip isn’t a vacation. Its specifically not that at all. We are not joining together to indulge and spend money on luxury goods and fine dining. This isn’t a weekend of visiting tourist destinations or Travel Channel’s top 10 list. We are coming together for another purpose and I’m honestly not completely certain that I know what the purpose is, but it feels like healing. Healing is such a played out word only because there is a dire need for us to collectively do just that. The word pilgrimage denotes something that is taking place in the abstract but its being settled in the material realm.

For me, this journey begins (as best as I can tell) when I left Texas. In September of 2020 I left the life I built and everything I was working toward. I finally gave up on the idea of my relationship working out. I gave up on the future of working for a corporation that provided me with all the benefits I could ever ask for. I broke. It felt euphoric at the time. Some dude on the internet told me he wanted to marry me. It was all it took. That and the years of abuse I’d endured from my boyfriend at the time. All I remember is him yelling on the phone with me as he made his way back to our apartment in Texas. He’d been working in Michigan for several months, which allowed me freedom I’d never experienced. I didn’t take complete advantage of the situation, but I did begin to speak with people online. At first about podcasts and then I started to reveal the conditions of my personal life.

Ultimately, most of the people I exposed myself to, turned around and betrayed me. It confirmed everything my ex had warned me of with regards to friendship. In the beginning it was hard not to feel like I’d made a huge mistake. Even though my ex was abusive, he was predictable. I knew the things that would piss him off but he was someone I could confide in because I’d known him for so long. He never got to know the real me though because he only liked who he wanted me to be. Anyway, I do this every time when I begin to write about that experience. I relive the sabotage and the isolation instead, which I now see as a necessary step in the process.

So after I left Texas, I ultimately ended up moving into a camper in my grandparents backyard. It became my cocoon but no one (not even me) expected that I would stay as long as I have. I made myself part of my family again. They gave me the space to put myself back together and I helped with tasks that were easy enough for me but very difficult for them. I started to resign myself to a life of service and ascetism. The most extreme example being the Vision Quest I participated in just after Lent began in 2022. In the days leading up to that ritual, I went to Biloxi with my grandma and mom for Mardi Gras. Grandma loves to play slots and the rooms were free because the Casinos pull you in that way. That was the first time I’d gone so far down I-10 since leaving my life behind in 2020.

It's almost as if the Vision Quest got me halfway there. It was something I had to do alone, though there were other women in the woods. In fact, only women participated, despite the fact that this ritual is usually for men. I should take that back, there were two boys that participated in the first night but they had to fly out the next morning. They spent a night of fasting in the woods, as well. I was the next that got pulled out. I spent 48 hours with no food, no water, and no shelter. The other three women stayed out an additional night and we got them out of the woods the next day. Again, it was a euphoric feeling, reminiscent of that which I had while leaving my old life behind in Texas. Crawling out of the final sweat lodge was a rebirth, but I was directionless on my own.

All the while, I was attending Collective Journaling and everyday, more and more, I realized this was the community I’d longed for all my life. I hesitate to say it because it seems hyperbolic. It seems like that too could be ripped away from me by a cynical glance. An accusation of naivety. Like when my dad told me that God would’ve thought he was pretty stupid for doing what I did in the woods. About five months after my Vision Quest, the Coven meetings began. This was the direction I needed to begin my official opening (I hesitate to claim this as an awakening).

The weeks leading up to the start of this journey were filled with signs and symbols. When I realized I would be crossing my Mercury IC while driving through Houston, I could hear Hermes loud and clear. The message was simple. “This is it, you’re on the right path”. It was like I was granted permission to enter the state again. The state of Texas and the state of mind. The euphoria. This time, it felt better placed and a little less chaotic. This time, there is some sort of insight I am moving toward. This time I have people I trust accompanying me.

I am dog sitting in a home that is built for giants right now. I imagine this to be Siddhartha’s palace; the one he left. The home is grand and immaculate and the dogs’ eat better than most humans. After a couple of years of feeling like luxury was the enemy, I’m appreciating it for this stay. Its not like Biloxi at Mardi Gras which is cigarette smoke filled rooms and gambling plus alcohol. Its a heavenly retreat. It feels like a gift from God before the ritual. It does feel a little like the quiet before the storm. The treat before the trial. Its part of the journey. Part of the pilgrimage. Something sweet to savor. I imagine that being with my sisters will feel even more euphoric if the contrast of the Casino and the lonely forest is a foreshadowing. Strange that the struggle is what leads to the euphoria each time.

“Detachment isn’t about not owning things, its about not letting things own you”- Jay Shetty paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita

This brings back the thought of vacation versus pilgrimage or even journey. I’ll ponder on that a little longer.

Originally written in Collective Journaling at The Stoa