Monday, May 11, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress, or Lack Thereof

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," pleasant chit-chat on the nature of the universe and the proper protection techniques for exotic upholstery! Just settee and forgetee!

Today I mulled two topics:

1. Know Your Professional Dry Cleaner, or
2. Making Pilgrimages to Sacred Shrines

The winner is #2!

One of the regular attendees at the Spoutwood Fairie Festival is a fellow named Andrew Steed. What a fascinating man! Andrew is the official bard of the festival, and his activities there run the gamut from extreme silliness to deeply moving Alchemical Fires. Perhaps you've met people like him who can dance from alpha to omega and be comfortable every step of the way.

Andrew gave a talk at the festival about spiritual pilgrimages to ancient sites in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. He leads tours to these places and is given access to shrines that are otherwise off limits to the general public.

Who among us wouldn't just love to venture to the Old Country, to commune with the Ancestors on the very ground they held sacred?

Um, me.

Okay, okay. Go ahead and say it. Sour grapes, Anne! You don't have enough bread to go to Luray Caverns, let alone Stonehenge! Stop kvetching and start saving your milk money!

Seriously, it's not the money. Although I must admit that if I had the money, I sure would sign on the dotted line with Andrew and toddle off with him into the Yorkshire heath. But as he talked about pilgrimages, I began to ponder the nature of a pilgrimage and whether or not I'd ever taken one.

Turns out I'm an intrepid pilgrim.


My family has lived in the Appalachian Mountains for twelve generations. I don't have a single ancestor on either my mother's or my father's branches who arrived in America after 1740. The story is the same on both sides:

*Ride in little wooden ship to a Tidewater port.
*Move west.
*Stop at the first batch of mountains, set up camp, and breed.

Andrew talked about visiting the site of the Battle of Culloden (1746). By the time that conflict took place, my people were busy building farmhouses for their grandchildren in Pennsylvania and Maryland. There were Johnsons in the Revolutionary War, the Whiskey Rebellion, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Members of my family participated in the Underground Railroad. A few are buried at Andersonville Prison. Granddad designed filters for gas masks used in World War II. Dad made the tires they put on the Jeeps.

And so, though my DNA traces back to the British Isles, my heart remains in Appalachia. Having been the first generation of my family to move away from the mountains, I have always been willing to crawl back to them on my hands and knees if necessary.

Appalachia is my pilgrimage destination, the place where I honor the Ancestors, the ground I crumple in my hand and kiss before I throw it to the wind.

Perhaps this spiritual link to Appalachia has been the inspiration for "The Gods Are Bored." My philosophy has been influenced by an author named Rodger Cunningham, whose book Apples on the Flood: The Southern Mountain Experience talks about how the core people of Appalachia survived on the margins of "civilization" not just in America, but in the British Isles, not just from the time of King James, but for millennia. And one of the hallmarks of these people is a modicum of adaptation, meaning that whatever deities are worshipped around them, they'll more or less accept.

Professor Cunningham did not apply his thesis to spiritual search, but I have. I don't know if my ancestors arrived in the Isles as Celts, or as Britons, or as Fir Bolgs, or maybe they were even there when the Ice Age ended and the English Channel formed.

This leaves me with two options on the spiritual front.

1. Adopt the popular deity of Appalachia, Jehovah, or

2. Interact gently with all deities.

I guess you know by now which choice I've made!

But when it comes to making pilgrimages, my footsteps forever and always will return to Appalachia -- to the graveyards with unreadable stones. To the rocky gaps too steep to be timbered. To the springs and the streams, and to the the winter ridges where you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles. And miles.

If you want me to broaden my horizons, by all means send me a check, and I'll blissfully go tramping with Andrew. But only after I make that trip to Andersonville, Georgia. That's as far as I go beyond the mountains, unless the Goddess Fortuna plans otherwise.

Tomorrow: Chenille or Jacquard: Essential Fabrics or Passing Fads?


Nettle said...

I related to what he said about Culloden because I've felt something similar at Gettysburg. And my personal sacred sites are places like: "that apple tree out behind my mom's house" or "the spot along the river with the strange rock formations" or "that boulder cave on the hillside." My personal family roots are firmly planted on this continent.

And yet... and yet... I still want to go. As far as I know, I have only the barest smidge of Welsh ancestry - I'm mostly French by way of Acadia, which was a while back - and yet for some reason the mythology and landscape of Wales does something odd to me. I want to see the sites in person and learn more about why, and I want to go with a guide who has some chance of understanding what it is I'm looking for. I might just learn that my sacred pilgramage site really is my mom's backyard, but I'd like the opportunity to go and find out.

If I win the lottery anytime soon, I'll bring you along.

Ali said...

So Anne, as such a well-rooted native of the area, maybe you can settle a debate between me and Jeff... is it pronounced Appa-LAY-SHA (long 'a') or Appa-LATCH-IA (short 'a')?

As far as pilgrimages go, I'm rather cut off from any real knowledge of heritage beyond my father's parents because of family quirks (like disinheritance, mental illness and alcoholism)... but I still find myself called back to the landscapes of Ireland and Wales, it seems. Every year, we go north to vacation in Acadia National Park, ME, an island with green forests, cliffs, hills, and foggy ocean shores. It's as close as I've ever gotten to the lands my ancestors come from... so far. ;)

Anne Johnson said...

It's Appa-LATCH-a south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Appa-LAY-cha everywhere else.

kate petersen said...

Hm. I have lived my entire life at the southern end of the Appalachians, far below the Mason-Dixon line, and have always heard it called Appa-LAY-cha. The only time I hear the short A sound is in the adjective: Appa-LATCH-un.

Hecate said...

I hear you. When I'm away too long, it's as if there's an undertow pulling me back to the mountains.

democommie said...


I was, as you know, from reading my biography at the General's place, raised by wolves in a cave near Omaha, NE. I've longed for many years to go back there and then, every time I do, I remember they don't got good barbecue or fresh fish and so I come back to whatever hovel I'm living in.

I'm as rootless as a tumbleweed for the most part, except my heart is with my friends and family--anchored like a rock.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

...and I love Africa, although my DNA traces back to about the same places as yours does, Anne.
Blessed are those whose hearts belong outside of civilisation.

Terri in Joburg

yellowdog granny said...

i would love to go to my home my ancestors started out as vikings and everywhere they settled they ended up getting thrown out of..tossed out of england, then ireland, then various parts of america...we're all over the place..australia, barbados, wales, scotland, you name it..we've been run out of that country..

Sarita said...

The majority of my spirituality is Celtic, and specifically I love the Irish stuff, so I would love to go to Ireland. But, I don't see that happening in the near future.

Closer at hand are volcanoes, which Pele wants me to go to. I don't know why she's attached herself to me...maybe she got bored? Everything else I do is Celtic (with a few local nature spirits thrown in) and then I have this Hawai'ian volcano goddess who took a liking to me when I was in Hawai'i. Anyways...I guess my next pilgrimage will be to a local volcano, of which there are several to choose from. :P

ps. Actually, my roots do seem to be in the northwest, where I live, even though my spirituality is Celtic. Of course, going to Ireland just might change my mind (not likely, methinks), but I can't imagine living anyplace other than the great northwest.

Terraluna said...

The most sacred place in the world for me is the lowest branch of the apple tree behind my grandmother's house in Prince Edward Island. That's the house where 200 years worth of my ancestors lived and died. And that tree seems to have been there for most of those years. Of course, pretty much all of PEI is magical.

But I wouldn't mind going to Skye and seeing where my earlier ancestors came from. (Must buy lottery ticket....)

Chas S. Clifton said...

Read Stephen Oppenheimer: you were probably almost right about the Ice Age. DNA evidence suggests that people walked in from the south and east as soon as the ice melted and while the Channel was dry land.

As for Andersonville, I would rather stick my hand in a garbage disposal than visit there. It would be like sticking your head in a psychic garbage disposal, wouldn't it? The energies must be horrible.

But if you must,the current issue of FATE has an article about it.

Anne Johnson said...

I want to visit Andersonville to assure my ancestors who died there that they are not forgotten among the living. I'm sure the psychic energy there is dreadful, and I'm also certain I'll be given a less-than-warm welcome by the locals if I tell them why I'm there. On the other hand, why would anyone go there except to honor their fallen?