While pilgrimage might be a single spiritual practice, there’s no one way to do it.
Ultimately, what makes a trip a pilgrimage is the intention behind it and the presence you bring (that and the three elements required for any pilgrimage). Here are 10 types of pilgrimage, from outward journeys to inner ones and ancient destinations to modern:
1. traditional pilgrimage
A traditional pilgrimage is a journey to a well-known Sacred site.
In Christian spirituality, the most significant traditional pilgrimage destinations throughout time are the Holy Land, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela (this journey is often called “el camino de Santiago de Compostela,” “el camino” meaning “the way”). Other well-known traditional pilgrimage sites through the ages include the various Sacred sites of Ireland the holy Isle of Iona, both important to Celtic spirituality.
Sacred sites and traditional pilgrimages in other religions include Mecca for Muslims, Kumbh Mela for Hindus, Bodh Gaya for Buddhists, and the Western Wall for Jews.
2. ancestral pilgrimage
We all come from somewhere, and as we seek to know more of ourselves and God, it is likely that a time will come when some of the answers to our questions lie in the past, in lands that our ancestors once called home.
Ancestral pilgrimage is especially intriguing to those whose ancestors immigrated to the nation in which they live today, but can also be significant for those whose family has been rooted for quite some time. In either circumstance, ancestral research and pilgrimage reveal more than a place from which ancestors came—they reveal a story in which we are participants. And yet, this story is far greater than ourselves because it not only tells us where we come from, it can also inform and inspire where we go.
Sabbatical is most common in academic vocations, but the concept of sabbatical is valuable to all.
Originating in the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea with the concept of sabbatical is to allow the land typically cultivated to remain fallow, letting it go wild for a year. While this is still practiced in agriculture today, some farmers use this as an opportunity to grow another crop for a season. Informed by the values of the agricultural metaphor, the vocational sabbatical practiced today is an amazing opportunity to pause your work and cultivate something new and wild.
4. solidarity pilgrimage
A solidarity pilgrimage is a journey that is made in order to learn from and experience the world through the eyes of another. Just as pilgrimage allows us to travel the world, a solidarity pilgrimage invites us to journey to the “worlds” of others as we seek to humble ourselves, broaden our perspective, and respond with action.
While a solidarity pilgrimage is often considered to be an opportunity to journey to a culture and environment much different than our own, such as a service journey, it also includes everyday activism in our own communities.
5. pilgrimage of personal or cultural significance
Maybe your dad was a big Red Sox fan, and a year after his death you finally make it to Fenway Park. Perhaps you’re a fan of the beat poets and long to spend an afternoon at City Lights Books in San Francisco. It might be that you’ve practiced yoga for ten years and hope to one day unroll your mat in the land of its birth. Maybe the beauty of Paris simply makes your feminine spirit come alive.
You don’t have to explain it. What you’re passionate about and what ignites your fire is unique to you, and following that spark brings forth moments of Sacred Encounter. What place is uniquely beckoning you?
6. nature pilgrimage
In our world of busyness and chaos, it is vital that we step away from the things we can control (and subsequently tend to control us) and spend time in the world not made by humankind, but by God.
Oftentimes nothing can reorient you more to the transcendent than a journey to the mountains or the expansive sea. Trees have grown for centuries and flowers have bloomed each spring for generations. Listen closely; watch them for hours. Can’t you hear the wisdom they’re trying to tell you—the truths they’re trying to show you?
Whether a simple day hike or an extended solo journey, nature always has a way of turning us into pilgrims.
7. threshold pilgrimage
A threshold marks the passing of one season of life to the next, not unlike a traditional rite of passage. It is a journey that invites us to intentionally say goodbye to an old way of living and purposefully enter the next phase of life with clarity and awareness.
Though life thresholds can be unique to each person and circumstance, thresholds that are common to the human experience include the onset of puberty, marriage (or divorce), childbirth, and death (including entering old age and preparing for death or mourning the death of a loved one). Others include graduation, taking on a new career or responsibility, having an empty nest, and retirement.
Of course, thresholds can be less clear-cut and contain an element of liminality, too, infusing meaning into those seasons of life when we are in-between with no feeling of “home,” not quite sure where we’re coming from and no idea where we’re going next. Here pilgrimage offers the perfect invitation as we seek to navigate the unknown step by step.
8. discovery pilgrimage
A discovery pilgrimage might seem like an ordinary travel experience on the outside. However, a discovery pilgrimage is just as much about the traveler as it is the journey. Those who love to travel journey to new places frequently. What makes a pilgrim different than a tourist on such adventures and a discovery pilgrimage different than just another travel experience is the pilgrim’s awareness that new discoveries externally will also to new discoveries within.
A discovery pilgrimage could take you to such far-flung places as Istanbul or Disney World. What makes the trip a pilgrimage is the posture you take and the presence you bring.
Retreats can serve as mini-pilgrimages during which we are invited to leave our everyday lives, learn from wise teachers, ask difficult questions, and try new things, all the while being reminded of what it means to take care of ourselves—mind, body, and soul.
Another type of retreat is one of silence and solitude, often taken at a monastery or secluded retreat center. Challenging and provocative, the space available in a retreat made in silence and solitude brings us face to face with the True Self and God and can be the most difficult and yet most rewarding practice.
10. interior pilgrimage
While it’s last on my list, it’s certainly not least, because in reality, with each type of pilgrimage listed above, we are also on an interior pilgrimage.
Interior pilgrimage describes the inner spiritual journey of the pilgrim. It is the foundation and inspiration for all other journeys and is rewarded by their fruit. It is the journey of a lifetime, the journey of a season, the journey of a day, and the journey of a moment.
Only when we forget that we are on an interior pilgrimage do we go off course. Spiritual practices are vital in remaining present to our ongoing interior pilgrimage. As time goes on we will explore many spiritual practices to fuel the journey, but until then, a good place to start is with a Rule of Life.
Of course, there might not be a title for the type of pilgrimage that calls you. At times you will feel compelled to journey even when you don’t know what you seek beyond inspiration. To saunter, after all, meaning “to walk in a slow, relaxed manner,” is inspired by pilgrimages of old, “saunter” deriving from san terre, meaning “Holy Land” in French. To wander, then, is sacred work when your heart is set on the Divine.
“Not all those who wander are lost,” JRR Tolkien wrote. No matter what called you to go on pilgrimage, when you wander with the awareness and intention of a pilgrim, you will no doubt in some way be found.
Which type of pilgrimage is beckoning you?