I made it. Last month, I actually made it from Australia to Wales and back on an official Sisterhood of Avalon/Mythic Seeker Pilgrimage called The Priestess and the Healer. I also overnighted in Brisbane, passed through the Netherlands for a couple of days to see an old friend, and even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Glastonbury, England, in addition to my itinerary that had me trekking all over Wales. But all of it- every stop- turned out to be an integral part of my Pilgrimage experience. Much more so than I could have predicted when I first set out. And now I’m back. Back home with my children and my partner. Back at work with my writing. Back to chores, bills, & daily rounds where life is bright, loud, and busy– even as it is joyful & beautiful. What now, then? While the life I’ve returned to is virtually unchanged, something has subtly shifted under my feet in the fortnight it took me to tread those distant lands.
Traveling is always a great learning experience for me, but a mindfully undertaken Pilgrimage is a different creature than a casual holiday. In his fantastic work, The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau breaks down the pilgrim’s journey into phases: the Call, the Departure, the Arrival, & the Return. He relates this journey to the walking of a labyrinth, something Dr. Lauren Artress also explores at length in her book, Walking a Sacred Path. My experience resonates strongly with this metaphor. In retrospect, I can indeed pinpoint the moment of Arrival. (I sat down to eat a nourishing meal at a long, wooden table full of fellow Avalonian pilgrims in front of a window looking out on a late summer sunset in Dyffryn Nantlle.) The realization of that moment, small and simple as is was, shifted and opened my experience even deeper. The ritual of a labyrinth within a physical Pilgrimage is a special encounter. Those who manage to carve out the resources to engage in it undergo an intense experience, whatever their spiritual tradition or destination. But what happens when it’s over? What comes next? This is where I am left now.
The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and power to serve others. ~Joseph Campbell in Myths to Live By
If one is to return. If. I will admit that there was a moment, somewhere in the atmosphere over the portion of the earth where the borders between Europe and Asia start to blur, where the wicked notion of not coming back floated to the surface of my long-haul-travel-addled mind. The Mother, Wife, Eldest Daughter & Responsible Human Being in me shouted the notion down immediately. But about a moon cycle post-Pilgrimage, I find myself suspecting that little voice was speaking at least a kernel of truth. While the travel is intense, the expense significant, & the experiences memorable, it is in the Return, in bringing back the boon, that the largest amount of labor waits. It is after one exits the labyrinth, carrying the full weight of the journey within, that the true work begins.
“How will you remember to remember when you return home?” Cousineau asks me as I re-read the last chapter of his work in preparation for writing this post.
I arrived in Wales and joined a group of seventeen other fellow pilgrims, setting off to connect with the landscape of the Mabinogion; the ancient tales of the Cymru and the source of the Pantheon of the Sisterhood of Avalon. At each stop throughout Wales, we connected with each other, with the sacred landscape, and with the Lady of Avalon to which the site belongs. That first day, in Narberth, I was nothing short of ebullient. Dancing up Gorsedd Arberth, singing to Rhiannon the whole way. Here I am! I’ve made it! At last, at last! But it was at Dinas Dinlle, straining for a glimpse of Caer Arianrhod, that the work of my Pilgrimage began to truly unfold. There, Arianrhod challenged me to claim my sovereignty as a Writer, as a Healer, and as a Priestess, She demands I face my fears of Failure & Rejection, of my own Healing & my powers as a Healer, and ultimately of Death itself. She made clear- at that place, in that moment- that I must work with and through these fears if I am to achieve what I seek in this lifetime. If I am to rise to my calling. I wept. Sobbed is probably a more accurate description. It took the embrace of two of my Sisters to help bring me back down. It was a triadic challenge that felt insurmountable. How on earth was I to accomplish all that in just a few days in the Welsh countryside? But on another day, an afternoon with Blodeuwedd on the banks of Llyn Morwynion reassured me and a to-do list received from Ceridwen while sitting on the banks of Llyn Tegid gave me new direction.
And now I am home. Remembering to remember. I have pre-Pilgrimage life commitments I intend to continue to honor, but now I also have the boon of Pilgrimage; not an instantaneous transformation, but the germinating seed of a greater calling to Service. This marks the start of the next phase in a period of learning and growth for me. It is time for me to embrace my own healing and my calling to claim the path of Healer. It is time for me to work with Death as I have previously worked with Birth- to come to a place of intimacy with both Holy Portals of this life and to serve those who look to cross through them in a sacred manner. It is also way past time for me to fearlessly tell my tale; to fully BE the Writer.
“The story we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey.” Cousineau tells me. “All these must now be passed on.”
“Tell what you have learned from your journey.”
Kate Brunner is a freelance writer & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army, after which, Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. She enjoys international travel, perfecting her cooking, reading great books, & having fascinating conversations with friends, old or new.