Pilgrims to Mount Shasta

Pilgrims from all over the world travel to Mt. Shasta and other sacred sites every year. A pilgrim is a person who undertakes a journey to a sacred place and is important in transmitting new myths and ideas into regions. Mount Shasta represents a special place that bridges the physical and the spiritual, the earthly and the mythological.

The motivation to visit a sacred site may be to request a favor from a deity, offer thanks, fulfill a vow, express penitence, meet an obligation, or gain merit. Shrines and areas that attract a diverse population usually specialize in healing such as Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal. Health and well-being are major motives for pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is an event when numerous people travel to a sacred destination, usually at a specifically announced occasion, religious holiday, or ceremony. The pilgrimage also offers a spiritual journey. The physical elements of the landscape may attract pilgrims from one culture but may be avoided by another. In this way, pilgrimages generate cultural uniformity. A pilgrimage renews bonds and helps maintain a belief system by emphasizing its systemic properties.

Pilgrims and Personal Transformation

Different myths contribute to different relationships between humans and nature that influence the biodiversity, ecosystem, and ecology of an environment. People travel to certain environments to achieve an inner transformation. On a pilgrimage, there is an interrelation between the pilgrim, their origin, motivation, and destination. The pilgrimage results in a place where competing discourse is negotiated and enables the pilgrim to recover religious meanings, spiritual awakenings, blessings, or healings. Some people desire to escape momentarily from modern society. Often cost and distances are not accounted for in a pilgrimage, which makes it distinct from any other kind of journey.

Stages of a Pilgrimage

Three elements must be present in a pilgrimage. The first is that there must be spiritual motivation. Secondly, an intended goal or place that is not local. Lastly, people are creating a spatial dimension to bring home to a holy place and back home. People travel to a holy place with conceptions and personal experiences, which may be transformed through their pilgrimage. With this transformation, the pilgrim will return home as a changed person with new insights. Finally, pilgrims interact with other people, cultures, and circumstances. During a pilgrimage, people experience the transformative release from the limitations of daily life.

Amid the initial stage and final stages of the pilgrimage are stages of passage. There is the initial separation of the person from their group, where they give up their identity. Next is a marginal state between the two identities, or rather, a disengagement from the local community, routine, and responsibilities. Then, the person is reintegrated into society with a new identity. The pilgrimage is necessary because it is easier to discard the original identity in unfamiliar places.

Pierre Deffontaines (1948) argues that pilgrimage is a process that has a centripetal function in society. It promotes the diffusion of ideas and influences the core culture, even if a limited number of people participate. A pilgrimage must contain varying degrees of risk. Otherwise, there would be no trial and, thus, no value to the endeavor. Risks can be dangerous or mild experiences through tribulations, inconveniences, discomfort, and outright hostility. The pilgrim concludes at the sacred place, which is the object of desire. The reward for reaching the goal is to transcend the ego and the normal daily routine. When the final meeting with the sacred occurs, the emotional tension will be released. This psychological climax is interpreted as a spiritual rebirth.

Pilgrims and Tourism

There is a close relationship between pilgrims and tourists. The main difference is that the pilgrim is religious, and the tourist is secular. Some pilgrimages are small and even individual. More large-scale pilgrimages affect the local economies and promote tourism and local merchants. Pilgrims can travel to a religious site or an area identified with “civil religions.” This includes war memorials, tombs of national martyrs, icons, and social reformers. For example, many people every year make a pilgrimage to Graceland to visit the tomb of Elvis Presley. Pilgrims to a sacred place visit other tourist locations after fulfilling religious obligations. The neutral term visitor could be used, but it obscures the motive of the pilgrim.

At many sacred centers, pilgrims transcend religious boundaries and visit a sacred site not associated with their own religion. Some sacred places attract followers of more than one faith. It is a misconception that a sacred site is only visited by one religious group. This may be explained by the sacred sites having healing qualities and endowing supernatural powers. Different conditions impel people to search beyond conventional religious bounds for meanings.

Further Reading

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