On my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, I walked with my friend and Camino guide, Sue Kenney. As a longtime Camino guide, Sue organizes group Caminos to take pilgrims on the last 200km or so of the pilgrimage route in Spain. (Sue is doing TWO Camino tours in May, 2019…One of which is already fully booked.) The one thing Sue always makes sure her pilgrims have with them during their Camino is what I have come to understand is the Camino Bible. It’s probably the most popular guidebook ever written for the Camino de Santiago.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago is the title of that guidebook. It’s so well organized, detailed and curated that it’s easy to forget that it’s the brainchild of one person. Everyone on the Camino carries it. I carried it. It is a wealth of knowledge. If you have a question regarding a town, a restaurant, an albergue, or anything else…you turn its pages and you find the answer. If you have traveled the Camino and you didn’t do it with the guidebook below, chances are you saw other peregrinos (pilgrims) carrying it and/or flipping through its pages.
Last night the Canadian Company of Pilgrims had an event in Toronto at the Yorkwoods Public Library Theatre. Sue Kenney and two other peregrinas–Mony Dojeiji and Ingrid Folkers–opened the event with a short panel discussion on their own experiences with the Camino. Then the man who wrote the Camino Bible pictured above was there. In person. John Brierley himself was there to enthrall a packed theatre audience with tales of the Camino de Santiago and the various routes leading to the now mythical cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela. John also brought with him a rousing message of love and connection. It turns out the man who wrote the guide walks the walk. He was as lovely as the feeling one gets from experiencing the Camino itself. He was eloquent, informative and inspiring. He talked about the Camino family that I myself have experienced and am now a part of… and he cemented in me everything I have come to believe about the Camino.
By the time John’s talk was over and he had hypnotized an entire audience of some 300 people into blowing out the tiny candle he held out to us, I was more than ready to head back out onto the sacred pilgrimage in Spain. But he also told us we were not merely blowing out the candle, but sending the flame out into the world to give light and warmth to our Camino brethren now currently walking the paths back in Spain.
And I believed it.
I imagined that flame leaving the candle and crossing the Atlantic to find the heart of every pilgrim brother and sister currently walking the various Camino pathways leading to the cathedral and beyond… to Finisterre and Muxía… to the END OF THE WORLD.
Some pics of my first Camino in May, 2014. Michael and I will be heading back in September, 2019, walking from Astorga to Santiago. I can’t stay away.
If ever you hear whispers of the Camino de Santiago, take heed. Listen up. It is both a gift and a question. And I assure you, your heart wants to know the answer. It wants the gift. With my own journey, I discovered that the Camino calls you. I heard about it in passing and it sat quietly inside me. But quietly like a river that knows a waterfall is coming in the distance. When I didn’t heed the call, it got louder… because something inside me wanted to manifest my inner journey into an outer one. When I stepped foot on the path years later, I knew that it was meant to be. The Camino won. It called, and inevitably I answered.
And I know we Camino pilgrims probably sound like members of a cult…the way we go on about the pilgrimage years after we have walked it…but it’s just that it has given us so much. It’s just a long walk, right? A walk that thousands of people have taken over thousands of years. If you listen closely while you’re out there in the wind, putting one foot in front of the other while making your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you can hear their whispers… their inner thoughts. Lean in. They have left their mark on the path lit nightly by the magical Milky Way. Even the stars know the importance of the Camino, and it is their wont to show you the way to Santiago.
But if you don’t trust the stars to show you the way, if you’re afraid of relying on the Vía Láctea to bring you to the sacred cathedral at the end of the sacred path, trust John Brierley. He’ll take you there.
(Much thanks to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims for showing me the way to John Brierley.)