Pilgrimage and Healing
Bikers converge at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Thousands flock to a Nevada desert to burn a towering effigy. And the hopeless but hopeful ill journey to Lourdes as they have for centuries. Although pilgrimage may seem an antiquated religious ritual, it remains a vibrant activity in the modern world as pilgrims combine traditional motives—such as seeking a cure for physical or spiritual problems—with contemporary searches for identity or interpersonal connection. That pilgrimage continues to exercise such a strong attraction is testimony to the power it continues to hold for those who undertake these sacred journeys. This volume brings together anthropological and interdisciplinary perspectives on these persistent forms of popular religion to expand our understanding of the role of the traditional practice of pilgrimage in what many believe to be an increasingly secular world. Focusing on the healing dimensions of pilgrimage, the authors present case studies grounded in specific cultures and pilgrimage traditions to help readers understand the many therapeutic resources pilgrimage provides for people around the world. The chapters examine a variety of pilgrimage forms, both religious and non-religious, from Nepalese and Huichol shamanism pilgrimage to Catholic journeys to shrines and feast days to Nevada’s Burning Man festival. These diverse cases suggest a range of meanings embodied in the concept of healing itself, from curing physical ailments and redefining the self to redressing social suffering and healing the wounds of the past. Collectively and individually, the chapters raise important questions about the nature of ritual in general, and healing through pilgrimage in particular, and seek to illuminate why so many participants find pilgrimage a compelling way to address the problem of suffering. They also illustrate how pilgrimage exerts its social and political influence at the personal, local, and national levels, as well as providing symbols and processes that link people across social and spiritual boundaries. By examining the persistence of pilgrimage as a significant source of personal engagement with spirituality, Pilgrimage and Healing shows that the power of pilgrimage lies in its broad transformative powers. As our world increasingly adopts a secular and atheistic perspective in many domains of experience, it reminds us that, for many, spiritual quest remains a potent force.
“This book creatively brings together the two literatures on pilgrimage and on ritual healing in a way neither set of books does on its own. It also adds a contemporary flair, with articles on Burning Man and on the Run to the Vietnam Memorial....A solid piece of scholarship with an exquisite introduction and collection of well-documented and engagingly written articles.”—Marina Roseman, author of Healing Sounds from the Malaysian Rainforest: Temiar Music and Medicine