Over the last ten years or so it seems like everyone I meet has just done, or is about to do, a pilgrimage. Those who have returned talk about it ecstatically – it was life changing, they say. The idea attracts me. I visualise the experience as a chance to take stock and maybe change direction.
Some say the modern-day rush of pilgrims began in 1987 after Paulo Coelho’s book ‘The Pilgrimage’. The Camino pilgrimage in Spain now has over 200 000 pilgrims each year, compared to 600 in 1985. But the phenomenon is broader than this. The Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, a 60 day trek to 88 temples is also booming. Over a decade its numbers have tripled to 150 000 pilgrims every year.
Traditionally, pilgrimages were taken in order to cleanse the pilgrim of their sins. They offered a state of transition which led to transformation. Bad luck with jobs, health or romance are common reasons for pilgrims to set out on the Shikoku walk. Young Japanese women commonly walk alone to recover after a breakup.
A few years ago, inspired by pilgrims’ tales, I started to write a novel about a woman walking the Shikoku pilgrimage. I bought a lot of books and became quite an armchair expert, but I could never find the time to go. The book was on a roll so, loathe to put on the brakes, I got creative and changed the setting.
Arkie, my protagonist, travels no further north than Noosa and no further south than Sydney. She is a ‘do it yourself’ pilgrim, finding transcendence on the highways and byways of my local area on her way to the next ‘big thing’.
In a stroke of serendipity, my husband, my two grown-up kids and myself have now found ourselves perfectly timed to take ‘a gap year’ together (actually a gap six months.). We are planning to do a pilgrimage walk in Japan and also walk the Camino.
Leave a comment on this blog to go into the draw for a copy of ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing.’ The prizewinner will be announced on this blog on January 31st. And go to Book’d Out to check out the rest of the blogs with giveaways on the Australia Day Blog Hop.