Column: “They would not go with her for a hundred pounds”

Having, for the moment, concluded my own pilgrimages to some of the places that Pagans feel sacred, I have been spending my time looking back at what others have thought about pilgrimage as a concept.The anthropologists Edith and Victor Turner claimed that the key feature of pilgrimage was something called communitas. Pilgrimage, they said, brought the pilgrims into a “liminoid” state, a state of being “betwixt and in-between,” outside of the normal bounds of societal rules and hierarchies. (This state is “liminoid” instead of “liminal” because in the contemporary Western societies that the Turners studied, pilgrimage is generally something people choose to do, rather than an obligatory rite of passage for the community; obviously this is not always the case, even in said Western, mostly Christian societies, but the Turners’ model focuses on pilgrimage as something optional rather than mandatory.) While engaged in this liminoid state, pilgrims enter into the state of communitas, wherein individuals become subsumed into homogeneous groups based on their shared “lowliness, sacredness, and comradeship.”

For the Turners, pilgrimage was a kind of radical egalitarianism, where, through the power of religious ritual, the structural bonds the divide society could be dismissed, leaving all pilgrims as an unmediated, undivided throng. This was, of course, a passing state of affairs; eventually the pilgrim returns home and reintegrates into the structures of society, with all the old hierarchies intact. Indeed, communitas, which the Turners also referred to as “social antistructure,” often ended up reinforcing the very structure it critiqued by acting as a sort of pressure valve for the greater society.