How to Make Any Journey into a Pilgrimage

Taos Mountain as seen from Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico


Choose a special place to visit. It can be known as a sacred site, or perhaps it is just special to you in some personal way. It could be a hill you want to climb, a secret beach, or a sanctuary garden.

I imagine that you will either drive to this place, or take some other form of transportation. Once you arrive in the general vicinity of your sacred site, there should be a certain amount of walking and meandering involved until you arrive at the center, or the destination.

Before you go, think about three stages of your pilgrimage:

  • The journey to the destination;
  • Time spent at the destination;
  • The journey back home.

Notice the different energy you experience in each of those three stages.

It is very similar to walking a labyrinth! (And of course a labyrinth is exactly that: a model of a pilgrimage.)

Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch, Abiqui, New Mexico

Set an intention before you go, like:

  • Today I intend to be open to wonderful surprises.
  • Today I intend to offer up prayers and offerings for __________.
  • Today I intend to walk in gratitude and thanksgiving, asking for nothing, only giving praise.

Or take a question or petition with you:

  • Today I seek clarity about __________.
  • Today I surrender to the Divine regarding __________.
  • Today I ask for healing for __________.
Tying prayer ribbons on the sacred thorn, Glastonbury

Take your journal with you, a water bottle, and a snack.  Take something to leave as an offering: an organic cookie, some seashells or stones, ribbons, a poem, cornmeal, or herbs from your garden. If you arrive at a sacred spot with nothing to leave as an offering, you can always leave a strand of hair from your head.

It can be useful to bring along a sacred text of some kind (a favorite book of poetry, for example), and to have memorized some uplifting songs or chants that you can sing along the way, or when you arrive at your destination.

If you go on your pilgrimage with a companion, be sure that you both agree ahead of time that you will proceed in silence, and that you will each have your own experience. You can compare notes and share your experiences after you return home.

On your way towards the site, practice the arts of attention and listening, as Phil Cousineau writes,1 and meander towards the center, instead of taking a direct route.

When you arrive, spend some time in meditation, prayer, writing and/or sketching in your journal, reading your sacred text, singing or chanting. Taking photos in a contemplative manner is also a lovely thing to do.

Journaling under a faery tree, Stanton Drew, England

Be open to whatever comes in the center, as well as on your way home. It may be an internal dialog in your head, or it may be an encounter with a bird or animal. It may be a feeling of well-being, or there may be nothing dramatic at all.  “Let go of expectations,” Mara Freeman writes. “Pilgrimage is a gradual process of unfolding and discovery rather than a goal in itself. Spiritual experiences have a disconcerting tendency to happen at the least expected times and places, and they require us to stay open to a higher agenda than our own.”2

When you get home, pull out your journal again, and write down your answer this question:

What was the essential secret of the day? 3

The magic and message of your pilgrimage will continue to unfold over time. You might even want to consider making a monthly or quarterly pilgrimage, either to the same place, or to different places in your area that call to you in different seasons.

Aldermarsh Retreat Center, Whidbey Island, Washington

I’d love to hear about your experience of going on a pilgrimage in the comments!


1 Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, pg. 126.

2 Mara Freeman, Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Through the Seasons, pg. 222.

3 Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, pg. 103.

 (All photos by me, from my various journeys.)

9 thoughts on “How to Make Any Journey into a Pilgrimage

  1. wow!i believe in telepathy…i was planning for a piligrimage this week and your post is like a post from God – i am going to follow the steps given by you with regard to piligrimage and yep will share my experiance too.
    Thank you Joanna i mean it!

  2. Wow, I thoroughly enjoy all of your blog posts, Joanna, but this one has touched me deeply. With beautiful weather predicted this weekend for the Pacific Northwest, this post has me wondering about what local pilgrimage I can take.

    I have been feeling rather distressed about many things lately, and a pilgrimage could be very soul soothing and give me perspective.

    Thank you!

  3. Joanna! How long will you continue your seasonal classes? Can I sign up for the midsummers class and still be sure that I get the whole year?

  4. i did go for the piligrimage(a place close to my place(home) with a water body but inspite of staying for years in the city for some reason i did not visit that place,i choose that place for piligrimage and iam glad i did) and it was wonderful experiance and felt very serene and powerful and when i came back home i felt a lot confident of myself and my decisions,it was really a moving experiance…i have got the answer to my question(the reason i went to piligrimage)let me wait and watch as to how things unfold and then will share it with you.
    thanks joanna.
    Pooja Rathore

  5. Dearest Joanna,
    Thank You so much for these beautiful pictures and wonderful post ,
    I don’t had the chance to make a pilgrimage { Hope in the future}!!!
    I enjoy walking in nature and trees are my favorite …so I will make
    some of Your notes Joanna and I hang these in a beautiful Fairy Tree
    with my personal wishes…Blessings …gratitudes.
    Blessings from Belgium

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