|[a] Pilgrim's Peak RL|
|[b] Pilgrim's Peek RL|
For, with whatever different motive we journey, we follow a custom
ingrained for centuries, the custom of pilgrimage. What lies at the
root of this practice? Every religion appears to have some sacred
sites. Where there is a definite founder, the places associated with
him are obviously of interest. Therefore in Sinai, in Palestine, in
Nepaul, in Arabia, in Persia, as well as in Shantung, are a few of the
localities of historical importance. Only second to the founder will be
the great missionaries, and then come the local saints; the scenes of
their labours will receive attention...In all such cases, it was natural
that mere curiosity, or veneration of the departed man, should attract
And as each century enriched the place with new associations, more
and more objects of interest accumulated, till the city might become a
thorough museum of history. And in the great majority of cases,
expectations of healing, entertained by the visitors, have led to a
general belief in local miracles, with constant increments of shrines and
relics...[Then] there came a time when visitors went, moved by more than
mere curiosity, sentiment, history. These places were felt to be hold
ground and men went not simply as tourists, but as pilgrims.
While this was not the deepest explanation I had ever read about the origin of holy sites, it was serviceable and even just a little bit compelling. On the other hand, it did not approach the brilliance of Marcel Granet's 1922 description of teeming, bubbling, frothing religious energy fairly flowing from the social engagements on holy ground in early China. No, Geil's description was somewhat more wooden and incremental, with interest in religious founders being layered o'er by thickening levels of saintliness and an accompanying collection of accoutrements in the form of relics. It was believable, I critiqued, but in a sloppy pseudo-objectivist sort of way. I was feeling a little mean, and beginning to think that this stiff American had gotten a B- on his first real test of religious insight. He hadn't failed—not by a long shot—but he could not put his finger on just what makes holy sites dazzle. For that, we need the brilliance of French sinologists in the Durkheimian tradition. We need Marcel Granet.
|[c] Pilgrim's Pique RL|
I put down The Sacred 5 of China and went to find my copy of Marcel Granet's The Religion of the Chinese People. For perhaps the hundredth time, I reread the most spectacular description of holy places I have ever seen. I was quite aware that mine was a minority opinion, and that many readers (far too beholden for my tastes to a misplaced and pre-Kantian misunderstanding of objective "rigor") would find Granet's description prohibitively French. Where were the footnotes? Where was the reason? It all just sounds, said one critic, "a bit too literary."
Undeterred, I opened to the section called "Holy Places and Peasant Festivals." It crossed my mind that what I was now doing, in the spirit of systematic reading, was the highest level—moving from one argument to another, and then engaging them in my own mind. Mortimer Adler calls such reading "syntopical," and I was preparing to put William Edgar Geil in the path of an intellectual radial arm saw called "French sinology." I was confident that Marcel Granet would lead again to the lieux saint, the holy place.
The location of these Holy Places is quite well marked out for some
parts of China; but all I can describe is the general appearance, the
ritual landscape of the Festivals. For the unfolding of their traditional
ceremonies, they required a terrain variegated with woods, water,
vales, and heights. There the crowd of pilgrims spread themselves,
come from afar, often in carts, dressed in seasonal clothes that were
freshly woven and of which the dazzling newness declared the
prosperity of each family. In their finery, the women folk, usually invisible
and shut up in their hamlets, showed themselves in groups and shone
like clouds. With their sprigged robes, their grey or madder-red-dresses,
they appeared as beautiful as the mallow or cherry blossom.
Groups of people made or renewed relationships. Drawing one another
by the sleeve, taking one another by the hand, they gave themselves up
to the joy of meetings long and impatiently awaited and which had to be
of short duration. In the enthusiasm of these solemn assemblies they
moved up and down in all directions over the terrain, filling it with their
happiness and feeling that happiness fed by memories recovered at their
contact with the witness of all the potent joys of their race.
|[d] Pilgrim's Parchment RL|
They wished to make this beneficent contact as intimate as possible;
from it there seemed to come to them a prodigious enlargement of their
inner life. They experienced the tutelary power whose sanctity spread
from every corner of the landscape, blessed forces which they strove to
capture in every way. Holy was the place, sacred the slopes of the valley
they climbed and descended, the stream they crossed with their skirts
tucked up, the blooming flowers they plucked, the ferns, the buses, the
white elms, the great oaks and the wood they took from them: the lit
bonfires, the scent of the nosegays, the spring water in which they
dipped themselves, and the wind that dried them as they came from
bathing, all had virtues, unlimited virtues; all was a promise given to all
hopes. And the animals which teemed and also held their seasonal
assemblies, grasshoppers gathering under the grass, the arrested flights
of birds of passage, ospreys gathered together on sandy islets and shared
in the holiness of the place and the moment. Their calls, their chases,
were signals, emblems, a language in which men heard an echo of their
They felt themselves strong by their harmony with the natural order.
Their festivals opened and closed the rainy season. Were the festivals
regulated by the first and last rainbows to appear? Or did they regulate
their appearance? In these gatherings where rural concord was forged
in rhythmic time, all, exalted by a sentiment of joyous power, imagined
that they cooperated in the harmony of nature. Their creative joy turned
into a need to worship from which the earth set aside for their
gatherings benefited, divine land where everything merited a cult, the
great isolated trees, the little woods, the pools, the confluences of rivers,
the gushing fountains, the mounds, the split stones, and the rocks which
seemed to bear the imprints of giant footsteps.
|[e] Pilgrims' Passage RL|
Picking up anew The Sacred 5 of China, I knew I should give it another chance. With regard to pilgrimage, Geil had acquitted himself reasonably well. Still, just a little bit of the initial luster had worn off. Here was a religious person—more on that soon—who couldn't quite convey the religious excitement of pilgrimage. I knew I was being terribly harsh and rather opinionated in this regard, and declared the readerly version of a truce, waiting to see what the rest of Geil's preface held for me. In one sense, he was two-for-two already. He had passed my fairly critical review of five-phase cosmology and pilgrimages, albeit with higher scores on the former, like a verbally-challenged math whiz taking the SAT. Let's give him a 700 on cosmology and a 450 on pilgrimage. Not everyone can match Marcel Granet's perfect 1600, after all.
Or maybe I was just being mean. I kept on reading.
Accidental 6e Accidental 6f Accidental 6g Accidental 6h
|[f] Pilgrim's Portal RL|