There are timeworn rituals that Santiago pilgrims have followed for many centuries. The altar in the Cathedral of Santiago has a statue of Santiago as it’s central figure. Pilgrims are encouraged to go behind the alter, climb some stairs, and reach around to embrace the statue. It’s an emotional experience. We have walked over 400 miles to do this.
The main altar
Karen weeps as she embraces Santiago. I say a prayer for you as I hug him. May you find peace within.
We make our way to the pillars in the front of the cathedral.
These pillars are Master Mateo’s masterpiece, the Portico da Gloria (Entrance to Glory). The central column has a relief known as the “Tree of Jesse.” Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have placed their hands on the same place on the pillar, wearing five indentations in it from their five fingers. Although a railing prevents modern pilgrims from touching the pillar, I reach toward it to place my hand near the groves, a symbolic connection with the millions of pilgrims who have preceded me.
“That pillar has withstood a thousand years of touching. Why won’t they let us touch it for another thousand years?” Karen asks. “It seems to me that it is thick enough to withstand at least two or three thousand more years of touching.”
“The physical thing is not as important as the spiritual thing,” I tell her.
“I’m just saying,” she relies.
We return outside to observe the Praza da Quintana. The lower area is known as the Quintana of the Dead and the upper area is the Quintana of the Living. Had can you come to terms with the fact that you will die? Can you look into the land of the dead while standing in the land of the living? One way of gaining insight is to follow the inner road. If you practice closing down all contact with the material world, you will experience the pathway toward death. Some people have more of a connection with the land of the dead than others.
On our way back to our room, we saw a black swan. Some people do not believe that black swans exist and, indeed, black swans are rare. Black swans are a metaphor for unusual cognitive experiences, like contacts with the dead.
We watch a black swan swim. Karen’s skepticism is slowly returning but she takes photos of the black swan and tells me about the flood of tears she shed while embracing Santiago.
Lao tsu wrote (chapter 32):
“The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.
If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would be a paradise.
All people would be at peace
and the law would be written in their hearts.
When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their function should end.
Knowing when to stop,
You avoid any danger.
All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.”
My friends, the powerful men and women in this world are not centered in the Tao and our world is not a paradise. But this world is merely one of many worlds. There are ways that you can come to realize this. Some people see apparitions, others describe extrasensory perceptions and out-of-body experiences. All rivers flow into the sea and all valid paths lead to the Tao. Unusual experiences are merely one of our clues regarding the nature of the unseen world.
Our journey to Santiago comes to an end but we have a final destination….Finisterre, known by the Romans as the end of the earth. Before Santiago became a destination for Christian pilgrims, Pagan pilgrims journeyed to Finisterre, the end of the earth.