Pilgrimage as a Quest for the Soul: Reflections from Ireland

On my recent pilgrimage to Ireland I spent three weeks wandering the wild places, connecting with the stories of the land, listening to the voices of Ireland's ancient goddesses, and more. Here are some of my heartfelt reflections on pilgrimage as a quest for the soul.

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Pilgrimage as a Quest for the Soul: Reflections from Ireland

On my recent pilgrimage to Ireland I spent three weeks wandering the wild places, connecting with the stories of the land, listening to the voices of Ireland's ancient goddesses, and more. Here are some of my heartfelt reflections on pilgrimage as a quest for the soul.

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I’m writing these words in an old Irish home in Co. Louth beside a warm fire as the rain falls down upon the window panes. There is something that stirs in my soul at the sound of rain and the crackling firewood, a feeling that carries me into the realms of contemplation. As the sun fades and these handwritten words scrawled on paper fall quietly on the page, I’m reflecting on the past few weeks and my pilgrimage to Ireland.

It has been more than three years since my feet touched these ancestral lands. Three years ago I left a piece of my soul here, and there is a sweetness and sacredness in being reunited, and a realization that part of me never left.

I believe that there is an inherent need for the soul to make the mythic journey of pilgrimage. To feel ourselves transported into time out of time in order to connect with precious aspects of self.

In so many myths and stories from around the world, the protagonist leaves their ordinary life for a time to wander in the wilderness. Pilgrimage requires us to journey away from the “village” and into the unknown. This is an initiatory journey which, at its heart, is a quest for the soul. Pilgrimage is a sacred and vital act that is highly undervalued in modern society.

As I’ve journeyed across this island—from the caves of Connacht, to the wind-swept mountains of Donegal, to the shorelines of Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, to the monuments of the Boyne Valley, to the deep forests and sacred hilltops scattered across this ancient land—I’ve felt the ancient legends speaking to me and through me.

Through the mythic act of wandering the landscape, I felt as though I was continuously pressing my ear to the ground, whispering to the spirit of place, “Tell me your stories. How much can your stories shape me, change me?” 

The land remembers the ancient stories; the myths, the folk tales, the history. The land remembers the wild, mythic women of old—the women who shapeshift and initiate, the goddesses who hold the power of life in the palms of their hands, who hold sway over the elements.

These stories echo in the stones, the sacred waters, the moss covered forests and wet bog lands. They are born from the rich ecology, the web of kinship, and the human relationship with locality and place.

In the Irish tradition, the land is typically represented as being feminine in nature, and I’m especially interested in the goddesses as guardians of place. 

One of the many places I visited associated with the Irish goddesses was a place called Cnoc mBáine in Co. Tyrone (also known as Knockmany) meaning ‘Báine’s hill’. Báine means “whiteness” and according to legend, Queen Báine was the wife of the 1st-century King Túathal Techtmar and was buried here, in the tomb of the earlier goddess Áine. Áine is a complex Sovereignty goddess who is most strongly associated with the sun, the moon, and the crops, and who’s name means “brightness”. Both of these women, historical and mythical, are therefore associated with the hill.

The hill is covered in old, towering trees and lush green ferns, and a Neolithic tomb crowns the hilltop dating to around 3,000 BC with beautiful Neolithic art engraved into the stones. Although I went to visit the tomb, it was the forest surrounding it that enchanted me. As I sat upon the forest floor and closed my eyes, I immediately felt her presence. Áine. The White Lady. Guardian of the forest, walking between the moss covered trees.

Sitting quietly upon the forest floor, I received visions of women gathering upon the hilltop, generation after generation stretching back into the mists of time, to watch the rising of the moon. To dance and leave reverent offerings beneath Áine’s bright silver light. Women who could have been my ancestors.

I left offerings of my own upon a tree trunk and sang sweet songs to Áine. I felt her loving arms wrap around me, and as I breathed in the smell of earth and fern, I wondered…

How did we ever forget the love of the goddess?
How did we ever forget that the land is the goddess who nourishes us, breathes life into us?

I felt myself surrender so completely into the land’s embrace, and I realized that the goddess longs to hold us, just as much as we long to be held in her embrace. This remembrance awakened something so precious inside of me…a calling home.

As I come to the end of this pilgrimage and prepare to return from the wildness of the unknown to the “village” of my ordinary life, I find myself feeling deeply connected to the essence of soul.  To my inner mythology and ecology…a sense that my life is mythical, magical, and meaningful. I’m also aware that medicine has been gathered inside of me along this journey…medicine that will be integrated and shared over time in so many untold ways.

Beloved one, I invite you to think about the role of pilgrimage in your life. Is there a journey that you could take away from your ordinary life and into the unknown, that could enliven and enrich your connection to soul? This might look like a journey to your ancestral lands, or it might be something much more simple, such as a day spent alone in nature. While I acknowledge the privilege of taking pilgrimage, I also believe that with the right planning and support, these kinds of mythic journeys can be accessible to many of us.

Sacred & wild blessings,
Tara

An Introduction to Celtic Feminine Wisdom

P.S. If you’re interested in learning about feminine, ancestral wisdom, I lovingly invite you to join me for An Introduction to Celtic Feminine Wisdom. This is a free 3-day online event happening September 20th, 21st and 22nd designed to connect you with the Celtic feminine traditions & awaken your Inner Wise Woman. 

You will be lovingly guided to:
  • LEARN about ancestral wisdom & the “Celtic” traditions from a feminine perspective
  • CONNECT with Wise Women goddesses from Ireland & Britain
  • AWAKEN your Inner Wise Woman & your own felt-sense of wisdom

You can find out more about the event & register here:

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Meet Tara

My name is Tara Wild and I support women to listen to their inner voice and spiritual guidance through story, ritual and song. I’m a women’s educator, storyteller, and songstress. My passion is connecting women to the wisdom of their ancestors and the many faces of the goddess, and especially to the nature-based feminine wisdom from Ireland.

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