In this article I explore the Anima of travel.
Travelling in the age of climate change is always going to bring up significant issues. As we all know, modern-day rapid modes of transport use irreplaceable fossil fuels which contribute significantly to the most pressing crisis of our time. Here I wish to acknowledge this issue from the offset, yet it is important to address the power of travel, which like it or not until alternatives are found, will be a part of this problem. We are intelligent, aware human beings and we know the price, yet the urge to move, travel, explore is still very strong in us and thus we impart the cost onto Mother Earth with guilt and fear. We do it because the cost, to us, is worth it. Why is that? What is it that we receive from travelling to far distant places, or in the simple act of looking out of a window and feeing the movement from one place to another?
Travel has an animistic core. The very act itself is something time and time again people say is what causes them to travel. It’s the journey, not the destination, says the T-shirt. Travel is an act that draws us to step out of comfort and into the unknown. It calls us, and we respond because there is a deep truth within us that we are not complete beings; there is always more to learn, more to see, more to feel and understand.
Travel has long had associated, ancient gods; Mercury and Hermes being the most familiar to us today. Mercury was the Roman god of travel, as well as for business, money and transactions. Hermes is the winged god of the Greek pantheon, which was the direct counterpart of Mercury. There is some reasonable argument that the Celtic Lugos, who gave his name to Carlisle in Cumbria and Lyon in France, is the same deity. His “long arm” stretches over a person who travels from one place to another, he is also the god of shoemakers as described in the Mabinogion and this is reflected in shoemaking guilds in both Spain and Switzerland. Shoes would be a fitting sacred object of the god of Travel if ever I saw one. Yet in my mind Mercury/Lugos/Hermes is the overseeing god, not the thing itself. So, if this is the case, what is the essence of travel? What is the pull of the act, the yearning? Is Travel animistic? Does it have an anima?
I have written before here about how our far distant ancestors were nomads, evolved to move with the seasons and the food source, knowing routes in the land, handed down for generations;
“….of which I speak is that of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer, who takes the pantheon of gods with her as she and her tribe walk Song Lines, put down in time immemorial, even by their reckoning, probably by the gods themselves. This is the root of our indigenousness. The subsequent settling of these people to grow crops and to tend the land meant that those gods of the Song Lines were then static, so they demanded megalithic structures. The megalithic structures of the Neolithic are to gods far, far older than they. They are not there to worship the gods of agriculture as has been assumed, but to appease the gods of the land, that once accompanied the tribe as they walked.”
We are modern incarnations of our ancestors and we have not grown out of this pull. Do the gods appeal directly to us, when we look in the travel agent’s window at sunny, far off places? When a single mother is home-bound, cabin fevered, with tiny children and cannot leave her village, let alone travel, is it the gods of travel which make her pull out the meditation cushion and travel within? Where does this call come from, if not from the deepest reaches of time?
To attempt to explore this further, in 2018 my family and I, two adults and three young children, set off on a worldwide coddiwomple (to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination) of our own. We visited Australia, and then lived in a campervan for two months, touring around Europe, from the UK to Romania and back again. Other than the desire to visit my sister’s home in Oz, we had almost no particular destinations in mind. I wanted to have a good explore of the heartland of British mysticism; Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Tintagel, to follow the trail of King Arthur and the children wanted to go to Rome (which never happened in the end). There were so many adventures that I have promised to write a book about them all one day.
(Coddiwomple is a delightful old English word, now coming back into fashion by overworked rat-racers and Druids like us, desperate to say a resounding “fuck it” to the status quo of a crumbling Britain and get in the van and go. Anywhere. Just out of this modern nonsense. Yet once it was far more frequently used. Gone now are the days of itinerant workers, of Grand Tours for the rich and well to-do. Yet still the yearning for the road remains.)
My mother claims that her grandmother was a Romany Gypsy. I do not know if this is true. If it is, she settled and begat the beginning of a line of people heifed* to the land. Yet, my great uncle lived in a house boat on the river Orwell and never stayed still for very long. We all learned to sail very young and learned also very young how to endure the buttock-numbing boredom of very long road trips around Britain and France. We were not a very settled family. My parents have lived in eleven houses since I was born 40 years ago. And counting. When I meet people whose parents still live in the same house they grew up in I have to remember to not stare.
It has been a year since we set off around the world and photos keep popping up on social media of us. I look puffy and tired. I had been nursing a torn hamstring and deltoid, had been drinking too much and sleeping too little. I had done next to no yoga, which I had been doing most days up until injury. I had put on only a little weight, but in telling places, like around my neck and belly. I look jaded and unhealthy. Did the coddiwomple make it all better? I certainly returned home after nearly four months with healed leg and arm, tanned, yoga-filled and slim. The routine of living outdoors much of the time surrounded by the energy and spirit of three children most certainly worked a healing magic on me that still touches me today. Every day I knew that I was living something very, very ancient; the call of the path, the songline had been sung and we had listened.
Now, a year on, I sit here at my desk in my lovely home, writing about our travelling and reminiscing, trying to put down on paper the call of the road, while at the very same time, still yearning to be off again. I love to be worried about a good camping spot, local history, foods to try, rivers to explore, rather than school term time, work and all that sort of thing. I am a Celtic Brythonic (I suppose) so I would choose Lugos to be the god whose long arm over our coddiwomple stretches in protection and blessing. Yet he is a servant of the far older Anima, of the Travel, the Songline, the Journey.
Travel has Anima, of that I know. This Anima grips us all, and like anything of power, it can be destructive as well as positive and expansive. For me, my yearning for travel has not diminished and at times it feels almost unbearable. In those times I roll out the yoga mat and connect with my inner expanse or sit again on the meditation cushion in front of my altar and travel within. Yet I know sometimes that I am the embodiment of my ancestors who walked these lands, over and over again. I am the daughter of the road, of the rivers and of the seas. I am descended from nomads, of those who lived in the dust and stars of the energy of Travel’s Anima. Travel and I have found an understanding, even through the tussle for power when sometimes it holds sway over me and I rage against the walls, then sometimes I am the one who closes the doors and I dream, settled and at peace at last in my home.
Nobody puts anything worth saying than JRR Tolkien, so here is Bilbo, talking to his nephew Frodo about the road:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”**
*Heifed is a phrase that Cumbrian farmers use to describe sheep that go back to the same place time and time again to give birth. Daughters will attempt to go back to their own birthing place
** The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
For nearly a decade, Harriet Sams has been reconnecting people to wounded places through bearing witness to the places we love and bringing healing to the imminently threatened. For more information please visit: www.radicaljoy.org
6 thoughts on “The Animism of Travel”
I had to reread this and let it soak in for a while. This is so much me…and inspiring. I too have moved a lot, owned nine different homes, multiple states and drives to nowhere in particular that led somewhere special to me. I now split time between Washington and the Panama jungle. I found a remote place back in time and fell in love. Thanks for writing this. The song lines really ring truth to me.
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You’re so welcome. I think that the urge to move and travel the Lines is very strong in many if not all of us in some way.
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Maybe a year ago I was watching Aluna—about the Kogi in Columbia and they trace and travel the Lines and follow them, sometimes in ritual and others to “check” on the earth as the feel inclined to be her caretakers. That was really the first time I’d heard of it.
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When you look at how nomadic all our ancient ancestors were, migrating out of Africa to fill every niche in the world, it seems that the urge to travel, to explore, to find out what’s just over those mountains, down the river, across those woods, is intrinsic to us – part of what makes us human. It is, as you acknowledge, difficult for those of us who love the earth. It’s easier than ever to travel further than ever, but at such cost to the planet. I’m very keen on organisations like the British Pilgrimage Trust who encourage people to travel low-impact (mostly on foot) and explore our own lands more.
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Yes me too. It seems very appropriate to connect with them.
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