León came and went and so too did my friend Kevin who finally decided not to finish the Camino. He has left for Barcelona, Rome and eventually the ‘Silk Road’ to the Far East.
Tonight I am writing from the village of Santa Catalina de Somoza about ten kilometres west of Astorga, and truly feel that a new stage of this strange journey has begun. Firstly, I have met a new walking companion from Australia, Ramon, who has just begun his Camino in León.
Ramon has become an interesting companion, sharing many of his hopes and fears as the miles pass away under foot. Unlike the crazy zen-like humour of Kevin, he is more focusssed and adds a new dimension of quality to our previously, slightly absurd lack of routine!
As usual folk come and go and every evening produces a range of interesting albergues. One night we stopped at the strange Jesús donativo in Villar de Mazarife, covered with many articles of spiritual graffiti, reflecting many dimensions, languages and nationalities. The evening culminated in a communal sing-song in which I was shanghaied into playing the guitar.
The evening was most memorable and the sun accompanied us throughout the next day until we stumbled across the amazing Donativo run by two angels, David and André just before Astorga. This was the most profound moment of the whole Camino for me culminating in staying the night and being the guests of these two beautiful human beings. I’ve never met a saint before, but here I believe to have met two.
So many pilgrims passed by and received free meals as we relaxed, and so many missed the opportunity to experience a truly profound Camino moment. I tried in vain to explain to a man whose main concern was that the plates may be dirty- that he was in the presence of a true saint. I may as well have been laughing at the moon. The whole impulse of those passing by was, time and performance… Rush… rush… Rush.
Somehow I feel that if I returned to this place it would not exist. Was this a portal into another dimension? What is the date? What time is it? Where the hell am I? Do I even care?
And so I come to the final point of this whole experience… What came first… The Camino or the religion? Is it pre-Christian, or Catholic?
I feel that the earth is talking to me and that the churches have somehow usurped the old ways. Nothing new, I know… But it really seems to be so. All along the way, there are paganesque symbols, a curious fusion of Catholic and pre-Christian if you will.
I know that there would be many protests if anyone actually took any notice of my article, outside of you my dear friends, but my conclusions are thus… Folk religion is alive and well, and functioning in the north of Spain! The Pope would have a fit if he knew! ( at least the gay-bashing German version would).
What is the nature of the beast? Pagan or Christian? Or even something else?