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Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage

Comparisons with Medieval Pilgrimage and Twentieth Century Religious Tourism

By Michael York

Within the current Western religious world, contemporary Paganism is often cited among the fastest growing spiritual orientations. We find this development in particular among Euro-American and Euro-Oceanic youth. The spirituality involved places a strong emphasis on sacralisation of place and in this respect shares the same intense sensitivity to geographic contour we understand for traditional pre-classical paganism in the Graeco-Roman world. Contemporary Western Paganism involves itself with localising the sacred as well as honouring the sacred in specific locality. In this respect, ancient and contemporary paganism has strong affinities with the dynamics of pilgrimage – especially ecclesiastical practices during the medieval ages. While the time-honoured practice of visiting sacred places for purposes of holiness or healing has persisted into the present, a modern transformation has occurred which we can term religious tourism as opposed to traditional pilgrimage per se. The question this paper wishes to address concerns the ways in which religious tourism differs from medieval pilgrimage and how does the use of and/or visitation to sacred place by contemporary Pagans relate to the pilgrimage-religious tourism continuum and differentiation.

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