This is my second post on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Refer to my first post for more information.
The Road of Souls
The Camino de Santiago was a pilgrimage route long before Christian times. It has an association with a sea goddess whose shrine originally stood at Finisterre, the “End of the World” where the Iberian peninsula ends at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Ancient people believed that souls departed to the west, where the sun set, into this inscrutable ocean. So it seems the original pilgrimage to this site from other parts of Europe had something to do with death, transformation, and rebirth. The Camino’s surviving iconography offers clues, as do the garbled Christian legends.
Some archeoastronomy also seems to be at play, here. The Romans called the Camino the “Milky Way,” and stars and star symbols are still associated with it, including the legend that stars in the sky led people to discover the burial remains of Santiago (the Apostle Saint James) at what is now Santiago de Compostela (which is a corruption of the Latin “campus stellae” or “field of stars”).
To summarize: people for over a thousand years (likely much longer) have traveled a certain route across the Iberian peninsula that was associated with the Milky Way, to a sea shrine, in order to access the underworld, or the place where souls departed this world to be reborn elsewhere. Now read this:
The path traveled is to the west toward the setting sun and according to the now understood legends, the trip lasts four or more days. During the trip there are some choice points where the soul can decide to return to its body. But when it reaches the edge of the disk of the earth it stands at a watery shore, with the underworld below the watery surface and the upper realm above in the night sky. If the soul chooses to go to the realm of the dead (located through the sky above) it must make a journey across the sky but must first make a leap of faith from the earth into the sky into a small portal. . .
I have taken this quote from a Twitter forum Southern Death Cult. I don’t know the source of the quote exactly but what it says I can agree with. Do you think this is about the Camino de Santiago? It certainly sounds exactly like it!
But no, this quote is describing a Native American belief from North America around 1100 CE. I believe the striking parallels of regarding a supernatural journey involving the Milky Way, which existed among the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (an aggregate of similar of Native American cultures), the cultures of Mesoamerica (particularly the Maya), the cultures of the Near East and Mediterranean (and evidently the Iberian peninsula), are not just coincidences. Somehow cultural contact was made and these ideas were spread. I don’t have any clue how but some sort of sea voyages seems likely.
I do not intend to discuss the myriad of evidence but only want to point out some parallels between the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC) and Maya mythology. In all three, the Milky Way is a portal to the other world. The Milky Way is the “Road of Souls” for the dead. The dead travel along this road and are reborn from there. We can also easily say that this means a shaman or other person trained in magical arts, could traverse this road to the other world by means of trance. This is perhaps what people who traveled to the shrine at Finisterre hoped to do. Such an experience would provide them with wisdom, protection from the spirit world, and possibly new powers or capabilities.
The Milky Way Drama
The Christian legend that the body of Saint James was miraculously transported by sea to the Galician coast in a pilot-less boat with no rudder mirrors the Classic Maya legend that the corn god was transported after his death in the “underworld sea” in a “canoe” to the place where his body would be resurrected.
The “canoe” in the Maya story was the Milky Way, when it lies east-west to parallel the horizon, and the story of the corn god is told in the movement of the stars at certain times of the year. I think Saint James’ “boat” probably was also the Milky Way, and that originally he was also a god who was resurrected. So perhaps the real story of Santiago is also astronomical: his “body” was moved across the sky at a time of year when the Milky Way was in an east-west configuration and this was his “boat.” And probably like the Mayan corn god, Santiago was resurrected at the coastal shrine where his body was taken. This was probably re-enacted in an annual ritual. People who walked the Camino to the shrine, were themselves traversing an earthly form of the Milky Way and so were also participating in resurrection.