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The Pilgrimage, Page 2

Paulo Coelho

  "You must be another pilgrim to Santiago," she said, without preamble. "I need to enter your name in the register of those who walk the Road."

  I gave her my name, and she wanted to know if I had brought "the Scallops." She was referring to the shells adopted as a symbol by pilgrims to the tomb of the apostle; they served as a means of identification for the pilgrims when they met.1

  Before leaving for Spain, I had made a pilgrimage to a place in Brazil called Aparecida do Norte. There, I had purchased an image of Our Lady of the Visitation, mounted on three scallop shells. I took it from my knapsack and offered it to Mme Lourdes.

  "Pretty but not very practical," she said, handing it back to me. "It could break during your pilgrimage."

  "It's not going to break. And I am going to leave it at the tomb of the apostle."

  Mme Lourdes appeared not to have much time for me. She gave me a small card that would help me to get lodging at the monasteries along the Road, stamped it with the seal of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to indicate that I had started the pilgrimage there, and said that I could leave with God's blessing.

  "But where is my guide?" I asked.

  "What guide?" she answered, a bit surprised but also with a gleam in her eye.

  I realized that I had forgotten something very important. In my eagerness to arrive and be attended to, I had neglected to say the Ancient Word--a kind of password that identifies those who belong to the orders of the Tradition. I immediately corrected my mistake and said the word to her. In response, Mme Lourdes quickly snatched from my hands the card she had given me a few moments earlier.

  "You won't be needing this," she said, as she moved a pile of old newspapers that were sitting on top of a cardboard box. "Your road and your stopping places will depend on decisions made by your guide."

  Mme Lourdes took a hat and a cape from the box. They seemed to be very old but well preserved. She asked me to stand in the middle of the room, and she began silently to pray. Then she placed the cape on my shoulders and the hat on my head. I could see that scallop shells had been sewn onto both the hat and the shoulders of the cape. Without interrupting her prayers, the old woman seized a shepherd's crook from the corner of the room and made me take it in my right hand. A small water gourd hung from the crook. There I stood: dressed in Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt that read "I LOVE NY," covered by the medieval garb of the pilgrims to Compostela.

  The old woman approached me and stopped only a foot away. Then, in a kind of trance, placing the palms of her hands on my head, she said, "May the apostle San Tiago be with you, and may he show you the only thing that you need to discover; may you walk neither too slowly nor too fast but always according to the laws and the requirements of the Road; may you obey the one who is your guide, even though he may issue an order that is homicidal, blasphemous, or senseless. You must swear total obedience to your guide."

  I so swore.

  "The Spirit of the ancient pilgrims of the Tradition must be with you during your journey. The hat will protect you from the sun and from evil thoughts; the cape will protect you from the rain and from evil words; the gourd will protect you from enemies and from evil deeds. May the blessing of God, of San Tiago, and of the Virgin Mary be with you through all of your nights and days. Amen."

  Having said this, she returned to her normal manner: hurriedly and with a bit of irritation, she took back the articles of clothing, placed them in the box, and returned the crook with the gourd to the corner of the room; then, after teaching me the password, she asked me to leave, since my guide was waiting for me two kilometers outside of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

  "He hates band music," she said. But even two kilometers away he must have been able to hear it; the Pyrenees are an excellent echo chamber.

  Before I left, I asked what I should do with the car, and she said I should leave the keys with her; someone would come to pick it up. Then, without another word, she descended the stairs and went to the kitchen to inflict more torment on the boy with the sad eyes. I opened the trunk of the car, took out my small blue knapsack with my sleeping bag tied to it, and placed the image of Our Lady of the Visitation in its most protected corner. I put the knapsack on my back and went back to give the keys to Mme Lourdes.

  "Leave Pied-de-Port by following this street to the city gates at the end of the wall," she told me. "And when you get to Santiago de Compostela, say a Hail Mary for me. I have walked the Road so many times that now I content myself with reading in other pilgrims' eyes the excitement that I still feel; I just can't put it into practice anymore because of my age. Tell that to San Tiago. And tell him also that any time now I will join him, following a different road that's more direct and less exhausting."

  I left the small city, passing through the wall at the Spanish Gate. In the past, the city had been on the preferred route for the Roman invaders, and through that gate had also passed the armies of Charlemagne and Napoleon. I walked along, hearing the band music in the distance, and suddenly, in the ruins of a village not far from the city, I was overwhelmed by emotion, and my eyes filled with tears: there in the ruins, the full impact of the fact that I was walking the Strange Road to Santiago finally hit me.

  The view of the Pyrenees surrounding the valley, lit by the morning sun and intensified by the sound of the music, gave me the sensation that I was returning to something primitive, something that had been forgotten by most other human beings, something that I was unable to identify. But it was a strange and powerful feeling, and I decided to quicken my pace and arrive as soon as possible at the place where Mme Lourdes had said my guide would be waiting for me. Without stopping, I took off my shirt and put it in my knapsack. The straps cut into my bare shoulders a bit, but at least my old sneakers were broken in enough that they caused me no discomfort. After almost forty minutes, at a curve in the road that circled around a gigantic rock, I came upon an old abandoned well. There, sitting on the ground, was a man of about fifty; he had black hair and the look of a gypsy, and he was searching for something in his knapsack.

  "Hola," I said in Spanish, with the same timidity that I show whenever I meet anyone new. "You must be waiting for me. My name is Paulo."

  The man interrupted his search through the knapsack and looked me up and down. His gaze was cold, and he seemed not at all surprised by my arrival. I also had the vague impression that I knew him.

  "Yes, I was waiting for you, but I didn't know that I was going to meet you so soon. What do you want?"

  I was a little disconcerted by his question and answered that it was I whom he was to guide along the Milky Way in search of my sword.

  "That's not necessary," said the man. "If you want me to, I can find it for you. But you have to decide right now whether you want me to."

  This conversation with the stranger seemed increasingly weird to me. But since I had sworn complete obedience, I tried to respond. If he could find my sword for me, it would save an enormous amount of time, and I could return immediately to my friends and my business in Brazil; they were always on my mind. This could also be a trick, but there was no harm in giving him an answer.

  As I was about to say yes, I heard a voice behind me say, in heavily accented Spanish, "You don't have to climb a mountain to find out whether or not it's high."

  It was the password! I turned and saw a man of about forty, in khaki Bermudas and a white, sweaty T-shirt, staring at the gypsy. He was gray-haired, and his skin was darkened by the sun. In my haste, I had forgotten the most elementary rules of self-protection and had thrown myself body and soul into the arms of the first stranger I had met.

  "The ship is safest when it's in port, but that's not what ships were built for," I said, as the correct response. Meanwhile, the man looked directly at the gypsy and the gypsy stared at the man. Both confronted each other, with no sign of fear or challenge, for some time. Then the gypsy left the knapsack on the ground, smiled disdainfully, and walked off in the direction of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

  "My name is Petru
s,"2 said the new arrival as soon as the gypsy had disappeared behind the huge stone that I had circled a few minutes earlier. "Next time, be more cautious."

  I heard a sympathetic tone in his voice; it was different from the tone of the gypsy and of Mme Lourdes. He lifted the knapsack from the ground, and I noticed that it had the scallop shell on its back. He produced a bottle of wine, took a swallow, and offered it to me. After I had taken a drink, I asked him who the gypsy was.

  "This is a frontier route often used by smugglers and terrorist refugees from the Spanish Basque country," said Petrus. "The police hardly ever come near here."

  "But you're not answering me. You two looked at each other like old acquaintances. And I had the feeling that I knew him, too. That's why I was so much at ease."

  Petrus smiled and said that we should move along. I picked up my things, and we began to walk in silence. From Petrus's smile I knew that he was thinking the same thing I was.

  We had met with a devil.

  We walked along without talking for a while, and I could see that Mme Lourdes had been right: from almost three kilometers away, we could still hear the sound of the band. I wanted to ask some questions of Petrus--about his life, his work, and what had brought him here. I knew, though, that we still had seven hundred kilometers to cover together and that the appropriate moment would come for having all of my questions answered. But I could not get the gypsy out of my mind, and finally I broke the silence.

  "Petrus, I think that the gypsy was the devil."

  "Yes, he was the devil." When he confirmed this, I felt a mixture of terror and relief. "But he isn't the devil that you know from the Tradition."

  In the Tradition, the devil is a spirit that is neither good nor evil; he is considered to be the guardian of most of the secrets that are accessible to human beings and to have strength and power over material things. Since he is a fallen angel, he is identified with the human race, and he is always ready to make deals and exchange favors. I asked what was the difference between the gypsy and the devil of the Tradition.

  "We are going to meet others along the Road," he smiled. "You will see for yourself. But just to give you an idea, try to remember your entire conversation with the gypsy."

  I reviewed the two phrases I had heard from him. He had said that he was waiting for me and had affirmed that he would seek out the sword for me.

  Then Petrus said that those two phrases fit perfectly well in the mouth of a thief who had been surprised in the act of robbing a knapsack: they were aimed at gaining time and at winning favor while he quickly figured out a means of escape. On the other hand, the two phrases could mean exactly what they said.

  "Which is right?"

  "Both are true. That poor thief, while he defended himself, picked out of the air the very words that needed to be said to you. He thought that he was being intelligent, but he was really acting as the instrument of a greater power. If he had fled when I arrived, we wouldn't be having this conversation now. But he confronted me, and I read in his eyes the name of a devil that you are going to meet somewhere along the Road."

  For Petrus, the meeting had been a favorable omen, since the devil had revealed himself so early.

  "Meanwhile, don't worry about him because, as I have already told you, he won't be the only one. He may be the most important one, but he won't be the only one."

  We continued walking, passing from a desertlike area to one where small trees were scattered here and there. Once in a while Petrus broke the silence to tell me some historic fact or other about the places we were passing. I saw the house where a queen had spent the last night of her life and a small chapel encrusted with rocks, which had been the hermitage of a saintly man who the few inhabitants of the area swore could perform miracles.

  "Miracles are very important, don't you think?" Petrus said.

  I agreed but said that I had never witnessed a great miracle. My apprenticeship in the Tradition had been much more on the intellectual plane. I believed that when I recovered my sword, then, yes, I would be capable of doing the great deeds that my Master did.

  "But what my Master performs are not miracles, because they don't contradict the laws of nature. What my Master does is utilize these forces to..."

  I couldn't finish the sentence because I couldn't explain how my Master had been able to materialize spirits, move objects from one place to another without touching them, or, as I had witnessed more than once, create patches of blue sky on a cloudy afternoon.

  "Maybe he does those things simply to convince you that he has the knowledge and the power," answered Petrus.

  "Yes, maybe so," I said, without much conviction.

  We sat down on a stone because Petrus told me that he hated to smoke cigarettes while he was walking. According to him, the lungs absorbed much more nicotine if one smoked while walking, and the smoke nauseated him.

  "That was why the Master refused to let you have the sword," Petrus continued. "Because you didn't understand why he performs his prodigious feats. Because you forgot that the path to knowledge is a path that's open to everyone, to the common people. During our journey, I'm going to teach you some exercises and some rituals that are known as the practices of RAM. All of us, at some time in our lives, have made use of at least one of them. Every one of these practices, without exception, can be discovered by anyone who is willing to seek them out, with patience and perspicacity, among the lessons that life itself teaches us.

  "The RAM practices are so simple that people like you, who are used to making life too complicated, ascribe little value to them. But it is they that make people capable of achieving anything, absolutely anything, that they desire.

  "Jesus glorified the Father when his disciples began to perform miracles and cures; he thanked God for having kept such things secret from wise people and for revealing them to simple folk. When all is said and done, if we believe in God, we have to believe also that God is just."

  Petrus was absolutely right. It would be a divine injustice to allow only those people who were learned and who had the time and money to buy expensive books to have access to true knowledge.

  "The true path to wisdom can be identified by three things," said Petrus. "First, it must involve agape, and I'll tell you more about this later; second, it has to have practical application in your life. Otherwise, wisdom becomes a useless thing and deteriorates, like a sword that is never used.

  "And finally, it has to be a path that can be followed by anyone. Like the road you are walking now, the Road to Santiago."

  We walked for the rest of the afternoon, and only when the sun began to disappear behind the mountains did Petrus decide to stop again. All around us the highest peaks of the Pyrenees still shone in the last light of day.

  Petrus told me to clear a small area on the ground and to kneel there.

  "The first RAM practice will help you to achieve rebirth. You will have to do the exercise for seven consecutive days, each time trying to experience in some different way your first contact with the world. You know how difficult it was for you to make the decision to drop everything and come here to walk the Road to Santiago in search of a sword. But this was difficult only because you were a prisoner of the past. You had been defeated before, and you were afraid that it could happen again. You had already achieved things, and you were afraid you might lose them. But at the same time, something stronger than any of that prevailed: the desire to find your sword. So you decided to take the risk."

  I said that he was right but that I still had the worries he described.

  "That doesn't matter. The exercise, little by little, will free you from the burdens that you have created in your life."

  And Petrus taught me the first RAM practice: the Seed Exercise.

  "Do it now for the first time," he said.

  I lowered my head between my knees, breathed deeply, and began to relax. My body obeyed without question, perhaps because we had walked so far during the day and I was exhausted. I began to list
en to the sound of the earth, muffled and harsh, and bit by bit I transformed myself into a seed. I didn't think. Everything was dark, and I was asleep at the center of the earth. Suddenly, something moved. It was a part of me, a minuscule part of me that wanted to awaken, that said that I had to leave this place because there was something else "up there." I wanted to sleep, but this a part insisted. I began to move my fingers, and my fingers began to move my arms--but they were neither fingers nor arms. They were a small shoot that was fighting to overcome the force of the earth and to move in the direction of that "something up there." I felt my body begin to follow the movement of my arms. Each second seemed like an eternity, but the seed needed to be born; it needed to know what that "something up there" was. With immense difficulty, my head, then my body, began to rise. Everything was too slow, and I had to fight against the force that was pushing me down toward the center of the earth where before I had been tranquil, dreaming an eternal dream. But I was winning, I was winning, and finally I broke through something and was upright. The force that had been pressing down on me suddenly ceased. I had broken through the earth and was surrounded by that "something up there."

  The "something up there" was the field. I sensed the heat of the sun, the hum of the mosquitoes, the sound of a river that ran in the distance. I arose slowly, with my eyes closed, and felt that at any moment I was going to become dizzy and fall to the ground. But meanwhile I continued to grow. My arms were spreading and my body stretching. There I was, being reborn, wanting to be bathed both inside and out by the immense sun that was shining and that was asking me to continue to grow more, stretch more, and embrace it with all of my branches. I was stretching my arms more and more, and the muscles throughout my body began to hurt. I felt that I was a thousand meters tall and that I could embrace mountains. And my body was expanding, expanding until the pain in my muscles became so intense that I couldn't bear it, and I screamed.

  The Seed Exercise

  Kneel on the ground. Then seat yourself on your heels and bend forward so that your head touches your knees. Stretch your arms behind you. You are now in a fetal position. Relax, releasing all of your tensions. Breathe calmly and deeply. Little by little you will perceive that you are a tiny seed, cradled in the comfort of the earth. Everything around you is warm and delicious. You are in a deep, restful sleep.