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My Camino Way Series Article #7



The following is an excerpt from my new book Beoming Love released June 2018

Photo Credit: Argia, 2008; Akelarre (Black Sabbat) from Zugarramurdi (2009 Witches Day). Navarre, Spain.; Publc Common, Wikipedia

Sunday September 23, 2012, Najera, Spain


The noise in the streets went on into the wee hours of the morning - as the entire town seemed to be partying on my birthday.  


After my usual shower, meditation and a coffee in the morning, I left Logroño just after 7:30 am.  


I've never been one to celebrate birthdays. The best gift I could receive was to talk with Anne-Marie and my family, and today I was especially looking forward to those phone calls.


The road from Logroño to Najera, while occasionally paved, was often a dirt path that meanders through farmland and the manicured fields that are the famous vineyards of la Rioja - the very same fields I was afforded a bird's eye view of yesterday, while at the San Pedro Church ruins, where the Spanish "odd fellow" took me.


For the most part, the terrain was mercifully flat, at least compared to the many high hills I'd grown accustomed to climbing. 


The entire day I walked solo - a seven-hour walking meditation - arriving in Najera around 3 pm. After another quick shower at the hostel there, I went in search of a computer and a telephone to make my calls home. With the five hour time difference to New Brunswick,  I had about 40 minutes to synch with the time Anne-Marie and I had arranged.


I didn't want to miss the call. 


A fellow from the hostel knew of a computer store about a kilometre down the road, where he occasionally went to call his family in France. He offered to walk with me and I gratefully  accepted. When we got there, however, the store was closed. According to the sign on its door, we had a half an hour to kill before it opened. So we decided to go for a refreshment at a bar across the street, named Bar Virginia.  


The place was almost empty but it was cozy enough. We sat down at a table and the server, a mature woman I presumed was Virginia, the owner of the bar, came over to us. The woman who I will call Virginia (although it wasn't actually confirmed that this was her name) was also a "white witch".  She welcomed us and asked were we interested in having  a reading with her. My friend declined. I, on the other hand, thought it was a great idea. Conversation was limited and the computer shop was closed. But the door to magic had just opened. How could I not walk in?  


Interest in the occult has skyrocketed in recent years, as part of a wider interest in less conventional forms of spirituality. Up until the 1960s, witches apparently still gathered in covens in various parts of Spain's Basque region, not too far from here - beside rivers, in caves or meadows and on hilltops wherever there were clusters of old trees. People come from all over to go on specialized tours that explore the history of witches in Europe. In Zugarramurdi, Navarre, the residents still celebrate the "day of the witch" during summer solstice, by having a bonfire in the caves near Zugarramurdi, thus calling up ancient pagan rituals.

There is an equally keen but rather macabre fascination in the famous Basque Witch Trials that took place in Logrono in the early 17th century, after the Church went on their witch hunt across the land and rounded up thousands of men, women and children suspected of being in cohorts with the Devil.


Perhaps the woman I was about to get a reading from had ancestors who were part of that terrible history. Witches from earlier centuries passed down their craft and knowledge of healing through the oral tradition, so it wasn't implausible.


I felt a chill for a moment and quickly shook off the darkness.


I was intrigued to know what Virginia, the White Witch of Najera, would say on my birthday - especially since my plans had been foiled.


The White Witch didn't speak much English but she chatted us up nevertheless, offering us each two shells, one being a small scallop shell, the traditional symbol of the Way, with religious associations. For those who practiced witchraft in olden days the sea shell was a powerful symbol of the Moon Goddess. It was thought that the moon's influence on the tides is so strong it infuses the shells with energy. Hence shells were (and continues to be) used in various rituals for varying purposes - for spells, to balance chakras, to cleanse, heal and among other uses, protect the wearer from harm. Different shells have different powers as well.  Scallop shells are sometimes used to aid in meditation, whereas Moon shells are thought to increase psychic awareness.  


 Upon placing the shells in my hand, the witch paused and noted the energy in me. 


"Hmmm," she said. "Very high, your energy ... is very high." 


She got no argument from me. I'd been trying to balance my energy ever since I hit Logrono. It felt as if a current of electricity was coursing through my veins. 


With intense eyes the color of olives, the White Witch studied my face. After a few seconds of scrutiny, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, released it and opened her eyes again:   


"You will get what you are working for," she said matter-of-factly


"What do you mean?" I asked (I was working toward several goals).


"Regarding your wife," she said.


"Do you mean Anne-Marie?" (Anne-Marie wasn't presently my wife but the idea was certainly on my mind).


"Yes," she looked at me with some interest, as if to say "You have more than one wife?" 


And again she echoed her divination: "You will get what you wish for, with respect to your wife."


I don't know what it was, exactly, that the woman saw, or sensed, but her reading worked for me.


Most of the time I felt strong in my faith that everything would unfold as it should. Still, I am  human and so I did battle occasionally with fears of loss and lonelinenss and of being abandoned.  While on El Camino, being separated from friends and family - and missing the touch of  a woman - these feelings were at times particularly acute.


It was much more preferable to keep walking the Camino with a promise (however uncertain) of Anne-Marie at the end of the road, than it was to imagine her not being there at all. 



As we exited Bar Viginia and crossed the street,  I had an extra spring in my step, no doubt due to the White Witch's prophecy.  I couldn't wait to speak with Anne-Marie. When we got to the computer store, however, the sign indicated it wouldn't  be open until 5 pm - another 1/2 hour from now. So we went to Plan B: a public phone by the bus station, which turned out to be quite  the comedy show. 


The fellow helping me had never used a telephone calling card before and could not be convinced that the Country Code for Canada was really “1”. 


"Trust me," I said, "I'm from Canada. I call home all the time. The code is 1."


He shook his head, skeptically. For reasons I could not fathom, this good fellow who went out of his way to help me now seemed intent on challenging this basic bit of knowledge I possessed about my own country's code. But since my Spanish was next to nil, and making the call would be difficult to impossible without a fluent speaker, I suggested we go to another establishment for help. 


We wandered about for a while, but with no luck. The Canadian phone code, it seemed, was a mystery to everyone in Najera.


Just when I was beginning to worry that I'd miss my special birthday call to Anne-Marie, a friendly young lady who worked at a cafe down the street came to our rescue. With a slightly better grasp of English, she confirmed that the code was indeed "1" and offered to go with us to make the call. 


So off we went, the three of us - a hotel clerk, a pilgrim and a barkeep - and soon we were gathered around telephone booth outside a bus terminal like the Three Stooges, making a federal case over a telephone call. By the looks of us you'd think we were trying to crack an international spy code rather than a phone code - except we were giggling like children the whole time. 


Finally, in between chuckles, I managed to get the bar lady to follow my instructions with the calling card and, much to my relief, after a few more bleeps I could hear my sweetheart at the other end of the receiver saying hello, with a lilt in her voice.


It was, suddenly, the loveliest word I'd ever heard.  Hello.


So it all worked out in the end. I had a grand little communion with my darling Anne-Marie, who was bursting with stories of her adventures at home, taking dancing lessons and making new friends. I was a tad bit jealous, but very happy for her. Everyone was well and full of warm birthday wishes. My energy had also settled down, at least for the time being. If I was really lucky tonight, maybe I'd get that full eight-hours in never-neverland - the deep sleep that eludes the vast majority of pilgrims and what getting lucky means on the Camino to most folks. Though I won't hold my breath for that one.


One of my intentions when I set out on El Camino was to step out of my accountant's role and embrace the spirit of adventure more fully. In order to do that, you have to let go of expectations and know that foiled plans were simply new doors opening to new opportunities.


Trust in the Universe, my mantra went, all the way from Logroño to Najera.  


I knew the White Witch's prophecy was not set in stone. But her essence was rooted in an ancient culture whose peoples had suffered attrocities at the hands of the oppressor - and yet, the wisdom inherent in paganism has survived despite that, and so I chose to hold onto her words and see the prophecy as a good omen. What mattered most was that I keep allowing these little adventures to unfold and trust that they would take me where I was meant to go.


The more we trust in the universe, the more freely love flows into our lives, in its myriad forms. Little acts of kindness from strangers, the sun rising over the hills in the morning, friends and family waiting at home for your call. All we need do is open our hearts and let it in. That's when the Grand Adventure begins.


Stay tuned next week for more El Camino stories. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me if you’re considering El Camino as a relationship sabbatical or simply for your own spiritual growth. There’s plenty of information on El Camino and many ways to walk it. So, if anything has resonated with you while reading this, it may be a special sign, divinely arranged just for you.  


Buen Camino, Pilgrim

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