I hope this finds you well. Now that I have completed my Camino, I have entered a period of reflection on all that I have experienced and learned along the way. In this post, I share with you my thoughts on the different kinds of symbols I carried with me or found along the Camino trail. Some will, no doubt, be familiar with you already, especially those of you who have walked your own Camino (s), while others might be new to you.
Anyway, I will be interested to hear back from you about your own experiences of symbols and what they mean to you.
Symbols from home
In my last post, I mentioned that I had carried some symbols with me all the way from my home in Battersea to the end of the road in Muxia and back to Santiago. They are pictured in the feature image above and are symbols of my close-knit family:
Gold locket – This locket belonged to my mum and contains pictures of our family inside. As you are aware already, I dedicated my pilgrimage to my mum after she died, so this seemed an appropriate symbol for me to carry, to remind me of her;
Gold signet ring – this ring belonged to my dad. He always wore it and as he, too, has passed on, I wanted a reminder of him with me on my journey;
Wooden statue of the Virgin Mary – this statue is from my Auntie Jose and came from Lourdes originally. My Auntie has a strong faith and encouraged me along my journey. By carrying this symbol I felt close to her across the miles;
Symbols from St. Jean Pied de Port
I carried two symbols with me from St. Jean Pied de Port:
Scallop shell – most pilgrims carry a real scallop shell tied to their backpacks as a symbol of their pilgrimage. I obtained mine from the pilgrim office in St Jean Pied de Port when I received my first passport stamp. There are many interpretations of the scallop shell symbol. Some say that medieval pilgrims used the scallop shells to sip water from streams or as a utensil for eating out of a bowl. Scallop shells are abundant on the northern beaches of Spain, if pilgrims had scallop shells, it is said this was proof that they had completed their pilgrimage. Another more modern interpretation is that the grooves in the shell depict the many different European starting points of the Camino, all leading to a single point – Santiago, at the base of the shell. Whichever way you look at it though, this humble symbol from nature has become intricately entwined with the Camino de Santiago and is beautiful in its simplicity;
Saint Christopher medal – you might remember that I met up with an American lady called Janie on the first day of my trip. We travelled from Biarritz to St. Jean Pied de Port in the Express Bourricot minibus and then the next day we met up for coffee and lunch from Janie in St Jean Pied de Port. Alan and I passed Janie on our way up the Rue de Napoleon out of St Jean Pied de Port. A short while later Janie came by us and pressed a St. Christopher medal, blessed by the Pope into my hand, and she said, “May it keep you safe”. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travellers. I carried it all the way along the Camino and I still keep it in my purse today;
Symbols I encountered along the Camino de Santiago and Camino Finisterre
Sword – el Camino de Santiago is often referred to as “The Way of the Sword”, as it is a pilgrim route on which pilgrims are purported to fight their demons and discover their strength. The sword symbol is incorporated into the familiar blood red Cross of St. James and depicts the chivalrous character of the Saint and his martyrdom. I really struggle with this symbol because it is also one of violence, conflict and loss of life and reminds me of the blood shed along the pilgrimage route across the ages. For me, I prefer to reflect on the sword as a metaphor for speaking out in truth and standing up for justice, so yes in a way, it is a symbol of strength in character. How do you view the sword?
Labyrinth or the spiral – I’m sure many of you have also noticed the spiral symbol represented in different ways along the Camino. Sometimes the spiral is a walkable labyrinth made out of stones. Alan and I walked round one in the early stage of our pilgrimage and I saw another one in front of the Cruz de Ferro. The spiral seemed to pop up everywhere, usually as graffiti or in jewellery souvenirs. The spiral is very common in celtic art and has numerous interpretations. It can represent the path leading from outer consciousness (materialism, ego, outward perception) to the inner soul (enlightenment, unseen essence, cosmic awareness). It can also signify the movement between the inner (intuitive, intangible) and outer (matter, manifested) worlds. The spiral is found in many forms within nature itself and can be considered a pattern of life. It can represent the expanding consciousness of nature, beginning at the centre and expanding outwards and is the way of all things.
To summarise, the implications of this symbol are:
- Evolution and holistic growth
- Letting go, surrender, release
- Awareness of the one within the context of the whole
- Connectivity and union with deific and cosmic energies
- Revolutions of time, stars, planets and the way of natural progress
What does the spiral mean to you?
The following symbols are living ones I encountered along my path; they are animal totems, or ‘power animals’ and in many cultures, animals are believed to be messengers and guides:
Snake – During the early stage of my Camino, when I walked with Laurie and we discussed our healing practices, a small black snake crossed our path. In many cultures, the snake is revered as a powerful totem representing the source of life and is connected to primal energy. When the snake spirit animal appears it offers spiritual guidance signifying that healing opportunities, change, important transitions and increased energy are on the way. As the snake animal glides along the ground, it also offers a reminder to us to remain grounded and connected to the earth;
Black cat – A while later, when I ambled through the Meseta, and fell into step with Chris and Martin, a black cat walked crossed our path. The cat has many meanings, usually around the need to balance opposites such as independence while enjoying social connections, light and dark, action and rest for example. Cat wisdom also reveals the importance of the spirit of adventure, curiosity, timing in action and courage to explore the unknown or the unconscious, as well as healing from the inside out. People who have the cat as their power animal are said to be deeply relaxed with ‘self’ (i.e. comfortable in their own skin), extremely psychic and creative;
Fox – I encountered foxes twice on my Camino. The first one crossed my path on my descent from Cruz de Ferro and the other one when I walked through the woodland to Finisterre. The fox, as a spirit animal, is a teacher providing guidance on swiftly finding a way around obstacles by developing quick thinking and adaptability. Other symbolic meanings include physical or mental responsiveness, increased awareness, cunning, seeing through deception, a call to be discerning and an affinity with nocturnal activities and dream work;
Magpies – I lost count how many times I observed magpies flying close to me at different points along the Camino, mostly in the second half of the walk and particularly when I was on my own. Often, I see them at home in the Warwickshire countryside too. Magpies remind us that obsession with the material world will not nurture our spiritual journey and growth. Instead, they encourage us to follow our true calling in life by being all that we can be and enter into the world of opportunity. A person who encounters a magpie as a power animal is one, who is comfortable with taking risks, fearless in the face of adversity and will often be on the front lines of any endeavour or task. He or she valiantly defends the basic right to give life a shot, no matter what the risks nor what others believe. Magpies urge us to find a balance between knowing when to fight when the time is right and when to stop and contemplate what is on offer;
Robin – Lastly, but by no means least, the humble robin red-breast flew alongside me at several stages of my walk, but especially towards the end of my journey and when I was hiking alone. I took this to be a sign from my mum, that she wanted to communicate with me and reassure me that she accompanied me along my journey. A robin represents new growth and renewal in many areas of life and teaches us to embrace changes with joy, laughter and a song in our hearts. A robin, as a power animal, shows us how to ride the passion within our hearts, become independent and self reliant through changes and how to move forward gracefully, with tenacity, perseverance and assertion.
All of these animal messengers have given me great encouragement along the Camino de Santiago and Camino Finisterre. In summary, they have revealed to me three important lessons. The first is about how I can incorporate new beginnings with faith and trust in the process. The second reveals an important truth, that I must believe in myself and use my intuition, for this reflects the inspiration that is given to me by source (or God or Great Spirit). Thirdly, I am more than ready to sing my own song for a new period in my life.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you have any thoughts about symbols that have resonated with your heart, while you have walked the Camino, please do drop me a line below.
For now, I send you reiki blessings and peace, love and light,