Take the Staff and Walk
A natural wooden walking staff – a stave, crook or stick – is British Pilgrimage’s distinctive technology. Shape and whittle it, carve designs on it, and be glad.
Visibly, you can distinguish a pilgrim in Britain from an ordinary hiker by their wooden staff. It is a prop used by Moses, Gandalf – all the greats. It’s a classic renewable logistical solution for pilgrims makingtheir journeys toward holy places on foot. A staff can stop stumbles from becoming full wrenches, can propel you uphill and slow you downhill, can investigate puddles to learn if they are in fact lakes, can part seas of nettles, and can pluck distant apples from wayside trees. Staffs can also be tent poles for tarpaulins, to help allay the risk of nighttime rain.
Wood is a conductor, so use your staff to knock greetings on great wayside trees and old stones. It’s a quick way to make contact and pay respects as you go, and an easy way to leave a real but invisible trail. Overnight, prop it up in the best possible places to recharge…
With it you can bash mental turmoil into the forgiving soil. You can spin it in the air to make random direction decisions. You can lean on it, and trust its propulsion uphill and resistance down.
Your association with this stick will become rife with the mana of your pilgrimage. This complex and unique accumulation of carbon is formed from the love of a plant for the sun. It is pure accumulated sunshine, connecting heaven and earth with you in between.
Carrying a stick feels right. It’s one of our oldest and most important technologies. Think of the importance of other staffs – the scythe, the sceptre, the spear, the seed-dibber, the bow and the fishing rod – and you begin to realise why it feels so natural in your hand.
Some people claim less likelihood of encountering malevolence with a five-foot switch of wood in hand – but sticks have two ends, and such thinking can work against you. Also, please do not cut wood from wherever you find it without permission. The BPT is working with regional coppice woodlands to create a stock of quality pilgrim staffs. So if you can’t find anyone to ask before delving for yours, you can always ask us.
You CAN get the staff these days.
Perhaps the greatest use for wooden staffs for a pilgrim is that they can physically embody the challenge of letting go at the end. Pilgrimage is a microcosm of the journey from birth to death. And at the end of pilgrimage, just as in life, we should let go of something we have loved, that has supported and empowered us on the way. In death this is our bodies, but in pilgrimage this can be our staffs, which have almost become extensions of our bodies, and we really don’t want to discard. But it’s vital practice to easily say cheerio. So cast your staff to water, and let the stick carry on its own pilgrimage toward the sea…