Magic on the Camino Frances

In May of 2023, my husband, Paul and I flew on to Europe to walk what ended up to be the most magical of all the long-distance hikes that we have ever done, the Camino Frances. This is a story of that journey, and it is full of magic.

I will get to the journey momentarily, but first I want to start from what might seem like an unlikely place  – Ian McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things (a continuum of his first book The Master and his Emissary) – illustrating how our brain comprehends the world, in particular how our left and right hemispheres process it differently. It is fascinating to listen to his interviews, the best of which are with John Cleese, who, apart from being side splittingly funny, declares it to be the most significant book he has ever read.

It is exciting, groundbreaking and profound – at a thousand pages too complex to summarise. The most important point of it – why McGilchrist says he wrote it – was to shine light on the urgent need to question the quality of attention we bring to the world; that a world based on looking at it from the perspective of utility (the left hemisphere apprehends the world in order to exploit it) is the slave, the emissary, not the master, of the fuller picture of a world which the right hemisphere sees (of significance and meaning and morality). He argues further that paying attention co-creates the world. What and how you pay attention, and what qualities you bring to how you pay attention, literally create the world, and therefore it is a moral act. With parallels in contemporary physics and many religions, it has profound implications, and legitimises so much of the experience we have of the world, but perhaps don’t talk about much or value enough at present. Who today speaks comfortably of meaning or morality?

On the Camino you do…

Mark and I in a deep and meaningful talk while thinking about lunch.

Seeing significance in the world around us, building meaning, storytelling, some major themes in McGilchrest’s work, reflect what I think was the best paragraph I wrote in my PhD thesis (pub. 2015), based on my film installation of four female scientists doing breakthrough research:

My final quote I take from Signs of Meaning in the Universe, by Jesper Hoffmeyer. Were it not for mutation, he says, life would not occur:

And why not admit what reason can never get away from anyway: The world is the most wonderful mistake of all … Fallibility is, in actual fact, what this book is all about – signification and fallibility being the two inseparable sides of the same elementary phenomenon.413

The accident, chance, and serendipity inherent in the discovery processes of the scientists I recorded in my films, and the fragility of the process of making these films, point to the duality Hoffmeyer refers to. They become significant because they are in some measure accidental, out of the ordinary. (Eastland, 2015 ).

The universe is full of significance and meaning and morality if we pay attention. Which finally (many apologies for this long and meandering introduction!), brings me to the Camino.

Nowhere was this more evident than in walking the Camino – an enchanting walk, full of significance and meaning – and magic! – if you paid attention.

Storks sat on spires, harbingers of the future, angels were everywhere, stories wove together and knots were untangled, magic happened every day. We became peregrinos on the Camino Frances walking from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela then on to Finisterre and Muxia, a journey of a thousand kilometres, and a thousand reflective moments which I recorded along the way and later transcribed into silk and coloured thread in my installation, A Thousand Prayers.

During the walk every kilometre I marked by recording a prayer in a voice to text app on my phone which geo-mapped it to the place on the walk it was recorded.

I recorded the prayers not so much as a religious act, but as a way of honouring the moment – a moment I would never have again – as a mindful one, to keep myself present and, as Iain McGilchrist might say, co-create the world between me and my object of attention.

[The mapped prayers on our second leg.]

Strung across the fabric of fields and churches, these prayers marked, signified, recorded and honoured moments in time as points along the way – which I later transcribed into fabrics dyed in botanical dyes of the flowers we walked through – and became the spiritual thread of the journey – a banner of a thousand prayers.

By walking, reflecting, sharing and connecting with others, a sense of hope developed whereby the impossible became possible and a renewed faith in myself and others emerged. As I walked, I met kindred souls along the way who became curious about my project and enthusiastically contributed their prayers – their hopes and dreams. I listened to stories full of pain and suffering, loss and love, searching and uncertainty, hope and resilience, significance and meaning; I was humbled by how much genuine hope and faith existed in the world.

Saskia and Timothy in Molinaseca

So my prayers – in the beginning quite mundane, more of matter than of spirit – entwined with others more lofty, as they were, and were lifted up. Indeed, my spirit was lifted. I lost some of my scepticism and all of my cynicism, and the prayers made the journey lighter; they became a magic carpet that soared me across the landscape. The attention others paid me and my project transformed me.

Step by step the journey transformed into a wander of wonder, a never-ending story, a way without beginning and without end, across centuries of history; we walked not only with the peregrinos of today, but the peregrinos of a thousand years ago, layering footsteps upon footsteps.

There was a rhythm to this: a rhythm to our step, a rhythm to each yellow arrow spotted that marked the way, a rhythm of each medieval town reached, and each albergue that closed the day. There was a rhythm of getting ready each morning, packing our bags, tying our shoes, a rhythm of each coffee, café con leche por favor! – day after day, church after church, meal after meal, bed after bed.

And somewhere along the Camino this repetition and rhythm and ritual began to transform us, over the days, over the miles over the weeks that defined the pilgrimage. It began to weave a spell, to lull us into enchantment, bewitching us, so that at every turn the possibility that something magic could happen became possible. 

Yes! It was enchantment – literally to cast a spell, an incantation, from ‘cant’, to sing – because before you knew it, your whole body was singing with this rhythm, singing you into a different way of seeing the world, a way of seeing signs and meaning and magic everywhere you look.

And what is most surprising is there are rivers of pilgrims flowing along the Camino seeing similar signs, interpreting similar significance. (I just met an angel. Did you? I her her too! Was she at the last church? Yes!). Every evening they are encountering angels, every meal they are making meaning, every step is a step of significance in their own story.

Florence Nightingales appeared out of nowhere with medical kits full of soothing balms perfected to calm bee stings in eyes, such as when Paul got stung smack in his right eye and Maria appeared instantly with the exact cream to stop the pain.

And before we could thank her enough she was gone. Poof! Walking at twice our speed, magical elixirs bouncing in a bag on her hip.

Then Chris of ex pharmacy fame was able to pull from his kit at exactly the moment I needed it most, the precise ointments and bandages to help my blistered feet survive another day, with wise counsel on how it needs to heal.

The magic continued day after day. We stumbled, completely by chance, upon the largest medieval festival in the world, where maidens cavorted and donkeys played music, knights jousted and banners flowed from medieval town spires.

Magic greeted us every moment. We ended our walk in Finisterre, (The End of the World from finis, end terra,earth) on the feast of San Xoan, the summer solstice. Young witches gathered herbs to bathe in the moonlight and smear upon their feet to keep away the evil of the following year.

There were moments of great meaning. At the request of her sister, Robin, I took some of my niece’s ashes with me when I left Canada – Alexandra Elizabeth Eastland, my goddaughter and namesake – who tragically died of leukemia two years previous at 32 years old. When we got to the top of this hill, I instantly saw that this would be Al’s field of poppies where I would spread her ashes.

Scoring the earth layers beneath the first stone laid high up on the fields scored our psyches, forcing us to let go of baggage figuratively and literally. Long and arduous, anything superfluous was discarded. Effort surfaced memories, hopes and dreams to consciousness. Lost selves were found and met again. Weariness ensured we slept and hunger made us grateful for the simplest food.

For centuries the Iron Cross is the place on the pilgrimage where burdens are finally set down along with stones piled high with the burdens of others. On the Iron Cross I let go of letting others decide on my behalf and absolving myself of the responsibility of the predicaments and confoundments that I typically find myself in.

In Burgos when my high top heavy walking boots made by the Italian bootmaker, Asolo, finally gave way, I let someone talk me into a lighter more contemporary boot even though I should have paid attention to the wisdom of my feet. I didn’t –deciding the shoe salesmen knew better – and paid for it, ending up in excruciating pain, with ten days of horrific blistered and torn feet, until I found another pair of Asolos in Leon. After Chris had bandaged my feet and my blisters healed, I spent hours calling every hiking shop until I found one that carried Asolos and then spent another three hours in the shop, taking painstaking care, before selecting the exact pair of Asolos I wanted. And I never got another blister again. Buying boots. Even shopping can take on meaning.

As the journey unfolded we accidentally or intentionally crossed paths with peregrinos who had shared their prayers weeks ago, many towns previous, and I checked in on their prayer. Had their wishes been granted? Had their prayers been answered? And as if by magic, every single one had.

I realise, after listening to all these stories around me, that I am already happy I hoped to find peace and I did

I am grateful for that very profound talk I had with Dan this morning but I forget what we said

I am exactly where I am supposed to be and everything is history

The brave and wonderful Martine having dinner with us, making big decisions before returning to Holland.

My beautiful friend Saskia, also from the Netherlands, whom we ran into serendipitously over and over, who made my walk very special indeed.

There is a saying you learn which is that the Camino only begins when you return.

When we returned home after 42 days and a thousand kilometres of walking, the first thing I did was to type up the prayers that I had recorded in my phone, afraid they might have disappeared somewhere along the way, in some evil technical glitch. It took me five days of typing eight hours a day. And at the end of the fifth day, as I typed the very last prayers, recorded on the day after the summer solstice and feast of San Xoan, when all the evil was bathed from the world by my young witches, walking into Muxia from Finisterre – the last stop on the Camino – we hit 1000 kilometres, and I recorded, without having realised it, the 1000th prayer.

If ever a moment was full of significance and meaning, this was one. It pointed me to where I am now.

Hallelujah! We’ve made it.

I have transformed these prayers and memories into a body of work – works on paper, film and a thousand prayers in silk – for my exhibition which opens May 16 at Curl Curl Creative Space, A Thousand Prayers / (on the Camino Frances). More information here.


Gaelic rallying cry for peregrinos which means Onwards! Galicia is where the Camino ends and where witches abound.

x Liz

2 thoughts on “Magic on the Camino Frances

  1. Breda says:

    What a wonderful synopsis of a magical journey! I just listened to you on Dan Mullins podcast and was enthralled. What a unique way to commemorate your Camino. I have walked the Camino Frances in stages over a number of years but this year I am finally walking the 800+km. I am very excited to start on 24 May! The walk out of Castrojerez as dawn breaks is one of my favourites. Wishing you the very best with the exhibition.

    • Liz Eastland says:

      Hello Breda (for is it Kay? It’s hard to tell from you id). Thank you for listening to Dan’s wonderful podcast and for taking the time to read my blog. I can hear in your language you enjoyed the blog. I wanted people to smile and find magic in their daily lives by reading it, if you know what I mean. And also I know fellow pilgrims will relate to that magic! How exciting you are about to set off and walk the entire journey. I am so excited for you and know you will love it. My husband and I are walking the Camino Portuguese this September which will be hot and sunny I expect. You will have the magnificent wildflowers all the way. My only advice is to enjoy it all and go slow if you can. But you know that already. Have a wonderful journey. Buen Camino.

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