What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela.


304 pages
ISBN 978-1-55365-240-3
DDC 914.6'10483





Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.


The Road to Santiago in northern Spain is one of the oldest and most important pilgrimages in Christendom. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this devotion to St. James is now more than 1,000 years old. This 800-kilometre pilgrimage was originally meant to honour the saint, long regarded as the defender of the faith, who is reputed to have helped the Christian cause in the crusades against the Moors, and still does, in times of adversity, come to the aid of the Spanish people who had adopted him. The fact that this pilgrimage has become more of a universal manifestation of human endeavour, and is not necessarily related to the religious spirit of medieval times when Santiago helped to defeat the “infidels,” becomes obvious in Jane Christmas’s narrative of her personal journey and her encounter with scores of very human people and their foibles.


Jane Christmas, now based in Hamilton, Ontario, is perhaps more typical of modern-day pilgrims, who, since the 1980s, have become more associated with a kind of New Age spirituality and social togetherness, rather than religious motivation. The subtitle of the book, “A Midlife Misadventure,” captures something of the spirit of today’s pilgrims. Twice divorced and needing to find herself, as the saying goes, the 50-year-old mother sets out with a motley group of some 15 women from the French starting place of Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port (El Camino Frances) and relates her (mis)adventures on the way—the physical ills, the bickering, the women’s warfare, the personal animosity, mixed in with a little history, geography, social commentary. Her remarks on the running of the bulls at Pamplona, the Crusades, the Knights Templar, and Charlemagne are all related, it must be said, in a light, interesting, even at times flippant style. Faced with problems and crises, the author has to make decisions about abandoning the group, even quitting the pilgrimage, as she comes face to face with her own personal problems, family matters, and her real motives for being a pilgrim.


Some of the events predicted by the psychic of the title do come true, like meeting the fair-haired Englishman. But the real point of the journey and the book is how she confronts her problems, the isolation, the pain, the disappointment, and how she deals with them. By self-examination she comes to know herself, although one cannot say that it has a fairy-tale happy ending or a religious epiphany, and she is a better person for having made the journey, although the destination was an anti-climax.


Christmas, Jane., “What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28979.