What is the origin of the rich multilevel complexity of pilgrimage systems? These systems are not ordained by kings or hierarchical power, but emerge as the collective behavior of free individuals, each in search of a spiritual ideal. Similar examples of complex self-organization are found in many systems characterized by openness to the environment, non-linear processes, strange attractors, and chaotic behavior. After a period of stability, such systems may suddenly self-transform due to the amplification of relatively small individualistic "accidents" which become "frozen" by producing a family of branching consequences, such as new pilgrimages and new paradigms. Such self-transformations occur when the system has become metastable due to departures from equilibrium. The resulting transformation may be chaotic in that it is highly dependent upon initial conditions; as a result individual acts may be amplified to generate entirely new systems. An essential quality of pilgrimage systems specifically and of self-organizing systems in general is their openness. The difference between open and closed systems is especially illuminating when one compares the longevity of pilgrimage centers with the brief florescence of the closed cosmic city. In the cosmic city processes are in place that inhibit growth and suppress infusion of new ideas, in part, through the imposition of the rigid geometry of a cardinal cosmos.
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