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Wayfaring Stranger — A Song about a Journey to Reunite with the Divine

“The Wayfaring Stranger” is a popular American folk song that likely originated some time in the 19th century, with the lyrics set to many different tunes and variations by different artists.

Its beautifully haunting lyrics describe a journey of a “wayfaring stranger” seeking his way home to reunite with his Father, Mother, and Savior, creating an interesting parallel with the spiritual journey that can be undertaken by a person in life to reunite with the divine, as understood in the Religion of the Sun.1

Here are some lyrics from the song:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe
But there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father
I’m going there no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over home

I know dark clouds will gather round me
I know my way is rough and steep
But beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep

I’m going home to see my Mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I’m going there to see my Savior
Oh I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

Below is a beautiful rendition of The Wayfaring Stranger by the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra (newly added to our traditional and folk music resources page):

The lyrics of the song, though relatively brief, are quite packed with meaning.

The journey evoked in the song, for instance, is one of the trials of life, and in the Religion of the Sun it is understood that there is a learning process that can take place through the challenges of life.2

Ultimately this spiritual journey leads to reuniting with the higher aspects of a person’s Being (the trinity of Father-Mother-Son/Saviour).3

Interestingly, the words “wayfaring stranger” also bring to mind a saying from the Christian Gnostic text known as The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, where Jesus tells the disciples he is a “fellow stranger” in the world like them, because their real home is a spiritual one, which he seeks to lead them to.4

Here is another beautiful version of this song sung by Katilette and Family:

More songs can be found in the resources section here:


  1. More information on this spiritual journey can be found in The Path of the Spiritual Sun by Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard. 

  2. Belsebuub. Learning through Difficulties. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://belsebuub.com/articles/learning-through-difficulties

  3. More information about the trinity can be found in The Path of the Spiritual Sun by Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard, in chapters 3, 6, and also chapter 1. 

  4. The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles is one of the texts found in the Nag Hammadi Library — a collection of texts containing the hidden teachings of Jesus that were excluded from the Bible. They were hidden away in Egypt for more than 2000 years and were only re-discoverd 1945. This text can be read here: Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles. Nag Hammadi Library. Translated by Douglas M. Parrott and R. McL.Wilson. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/actp.html 

27 Comments

  • The lyrics struck a cord with me, as I did seem to relate them to The Path, the spiritual journey back home, to our Heavenly Father, our Divine Mother and our inner Son/Sun/Saviour. A simple song but truthful about the spiritual road…

  • Thanks for sharing these special tunes. The lyrics are simple and amazing when reading them while the singing is being played.

  • I really appreciate how many songs around the world are so closely connected to the spiritual sun, and the path back to the divine 😊
    Thanks for sharing, the song was beautiful.

  • I really like the harmonies in these pieces (and the lyrics!) there’s something really special about them, I particularly like the second version. The link Justin shared where everyone is singing it in the group is pretty awesome too.

  • Ahh. I love this song. And I heard it this first time by my one of my old time favourites Neil Young on his ‘Americana’ Album where he produced version of American folksongs like ‘Oh Susanah’, ‘Tom Dooley’, ‘This Land is Your Land’. While the other songs have a pretty heavy musical arrangement with distortion and electric guitars, ‘Wayfarin’ Stranger’ was a really beautiful simple acoustic arrangement with ethereal backing vocals and I was immediately struck by the words of the song and how it stood out from the rest of the album.

    That wonderfully sombre minor key conveys that deep sense longing that others have shared is so well enunciated by the old soulful music of the south. I’ve played it on the guitar, on the piano, with many singers, or just myself. It’s always so moving and it energizes my spirit.

    It’s also very simple, so almost any aspiring musician can learn to play it and enjoy it’s song, with a few simple chordings and a voice.

  • A lovely song. It really touches me. It’s nice how music can change how I feel and inspire me. It’s a powerful kind of magic 🙂

  • Jenny, thanks a lot for sharing this song. The two renditions are beautiful and really touched me, especially the first one.

    • Interesting version, epic just like the title says 🙂 Thanks for sharing John.

      The lyrics of this song are beautiful, very inspiring to hear and reflect on them.

    • Very nice John, never heard this song before but now a big fan of all the versions, seems like happy music made me smile while listening to the different versions : )

  • I like the Anonymous 4 version of this song but I’ve never heard any others so looking forward to giving them a listen, thanks for posting!

  • I’ve always liked American folk music, and the southern Gospel influenced style evident in pieces like this classic has this distinctive down-to-earth yet spiritual vibe to it that I quite enjoy. Its earthy and spiritual at the same time — you can tell its written by and for everyday people, and its music anyone can sing along to. Great for the campfire for sure.

    These versions are very nice too. I think the instrumental arrangements on the first one are very well done, while the second rendition has very nice vocal harmonies.

    • I think you have expressed exactly what I love about this type of folk music Matthew. I particularly enjoy the religious music from Appalachia and the American south.

      I find that in being down to earth and sometimes even simple, it has a powerful sense of vitality and deep feeling. I think life was very hard for many people in this part of the world, and it feels to me like music and the religious feelings they expressed through it gave them a real sense of solace in their lives.

      This song and others like it come from the Sacred Harp tradition of singing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Harp) It is quite a fascinating tradition, in that it was really meant for group participation as a spiritual expression – for people of all skill levels – rather than as a performance practice. Everyone came together to sing and the music was written in a special way (shape notes) so that people could participate without specialized knowledge.

      There are so many wonderful ways of interpreting that music.

      On the one side, there are several albums by the group Anonymous 4 (who typically specialize in medieval chant!) where they explore the Sacred Harp music. It presents a more polished but very lovely expression of it.

      On the other side, you can find many videos of traditional Sacred Harp, which is much more raw and rough but can be deeply moving.

      Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhYm-UTFVW8

      • Wow Justin, what was that. To hear a choir singing the song like that is very moving.

        It made me imagine the people back in that time with a very hard life, how much consolation and strength they’ve must’ve gotten out of singing out like this?
        What an absolutely great venue fortunately present there, a most natural way of crying out— through music, to help turn the hardships a suffering soul faces and forging it into a connection to god. It seems like the best purpose music can serve.

        I haven’t read much about American history. But it seems these songs are able to carry something with them to us now, and it makes me wonder about what happened within people and what they possibly went through internally at that time.

      • I think my lack of knowledge on American history and imagination combined there, thinking that this style of sacred harp (referring to the voice, I learned) music originated from the African slaves. But rather it came from the ‘settlers’ (can I call them that) and traces in part back to “country parish music” of early 18th century England (says wikipedia.). It sounded to my musical ear similar to the music I imagine African slaves to have sung, also with it featuring similar themes such as the river Jordan.

        This wikpedia paragraph mentions a bit about Christianity’s influence on such music. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_%28music%29#Christianity.27s_influence

        But anyway, It does I find carry something sincere in it as is very beautiful to hear. Would be nice to join a bigger group singing something like this.

        • Hi Karim,

          Yes American history has quite a lot of different threads interweaving.

          My understanding is that Sacred Harp was developed from the hymns of white colonial settlers in New England and then further evolved in the American south and Appalachia.

          Sacred Harp seems to have subsequently become a tradition among both white and some black communities.

          There is of course a separate tradition of black spiritual songs described at the link you posted, which maybe is what this reminded you of. They both have their roots in the Christian tradition so the subject matter and references can be similar.

          I would also really enjoy singing in a large group like that.

      • There is something very nice about the original sacred harp form of this song. Thanks for sharing Justin.

        The Anonymous 4 version is also very beautiful. I like how you can clearly hear the words intently and as a main focus, because they are so meaningful.

        This line of the song always stands out: : ”I want to share salvation’s story”

      • I didn’t realize you were a musical historian Justin — you forgot to put that in your bio 😉 I know so little about traditional music in the USA, only that I know what I like, but the historical background you’ve given explains why this style is the way it is.

        I agree that sometimes it’s the simple down-to-earth nature of the melodies in folk songs (combined with the lyrics) that gives them their deep feeling, making them more relatable and heartfelt, because it’s music you can participate in. An example is the song “Amazing Grace”, which I now realize comes from the sacred harp tradition you’ve explained. It’s certainly a very beautiful and moving song, but yet, anyone can participate in singing along.

        I find a similar quality with Andean folk music too, in that the melodies can be quite simple, but very beautiful.

        That said, I very much enjoy and appreciate beautiful performance music that can only by played by the professionals — there’s a place for that too — but I think there’s a reason every culture has its own folk music. I think all people have a deep need to have nice music they can participate in, that somehow brings a sense of beauty to their lives that is accessible. When I was a kid, even though I wasn’t religious at all, I absolutely loved singing Christmas carols by candlelight with others for example — it was as if the experience transported me to a more beautiful world.

      • Very interesting information about the Sacred Harp tradition Justin. That seems like a wonderful way to include everyone in a mixture of music/art & worship.

        I’ve also heard about some budding research into early American music from the black south as being closely linked with the Muslim heritage of the many slaves who were brought. Apparently up to 1/3 of the slaves brought across were Muslim and the Muslin Call to Prayer can seem eerily similar to early work songs of the slaves in the south. I can’t remember what show (on NPR) I first heard about this idea on, but searching youtube there is some information. This clip has a sound comparison of the Muslim call the prayer of the 12th-15th Century with an early American slave song. -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qmO8XouJ2U

        So if this is true, maybe this shows another aspect of why this music may resonate with such spiritual feelings.

    • I agree Matthew and Justin. I really love this type of music (especially when it has a touch of Bluegrass) because of its way of capturing a deep yearning for the spiritual in a hauntingly raw and down to earth way.

      This song has been a favorite of mine for a while, and it’s amazing how many great renditions of it exist. I also find the version by Anonymous 4 very beautiful to listen to.

  • Very nice, thanks for posting. Lots of meaning in this one, plus pretty good music too! Would definitely be nice to sing at a campfire with friends.

    • Agreed — it is really a nice song to sing in a group (or solo 🙂 ).

      I really love the version by the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra (the singer has a really beautiful voice and a powerful way of performing this song). I find the second version, also quite beautiful, is a good example of how this song can arranged to be sung in a more casual setting.

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