The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool that has been used throughout the world for over four thousand years. A labyrinth is a circuitous path with one entrance point that leads through a series of switch-backs to its center. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze, by contrast, has dead-ends and blind alley ways. Its intention is confusion and mystery. The labyrinth, when followed, leads eventually and without making choices to the center. It is designed for one to find his/her way. The labyrinth may be thought of as a map, but as such it should not be confused with the territory that it represents, that is the inner Being and its relationship with Spirit.
Two basic principles: 1) on the labyrinth, everything is metaphor; 2) there is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth.
The classic eleven circuit labyrinth was laid on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in about 1201. The oldest labyrinth associated with Christianity dates from the 4th Century and is found at Repartus, Orleansville in Algeria.
A labyrinth represents a spiral approach to the Divine, through the three-fold act of release (Purgation), awakening (Illumination), and return (Union). It intentionally evokes the character of a pilgrimage, in the Christian sense a pilgrimage to the Celestial City or Jerusalem. Because everything that happens on the labyrinth is metaphor, it serves as a metaphorical doorway to personal enlightenment.
Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, has lead the recovery of the labyrinth as a spiritual tool for our own Age. Her book Walking A Sacred Path is a definitive presentation of the labyrinth’s history, structure and construction, and use as a tool for spiritual development. Lauren Artress founded Veriditas—the World-Wide Labyrinth Project—a not-for-profit committed to reintroducing the labyrinth in its many forms as a spiritual tool.
Lauren Artress says the labyrinth itself is an outward expression of the inward symbol of wholeness. The labyrinth also serves to evoke the feminine archetype.
What is the labyrinth?
The classic Chartres labyrinth is an eleven circuit labyrinth which means it is made up of eleven concentric circles connected by thirty-four turns, twenty-eight of which are 180° switch-backs. There are ten axe-like labyrs which occur on the labyrinth. When viewing the labyrinth from above you’ll notice that the labyrs emanate from the labyrinth’s center to the right and left and out the top, thereby forming a Cross with the entry/exit path at the bottom.
The center of the labyrinth is a rosette, the symbol of Mary. It is also evocative of the lotus from Eastern traditions. This rosette has six pedals. One medieval tradition associated the pedals with mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angel, and unknown. The pedals may, however, represent many things collectively or personally.
Around the outside of the classic Chartres labyrinth are one hundred and fourteen lunations—113 cusps and 112 foils—(1 cusp and 2 foils are absent at the labyrinth gate). These are thought to represent the 28½ day lunar cycle and may have been used as a calendar. The bones of the labyrinth are an invisible thirteen point star.
Walking the labyrinth
Walking the labyrinth is quite personal. There are many different reactions to a labyrinth walk—joy, contemplation, revelation, sadness, elation, etc. Be unselfconscious and give yourself permission to let your reaction be expressed as it chooses—crying, laughing, dancing, singing. There should be absolutely no judgement or embarrassment associated with a labyrinth experience. Don’t be surprised by your reaction. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Trust Spirit.
Remember, with the labyrinth, everything is metaphor—sound, waiting, thoughts, smells, body feelings, witnessing others, etc. Let the experience be what it will be.
The labyrinth is a two-way path. The walk is interactive. Do what feels natural. Follow your own pace. If you lose your way, that’s OK. Think of it as metaphor. It is OK to pass and to be passed. You may want to stop, especially at the switch-back turns. When on the labyrinth, it is important to be considerate. In the center you may want to visit each of the pedals, you may sit or lie down, and can stay for as long as you wish. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth.
A labyrinth walk is often considered a three fold path. Walking the labyrinth is a time of release, quieting, emptying, shedding (Purgation). Standing in the center is a time of awakening, receiving, opening (Illumination). And the journey out is a time of return, integrating, strengthening (Union). It is the metaphoric path home.
Take your shoes off unless you need them for support or medical reasons. You may want to approach the labyrinth with a centering thought or a question. You can ring a bell, wave a scarf, listen to music, or do what ever during your walk. It is common to make a ritual bow before beginning. When finished, it is again common to acknowledge the labyrinth.
Processing your experience is mostly personal. Keeping silence for a time is one way to do this. Be with your experience, your feelings (especially how you feel in your body), and your thoughts. It may be hard to express your reaction or experience in words so process things internally and symbolically. If you can, you may want to draw or write in a journal.
Please note: Our labyrinth is a canvas labyrinth which is laid down in the Parish Hall several times a year, including the first week in Advent and during Holy Week If you want to walk the labyrinth, please check our on-line calendar to see if it is available. Likewise, if you or a group would like to use the labyrinth or you would like a labyrinth presentation or workshop, please ask and we’ll do all we can to accommodate you.