There is a sharp increase in the building and use of labyrinths in the West, which occurs in conjunction with the resurgence of other mystical practices such as Yoga and Eastern meditation. In the USA, more than 1000 labyrinths have been built in meditation garden settings, at retreat centres, churches, hospitals and prisons. The popularity of labyrinths is also increasing in South Africa and many other countries.
Labyrinths have been in existence for about 4000 years and are encountered in many of the religions and cultures of the world. They are found in various shapes, of which the seven circuit and eleven circuit ones are the most popular. The word “circuit” is used to describe the number of times the path circles around the centre. When a person walks the labyrinth he meanders back and forth, turning 180 degrees each time he enters a different circuit. It is said that each time the person shifts his direction he also shifts his awareness from the left brain to the right brain, or vice versa. For this reason, labyrinth walking is accredited with inducing receptive states of consciousness, which also helps to balance a person’s chakras (the body’s psychic centres).
There are various sizes of labyrinths, varying from 14 metres in diameter to a small one of only 60 centimetres in the wall of the La Lucca Cathedral in Italy. At the latter labyrinth one traces the pattern with one’s finger in order to quiet the mind before entering the cathedral. Labyrinths were very popular in medieval times. During the Crusades, they were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the centre of it representing Jerusalem.
Many people make the mistake of thinking a labyrinth and a maze are the same. Mazes have more than one entrance and more than one exit and are designed to make you lose your way. They also contain cul-de-sacs and dead ends. They often have hedges to hinder your sight and make it more difficult to find the right way. Finding your way in a maze is a game to be solved and it keeps you thinking. It also produces anxiety when you go wrong. Labyrinths have the exact opposite purpose: they are designed to help people find their way. A labyrinth has only one path leading to the centre and out again. There are no dead ends, so it is not aimed at problem solving but to be a mirror of where we are.
One of the persons who has done the most work in reviving the labyrinth is Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, Canon of Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco, CA. She brought the form to Grace Cathedral. Since then, more than one million people have walked the two labyrinths at the Cathedral. In imitation of this example, many other labyrinths have been built. Lauren is also founder and director of Veriditas, The Voice of the Labyrinth Movement, and wrote a book, Walking the sacred path. She says that most people have lost their spiritual awareness and connection to themselves.
On her website (www.gracecathedral.org) Lauren says: “No one knows who created any of the labyrinth forms, but we do know from experience that embedded within each design is a pattern that somehow quiets our deep inner being so we can hear our own wisdom and the wisdom attempting to reach us. Whether walked or traced in sand, the labyrinth pattern is a powerful tool for reflection, meditation, realignment, and a deeper knowledge of the Self.”
The path of life
In an article, The labyrinth: walking your spiritual journey (www.lessons4living.com/labyrinth.htm) our spiritual journey is described as follows: “We are all on the path, exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path. It is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The labyrinth represents a journey to our own centre and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. A labyrinth is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space, and takes us out of our ego to that which is within. Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out. A labyrinth has only one path. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. A labyrinth is a right brain task. In involves intuition, creativity and imagery. A more passive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path. At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the centre of your deepest Self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.”
In an article, The sacred labyrinth – an ancient meditation tool (www.angelfire.com) the ultimate unification of humanity is envisioned as one of the positive outcomes of this practice: “Labyrinths are truly sacred places. The design itself is inherently powerful. The space and the experience of walking it are also very sacred and powerful and help us feel a greater sense of Oneness. It is a tool for people of all beliefs to come together for a common spiritual experience.”
Dr. Lauren Artress underscores the sacred nature of the labyrinth experience when she says: “The labyrinth, in a way, is a church without walls.”
The well-known preacher and author, Rick Warren, also associates with this practice. On one of the programmes for a pastors’ conference (as published on the National Pastors’ Convention website), provision is made for the following activities:
7:30 Labyrinth open.
8:30–9:15 Contemplative morning prayer exercises.
8:30–9:15 Stretching and Yoga.
Labyrinths are of a heathen origin, but were accepted and popularised by the Roman Catholic Church with the full knowledge of their mystical application. The Lord has commanded Israel to utterly destroy all the idols and places of worship of the heathen nations (Deut. 12:2-3). No association with these practices was allowed. Modern, Protestant preachers, however, are taking the liberty to experiment with doubtful religious practises from the East, and from the deceived Roman Catholic Church. They also teach other people to do the same. Mystical (occult) practices are highly detrimental as they open the way to the “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) to enter into people’s hearts and subconscious minds to deceive and confuse them with lies. The result of these influences is an unbiblical concept of God as well as wrong perceptions on yourself, on salvation and on other religions.