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The Labyrinth

Question: In our statewide [denominational] newspaper, there is a short article on a prayer labyrinth that was set up down South somewhere. Haven't I heard you say that those are pagan in origin? Have you written about labyrinths?

Answer: I have mentioned it in several older articles as well as in a Twist of Faith. I will post an excerpt from my book with some helpful information this next week. At the bottom of this page you can read statements from two articles posted on massive columns inside San Francisco's cavernous Episcopal Grace Cathedral.

 But the most useful answer may come from a well-known conservative columnist, Arianna Huffington, who promotes it in her book, The Fourth Instinct (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). Notice her pantheistic worldview and her vision of a New Age spiritual evolution. These provides a revealing context for her view of the labyrinth:

 "In the Gods of Greece I revisited the myths of my childhood and found in the gods and goddesses guides to forgotten dimensions of ourselves. Personifying the contending forces in us as gods and goddesses acknowledges their emotional power over us and the need to give them conscious recognition -- because if we do not, they will rise up and take their revenge." (page 18)

 “Everything is connected to everything else; every thing, every molecule, every rock, every living form, is infused by the same source. To say this is to put the lie to a million false dualities, to all the forced separations between spirit and mind, soul and body, 'God and man. "God is the sky and God is in the trees! God is in you and God is in me!' 

 “To speak about this universal force that will lead us beyond the last horizon of our known self toward a wiser, more loving, more luminous state of being, we do not need to invent a new language. But we do need to learn to listen to the old, the ancient one.... “ (page 20)

“There is, however, a fundamental difference between today and other historic times of spiritual renewal. Ours does not revolve around any one concept of God or require that we believe in any one set of dogmas... any one recipe for redemption.” (21)

"The Fourth Instinct as the force within us that urges us on beyond faith to understanding, knowledge and the actual experience of its power to transform ourselves and our world when it is translated into values, priorities and behavior." (21) 

"Even those who are not looking for 'a new heaven and anew earth,' a new messiah . . .  recognize that what the millennium requires from us above all else is a psychological shift, a spiritual breakthrough, a new readiness to rediscover what it is to be human ...." (27-28)

 "Like all turning points, this is a time of great tensions. Conventional answers no longer satisfy ancient questions now being asked with new urgency. There is grave danger in our discontent, but also great opportunity . . . If we see these tensions in an evolutionary framework, as the natural pain of leaving what we know to venture into he less familiar, we will uncover guidelines for our choices and we will not be left to face today's /growing problems armed only with the bankrupt solutions of yesterday. Instead of avoiding the changes by clinging to the old, we will embrace them with anticipation.” (28-29)

“In our seeking -- from India's shrines to the Vatican, from the mountains of Peru to the deserts of Arizona -- we prove the universality of the human drive to find meaning a purpose in our lives, to find God. It is the drive of the Fourth Instinct." (39) 

“When Christ proclaimed that these things that I do, you too shall do and even greater, he was giving voice to a very important law of our evolution...." (45)

 “The Fourth Instinct is both the bridge to this next stage in man's evolution and the voice calling us to cross over -- from competition to cooperation and community... It is an evolutionary spiral based on a different set of imperatives -- for now the survival of the fittest will be the survival of the wisest." (47)

"The Fourth Instinct  impels us on a journey to become who we really are." (75)

“The Greek myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur was my favorite story when I was growing up – not only because I was named after its heroine, Ariadne. In the myth, Theseus, son of the King of Athens, is sent to Crete as part of the Athenian tribute of seven men and seven women who have to be sacrificed every nine yeas to placate the Minotaur. The terrible monster, half bull and half man, lived in the center of an impenetrable labyrinth. Theseus could only be saved and be free to return to Athens if he entered the labyrinth and slew the Minotaur. All who had gone before him had perished. But Ariadne, daughter of the king of Crete, fell in love with Theseus. Guided by the thread Ariadne gave him, Theseus was able to enter the labyrinth, slay the Minotaur and find his way back out, alive and victorious." (90-91)

"Greeks were not alone in seeing the labyrinth as a powerful metaphor for the path we must take to find the center of our lives and ourselves. Since before Christ, the labyrinth has represented the human journey as, at once, a road, a search and a conundrum. With evocative images of twisting passageways demanding that its traveler make life-and-death decisions, the labyrinth and its companion symbol, the spiral, appear in myths and ceremonies throughout the world. ...Ariadne’s thread... finds a parallel in the “silver cord” that in the Hindu tradition leads to the divine. And in Polynesia, dancers wind their way through spiral gyrations clinging to a rope, while the labyrinth itself is seen as the vaginal entryway to Mother Earth."

"In the twentieth century the image of the labyrinth has intrigued the great students of man’s subconscious.  Joseph Henderson, author of Thresholds of Initiation, concluded that in all cultures the labyrinth has a unique place in man’s spiritual search, and 'can be traversed only by those who are ready for a special initiation into the mysterious world of the collective unconscious.'  Edward Whitmont, the Jungian analyst who pioneered studies into the meaning of dream symbols, saw the labyrinth as 'the way to the unknown center, the mystery of death and rebirth....'  Joseph Campbell found in the labyrinth a reassuring metaphor for the spiritual adventure: ' for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god....'" (91)

“The labyrinth, like life itself, is about choices. Nations that… eradicate choice on the grounds of eradicating error, inevitably lose their strength in a hopeless battle against man’s spirit. … We must choose to undertake that journey for ourselves.(93)

The Labyrinth Project at Grace Cathedral:

 “The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, that served as the central symbol for pilgrimage throughout the middle Ages. … Christians made a commitment to travel to the Holy land once during their lifetimes. When the Crusade swept across Europe and travel became expensive and dangerous, several pilgrimage cathedrals were designated to be the pilgrim's destination. Chartres Cathedral was a central place of pilgrimage and housed one of the largest and most magnificent labyrinths in the Christian world.

 “For the pilgrim, walking the labyrinth was a ritual enactment of life's journey and served as an entryway into the spiritual life. The goal of pilgrimage was single: to reach the New Jerusalem, the place of clarity and union at the center of the labyrinth, where the inward path re-directs itself outward into the world.

 “When we walk the labyrinth, the mysterious winding path becomes a metaphor for our spiritual journey. It becomes a mirror reflecting the place where we stand in our lives. We invite you to walk it with an open mind, and an open heart. By walking the labyrinth, you are rediscovering a long-forgotten Christian mystical tradition.

 “The labyrinth is a mandala that meets our longing for a change of heart, for a change of ways in how we live together on this fragile island home, and for the energy, the vision, and the courage to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  

“The goal of the labyrinth project is to recover the act of Pilgrimage You are invited to join workshops focused on Co-Creation work and Self-Knowledge. [Emphasis added]

From:  Natalie Angelier, "A Twisting Walk to Inner Peace on a Painted Purple Canvas," New York Times, August 29, 1992.

  “Stretched across the nave floor [of Grace Cathedral]  like a tarpaulin hauled in from a football field, the 35-foot-wide labyrinth is nothing more than a bright purple pattern painted on an expanse of bleached canvas, a replica of a labyrinth built into the stone floor of the Chartres. 

 “It’s ‘a ceremony that is at once ancient and New Age mysticism called ‘walking the Labyrinth,’ explained Rev. Lauren Artress. 

 “At Grace, Rev. Lauren Artress, canon pastor of the Episcopal Cathedral, is trying to revive the ancient tradition as a tool for encouraging introspection and spiritual transformation, whatever one's religion....  [emphasis added] 

“The Labyrinth, says Ms Artress, is a profound archetype seen in most cultures throughout history.  The ancient Greeks had the labyrinth at Minos, whose serpentine corridors on the island of Crete led to the Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull, the body of a man, and a bottomless appetite for sacrificial young men and maidens.

“Hindus and Buddhist have the Mandala, a circular design symbolizing the universe and totality. For medieval Christians, the Labyrinth became a manageable substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

“Going into the center, a walk is supposed to shed the solipsistic obsession of everyday life.  At the center of the labyrinth, a six-petal design [lotus?], the pilgrim looks for illumination. "I call it clarity," Ms Artress says, "You get insight into yourself."

“On the way out from the center, the walker should feel a sense of communion with the cosmos, God, or some sort of higher, healing power. [One woman called her experience, "a dance I do with my soul."]

“A permanent stone labyrinth will be built into the cathedral garden…. ‘You have to get the mystical figure in the center right,’ says[Rev. Artress]. ‘Underneath the center is a 13-pointed star. When  you lay that star right, then all the paths are perfectly balanced.’"  

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