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THE LABYRINTH AS A SPIRITUAL TOOL:
DESCRIPTION, HISTORY, AND EVALUATION

Kenneth C. Harper

 

 

The cable car lurched up Powell Street in San Francisco; at the Knob Hill stop we got off. We were attending the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society convention, and had arrived a few days early to take in the sights. Entering Grace Cathedral (Episcopal), we immediately encountered the labyrinth. Since I knew but little about labyrinths, we did not walk it. It was not, however, my first encounter with the labyrinth in a spiritual setting. Over two years earlier, a Festival of Christian Art at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church (in the San Diego area) had included a portable labyrinth, with the pattern painted on canvas. Between those two incidents I had seen a few articles in denominational publications touting the labyrinth as a powerful and recently-rediscovered spiritual tool.[1] I was determined to learn more, and that day in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral was the beginning. I read Lauren Artress=s paean to labyrinth walking, walked both a portable labyrinth in Orlando and an outdoor one in Saint Louis, and delved deeper than I would have guessed into New Age spirituality and sacred geometry.[2] The distilled product of my research I now present to this gathering.

Description and Definitions

Labyrinths are elaborate, intricate, and sometimes bewildering patterns, typically leading from an opening in the perimeter to a center or goal in the middle and out again. Labyrinths may be unicursal or multicursal. Unicursal labyrinths have but one single serpentine path; the walker, if he or she moves continuously forward, will inevitably arrive at the center. Multicursal labyrinths have false routes, dead ends, and one correct path out of many; in theory, if the labyrinth were complex enough, a walker might never reach the center, and might become hopelessly lost. Although by formal definition the words Alabyrinth@ and Amaze@ may be used interchangeably, for purposes of clarity in this paper the word Alabyrinth@ will be used only of unicursal patterns or structures, and the word Amaze@ will refer only to multicursal structures or patterns.[3]

Labyrinths and mazes may be enclosed or not. Those which are enclosed use walls to separate the different paths or parts of paths, and blind the walker to where he or she is relative to the whole pattern. These walls may be the interior walls of a cave, cardboard and fabric (as in a child=s fun-house maze), or topiary (as in the hedge mazes of formal gardens). Labyrinths used in a spiritual context are never enclosed. The pattern is flat upon the surface; the walker=s vision is not impeded. Indoor labyrinths may be woven into wool carpeting, as at Grace Cathedral, embedded in stone, painted on canvas, etc. The pathways of outdoor labyrinths may be marked with lime, rows of stones, or simply mowed into the grass.[4]


Labyrinths - Ancient and Medieval

In ancient mythology, Minos commissioned Daedalus to build a maze in which to banish the Minotaur, offspring of his wife's unfaithfulness. Periodically, Minos would sacrifice Athenian youths to the Minotaur. Ariadne took pity upon Prince Theseus when the lot fell to him, and gave him a ball of thread to play out as he entered the maze. Thus he was able to find his way out of the labyrinth once he had slain the Minotaur.[5] Perhaps inspired by this legend, the labyrinth became a common feature in Greek coinage and mosaics. This seven-circuit labyrinth, though perhaps inspired by the legend, is surely meant only to represent it. For one thing, it is unicursal, and that precludes one from becoming hopelessly lost; for another, it has only seven circuits. Indeed, the Cretan seven-circuit labyrinth is one of the easiest to construct.

Descriptions of labyrinths and mazes show that the ancients were fascinated by this figure. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, describes an ancient labyrinth in some detail. Here are excerpts of his description:

There still exists, in the nome of Heracleopolites, a labyrinth first built, it is said, three thousand six hundred years ago, by King Petesuchis or Tithoës . . . . This great mass is so solidly built that the lapse of time has been unable to destroy it, but it has been badly ravaged by the people of Heracleopolites, who have always detested it. To describe the whole of it in detail would be quite impossible, as it is divided up into regions and prefrectures, called nomes, thirty in number, with a great palace to each; in addition it must contain temples of all the gods of Egypt and forty statues of Nemesis in the same number of sacred shrines, as well as numerous pyramids.[6]

Although these descriptions seem fabulous, they reflect the observations of Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century BC, and who claimed to have visited an Egyptian labyrinth not unlike that described by Pliny.[7]

Penelope Doob argues that the ancients= fascination with mazes derives from their dualistic nature. On the one hand, they represent chaos and mystery for those trapped within. On the other hand, they represent order and complexity when viewed from an exterior vantage point. Outside v. inside, order v. chaos, rational complexity v. irrational mysteryBthese dualities captivated ancient maze builders and those who wrote about them.[8]

Although some ancient and early medieval Christian writers knew about the mazes of the ancients, there is not evidence to suggest that they themselves ever used mazes or labyrinths in a spiritual context. Medieval labyrinths were built in connection with pilgrimage.[9] Pilgrimage as a spiritual act became an increasingly popular form of devotion as the Middle Ages wore on. It may be remembered that Geoffrey Chaucer=s (1343-1400) Canterbury Tales uses the literary device of stories told by pilgrims en route to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by the forces of Christendom opened those ancient holy sites to pilgrims from the west. However, the Moslem recapture of those sites in 1187 closed that window of opportunity. To provide a meaningful substitute, several cathedrals were fitted with labyrinths. The pilgrim walked that winding way as the culmination of his travels. In Chartres, the glorious rose window on the west wall of the cathedral was mirrored in the labyrinth laid in the pavement at his feet. Indeed, the center design of the labyrinth mimics the center design of the rose window.[10] As Jaskolski puts it, arriving at the center Afelt@ like an arrival in the Heavenly City.

Going through a labyrinth seemed like a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the then unreachable goal of the Christian pilgrim=s journey, but at the same time it seemed to bring an inner realization of the meaning that the actual pilgrimage in this marvelously built cathedral, lit mysteriously by the colorful glow of its windows, possessed in the here and now: arrival at what was, in terms of salvational history, the midpoint of the world, the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem, as a representation of which the cathedral was constructed.[11]

Jaskolski then speculates on the symbolism inherent in the labyrinth=s design.

Instead of the seven concentrically nested loops that we have had up till now, the figure now gets eleven of them. According to Christian number symbolism, eleven stands for sin, trespass, and intemperance (since it exceeds the number of the commandments) and for imperfection (since the perfect number twelve has not yet been reached). It identifies the labyrinth as a world of sin. But the eleven concentric circles have the sign of the cross laid over them, and this organizes the figure in such a way that the path must turn when it reaches the axes of the cross and thus makes it into a Way of the Cross. Thus the world of sin is placed under the saving sign of Christ, which conquers Satan.[12]

Of those original cathedral labyrinths, only those at Reims and Chartres yet survive. Pilgrimages declined with the rise of world exploration, colonization, and trade which began in the fifteenth century and flourished in the sixteenth. Perhaps those with wanderlust turned to more secular motives for travel.

The Modern Rediscovery of the Labyrinth

With the Enlightenment came, once again, an upsurge of interest in mazes. These were invariably multicursal (which is one reason why we, the children of modernism, think of a maze when we hear the word, Alabyrinth@) and were designed more out of fascination with geometry and mathematics than from spiritual motives. Garden mazes were a feature of country houses of the rich. Maze designs were utilized in decoration, and became a fad of the 1920's.

While it seems labyrinths never disappeared entirely from the scene, they were relegated to the fringes of spirituality. In 1992, Dr. Lauren Artress walked a labyrinth at a spiritual retreat. At about the same time she learned of the Medieval labyrinth laid into the floor of Chartres Cathedral. She secured the support of the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to install two eleven-circuit, Chartres-style labyrinths on that site. The first was woven into a wool carpet and is centered at the entryway of the cathedral=s nave adjacent to the baptismal font. The second is a terrazzo labyrinth, laid in the pavement of an outdoor patio.

Several factors converging seemed to have a synergistic effect. The first was the support of labyrinth walking by a legitimate (and wealthy!) ecclesiastical entity. The second was the vivacious and winsome personality of Dr. Lauren Artress, who has traveled the world over to promote the labyrinth as a transforming spiritual tool. The third factor is the coming of age of the baby boomers and their rekindled interest in spiritual issues. The result has been an exponential increase in interest. The ministry founded by Dr. Artress, Veriditas, catalogues 270 labyrinths in the U.S. on their web page.[13] In addition, more labyrinths are being built, and the effort to promote them is increasingly vigorous, as well.[14]

Evaluation

Why Does It Work?

What happens when one walks a labyrinth? Here are a few brief accounts from those who have felt the greatest impact.

As I stood waiting my turn to enter the labyrinth, I began to weep. I had no idea why. I still had no idea why as I walked, overcome by periodic waves of weeping, nor did I have any insight as I finished my walk. As I got outside, however, I suddenly felt as if my older sister was talking to me, and I realized that I was in the midst of a healing. . . [She then describes how her dying sister had laid a Adeathbed wish@ upon her which she was unable to fulfill; now she felt she had peace with her sister=s memory.] [15]

Beneath my feet, I had the strange sense of the stone being alive. In the past, pilgrims visiting the church had actually slept on the floor, and though my twentieth century bed was much softer, I shivered with a sense of kinship. They would have journeyed by donkey cart of horseback or on foot, while I had come by airplane and bus. And yet, throughout the centuries our desires had been the same: to make our way to the center of something larger than ourselves, to the core of life, to God. Following the stone path, I moved inside the curving pattern. . . . I felt myself not saying a prayer, but being in a prayer, part of a prayer. . . . I stood transfixed, perhaps minutes, perhaps more.[16]

I had been impatient with people lately and it was beginning to affect my work. My hope, once I admitted it to myself, was to get insight about this. I figured if I got any help at all it would be a reminder to stop being impatient, so I entered the labyrinth not expecting to receive much. Frankly I expected a Zen meditation stick reminder on how important patience is. Instead, I received three clear messages, none of which seemed to speak to patience directly. The first was ASpend time with the people you love.@ The second was AMake time for creativity@ and the third was ATake time out for retreats.@ I didn=t intellectually understand how this guidance related to patience. However, the message seemed crystal clear and it felt right. Later I realized that my impatience was from not taking care of these parts of myself. . . . The labyrinth was great help in getting me to see this.[17]

Of all people, we who are evangelicals should recognize the place and power of testimony. We appeal to others to Ataste and see that the Lord is good@ (Psalm 34:8). However, as evangelical scholars we do not idolize experience, but rather believe that all experiences are subject to the audit of God=s Word. To begin this Scripture-informed evaluation, let us begin by asking why many find the labyrinth to be an effective spiritual tool.

The first thing that happens when one enters the labyrinth is a quieting of the chattering, distracting Aself talk@ which continually buzzes in our brains. The labyrinth walk serves as a centering deviceBan exercise to quiet the mind and to replace it with a calm and relaxed state. Some psychologists recommend breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, Yoga, or other exercises to achieve this physiological and emotional state.[18] And many Christians find it helpful to prepare for their devotions by following a predictable, set routineBfor example, brewing a cup of coffee, sitting in a particular place, opening one=s bible or devotional book, saying a prayer of preparation, etc.

Further, the act of walking the labyrinth draws in the body. Motion and posture become aides in the spiritual exercise. Many have recognized the fundamental unity of the person as body-plus-mind-plus-spirit, and many others have reported how such physical conditions as illness and exhaustion can take their toll on spiritual vitality.[19] In a more positive vein, bowing, kneeling, folding or raising hands, can aid in prayer.[20] High church evangelical-turned-Catholic Thomas Howard argues persuasively that we ignore the physical dimensions of our spirituality to our peril.[21]

The power of the labyrinth is enhanced by its connection with pilgrimage. The experience of pilgrimage is so widespread that Jungians Jean and Wallace Clift regard it an archetype of the collective unconscious. We=re meant to go on pilgrimages. They nourish a deep part of the soul. Pilgrimages have as their common features that they are journeys, of some distance and/or difficulty, which are undertaken to nourish the spirit. Almost any site can become a pilgrim=s destination. Many American feel a surge of patriotic feeling when visiting the Capitol, or Lincoln=s Memorial, or any other of the Ashrines@ in Washington, DC. A generation of baby boomers made pilgrimage destinations out of JFK=s eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, or John Lennon=s apartment building in New York City. New additions to the catalogue of secular pilgrimage sites are sites connected with Princess Diana and JFK, Jr. There is a power in pilgrimage, a power which the labyrinth taps. Artress elaborates:

At Grace Cathedral, we had been working with the theme of pilgrimage for three years through Quest. Our setting seemed perfect. The trustees, dean, and chapter on which I serve are custodians of a grand and beautiful sacred space. It is located in the center of one of the most welcoming and intriguing cities in the world. Our canvas labyrinth had been available to the public for six months by then. Each time it was open, at least one hundred and fifty people from various spiritual paths turned up to walk it. It had captured the imagination of believers and nonbelievers alike. I realized the labyrinth was not just a symbol for pilgrimageBwe were providing sacred space for anyone seeking transformation. We were providing a destination for modern pilgrims.[22]

As the mind and body relax on this symbolic pilgrimage, many report that the Aright brain,@ intuitive, imaginative, and creative parts of life awaken. Some remember dreams and experience flashes of insight into what they mean. Others see new solutions to old problems, solutions to which they were previously opaque. Yet others seemed to gain an internal peace or sense of harmony and love.

 

Not all who walk the labyrinth find themselves equally moved. The examples quoted above were form those who felt a powerfully spiritual experience. Others find the event only mildly interesting. Why is this the case? In an effort to quantify the labyrinth experience, the Education Committee of Central Presbyterian Church, Miami, Florida sponsored a labyrinth workshop on October 10, 1999. A portable labyrinth, a full-sized replica of the Chartres labyrinth on canvas, was borrowed from the Presbyterian Youth Connection, the PCUSA=s national youth ministry. Some fifty people walked the labyrinth; of these twenty-nine filled out a questionnaire on the experience. An attempt was made to correlate response to the labyrinth with several different parameters: Generation cohort,[23] each of the four scales of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,[24] the Keirsey-Bates Temperaments,[25] and gender. Use of the Chi-Square Goodness-of-Fit Test failed to establish a statistically-significant correlation between response to the experience of labyrinth walking and any other tested function.[26] It may be that the sample size (N=29) was too small; Chi-Square is most effective when n>5 for each cell.[27]

Anecdotal data suggests that there should be a more positive labyrinth response from those who are ANF=s@ (à la Keirsey).[28] Intuitive-types are best able to make the connection between walking a labyrinth and imagining a spiritual pilgrimage. Feeling-types are most adept at harmony issues, and tend to enter into experiences; Thinking-types tend to objectify experiences, keeping them at arms length. Larger scale testing is clearing a research need.

 

If we were to indulge in the constitutionally proscribed practice of guilt by association, surely the labyrinth project would be vulnerable to indictment. In the first place, it is housed in San Francisco=s Grace Cathedral (Episcopal). It may be remembered that the Episcopal Bishop of California in the 1960's was The Right Rev. James Pike, co-founder of the ecumenical effort COCU, and liberal cleric extraordinaire. It could be argued that his posture of scorn toward historical orthodoxy would influence its current ministries.[29] Might the sins of the fathers visited upon the ecclesiastical sons and daughters?

The second Aguilt by association@ issue comes when one sees the kinds of people praising the labyrinth. They largely are more in tune with New Age spirituality than with the gospel. In an Internet Anetcast,@ one participant described laying out a labyrinth in his back yard, utilizing a dowsing rod to place the center of the labyrinth over a water source and aligning the entrance with Amaximum power flow.@ Another participant spoke of entering the labyrinth and being hit immediately with waves of nausea and feelings of horror, which she attributed to the triggering of a Apast life@ memory.[30] Faced with this kind of unconventional spirituality, evangelical Christians might well be gun-shy.

 

Fortunately, one needn=t resort to such expedients to raise cautionary flags over the labyrinth. Three criticism are germane. The first is that it is contentless. There is not underlying world view. Each walker takes to the labyrinth his or her own philosophical and religious perspectives. In fact, there is a deliberate effort to divorce the internal/personal response to the labyrinth from any external/historical reference. Although he following quotation from Jungians Jean and Wallace Clift refers to the medieval pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, one can apply it also to labyrinth walking.

The view that the bones of St. James the Apostle were miraculously transported to a remote corner of northern Spain to be discovered in a field of stars by a miraculous vision centuries later seems to us historically unlikely. Yet there is a absolutely no possibility of questioning the connective, trans-formative meaning of Santiago de Compostela for centuries of pilgrims who still walk, ride bicycles, horses, and donkeys, as well as cars, including some rather unlikely Protestant pilgrims. . . And there they fulfill their Aquest for something more and new and better.@[31]

While this absence of content is touted by those who champion the labyrinth, Christians are not likely to be quite so content to bypass Christ. Lauren Artress rhapsodizes about a world knit together by tens of thousand of labyrinths, and the commonality of those who walk them. Peace will come. Conflict will abate. However, one cannot simply suspend epistemology. C. S. Lewis, writing to his friend Dom Bede Griffith, O.S.B., a missionary in India, says AYour Hindus certainly sound delightful. But what do they deny? That has always been my trouble with IndiansBto find any proposition which they would pronounce false. But truth must surely involve exclusions?@[32] Furthermore, those of us who read our Bibles know that there is no eternal peace without the Prince of Peace, and that conflict will not end until The Final Conflict and our Lord=s return. Nor is such contentlessness necessarily neutral. Jesus warned that the life from which one demon was cleansed, being empty and inviting, drew in seven, so that Athe last state was worse than the first@ (Matthew 12:45).

A corollary of this contentlessness is the absence of moral striving as part of the labyrinth experience. There is no sense that one must repent of sin before or during the labyrinth walk. Nor is there any hint that there must be preparation before walking, neither that some may not be worthy to walk. It is a come-as-you-are experience.[33] Indeed, a crucial ingredient for the Medieval pilgrim, penitence, is absent from New Age spirituality, as is difficulty.

The second criticism is related to the first: Walking the labyrinth is experience driven. Granted, there does seem to be a kind of mysticism generated by the labyrinth. But, mysticism, as C. S. Lewis points out, is like an ocean voyage. All crossings are fundamentally similar; what makes them particular is the destination.[34] A danger of the labyrinth project is that it confuses the journey with the destination. Thus, there is no awareness that one may make wrong choices; that one=s experience may be misleading. The labyrinth=s design may even lend support to the old syncretistic and universalist cliché that we=re all on the same journey, regardless of our religious or philosophical convictions. One could argue that a multicursal maze is more compatible with the Christian message than a unicursal labyrinth, as Doob herself muses.

. . .[T]he labyrinth often represents the course of life from birth to death and the fixed order of God=s creative universe. In this context, the multicursal model makes an orthodox statement about man=s relationship to God and to his own fate: God designs the master plan, the paths and laws within which individuals, aided perhaps by grace, ecclesiastical instruction, or the sacraments, choose their own course and thus their own ends: entrapment and damnation or extrication and salvation. This model illustrates the interactions of divine ordinance and human free will. The unicursal labyrinth, on the other hand, is potentially heterodox, more appropriate in a classical, fatalistic context: God establishes an inevitable pattern that all who enter must follow, so that individual free will is irrelevant.[35]

In response, I would argue that the unicursal labyrinth can be just as AChristian@ as the multicursal maze, for it may speak to the walker of the necessity of making one=s way to the foot of the cross, the center of human history and the core of all meaning. Then the Christian must find himself back into the world, where both sin and the Spirit are found.

But another fundamental weakness of experience-driven religion, is that the experience becomes stale over time. A recent internet posting described a Washington, DC labyrinth which has added driving music, electronically projected images, and strobe light to the experience. Apparently, the labyrinth by itself is no longer a captivating enough experience for these pilgrims.[36]

A third criticism is that the event is fundamentally a solitary one. At a recent luncheon, historian Martin Marty contrasted Amoored@ spirituality with Aunmoored.@ Moored spirituality is anchored in a faith community, its Scriptures, and its traditions.[37] Unmoored spirituality takes a buffet approach to life, picking and choosing according to individual whim and current fashion. The labyrinth is an expression of Aunmoored@ spirituality; each walks the labyrinth by oneself, in glorious isolation form other pilgrims.[38]

 

Despite these cautionary notes, this writer urges careful consideration of the labyrinth, and recommends its use in a Christian context. It is true that there is no specific Christian content or message inherent in the labyrinth. However, Christians, evangelicals included, utilize a number of spiritual disciplines which are not unique to the gospel. Note this paragraph from management gurus Terrence Deal and Lee Bolman, in their book, Leading With Soul:

To aid in the journey inward, every religious tradition has developed spiritual disciplines, or exercises. One is prayer. . . Others include meditation, studying scriptures, singing hymns, following prescribed rituals, journeying to sacred places, and contemplating nature. Similar practices have evolved independently in many different places and eras. There is a meditative tradition, for example, in almost every major religion, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.[39]

Even though these exercises are not exclusive to Christianity, there are few, if any, here who would advocate the giving up prayer, reading of Scripture and devotional books, giving alms, performing acts of mercy, singing hymns, etc. because we share them with those of other faiths. Each activity must be evaluated in its own right for potential conformity to the gospel rather than dismissed (as we noted earlier) through guilt by association.

There are two powerful motifs, unique to Christianity, which Christians can bring to the labyrinth experience, and which will infuse it with distinctively Christian content. The first is this: We need to rediscover the biblical category of pilgrimage. In the great roll call of faith which is Hebrews 11, we read

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and building is God (vv. 8-10).

Though we who are evangelicals sing the gospel chorus, AThis world is not my home; I=m just a-passin= through,@ our actions belie our words. We are very much at home in Babylon.

The second truth is this: We need to emulate the early Christians in calling our faith, AThe Way.@[40] Paul called himself a follower of the Way when he testified before Felix, ABut this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets@ (Acts 24:14). To view our faith thus is to shed the notion of the Christian faith as only a static treasure of doctrines, and to add the dimension of daily obedience in the midst of the complexities and ambiguities of human life.

Evangelical Christianity has sometimes been criticized for failing to account for the depth of human frailty. Yet all of us, Christian or not, are subject to what novelist Frederick Beuchner calls the Atragedy, irony, and absurdity@ in life.[41] The labyrinth bears powerful testimony to the fact that life may bring us close to the goal, only to turn suddenly into a world of troubles which sweep us far from the heavenly vision. If our faith is overly dependant on circumstances, we will be perplexed. But if we remember that our Savior walked to Calvary bearing a heavy load before he appeared to the women on Easter morning, then we will realize that our ultimate hope is in the one who alone is, Athe way, the truth, and the life@ (John 14:6).

 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY ON LABYRINTHS

Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.

Burton-Christie, Douglas. "Into the Labyrinth: Walking the Way of Wisdon," Weavings, Vol. XII, No. 4 (July-August, 1997), 19-28.

Clift, Jean Dalby and Lcift, Wallace B. The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. New York and Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1996.

Corbett, Peter. "Pathfinders: Walking Medieval Labyrinths in a Modern World." Veriditas Ministries. www.gracecom.org.

Cornell, Judith. Mandala: Luminous Symbols for Healing. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1994.

Doob, Penelope Reed. The Idea of the Labyrinth: From Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Gaynor, Gillian. "An Amazing Journey," Presbyterian Today, Vol. LXXXVI, No. 1 (January-February, 1996), 11.

Herodotus. The Histories. Trans. by Robin Waterfield. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Jaskolski, Helmut. The Labyrinth: Symbol of Fear, Rebirth, and Liberation. Trans. by Michael H. Kohn. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1997.

Matthews, W. H. Mazes and Labyrinths: A General Account of Their History and Developments. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1922. Also the reprint edition: New York: Dover Publications, 1970.

O'Roark, Mary Ann. "A Walk Through Time," Guideposts, Vol. LIV, No. 7 (September, 1999), 40-44.

Penny, Lynn. "The Labyrinth-Take a Walk on the Spiritual Side," Horizons (July/August, 1998), 4-8.

Zingg, Otto. "Prayer in Motion: Walking the Labyrinth," Hungryhearts News. A publication of the Office of Discipleship and Spirituality, Presbyterian Church, USA, Louisville, Kentucky. (Winter, 1996), 1,4.

 

**********
FOOTNOTES

[1] Gillian Gaynor, AAn Amazing Journey,@ Presbyterians Today LXXXVI/1 (January/February, 1996): 11. Also: Lynn Penny, AThe LabyrinthBTake a Walk on the Spiritual Side,@ Horizons (July/August, 1998): 4-8.

[2] Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 201 pp. The Orlando labyrinth was part of a spiritual life conference at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Florida in February, 1998. The outdoor labyrinth was located at The Sisters of Mercy Retreat Center. On Spiritual Geometry, see, as one example out of many: Judith Cornell, Mandala: Luminous Symbols for Healing (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1994); Lauren Artress is quoted and the Grace Cathedral labyrinth cited on pp. 136-37. Also, the Grace Labyrinth poster uses the word, Amandala@ in its text.

[3] W. H. Matthews, Mazes and Labyrinths: A General Account of Their History and Developments (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1922), p. 184-85. Matthews also uses the terms Apuzzle@ and Anon-puzzle.@

[4] Otto Zingg, APrayer in Motion: Walking the Labyrinth,@ Hungryhearts News (Winter, 1996): 1,4.

[5] Penelope Reed Doob, The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 10-12. Ms. Doob also provides an excellent summary of the myth.

[6] As quoted in Matthews, p. 10.

[7] Herodotus, The Histories, Book two, sections 148 and 159. See, for example, the recent translation by Robin Waterfield (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 154-55.

[8] Doob, pp. 24-25.

[9] It must be noted that Ms. Doob disputes this oft-repeated assertionBan assertion accepted as gospel by labyrinth walkers. She cites the absence of Medieval textual evidence testifying as to the function of the labyrinths. What few references there are to labyrinths in Medieval texts tend to be inferential. For example, labyrinthine patterns adorn the margins of liturgical texts pertaining to Easter Vigil; Doob conjectures that the Minotaur has become a Satan figure and Theseus has become a Christ figure, and walking the labyrinth becomes a re-enactment of the harrowing of hell. In response, this writer would argue that the argument from silence is weak, and that placement of labyrinths at popular pilgrimage sties (the Cathedral at Chartres, for example, contains the supposed garment worn by Mary during the birth of Jesus) show evidence of the connection (Doob, pp. 117-20).

[10] Penny, p. 6.

[11] Helmut Jaskolski, The Labyrinth: Symbol of Fear, Rebirth, and Liberation. Translated by Michael H. Kohn (Boston & London: Shambhala, 1997), p. 73.

[12] Jaskolski, Labyrinth, p. 63.

[13] Furthermore, Lynn Penny says that over 700 versions of the labyrinth are open to the public worldwide (Penny, p. 7)

[14] See, for example, the magazine of Veriditas Ministries and The World-Wide Labyrinth Project, Source (1100 California St., San Francisco, CA 94018), and such websites as: www.labyrinthsociety.org

[15] Artress, pp. 75-76.

[16] Mary Ann O=Roark, AA Walk Through Time,@ Guideposts LIV/7 (September, 1999): 42-43.

[17] Artress, pp. 118-19.

[18] Archibald Hart, Adrenalin and Stress (Dallas, etc.: Word Publishing, 1988), esp. ch. 12.

[19] C. S. Lewis, Letters, pp. 301-302.

[20] See, for example, the excellent, and biblical affirmation in The Book of Order of The Presbyterian Church USA: AIn the Old and New Testaments and through the ages, the people of God expressed prayer through actions as well as speech and song. So in worship today it is appropriate (a) to kneel, to bow, to stand, to lift hands in prayer, (b) to dance, to clap, to embrace in joy and praise, (c) to anoint and to lay on hands in intercession and supplication, commissioning and ordination@ (W-2.1005).

[21] Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough (Nashville, etc.: Thomas Nelson, 1084), pp. 42-45.

[22] Artress, p. 34.

[23] William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America=s Future, 1584 to 2069 (New York: William Morrow, 1991), 538 pp. See also my 1994 ETS paper on the topic.

[24] Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing (Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980), 217 pp. For a Christian perspective on and utilization of the Myers-Briggs, see M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.,Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 173 pp.

[25] David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types (Del Mar, California: Prometheus Nemesis Books, 1980), 210 pp.

[26] John J. Timko, Statistics By Example (Orange, California: Statistics for Management, 1989), pp. 165-69.

[27] Therefore, numeric values were assigned to the labyrinth responses and the data was analyzed again, using the two-sample Student=s t test for small samples (Timko, pp. 123-38). Again, the null hypothesis was retained (i.e., no statistically-significant variation was found).

[28] This emerged from an informal poll I took of participants in the meeting ALabyrinths,@ on Ecunet.

[29] For a sympathetic treatment of Pike see: William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, The Bishop Pike Affair: Scandals of Conscience and Heresy, Relevance and Solemnity in the Contemporary Church (New York: Harper and Row, 1967). For a fictionalized look at Pike=s San Francisco years, see: Philip K. Dick, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

[30] Log onto www.gracecom.org and follow the prompts to the Labyrinth Project

[31] Jean Dalby Clift and Wallace B. Clift, The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning New York & Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1996), p. 166.

[32] C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, edited and with a memoir by W. H. Lewis (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1966), p. 267.

[33] Apparently sensitive to this criticism, it has been suggested that the sheer length of the labyrinth and the accompanying uncertainty as to where one is in relation to the center constitute a sufficient challenge to reveal the determination and moral fiber of the pilgrim (see: Doob, pp. 82-86). I must disagree. A walk of an hour, usually in a comfortable and congenial environment, hardly seems sufficiently rigorous to reveal moral character.

[34] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego, etc.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964), p. 65.

[35] Doob, p. 62

[36] John Harris posted note number 593 to the meeting ALabyrinths,@ on Ecunet, June 14, 1999.

[37] The luncheon was sponsored by the Religion Department of the University of Miami, February 13, 1998.

[38] The staff at Chartres leads a Aprocession@ in and out of the labyrinth. At least in that context one is joining with others in an organized and communal activity. Apparently smarting from this criticism, Douglas Burton-Christie argues that, appearances notwithstanding, the presence of other people on the labyrinth makes the experience communal. See: AInto the Labyrinth: Walking the Way of Wisdom,@ Weavings XII/4 (July/August, 1997): 27.

[39] Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Leading With Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), p. 57.

[40] Burton-Christie, pp. 21-24.

[41] Frederick Beuchner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (New York, etc.: Harper and Row, 1977), esp. pp. 37-47.

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Conclusion and Challenge

Three Yellow Caution Flags

Guilt By Association?

For Whom Does It Work Best?

An Autobiographical Preface