The Magic of the Labyrinth by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

Labyrinths are magical. I’ve always been drawn to them. About two years ago, a local Episcopalian Church rebuilt their beautiful outdoor labyrinth and opened it to the public. In concert with them, I have been delighted and honored to offer guided walks there. Doing these walks, both in leading them and in walking myself, have given me the opportunity to reflect deeply on what they mean from many perspectives: historical, personal, spiritual, philosophical, experiential.

When I walk a labyrinth, it feels like I am mirroring the universe while expanding my internal journey. Teresa of Avila agrees with me (or, more accurately, I with her). She wrote, “If we learn to love the earth, we will find labyrinths, gardens, fountains and precious jewels! A whole new world will open itself to us. We will discover what it means to be truly alive.”     

     

Labyrinths are one of the oldest forms of spiritual expression. They, and their related forms, spirals have been found dating back to Neolithic times. Egypt is the oldest source of them in written records. Greek historian Herodotus (484BCE – 425 BCE) wrote: “I visited this building and found it to surpass description; for if all the great works of the Greeks could be put together in one, they would not equal this Labyrinth. The Pyramids likewise surpass description, but the Labyrinth surpasses the Pyramids.” By the time Herodotus visited the site, it was at least 1,300 years old.[1] Pliny wrote that Daedalus took his knowledge from the Egyptians for the labyrinth he built in Crete.[2]

Labyrinths from antiquity are found in diverse areas such as the Mediterranean, northern Europe, and pre-Columbian America.[3] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford discuss their lineage: “From the labyrinthine passages of the Palaeolithic caves to the labyrinth inscribed on the floor of Chartres Cathedral there is a distance of twenty-five millennia in linear time, but an identity of symbolic image that nullifies the passage of centuries.”[4]

Here’s what others have said about the power of the labyrinth:

Professor Wendy Faris calls it a “motif of quest.”[5]

Spanish mythologist, JE Cirlot writes, “The labyrinth denotes the world of existence – the pilgrimage in quest of the Center.”[6]

Baltic labyrinth with goddess (one of my pandemic projects was to learn to draw labyrinths)

Rene Guénon equates its symbolism to pilgrimage, “It is nothing other than the image of a spiritual centre, as is every place of initiation.” The labyrinth corresponds to “the central point, which is, both macrocosmically as well as microcosmically, the point of communication with all the higher and lower states.”[7]

In ancient of times, the labyrinth was considered the birth canal of the Great Goddess. Based solely on my own observations of energy, I see a deep vibrational link between the words labrys and labia.[8] There is no etymological connection between the two words but it is easy to see the labyrinth as the sacred mirror of the earthly labia, both in symbol and in form. They both represent the entrance or gateway to life here on earth. One is the gateway of a physical birth, the other of a spiritual birth. Both represent the motion of spiraling out into the world.

I briefly studied cranial-sacral massage. I loved it. It teaches about the energetic tides that energize and move smoothly through our bodies when we are healthy A related concept is what they call “the groundswell of the Breath of Life” that develops from the tidal movement within us. The image that goes along with the description for “breath of life” is a spiral.

The teacher made a point of noting that if a baby was born via Cesarean section, the therapist should take the swaddled baby and turn them in a spiral motion between cushions or crossed legs (in other words supported) to activate that spiral motion in the baby’s cranium. This is an activation that is missed when not having a vaginal birth. At birth, we physically spiral into the world.

There is so much depth to the meanings and uses of the labyrinth and the spiral. It is encoded in the ancient Hebrew script which originated in Egypt, home to Herodotus’s labyrinth.

Beit in Semitic Early (an early form of Hebrew)

Beit is the second letter of the aleph-beit. In Hebrew, letters have meanings. Beit means house. Many scholars describe the Semitic Early letter’s shape (above) as the outline of the floor plan of their tent structures. They say that it traces the entrance on the upper left corner and then a separation for men’s and women’s quarters with the women’s in the center. That never made any sense to me. I agree with mythologist Ariel Golan who notes that the image is closer to the appearance of the center of a labyrinth.[9]

How did beit’s image evolve and merge into the meaning of a house? First, it is necessary to define “house” or its synonym “home.” It can be our personal dwelling. It can be a specific physical place such as a city or a county.  It can represent a community. It can even be our physical body as the dwelling earth-place of our soul.

Benner’s description of beit as the tent plan lies squarely in the category of a specific dwelling. Golan’s explanation of the labyrinth encompasses all the definitions especially if we recognize that the entire earth is our home.  

Barbara Walker describes “labyrinthine designs” as “the earth-womb.”[10]

The labyrinth in a wonderful tool to plug into “earth-womb” energy and experience its healing aspects for yourself. Sometimes when I am alone with the labyrinth, I just lie down in the center and meditate on all the various aspects which come to together to make its magic.

If you have access to a labyrinth, I invite you to do a meditative solo walk or join in a group walk if available. Or both. It is a deep and meaningful practice with so many layers of meaning.

Here is the link to the world-wide labyrinth locator to find one near you. https://labyrinthlocator.com/

Some of my finger labyrinths

[1] Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, ed. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, Greenwood Press, 1988; Wendy B. Faris, “Labyrinth;” 691.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Golan, Prehistoric Religion, printed in Jerusalem, 2003; 302

[4] Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules, The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image Arkana, Penguin Books, 1993; 42.

[5] OpCit; Seigneuret.

[6] Quoted in Golan, Religion; 303.

[7] Guénon, Fundamental Symbols; 144.

[8] Rachel Pollack also briefly mentions this in her book, The Body of the Goddess, pg 60. Labrys means double axe and it is the root of the word labyrinth.

[9] Golan, Religion; 306.

[10] Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myth and Secrets, HarperCollins, 1983; 523

BIO: Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a ShamanWhen Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Labyrinths, Labyrinths, Mother Earth, Ritual, Spiritual Journey, Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. Ohhh that’s such a beautiful post, thank you. I love the finger labyrinths, never seen anything like it! The Labyrinth is a very strong symbol for me too, reflecting the journey through life, the oscillation between going in and going out, interior landscape and the universe… and finding the still point at the centre….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely uplifting article to read in these times where one can feel pretty cast down!

    Finger labyrinths are a new idea to me and I love stitching so that looks intriguing.

    I see the centre of the labyrinth as mirroring Jung’s view that the ‘Self’ lies at the centre of our psyches. The Self is there before we are born and continues on when we die.

    I was also very interested in the Hebrew Semitic Early script that you mentioned. The holy letters are fascinating things in themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes thank you for your comments. Yes, the centre, is a strong, connected place. It is very energetic.

      I love studying the Semitic Early script and how they function in words, especially biblical words. Because they are based on hieroglyphics, they are pictures and so words are picture puzzles or rebuses. Decoding and playing with them reveals some fantastic translations that got hidden in more traditional sources. One of the chapter titles in my Eve book is “A Picture (Puzzle) Paints a Thousand Words.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely post! We have a labyrinth outside a church near me that I pass everyday — I think I’ll make it part of my morning walks! Your exploration of spirals makes me think of how nature’s natural form is so often a spiral. I have a lot of ferns in my garden and I love watching them unfurl in spring, especially remembering that ferns are one of the oldest plants, first appearing on Earth 300 million years ago! Roses and some other blooms also have a spiral design, as do some leaf structures that will spiral up the stem. Gaia loves to spiral!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice that you have a labyrinth so near you Carolyn. Yes, please do explore it. Yes that spiral form is the Fibonacci series. A form that has been called “the fingerprint of god” or the “fingerprint of creation” (which I prefer for obvious reasons). Its our DNA. Perhaps another blogpost there. When I begin and complete the walks, I often blow the conch shell. That is the voice moving through the spiral of the shell to create a primal sound.

      Love those ferns as well. And Oh WoW! Gaia does indeed love to spiral. Awesome thought about Roses there. Thanks for bringing all that out.

      Like

  5. I love this essay… I appreciate the impeccable research and the synchronicity – i just finished da fried poem about walking through the forest listening…

    I too have been fascinated with labyrinths… it’s only been recently that I have developed awareness around what I do in the forest – these forays are my labyrinth today

    I suspect that most feminists – is this too general an idea? – have some connection to the spiral or labyrinth with or without awareness…

    Thanks Janet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Sara I agree with you. I think most people have that connection. Perhaps feminists are closer to feeling it on a personal level??? I’m thinking from your comment that re-invigorating that connection will make a difference in the world. All kinds of labyrinth experiences!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Also, I’d love for you to post instructions on how to make your finger labyrinths. Those are beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In my backyard, I have a spiral herb/flower garden surrounded by high bamboo to create a private room. When I walk this spiral, I sometimes sing, drum or go inward as I approach the center. At the center is a statue of an indigenous Goddess. When I walk out of the spiral, I focus outward noticing the flowers and butterflies and smelling and tasting herbs along the way. My cats often join me in the spiral. A less active participation is to sit upon a cement stool by the entrance and play my flute.
    In the book “Signs of Life” by Angeles Arrien, the spiral symbolizes the process of rebirth, growth, release, surrender, outward expansion and evolution. It is the process of coming to the same point at a different level with a new perspective of issues, people and places. The spiral is my personal symbol. 🌀

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds so beautiful Jan, thank you for sharing that image. I love that your cats join you. Animals are sensitive like that. Love the flute as well. Wafting vibrations!

      Yes, yes, to the symbology of rebirth. When we enter the earth-womb, the birth canal of the Great Goddess, that is all potential. All that is manifest. I haven’t read Signs of Life. It sounds like I need to add that to my reading list. Thank you.

      Like

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  1. The Magic of the Labyrinth by Janet Maika’i Rudolph – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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