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. Pliny wrote that Daedalus took his knowledge from the Egyptians for the labyrinth he built in Crete.
Labyrinths from antiquity are found in diverse areas such as the Mediterranean, northern Europe, and pre-Columbian America. 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.”
Here’s what others have said about the power of the labyrinth:
Professor Wendy Faris calls it a “motif of quest.”
Spanish mythologist, JE Cirlot writes, “The labyrinth denotes the world of existence – the pilgrimage in quest of the Center.”
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.”
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. 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 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.
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.”
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/
 Seigneuret, Jean-Charles, ed. Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, Greenwood Press, 1988; Wendy B. Faris, “Labyrinth;” 691.
 Golan, Prehistoric Religion, printed in Jerusalem, 2003; 302
 Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules, The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image Arkana, Penguin Books, 1993; 42.
 OpCit; Seigneuret.
 Quoted in Golan, Religion; 303.
 Guénon, Fundamental Symbols; 144.
 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.
 Golan, Religion; 306.
 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 Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods