by Carl Teichrib
“Symbols are keyholes to doors in the walls of space, and through them man peers into Eternity…Symbolism, then, is the divine language, and its figures are a celestial alphabet…” – Manly P. Hall .
“…symbolical rites are the external expressions of man’s inward desire to unite with Divinity.” – Roberta H. Lamerson, F.R.C.
“Whilst we cannot be exactly sure what the labyrinths were used for, they were clearly a symbol of the Christian way, representing the path of the soul through life.” – About Labyrinths and Mazes.
I was struck by the simplicity of the above statement: that labyrinths are “clearly a symbol of the Christian way.” An interesting position, especially given the fact that the authors of this particular quote admit, “we cannot be exactly sure what the labyrinths were used for…”
We live in a day and age where many “new things” are sweeping through the Christian church. Some of these alternative directions are simply a reflection of changes in style and format. However, in our exploration towards alternative forms of spiritual expression – particularly as we try to build relevancy in a post-modern culture – it is imperative that doctrinal discernment and discretionary principles come into play. This is especially true as society rapidly embraces a plethora of alternative spiritual practices, beliefs, and paths. Sadly, we as Christians often flounder in doing our homework, and in that vein we may inadvertently open our congregations to highly questionable choices and spiritual experiences.
Paradoxically, while the evangelical Christian community talks about “spiritual warfare” and “putting on the full amour of God,” many of these same churches can be found embracing that which they claim to counter. In seeking relevancy, we have become dangerously “experiential” in nature, and old forms of mysticism are becoming center-pieces in “experiences of faith.”
The labyrinth prayer-walk, which follows a single winding path to a central location, is a case in point. Primarily jump-started by a UK-based Christian movement in alternative spiritual expressions and by an influential San Francisco cathedral, denominations around the world are embracing labyrinths as a viable part of the “spiritual journey.” But are labyrinths part of the Christian encounter, as suggested by the third introductory quote above?
My first experience with a labyrinth happened years before the idea become faddish in Christian circles. I was doing research work on occult philosophy at the Theosophical headquarters in Wheaton, IL, and after spending a better part of the day reviewing esoteric literature (Theosophy is a blend of mystical traditions, ancient mystery religions, and eastern philosophies), I went for a walk across the grounds to clear my head. There, towards the back of the property, was a labyrinth that had been set up as a place for spiritual release and expression.
As a Christian researcher and author on globalization, including the religious trends accompanying our changing international situation, I wasn’t surprised by the fact that a labyrinth was set up at this intensely “occult” location. It made perfect sense.
Understand, Christians looking for ways to bring in new relevancy within church worship did not “rediscover” the labyrinth as a spiritual tool. As we shall see, it’s been part of the esoteric world for a very long time. Which is why, today, labyrinth walks and “prayer journeys” are being promoted by Rosicrucian groups , at New Age festivals and celebrations , and throughout the neo-pagan world. Not surprisingly, one of America’s largest witch, shaman, and neo-pagan assemblies, the 2005 Pagan Spirit Gathering at Wisteria, OH, held a night-time Summer Solstice Labyrinth ritual, which was described as a “transformative, walking meditation through an all night labyrinth formed by 1000 lighted candles” . Click here to continue reading and for footnotes.