A labyrinth has often been used as a metaphor for a soul’s spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, labyrinths are usually circular in shape and have one, and only one, continuous meandering path that eventually leads to the center. This single path threads itself over the maximum amount of ground, without treading the same trail twice. There are no dead-ends, no intersections.
Labyrinths can be found in almost every religious tradition around the world. The design is mysterious and mythic, its origins unknown, yet primordial. It is an archetypical design, appearing across continents and cultures. The Hopi medicine wheel, Tibetan sand paintings, Troy dances, and the Tree of Life, found in the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbala, are all examples of labyrinths. Even DNA, which encodes the genetic inheritance that defines our unique identity, could be viewed as a labyrinth, the double-helix strands spiraling around each other.
Labyrinths began to appear in European cathedrals during the Crusades, as pilgrims were unable to journey to the Holy Land. Instead they might travel miles to enter the great cathedral of Chartres in France; St. Servatius in Maastricht, The Netherlands; the portico of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, Italy; or more than twenty other cathedrals throughout Europe.
The pilgrims’ mission would be to enter the twists and twirls of the labyrinth path and walk into the rosette center to stand in Jerusalem, the navel of the Christian world, represented, at times, by a mosaic image of the old city.
Today, the labyrinth is being rediscovered as a sacred tool for seeking answers, healing psychic wounds, and connecting more deeply to one’s soul and to God.
You enter a labyrinth and walk purposely toward the center, but suddenly the path twists and turns around itself, leading you away, and, at times, even in the opposite direction. The path weaves you through space like a dance, now gliding near the center, now spinning away.
This is true for our lives. As human souls we long to reach the center of ourselves, but our outer lives will pull us away, distract us with things to buy or projects to complete or too many drugs to devour (be they sports, booze, television, material comfort, or sex). Still, if we are persistent seekers, we continue forward, around, sometimes walking right alongside the path we once traveled. If we are sincere seekers, we will recognize our center when we brush near, even as the path once more winds itself away. And eventually, if we are seekers with deep longing, we will enter the center and come to know ourselves.
The labyrinth’s only path inward also leads us back out again. We walk from the edge to the center and back to the edge; from the light to the dark, and back into the light; from the outer world to the center of ourselves, and back out into the world.
With the self-knowledge gained by spiraling towards the center of ourselves, we return to our surroundings as more complete and compassionate human beings. The more we recognize ourselves, discard defenses no longer needed, work through our past, and acknowledge our own shadow, the more we can fully participate in the world and truly become part of a whole. We can also more easily draw on our own creative potential and upon the Divine source of creativity that surrounds us.
As we approach our Higher Selves, we come closer to God, to wisdom, and to true freedom. To locate a labyrinth near you, check out the Labyrinth Locator website. Or better yet, venture to make one yourself and discover this powerful symbol of the soul’s journey towards Joy.