By Carl Teichrib - September 2005
"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."
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
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
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" .
Embarking on the Journey
Counter to the statement "we cannot be exactly sure what the labyrinths were used for" is a wealth of literature, some easy to obtain, others that should be kept hidden on dusty shelves. This material paints a fascinating picture on the uses and purposes of the labyrinth as a conduit for the mystical. But before we venture down this path, it's important that we journey into the recesses of ancient mythological history.
The primary historical focal point for the lore of the labyrinth goes back to Cretan and Greek tales of Queen Pasiphaë, her perverse sexual desire for a specific sacrificial bull, an abominable act of bestiality, and the birth of a strange hybrid offspring - the dreaded Minotaur, which lived in a labyrinth built to cage him .
Each year, King Minos, the husband of Pasiphaë, demanded that seven boys and seven girls be given as a sacrificial tribute to be devoured by the Minotaur. One year, a hero named Theseus accompanied the children. Taking a ball of twine, he unravelled the string as he went through the labyrinth, giving him a trail leading back out. Once inside the labyrinth, Theseus followed the maze to it's center, where he battled with the Minotaur and eventually beat the creature to death.
The labyrinth containing this Minotaur was not the typical single-path labyrinth of today, but rather a complex maze containing halls and chambers. However, esoteric philosophers have long understood that the Minotaur maze directly corresponds to the ancient (and now modern) spiritually-connected labyrinth walk; the long soul journey with its many twists and turns, the ultimate arrival at the central convergence point, the struggle with the inner monster - and the final victory over the forces of darkness and ignorance (which can only happen when one is illumined at the center), and the repeated journey back to wholeness and the light of day. This esoteric significance of the Cretan story has never been lost on the initiates of the Mystery Schools.
Don't forget, this Grecian/Cretan story was immersed in the pagan religious context of the day, that's the metaphysical origin of the labyrinth as we can trace it. Hence the story of Pasiphaë, with its labyrinth journey and inner battle, is of interest first and foremost to the world of occult lore: for the simple reason that this is the intended context.
Following the Path
In following the path of knowledge concerning the spiritual uses of the labyrinth, one doesn't have to go to the Pagan Spirit Gathering or delve deeply into occult literature (however, we will examine esoteric writings in order to build upon this article). Plenty of information abounds in various reference works. Take, for instance, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols.
In discussing the labyrinth as a religious tool, The Penguin Dictionary associates the maze (read labyrinth) with the Buddhist Mandala - an aid in the spiritual initiatory journey. Consider the various other metaphysical interpretations of the labyrinth [note: square bracketed comments indicate an explanation provided by this author], "In the Kabbalistic tradition [Author's note: the Kabbala is a series of texts which make up the school of Jewish mysticism] taken up by the alchemists, mazes filled a magical function which was one of the secrets attributed to Solomon. This is why the mazes in cathedrals, 'those series of concentric circles broken at given points on the circumference to provide a strange and tangled pathway', came to be called 'Solomon's Maze'. Alchemists saw them as images 'of the whole task involved in the Work, with its major difficulties; an image of the path they needed to follow to reach the centre, arena for the two warring natures...' This explanation would run parallel with that provided by one of the teachings of ascetic mysticism - focusing upon oneself, along the thousands of paths of feeling, emotion and ideas; overcoming all that stands in the way of unalloyed intuition, and then returning to the light without becoming lost in the byways. To enter and to emerge from the maze might be the symbol of death and resurrection.
"The maze also takes one to the centre of one's self, 'to some hidden, inner shrine, occupied by the most mysterious portion' of the human personality. This conjures up the mens, the temple of the Holy Spirit in the soul at a state of grace; or again, the depths of the unconscious. Both can only be reached by consciousness after making many detours or by intense concentration, when that ultimate intuition is attained and everything becomes plain through some kind of enlightenment. Here in this crypt the lost oneness of being, scattered in a multiplicity of desires, is rediscovered.
"To reach the centre of the maze, like a stage in the process of initiation, is to be made a member of the invisible lodge [Author's note: the high-calling of the Mystery Religions] which the maze- makers always shroud in mystery or, better still, have always been left to be filled by the finder's own intuition..." 
Dictionary of Symbols explains, "...many
labyrinths are unicursal, having no traps but leading sinuously along a single
path. These were often used in early temples as initiation routes or more
widely for religious dances that imitated the weaving paths of the sun or
planets. They reappeared in patterns on the floors of medieval Christian
churches as 'roads to
reference works on symbols - and a labyrinth is both a spiritual tool and a
religious symbol - give similar definitions [as an example, see The Herder
Dictionary of Symbols]. While the meanings are varied, they do pulse with a
similar theme, even when associated with the early Roman Catholic cathedrals.
And this theme is repeated and more deeply probed by esoteric philosophers and
New Agers; it's the path of mysticism, esotericism, and occultism.
Reaching the Center
If the labyrinth is a path leading to one specific point, what does the wayfarer expect to find when he or she arrives?
On the mystical journey to spiritual fulfillment, the middle-eye of the labyrinth becomes a place of divine illumination. Even Kimberly Lowelle, the President of The Labyrinth Society - a network of labyrinth scholars and enthusiasts - recognizes this basic function. "The labyrinth is an archetype of transformation. Its transcendant nature knows no boundaries, crossing time and cultures with ease. The labyrinth serves as a bridge from the mundane to the divine..." 
promotional website for the Breemie Labyrinth in the
Kathy Doore, an author on sacred spaces, freely describes the spiritual implications of the labyrinth, "Labyrinths are temples that enhance and balance and bring a sense of the sacred - a place where we can confirm our unity with the cosmos, awaken our vital force and elevate our consciousness. These structures are space/time temples where we can behold realities that oddly enough transcend space and time. The orientation, form and geometry of a labyrinth has symbolic as well as spacial [sic] importance. It is a mirror for the divine...
"...Moving through a Labyrinth changes ordinary ways of perception connecting the inner and the outer, the right brain and the left brain, the involutional and the evolutional through a series of paths that represent the realms of the Gods and Goddesses. These realms are associated with planetary movement as a process that induces
Divine illumination is the end-goal of esoteric philosophy; it's the central arena of occultism.
Manly P. Hall, one of the 20th century's greatest esoteric philosophers and an eminent Masonic historian, tells us that the labyrinth was symbolic of man's search for truth . Other occult scholars tell us that the labyrinth symbolized to the people "the difficulty of finding the Path to God" . All of this points to the same thing - the mystical realization of our own divinity.
As Hall states in one of his earlier books, "Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of
Laying it out very plainly, Annie Besant - an early Theosophical leader - simply said, "Man is not to be compelled; he is to be free. He is not a slave, but a God in the making" .
Different Paths, Same Meanings
Part and parcel of labyrinth symbology is initiation, the mystical process of inner transformation. Robert Macoy's Dictionary of Freemasonry, like so much of the esoteric literature, connects the meaning of the labyrinth with this concept. Defining the labyrinth, Macoy wrote, "In the ancient mysteries the passages through which the initiate made his mystical pilgrimage" .
As stated above, initiation is the process of inner transformation. To that end, esoteric societies and occult orders employ initiation as a vital component to spiritual advancement. Indeed, initiation is the pathway, the journey, to mystical completeness. This is the occult metaphor of the labyrinth, a metaphor that is played out in a host of mystical similes. Consider the following archetypes. Keep in mind, each example is replete with historical and religious connections to the Mystery Religions, of which the labyrinth is but a part .
Freemasonry: when the Masonic candidate undergoes his initiation, he is led on an invisible path from station to station throughout the Lodge room. Each point and part of this journey is given an exoteric explanation - that is, the real meanings are cloaked in allegory and symbolism. After completing the journey around the Lodge, he is led to the center of the room where he kneels before an altar. The Worshipful Master asks what the candidate most desires, and the initiate responds with "Light" . Know this, the light requested is not incandescent light or some other physical light energy, but spiritual illumination .
Order of the Golden Dawn: Initiations rites such as the Ceremony of the Grade of Philosophus have the candidate embark on a spiritual journey, following an invisible yet tangible path throughout the Lodge room. This journey, like that of Freemasonry, is intended to elevate the candidate's level of transformative enlightenment .
Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis: In AMORC's
Order of the Eastern Star: As a co-Masonic body, the OES engages in a series of ritualistic initiations. Unlike Freemasonry, the OES ritual work is performed on a giant floor-rug pentagram. This pentagram, with an altar placed in its center, is called a Labyrinth. Each of the various initiation rites - journeys on the path to greater understanding - takes place in and around this Labyrinth . Beulah Malone, Past Grand Matron and Secretary of the OES explains,
"The winding in and out of the labyrinth symbolizes the human soul stumbling and struggling through life; learning by mistakes and experiences that the way leading to the supreme life and to God is not easy but is a way of testing one's power and strength.
"By following the examples symbolized in the lives of the heroines of our Order [Author's note: this is part of the OES Labyrinth journey], we may come into a full light of His Star and into wisdom and understanding. The great magnet of our Star as it shines forth in the world is missioned to bring Unity, the Truth of Fatherhood of God, and Brotherhood of Man." 
And herein lies the deeper spiritual meaning of the labyrinth-walk that has become so fashionable today. It's the symbolic journey of illumination, completely spiritual in nature, and dependent on our works - the "journey," or the "testing [of] one's power and strength."
The path to the center of the labyrinth is as the invisible but tangible path leading to the esoteric altar - it's an initiation into the mystical.
The Path of Completion: Returning from the Center
Hundreds of Christians have taken part in labyrinth prayer walks, and many churches across
are currently in a period of historic labyrinth revival. Churches, retreat
centers and Christian camps are placing these prayer tools inside and outside.
Christians all over the world are installing labyrinths in their yards and
gardens. Many are using the labyrinths as a ministry tool, bringing portable
versions to prisons, national denominational conferences and church group
meetings. It is conservatively estimated that there are over 5,000 labyrinths
I must admit her pronouncement sounds appealing. But this particular statement by Geoffrion doesn't paint the whole picture.
On her labyrinth prayer website, Geoffrion offers suggested prayers for different labyrinth events. In dedicating a new labyrinth, she suggests that those in attendance form a circle on the pattern and extend "the energy that is in our hearts and minds through their hands towards the labyrinth." Following this exercise is a meditative time where each person physically lays hands on the labyrinth and calls forth "the image of a loved one walking this labyrinth and receiving what is needed." After more "imaging," she recommends this responsive prayer,
"Community: We dedicate this labyrinth to spiritual awakening and reawakening. One: With hearts extending in many directions, Let us pray...Sacred Sustainer, Way to wholeness, Creator of possibilities, Supporter of change, Forgiving Releaser, Freedom, Honesty, Wisdom, Hope, Joy...we thank You for the beautiful spiritual tool on which we are standing..." 
Geoffrion suggests other reflective meditations for the labyrinth, including short prayers from the "Christian Tradition," "Egyptian Tradition," "Hindu Tradition," and "Sufi Tradition" .
For Christians holding to the exclusive message of Jesus Christ in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," a serious rift is now encountered. It's the dilemma that exists between what Geoffrion's first quote described verses the religious pluralism that the labyrinth appears to propagate. And because of the nature and metaphysical history of the labyrinth, this spiritual pluralism is inescapable. However, this ever-widening religious inclusiveness - which is the expression of the esoteric idea of the Fatherhood of God - shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, in the labyrinth experience every path is relevant, every road is right, every religion is valid.
Granted, Geoffrion is but one spokesperson representing the Christian labyrinth prayer encounter. Grace Cathedral, however, carries a little more clout. In fact, Grace,
There's no doubt that one reason for Grace Cathedral's success is their connection to Chartres Cathedral in
"A profound meditation tool, a metaphor for the spiritual path, a feminist Christian icon, a symbol of Mary or even all Christianity, even perhaps an almost cult-like centerpiece of a movement - the labyrinth is, most everyone can agree, a powerful inspiration." 
is open about the deeper meanings of the labyrinth. On the front piece to their
labyrinth website, Grace states, "The Labyrinth is an archetype, a
divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around
the world. By walking a replica of the
Grace also points out that the labyrinth is a shared esoteric tradition, "In
Native American culture it is called the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts
described it as the
The labyrinth exercise, Grace further explains, should be viewed in three parts,
"• Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
• Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.
• Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul reaching for." 
As an institution, Grace is no ordinary church. Not only has it been extremely influential in propagating the labyrinth prayer walk, it has been a hotbed for global interfaith work.
In the 1990's William Swing was Bishop of Grace. During the 1995 United Nations 50th Anniversary, Swing proclaimed that Grace would work towards the building of a global interfaith network. After an intense amount of travel and lobbying, Swing succeeded in forming the United Religions Initiative - one of the world's leading UN affiliated inter-religious partnerships. Today, the URI is an active player in advancing global religious unity.
Why does this matter? Remember all the connections between various esoteric philosophies with the labyrinth concept? A parallel runs between both themes; Unity. As a spiritual interface, and as Grace Cathedral reminded us, the mystical labyrinth belongs to "all religions traditions."
Remember the Eastern Star's labyrinth? Unity, the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man was the proclaimed magnetism of their Star. Likewise, this triplicate ideology is Freemasonry's boast, a major claim that the Masonic candidate is to understand via the paths of initiation.
Manly P. Hall, speaking of the Masonic interfaith ideal of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, penned these word, "The true Mason is not creed-bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge that as a Mason his religion must be universal: Christ, Buddha or Mohammed, the name means little, for he recognizes only the light and not the bearer. He worships at every shrine, bows before every altar, whether in temple, mosque or cathedral, realizing with his truer understanding the oneness of all spiritual truth." 
This is the starting point of the occult concept of "the divine." It tells us that every path on the journey is unique, yet each is true. In order for the mystic to move onward and upward, to return from the center of the labyrinth, he must accept his inner divinity. As Hall says, "...the way of salvation has been hidden within us" .
Reiki Master Kate McManus, in her article "Walking the Fire Labyrinth," tells of her friend's spiritual journey. “This year a friend mentioned an event that was to be held further out west a week after our winter magic festival. She described it as a fire labyrinth ritual in which a stone labyrinth would be lit at night to be walked with conscious intent and so mark the end of the year and begin a new one, a shedding of the old and birthing of the divine child." 
Years ago Paul Clasper drew this religious inclusiveness into a completed package, "The new mingling of faiths will cause a fresh interpenetration of ideas and customs. Out of the encounter some paring of outmoded encrustations will perhaps take place. The new intercourse will fructify in more inclusive, universal faiths, perhaps even a new world faith as a basis for the coming world civilization." 
Have We Learned?
In an earlier quote by the Rev. Jill Geoffrion, she proclaimed that "God is blessing the use of the labyrinth; many are being drawn closer to Jesus, experiencing healing and gaining spiritual clarity as they pray on its path."
On the surface this sounds great. But is God really blessing this "new thing"? Moreover, can God bless something that has its origins in esoteric doctrine and ancient pagan mythologies? Adding to its historical pagan significance is the fact that the labyrinth has never lost its occult meaning. As mentioned earlier in the article, labyrinths are still being used, and will continue to be used, as an instrument of pagan spirituality.
If God is going to bless labyrinth prayer journeys, how is He going to deal with Deuteronomy 12:1-14, 18:9-13 and Exodus 34:10-17? In each of these Scripture passages God explicitly tells His people to refrain from anything used in pagan practices. Moreover, the entire book of Jeremiah is a warning against involvement in alternative religious practices.
Furthermore, if God is going to bless labyrinth prayer journeys, how is He going to excuse the interfaith aspect that is common throughout the movement? John 14:6 clearly states that the only path to the Father is through Jesus Christ, and by no other way.
Yes, the majority of Christians would affirm that their prayer walk is completely focused on Jesus Christ. That may be true, but it doesn't excuse the fact that the labyrinth is, by its theological nature, an inter-religious and deeply mystical device. If God is going to bless the labyrinth experience, how is He going to deal with 2 Corinthians 6:14-16?
not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and
wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in
common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the
1. Manly P. Hall, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy (Philosophical Research Society, 1984), p.357. Hall was one of the 20th century's greatest and most celebrated esoteric philosophers, founder of the Philosophical Research Society, eminent Freemason, and a respected lecturer on occult doctrines and the Mystery Religions.
2. Roberta H. Lamerson, F.R.C. "Initiation," Rosicrucian Digest, November, 1984, p.21.
3. Kevin and Ana Draper, Steve Collins, and Jonny Baker, "About Labyrinths and Mazes," Prayer Path Online Labyrinth, http://web.ukonline.co.uk/paradigm/discoverframe.html. Website promoting labyrinths as an alternative Christian experience.
5. See the Pagan Spirit Gathering 2005 labyrinth ritual at http://www.circlesanctuary.org/psg/rituals. Another example is the Breemie Labyrinth Mid-Summer Festival at http://www.sacredway.co.uk/Breemie%20main/mhaydenlabs.htm.
6. See the first link in footnote 5.
7. Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology: The Masks of God (Arkana, 1964/1991), p.20. See also The Dictionary of World Myth (Facts on File, 1995), p.135. Other ancient labyrinth myths and stories exist that are rooted in Egyptian and various other Mesopotamian locations.
8. Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (Penguin Books, 1969/1996), pp.643-644.
9. Jack Tresidder, Dictionary of Symbols (Chronicle Books, 1997), pp.117-118.
10. The Labyrinth Society, http://www.labyrinthsociety.org.
11. See footnote 5.
12. Kathy Doore, Myth and History of Labyrinths..., http://www.labyrinthina.com/path.htm.
13. Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Philosophic Research Society, 1989.
14. C.W. Leadbeater, Ancient Mystic Rites (Quest Books, 1986), p.51.
15. Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry (Macoy, 1923/1951), p.92.
16. Christian Bernard, So Mote It Be! (AMORC, 1995), pp.87-88.
17. Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity (Quest Books, 1901/1966), p.220.
18. Robert Macoy, A Dictionary of Freemasonry (Gramercy), p.215.
19. Historians and occult philosophers who assert this link between the Mystery Religions and today's esoteric societies include Manly P. Hall, Foster Bailey, Albert Pike, C.W. Leadbeater, Israel Regardie, Papus, A.E. Waite, Eliphas Levi, J.D. Buck, Albert Mackey, H.P. Blavatsky, Henry C. Clausen, George H. Steinmetz, Joseph Fort Newton, and many others.
20. See Look to the East: A Ritual of the First Three Degrees of Masonry. See also
21. See Pike's Morals and Dogma, p.252 and Foster Bailey, The Spirit of Masonry, p.108.
23. Rosicrucian Initiation,
24. See Beulah H. Malone, Let There Be Light; See also Robert Macoy, Adoptive Rite Ritual; Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star, published by the authority of the General Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star.
25. Beulah H. Malone, Let There Be Light, p.97.
26. The Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion, Christian Uses of Labyrinths, http://jillkhg.com/christuses.html.
27. Geoffrion, Dedication of Deep Haven Labyrinth, http://jillkhg.com/labreded.html.
28. Geoffrion, Prayers from Varying Tradition to use at a Labyrinth, http://jillkhg.com/prayers4labusedifreltrad.html. I give Geoffrion sarcasm credit; she includes a short prayer from the American Secular Tradition - "whatever!"
29. Grace Cathedral, Walking the Labyrinth, http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/forum/for_19981122.shtml.
30. Grace Cathedral labyrinth homepage, http://www.gracecathedral.org/labyrinth.
33. Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry (Macoy Publishing, 1923/1951), p.65.
34. Manly P. Hall, The Mystical Christ (Philosophical Research Society, 1951), p.248.
35. Kate McManus, "Walking the Fire Labyrinth," About, http://healing.about.com/od/labyrinthspiritual/a/firelabyrinth.htm.
36. Paul Clasper, Eastern Paths and the
Carl Teichrib is a Canadian-based researcher and author whose primary work is on globalization and its impact on Christianity, the family, and nations. Some of his earlier articles include: