Archive for the ‘labyrinth’ Category

Listening to Inwardness–4

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

IMG_3378When I began this series of posts on the 21st of November, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that the practice it recounts would run for seven days, ending today, the 27th. But one of the benefits of my year-long work with Wayne London, MD*, in his exploration of the spiritual potential of the labyrinth, has been a deepening understanding of symbolism and ritual.

Often we tend to think of symbols as arbitrary, confusing them with signs like +, %, !, etc. But symbols run deeper, and often cross cultures (though they may change in some of their associations). Even more confusing are objective things, like the sun, that can also function as symbols. So while we can begin to list what the sun “means” — light, growth, warmth, illumination, a god, Jesus, the center of a solar system, and so on, that doesn’t exhaust its symbolic power. Experience the sun vividly, like at sunrise or sunset, watch it pierce the clouds and clear the sky, see it in a dream, and you begin to know its symbolic power in other ways.

The opposite tendency, of course, is to assume that a symbol, because it lies deeper than a sign, and often operates at more subtle levels, is therefore universally “true” or always appropriate, apt or fitting. Encounter the imagery and symbolism of a radically different culture, though, and you can see how symbols depend on lived experience. Water for a desert people can mean something much different from what it does for an ocean-side tribe whose lives revolve around fish and boats, storms and tides. Rain as a symbol in a song or a dream carries a different power.

One of the ways that Dr. London has worked with the seven-path labyrinth is to link it to the Hindu system of chakras (and also to the human sleep cycle). In this case, the number seven has a particular symbolic power, as it does in both Christianity and Druidry, of course, as well as in numerous other cultures — obviously including Hindu culture.

schneiderIn part, this symbolism of seven comes from a quartering of the moon’s cycle of 28 days, so that like many cross-cultural symbols, it augments its force by linkages to an objective reality. The largely planet-wide acceptance of a seven-day week points to a kind of symbolic “fit” with human experience.

Did the original builders of labyrinths perceive something of this symbolic fit or aptness? Is that why the seven-path labyrinth is by far the most common form of this pattern on the planet? (Investigate the 11-path Chartres labyrinth!) Who knows! But what remains to us is a set of associations that organize themselves around seven in a multitude of ways. Examine the evidence in such popularizations as Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art and Science (Harper Collins, 2014), and you begin to see how number symbolism is a particularly deep-lying symbolic sequence in our human experience and perceptions of the physical (and non-physical) world. Fear not, if you’re not mathematically inclined — Schneider’s book relies on images and diagrams, art and hands-on exercises, to bring home his several points.

Like any map, a symbol cannot include everything that it represents. It’s a selection, a set of choices and decisions about priorities. No map can “contain the universe”, nor can any symbol recall to consciousness the entirety of what it symbolizes. This is less a “limitation” of the symbol than it is a given parameter of consciousness in a world of space and time. To insist it be otherwise — to demand that one truth represent the cosmos — is like insisting that the ocean wash over everything. While that might sound at first like an ideal, in practical terms it means we all would drown.

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In his work, Dr. London therefore begins where the seven-path labyrinth begins, at path 3. If we follow the path sequence, as the labyrinth itself suggests — 3-2-1-4-7-6-5 (see previous post for the path numbering) — we find that the extremes of 2-1 and 7-6 are always bounded by returns to the center. (We reach the center of the labyrinth not by path 7 which is “the closest”, but by path 5). To make this clearer, Dr. London notes, we can rewrite the labyrinth path sequence like this: 3-(2-1)-4-(7-6)-5. Our departure, like our arrival, emerges at or near a center: 3, 4, or 5. This fits at least with my sense of a return to the world of lived experience.

Rather than a linear journey ascending the chakras to the full flowering of realization at the 7th chakra as an endpoint, then, Dr. London’s work with the labyrinth suggests a different and more spiraling journey.

Walking the labyrinth, then, is a ritual vision quest (is there any other kind?), following a sequence we cannot miss. This isn’t a maze, but a labyrinth, with a pathway in, and also out. We begin with enough consciousness to enter at path 3 — the manipura chakra, the solar plexus, the gut instinct, the self-assertion to choose to “perform the ritual” — to begin a quest, though we may not know where it will take us. What hero or heroine does, when they set out? Setting out on path 3, as Dr. London observes, “we leave the world of time and space”.

Without that choice, we do not walk with enough awareness to benefit directly from the quest. We are merely swept along by circumstance. (Here, Dr. London’s work on the connection of the sleep cycle to the labyrinth enters the picture in a fascinating way — if we’re not conscious enough to do spiritual work with intention, the sleep cycle nevertheless reconnects us to the cosmos and divinity at a minimal “survival-maintenance level” each night. We are never wholly abandoned to the limitations of life lived in time and space. In theistic terms, the presence of God always reaches out to us. In non-theistic terms, our connection to the cosmos endures — nothing can sever it. “Sleep on it” remains good advice. Again, “we leave the world of time and space” as we enter the realm of sleep).

If we’ve gotten this far — again, we’re starting at the middle, as with Dante’s opening lines to the Inferno, “in the middle of the journey of our life” — we’ve already been walking these paths, knowing they are not entire ends in themselves, but important elements along the way. We simply cannot walk a whole path without them.

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As a symbol, and as a map of the spiritual quest, I find Dr. London’s work useful in my own life, as a spiritual yardstick along the way. We’re still editing a forthcoming publication enlarging substantially on these ideas, tentatively titled “Spiritual and Healing Aspects of the Classic Seven-Path Labyrinth”. His work on what he calls the Grid at the second link below is also ongoing.

Image: Chartres Labyrinth

Link to 2015 iBrattleboro article on Wayne London, MD. Additional links may have expired in the interim.

Listening to Inwardness–3: Labyrinth

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

Beneath the snow, the holly — 
behind the clouds, the sun …


Where the verse is going, I have no idea. I’m still listening for the rest of it.

I like how the tiny red holly berries in this photo from yesterday morning are barely visible under the light dusting of snow, but also how once you see one or two, you start to see lots of them. Living as I do in New England and enjoying our glorious winters, I’ll still readily admit to a special fondness for things that stay green all year …

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In Part One of this series, I observed:

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth.


440 BCE coin from Knossos — Wikipedia image

For most of us, a solstice visit to Newgrange in Ireland isn’t in the works this season, but a ready and powerful alternative — one native to the whole planet, really — is the labyrinth.

Working with the labyrinth can parallel the inwardness that places like Newgrange invite us to experience.

[The Wikipedia entry at the link in the previous sentence deals with the double meaning and usage of the word. The Cretan labyrinth associated with the minotaur — the deadly monster at the center — is actually a maze, intended to bewilder those who enter and cause them to lose their way at the very least, if not get eaten. “Amazed” is originally confused. But as the entry goes on to note, many even early representations of that most famous of labyrinths were unicursal — not really mazes at all. Instead, like the coin image to the left, they have a single course or path — one way in, and one out. You can’t get lost.

It’s as if the deeper symbol overtook the old story of Theseus, Ariadne and the monster, or ignored it. The labyrinth is not a trap, then, but becomes an image of return, rebirth, a “there and back again” experience that a certain Hobbit would recognize immediately.]

It’s this labyrinth, the classic “seven-path” version, that I want to explore here*, in part for the value of the number seven and its associations.

Walking the labyrinth has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects. Much of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal and needs further study. But the one thing that is clear from the experience of many people is that as a meditative experience, walking a labyrinth can induce a profound state of centeredness and re-equilibration. Much like the parallel and balanced movements of tai-chi, movement through the labyrinth consists of alternating directions, whether moving out from within, or in from the outside.

3-2-1-Seq-crpIf we number the pathways in order from outside to the center, we get a diagram like this. Whether the labyrinth opens right or left, the sequence of pathways is the same: 3214765. (In addition to forming a pleasing musical sequence if the notes are matched up 1C 2D, etc., on the C-scale, many other associations are possible. Chakras … Tarot cards … I leave this to you as a series of meditations to explore.)

The steps to draw a labyrinth are simple, once you learn the “seed” or starting design for the figure.


The picture above is taken from Mid-Atlantic Geomancy, where you can also find the seeds to draw three-, eleven- and fifteen-path labyrinths. (Once you learn one, you’ll see how the others follow organically.) I also wanted to include a picture with the name Jeff Saward (link to pic and brief bio), because he has done so much valuable work on labyrinths over the decades.

Here’s a Youtube video suitable for kids on how to draw a seven-path labyrinth. It incidentally also illustrates how even drawing the figure can have a meditative quality:

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*In recent decades, in case you happened not to notice, there’s been a revival of interest in labyrinths. New Age authors have seized on the labyrinth as a form of “spiritual technology”. Churches as well as parks, and growth-and-retreat centers, offer labyrinth walks and meditations. You can find permanent ones made from wood, green hedges, stone, sea-shells, and other more unusual substances, as well as portable ones made of tea-lights, or painted on canvas that can be unrolled for use, and then rolled back up and stored or carried to a new location. The World-wide Labyrinth Locator can help you find some of the more permanent ones in your region.

Miscellanea, September 2019

1) I’m working my way through Caitlin and John Matthews‘ recent (2019) The Lost Book of the Grail: The Sevenfold Path of the Grail and the Restoration of the Faery Accord. When I’m finished I’ll post a review here.


Perceval à la Recluserie/Perceval at the Hermitage, XV century. Wikipedia/public domain

The “lost book” of the title is 484 lines of Old French verse from the 1200s called “The Elucidation”, which has been mostly ignored by scholars, though it serves as prologue to the works of Chrétien de Troyes , the French trouvere or troubador who can be fairly said to have launched the Arthurian tradition. Caitlin Matthews and Gareth Knight include their new joint translation of “The Elucidation” in this book.

2) Pillbug, Part 9427

This section isn’t important. You’ve got better things to do. The content has been generated from statistics caused by a wormhole in social media. OK — you’ve been warned.

Why does a post from March 2017 that’s still received no likes in the more than two and half years since it was posted show a 5-month increase in readership? (Yes, I know such things are circular — some of you will now read it merely because I mention it here. I’m trying to minimize that source of views by making you look via the Search box if you really want to read it.)

Here’s one snapshot of the stats for the post that WordPress supplies to the numbers-obsessed:
Created with GIMP

I conclude one or more the following:

+ The post conceals a vital hidden meaning, or cosmic code, that I myself don’t recognize, but that perceptive readers have detected and are studying scrupulously.

+ The post has become a loathsome example of clickbait and you’re just pranking your friends to get them to visit it, laughing maniacally when another feedback loop like this post confirms your success.

+ You’re deeply bored.

3) Like many of you, I distinctly felt the shift around the Autumn Equinox as we continue to enter more fully into the dark half of the year (the bright half for everyone down under). Now is a time of turning inward and attending to rebalancing, harvest, composting, integration and dreaming. (Or renewal, seeding and taking root, augmenting, blossoming and vision.)

I work with an aging hospice patient who’s dedicated his professional life as a doctor and medical researcher to exploring, understanding and addressing the effects of the shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, daily, monthly and seasonally, on the seasonally-sensitive among us. And that includes a wide number of us, when we assemble changing energy levels, seasonal-affectivity and other mood disorders, people sensitive to electrical storms, neuro-degenerative illness, alcoholism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, certain cancers, irritable bowel syndrome, residence at high latitudes, etc. One particular prescription he offers is to engage with “the meander” in all its forms: walking labyrinths, doing sacred pilgrimages, and attending to balanced meditative physical rhythms of many kinds (tai chi, etc.) to reset our internal harmonics.

4) Tarot reading this morning: hierophant (5), high priestess (2), moon (18). In the dark of the moon today, with a new moon this evening for the eastern U.S., that feels worth my attention on our sacred identities as mediators of holy energies, and the moon beginning a new cycle.

5) “Patience”, says my lectio divina for today, my holy devotions, “is the greatest discipline along the spiritual journey. By patience you can endure hardships, karmic burdens, slander, the pricks of disease and pain. Keep your focus on the goal, returning every time you swerve away”.

6) Some of my Pagan friends on social media have expressed deep delight in this over-the-top column from 26 Sept. 2019 in The Federalist, a strongly right-leaning publication. Headed by a close-up pic of climate activist Greta Thunberg, the article opens, “Climate Worship Is Nothing More Than Rebranded Paganism. We’re seeing sexualized dances, hallucinogens, worshiping nature, confessing sins in pagan animism, worshiping purified teen saints, all to promote a supposedly greater cause”.

“Where do I sign up?” wrote one of my friends.

“Ah, I’m finally starting to remember the Sixties!” wrote another.

“Aw, sh*t! I’ve been doing it wrong!” exclaimed a third.

7) In his poem “The Spoils of Annwfn” Taliesin writes:

Apart from seven, none came back up from Caer Siddi [an Underworld fortress].
I am one who is splendid in (making) fame: the song was heard
In the four-turreted fort, fully revolving.
It was concerning the cauldron that my first utterance was spoken:
It [i.e. the cauldron] was kindled by the breath of nine maidens.
The cauldron of the Chieftain of Annwfn: what is its faculty?
— Dark (ornament) and pearls around its rim–

One of several translators of the poem for a book published a little over a century ago observed that it is “one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems” (Charles Squire, “The Mythology of the British Islands”. London, 1905).

But sometimes ya just gotta run with what comes. I can always work it out later. Meanwhile, why strive to interrupt the awen as it flows, issuing from the Deep (one of the meanings of Annwfn) within us?

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Grail and Cross — Druid & Christian Theme 5

[Updated 4 June  2020]

You can help improve the usefulness and relevance of this blog, and this series on Druid and Christian links in particular, by helping to account for the surge in views this post has experienced over the past year. I invite your comments: what brings you back and keeps you reading this post?

I took this post down for several months because of suspicious spikes in readership coinciding with spikes in spam and phishing attacks.

Now it’s back up for another trial run. Readers, please let me know you’re “real” by posting a quick comment!

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

symbol pageAs with so many geometrical figures, both solid and planar, the Grail and Cross, cup and intersection, are figures that belong to no single group or culture.

Of course cross and star, cup and sword, wand and flame, etc., may be adopted by one or more groups as symbols with meanings specific to the group, but that doesn’t mean the cross is exclusively “Christian”, any more than trees “belong” to Druids alone. The most powerful symbols expand beyond the confines of association with any one group. If they didn’t, we might question their worth.

To choose just one example, the five-pointed star is Pagan, Christian, and more besides. Most of all, it’s an anciently human-devised shape, made to represent a host of ideas and perceptions. Many of the most enduring symbols are mandalas, sacred forms, that often show a high degree of symmetry, or other visual and pleasing harmony. Contrary to what you may have heard, sacred geometry is alive and well, and lives still in our eyes and hearts.

Among the Sumerians, millennia before Christ, the star or pentagram was a logogram meaning “corner, angle, nook, small room”. In Medieval Europe, the star could represent a series of Christian fives: the five wounds of Christ, the five chivalric virtues of a knight, and so on. (The medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight develops this theme at some length.) And as one form of endless knot, the unicursal star or pentagram stood as a symbolic defense against evil. How many nations feature stars on their flags and among their other national symbols? That’s quite a range of meanings and interpretations — and possible uses!

All this said, both Grail and Cross are now firmly entrenched in the Western world as specific symbols, straddling Pagan and Christian understandings of emotion and physicality, manifestation and transformation, magic and divinity. Still, modern instances can reinforce (and subtly reinterpret) older usages. Note this comment about the fictional “Grail Cross” at

This emblem, best known as the “grail cross,” is not a genuine religious or historical symbol, but I receive so many questions relating to the symbol that it is included here. This emblem appears in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” as the emblem of “Brotherhood of the Cruciform* Sword,” the fictional secret society who serve as Guardians of the Holy Grail in the movie.

With its myth- and symbol-making power, modern media is rife with magical purposes — the subject of a separate post, if not a book or entire library. Want a “new” symbol to become charged with meaning and significance? Get it into a film that generates pop-culture buzz and fandom!

For what the original symbols point to is precisely what their commercial cousins claim to but cannot offer: transformation, youth, beauty, power, energy, fertility. Who doesn’t seek the Grail?

Grail and Cross are one more way for Druids and Christians to find points of communion and exchange, without sacrificing their distinct identities. And such communion can be literal: bread of the earth, wine or grape juice as the blood of sacrifice, the ritual words either Druid or Christian, depending on the purpose, those attending, the group and the rite. What does your imagined shared Druid and Christian ritual look like?

I’ve written here before about the Forest Church movement, and there are creative imaginings, poems and songs that explore this common territory. You can read one instance here, about Jesus and Merlin:

What if
Jesus and Merlin were to meet
At twilight
In the garden, in the grove,
One looking forward to the Skull of Golgotha,
One looking back on the Sacred Head of Bran? …

What could they give to one another
These prophets circling in their Time-long orbits?

You might try out the poem’s answers to these questions on your sense of possibilities. And if they don’t work for you, write yours.

After all, there are as many meeting-points as people. If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another that doesn’t fit you on your arm of the spiral journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation.

One such locus for both traditions is healing, as OBOD Chief Philip Carr-Gomm has written,

laby-grOne of the most important tasks that face us today is one of reconciliation, whether that be between differing political or religious positions … the Christian community, far from taking fright at a perceived regression to a pagan past, can ally itself with [Druidry] which is complementary, and not antagonistic to Christian ideals and ethics …

St. Columba said “Christ is my Druid” and I believe that if we take Druidry to represent that ancient wisdom which lies deep within us, and that can connect us once again to the Earth and her wonders, we can understand how we can be Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids or Druids of whatever hue or depth is needed for us at our present stage of development.

As you will know, Christianity in these islands built upon the foundations laid already by the Druids –- their seasonal observances were developed as festival days, their sites were built upon with churches, and the Druids welcomed Christianity for they with their powers of seership and connection to the Source knew of Christ’s coming, and allowed their practices to develop into what became known, at least in Scotland, as the Culdee church.

This segues into the next theme in this series: festivals and holidays.

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Images: symbols; grand-mother and -daughter at labyrinth.

Servant of Isis

oliviarobertsonThe passing last month of Olivia Durdin-Robertson, author, painter, and priestess of Isis, was remarkably non-reported in the American press.  The London Times (preview only) and Telegraph, and the Irish Times, however, all carried extensive obituaries.  Colorful and delightfully eccentric, and co-founder with her late brother Lawrence of the international Fellowship of Isis in 1976, Robertson inspired many in a rediscovery of the feminine divine.  Her writings, art, liturgies, rituals and personal example helped give a form to a widespread longing to experience the Goddess.

huntcastleRobertson was a member of the Irish landed gentry, and the family’s splendid Huntington Castle in County Carlow became under her influence a devotional center and extended series of shrines to the Goddess.

chartlabyI’m writing about Robertson not only because her life and work deserve to be known, but also for more personal reasons. As I’ve tried with varying success to record (Goddess and Human, Of Orders and Freedoms, Messing with Gods, Potest Dea-A Dream Vision), the Goddess is alive and on the move, even in my life.  I say “even” because many trends often seem to pop up, flourish and fade before I even discover their existence. And I can be remarkably obtuse even when spirit knocks on the door.

But the Goddess, through Her grace, is no mere trend. Will we look back at the present as another period of renewed veneration for Her, similar to the century or so of inspiration behind the construction of over 100 glorious Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin Mary in medieval Europe?  (The most famous is Chartres, which many know both for the cathedral and for its labyrinth.* The best website is in French, worth visiting for its images even if you don’t know the language.  On the horizontal menu, click on “La Cathedral” and then on “Panoramiques  360” — if you have sufficient bandwidth, the virtual tour is well worth your while.)

The most recent appearance of the Goddess (or a goddess — She/They may figure it all out someday) in my life is a series of meditation experiences this October over the span of a week.  Isis called to me.  The nature of the call wasn’t completely clear, and I also didn’t pay adequate attention.  Goddesses aren’t really my thing, I might say, in an arrogant ignorance I intermittently see the extent of.  As if the divine in any of its forms is something to dismiss as a matter of personal taste.  But I have two color images of Isis I printed from the web (though they’re in a jumble of a side devotional area I haven’t finished ordering and dedicating), and I am continuing to work with meditation and vision to see what comes of it. I pulled a couple of her books** off my shelves, too — evidence she is a presence whether I attend to her well or not.

I mention this because now it feels more significant, in retrospect, with Robertson’s passing.  Another reminder this life is finite, and that such opportunities, to the degree they manifest in time, do not wait forever, even if they may reoccur and reappear.

And if you can see from my admissions here how patient the divine can be with human slowness, indifference, ego, stubbornness and a few other choice weaknesses I’m probably missing at the moment, there’s really hope and encouragement for anyone at all.

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Images: Olivia Durdin-RobertsonHuntington Castle; labyrinth;

*A good starting point for learning more about labyrinths is the extensive site of the Labyrinth Society.

**M. Isidora Forrest’s excellent Isis Magic (Llewellyn, 2001, recently out in a second edition), and Rosemary Clarke’s The Sacred Magic of Ancient Egypt (Llewellyn, 1st ed., 2nd printing, 2008).

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