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The design of the Murray Creek Labyrinth is classified as “Classical” or “Cretan,” but less known is its correspondence to the Hopi symbol for “Mother Earth,” and which determines the design as an embodiment of feminine or lunar energies. One of the most intriguing things about this design is how it evolves out of the meander pattern. (Figure 1 below)
When the above meander is rotated 360 degrees it becomes the mandalic labyrinth. Figure 2 below shows the conversion process and the drawings below are after those in Nigel Pennick's booklet on Labyrinths in which Pennick credits Jeff Saward with discovering the sequence.
What further intrigued me was when I counted the angles of the meander and found them to numbered fourteen. (Figure 3, below) If these fourteen angles were equal to fourteen turns on the spiral of life's path, to what life cycle would this be a correspondence? I thought immediately of the twenty-eight-year cycle which in the symbology of astrology has two very significant parallels: (1) Saturn's orbit of approximately 28 years and into which an archetypal life span is divided into three "Saturn Returns"; and (2) the moon's four seven-day phases which wax to fullness around the fourteenth day and wane back to dark. Figure 4 (below) shows the fourteen angles converted to the labyrinth's turns.
The Creative Process the Labyrinth Embodies
Often on life's journey we have to grow into an understanding of guidance intuitively received. Such was the case when we moved the Mother Stone from its original position where it could be "touched" at turns 1, 7, 8, and 13, (see above Figure 4) and re-positioned it in the labyrinth's true center. Only after doing so was the "touchstone" re-visioned as the inner Self or Christ. Still to come was the insight as to how the Christic symbolism corresponded to the Hopi labyrinth imagery of Mother and (or with) Child. Thus the symbolism can now be read: As Holy Mother gives birth to the Christ, so the labyrinth at its most sacred wombic center--and the creative process herein embodied--gives birth to the Self. As an archetype, the quintessential meaning of the labyrinth is the life/death/rebirth process. As an archetype, how a labyrinth is to be understood at a particular time or by a particular people is subject to the very process it epitomizes--an evolution of consciousness that periodically necessitates a re-interpretation of the sacred.
As a lunar symbol, the labyrinth's fourteen turns correspond to the moon's approximate fourteen-day waxing phase as the fullness of the cycle is attained. In the symbolism of the spiritual journey, the center is where the fullness or the birth of the inner Christ Self is realized. In the waning phase of the lunar journey the Moon as Mother and having given birth to life and nurtured it to fullness, now turns and returns to the darkened phase, until, on the third dark night the life/death/rebirth cycle begins again with the reappearing sliver of the new moon.
On the spiritual journey, it is the birth of the inner authentic Self that enables the death of self-will and an ultimate commitment to the will of the Higher Will for one's life. In this context, it is appropriate that the Mother Stone of Divine Compassion should be at the center to bring forth the Divine Child.
Half Cycles and Full Cycles
Having noted above the relevance of fourteen to the Classical and Hopi labyrinth patterns, and that this year marks the fourteenth anniversary of the building of the Murray Creek Labyrinth, we also find it significant that we came here in 1974, or exactly fourteen years before building the labyrinth in 1988. Thus 1974 - 2002 marks the completion for us of a complete twenty-eight-year cycle, and which corresponds to the twenty-eight turns involved in moving through the labyrinth to the center and then back out. This is also the more-or-less number associated with the orbit of the planet Saturn so that the position of this planet in the sky is returned to every twenty-eight or so years. However, the critical or turn-around point of the cycle comes at the half-way or fourteen-year point, or, in terms of the labyrinth, at the center. More on the astrological symbolism inherent to the pattern of the labyrinth is given in a section titled Labyrinth & Moon. This will include how astrological symbolism sees three Saturn cycles as an archetypal life span of 84 years, or a journey through twelve "houses" of seven years each, and how when so understood the symbolism of the labyrinth is one of an ascending spiral.
A Convergence of
Over the years, and as an informal community has formed around the Murray Creek Labyrinth, Native American spirituality and Christian mysticism have found a common ground on which to develop side by side. The mysticism of Native American spirituality is one that knows the divine as the Great Spirit pervading all of creation. The concept of the Creator as inspiriting creation is a spirituality that also informs my own Franciscan path of in-Christ nature mysticism, and which is similarly compatible with Bob's shamanic studies and practices. Whereas for a time it seemed we were on different paths, the convergence of these paths is increasingly apparent.
Obviously there was something about Murray Creek that attracted us to it. Most apparent was its secluded, quiet beauty. Beyond that was the magnetism of the creek that flowed through this narrow mountain valley in the heart of the California Mother Lode. Steep slopes covered with oaks, pines, manzanita and toyon added yet another dimension to the mystique of the place. Yet just beneath the surface of so soul-satisfying a place, there was a brooding something. This we would come to recognize as the haunting imprint of the past when, a century and a half before, the dreamtime existence of the tribal people know as the Miwoks had been forever shattered.
In discovering the past of this place we would be left to ask: How could a supposedly “civilized” people dispossess a peace-loving people of their lives and the land they loved and honored? And now, with the many signs of Western Civilization's decline, the effect of the loss of a way of life that worked should be a concern of all. What, in fact, was lost to the earth itself when those who had understood how to live upon a land in a balanced harmonious relationship were no longer here? Gone with the Miwok culture was its attunement to the rhythms of nature. And who would deny this as something sorely needed today?
With “gold fever” spreading out-of-control, the Miwok paradise of peace and harmony was replaced by one form or another of greed. And so there occurred a rupture of the very fabric of the psychic environment of this and other places to which the epidemic spread.
When, in 1974, we purchased our sixty-acre parcel, we had no idea of the transformational work we were agreeing to take on—if, that is, our lives were not to fall victim, as had others’ before us, to the distortion of the reality that had caused the disenchantment of this valley.
At the time Bob was still a practicing attorney in the central valley town of Lodi, some forty miles from here. For a number of years, a group of like-minded seekers had been meeting in our home every Friday night. Eventually, three other couples from this group would purchase and settle on property adjoining ours, but in the early years of our being here, our Friday night gatherings gradually shifted to monthly Saturday Quiet Days.
In the beginning, and as we researched the history this place, a continuing pattern of hostility between the valley’s land owners became apparent. Could the suffering inflicted on the Miwoks during the mid 1800’s be a haunting influence over those now living here? In the early and mid twentieth century the valley’s history revealed several land “swindles” and numerous boundary and road disputes, sometimes as malicious as dynamiting the road to block neighbors’ passage and even the destruction by one neighbor of another’s spring and water pipeline. Moreover, the very house in which we now live had been the scene of a suicide.
Early on it became apparent that our being here would have to be premised on a sense of responsibility for consciously choosing not to fall into the valley’s entrenched patterns of tragedy and hostility, the latest having been an actual lawsuit between neighbors just prior to our purchase. The suit had been over the right-of-way of the road. As a result of the disillusionment brought on by the lawsuit, most of the property along the road had changed owners. In a way, this offered a fresh start for the valley, but unfortunately the imprint of hostility seemed to have remained and to have had a will of its own.
It was soon, very soon after coming here, that we became aware of the anguish the Miwok's had suffered, and could name it as "unresolved grief," and sense this as still lingering in the very atmosphere of the valley.
Perhaps because in coming here our conscious intent had been to establish a geographical spiritual community, we were more open than others to a palpable sense of the valley’s need for deep cleansing. Although this had seemed apparent to us, and others had taken our word for it, we had no experience in dealing with unresolved grief on a collective level of the enormity felt to exist here.
In reality, knowledge of how to work with the laws of spirit that govern a geographic area was something about which tribal peoples have known considerably more than those of us from Western European backgrounds. Coincidental to those early years at Murray Creek, Bob was engaged in an intensive shamanic training program. From this he understood the necessity of someone consciously embracing the wrong done the Miwoks. It therefore seemed perfectly appropriate for us to accept this role. After all, we both were, through heredity, members of the blameworthy race. And we also were firm believers in the transforming power of prayer and conscious intent. We were also fortunate in being able to enlist the help of others with similar beliefs. One thing was clear; in order to intercede for the forgiveness of the offenders and release for those so willfully offended, as many of us as possible would need to serve as proxies in seeking Miwok forgiveness for the genocide committed here. Beyond that, we would need to pray in some effective way for the lifting and the healing of the Miwoks’ unresolved grief. As to where to begin and how to proceed, guidance came in more than one way and through a number of synchronistic occurrences.
The Re-Enchantment Process Begins
Sometimes a shaman, after addressing the specifics of a problem of psychic contamination, and in order to restore the natural harmony and balance of a place, will find it necessary to “re-enchant” it. Something along this line is what we set out to do in exercising a group vocal process called “toning.” Several of us had read Laurel Elizabeth Keyes book titled Toning, The Creative Power of the Voice. In our first attempt we went as a group to an area of the creek where there still existed a large grinding rock. Here it was easy to visualize Miwok women crushing and washing away the bitterness of the acorns that they would then dry and grind into flour. As we joined our voices and let tones arise from whatever depths we were tapped into, it so happened that our vocal chords became the instruments through which the grief of the Miwoks found expression. When this had run its course, the tones lightened, lifted and attained heights of sound and harmony beyond our normal individual ranges and ability. Among us was a sense that release and healing had taken place. There would, however, be more.
Generally, this work of “re-enchanting” our valley has taken place over a number of years as the need and nature of more healing work has become apparent. Consistently, what has alerted us to still another phase of the process has been another outbreak of hostility, often triggered by something to do with the road or property lines--neither of which were ever problems for the Miwoks who viewed all land as belonging to the Great Spirit who had entrusted them with its care, and who in turn they trusted to provide for their needs.
As subsequent hostility has threatened the peace of our valley, we have taken it as a sign that more work was necessary. As if to guarantee the work would continue, one particular neighbor has repeatedly stirred the pot. “Every fool is a tool” is a saying our daughter Louisa learned from her old-country father-in-law. And except for this neighbor our labyrinth might never have been created.
The Glastonbury Tor Labyrinth
Moving on in time, in the spring of 1988 Bob and I made a trip to Southern England where we visited Glastonbury, lured there by an abundance of pre and early Christian lore associated with Glastonbury. The main landscape attraction of the area is the Tor which is visible for miles around. If you have read The Mists of Avalon, as had we before going to Glastonbury, you will recall mention of an unusual bookstore there. At the bookstore we discovered a pamphlet which compared the pathways winding to the top of the Tor as approximating the circuitous paths of a labyrinth, and with St Michael's Tower at the top corresponding the the center of a labyrinth. Following the map provided in a book titled The Glastonbury Tor Maze by Geoffrey Ashe, (Figure 5) we followed as best we could the trails to the top, but which at times were difficult to distinguish from the sheep trails also winding the mountain. Nevertheless, make it to the top we did, and from which we were adequately rewarded by the overview of the countryside.
The Tor as Labyrinth
Next we went to London, and down the street from the British Museum discovered another fascinating bookstore. “Have you anything on Labyrinths?” we asked. Remember now that this was in 1988 and before the dozens of books on the subject had been published, even before very many people were familiar with the word. Nevertheless, the bookstore owner excused himself for a moment, went to the back of the shop, and emerged with a 39 page pamphlet by Nigel Pennick titled Labyrinths—Their Geomancy and Symbolism. The inside cover carried a 1986 copyright. Near the back were two pages about the Ojai Labyrinth. And among the pictures were ones of Jill Purce and Rupert Sheldrake.
It was one of those “it’s a small world experiences” because only a short time before Bob and I and several friends had attended a workshop led by Jill on “Overtone Chanting.” Moreover, we were familiar and fascinated with Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphogenic resonance, and had found his ideas to have everything to do with the re-enchanting of the Murray Creek Valley. Bob and our friends, but not I, proved quick-studies of the method Jill had learned in Tibet and was now teaching. Understandably, our interests in labyrinths intensified through the synchronicity of the timing of so many "coincidences."
What Set our Labyrinth Building Wheels in Motion
No sooner had we returned from England than we discovered a very large oak had fallen in the meadow at the west end of our property. Bob set about trimming away the smaller branches and limbs in preparation for cutting up the tree and cleaning up the debris so large a fallen tree leaves. A few days into the job he came back to the house to report “someone” had nailed a sign to the tree that said “Keep off.” The who was fairly obvious but the why puzzling. When Bob called, the neighbor insisted the tree base was on his property. “No way,” Bob said, “it’s fifty feet from your line. Come down and I’ll show you the corner marker.” “The marker’s been moved,” the neighbor unreasonably held. We were therefore left with the necessity of getting the surveyor out to verify the marker was where he had put it and that it had not been moved.
But was there another why? For what reason was our attention being called to this spot? In search of understanding, I took the matter under contemplation. Was it simply more of the same old residue of hostility resurfacing in the valley once again?. Whereas previously our focus had been on the Miwoks and the past, it seemed now to be a problem of present antagonism looking for an excuse to express itself. If so, then clearly some creative way of defusing the situation was called for. Otherwise, whereas it was a tree this time it would be something else next time, and whenever an excuse for aggravation presented itself. What was needed and what I was asking for was a means by which the loss of a giant oak could be used for the further healing of our valley. When I was able to clarify and ask the question, the immediate response was: “Build a labyrinth where the tree fell.”
Somewhat flabbergasted by so quick, direct and simple an answer, I went into listening mode for something further by way of explanation. What came were the words: sacrifice and ritual. From these two words, I understood that the building of a labyrinth would be a sacrifice of energy and that walking a labyrinth was an ancient form of ritual. Further, it was one the Miwoks could appreciate and to which they would lend their energy. I received this to mean that forgiveness and reconciliation with the Miwoks had happened and that they were now to be willing participants in the re-enchanting of their homeland. I received all this on faith and began casually mentioning to friends and neighbors the idea of building our own Murray Creek Labyrinth. Our neighbor Jim Naylor was so receptive to the idea that he immediately began gathering pickup loads of rock.
The Year the Creek Ran Dry
For most of the summers we had been here water had continued to flow through Murray Creek. But then had come several drought years in a row and in the summer of 1988 the creek run dry. A standing joke had been that no matter how many rocks were taken out of the creek, more grew in their place. But at no time had it been easier to harvest the creek's rock crop than the summer and fall of 1988 when it was possible to drive right down into the bed of the creek. By the first weekend in November Jim and his pickup had dumped twenty-four loads around the area marked off for the labyrinth in the exact place where the big oak had fallen. Also interesting is the fact that on our entire sixty acres this is the only area both flat and large enough to build a stone labyrinth after the classical pattern for which we had directions and in which persons coming in and going out could pass. Was all this coincidence or was it synchronistic? When an archetype is stirring to life, are heaven and earth moved to help?
Our design for the labyrinth required a very large stone--a "Mother Stone," and which was located in the now-dry creek directly adjacent to the labyrinth site. Once its right placement had been dowsed, it was a simple matter for our neighbor Sam Jones to secure it to his truck equipped with a winch, and drag it into place.
I hope it is apparent by now that Bob and I had very little to do with making the Murray Creek Labyrinth happen. Rather it was the result of a contagious idea that became a group vision and to which some twenty persons gave their enthusiasm and energy.
Polly Naylor’s good friend Marsha came to help and brought along her video camera to capture the event. Our friend Dan Stephens edited it down to twenty-minutes of highlights, and from these made the stills shown in Part III.