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Labyrinth & MOON


Light on Life's Cycles & Initiations

By Ann K Elliott


William Blake's Ancient of Days





Out of a myriad of labyrinth designs, the one referred to here is the seven-circuit Hopi/Cretan pattern--the only one I have experienced long enough to have begun to learn of its secrets:



How the labyrinth relates to life's cyclic passages and initiations.

How the dromenon--what the labyrinth enacts--is the soul's eternal rebirth.

How in delineating sacred space, its complement is the moon's demarcation of sacred time.

How the labyrinths that once inscribed the enclosures within which ancient initiation rites took place, now serve as tools for spiritual direction; and how together with the moon's cyclic pattern, the discernment process--often critical to safe passage through life's major crises--is illuminated..


How the moon, at least as far back as the beginning of recorded history, has served as the master template for all cycles, its harmonies and sub-harmonies continuing from generation to generation to evoke wonder and mystery.


How moon and labyrinth in concert unfold the pattern by which life's creative energies are renewed, and how this serves, at each new stage of life, to restore and renew life's meaning and purpose.


In Part One the mysteries moon and labyrinth share are explored.

In Part Two a PRACTICUM offers ways the ancient wisdom of labyrinth and moon can direct the spiritual paths of contemporary lives.




Part One



First Questions

With only a compass in hand, Blake’s Great Geomancer brings forth a universe of perfect order and harmony. Similarly, with only a knotted cord a labyrinth mysteriously appears. And we are left to contemplate a pattern that is more than it appears to be; that is somehow a reflection of an imprint our souls bear.

How else to explain the resonance we experience when engaged with a mere arrangement of lines?

  • Is there a common factor to which labyrinth and human psyche both resonate?

  • What can be learned from ways labyrinths have functioned and the purposes they have served in previous cultures?

  • What mysteries do moon and labyrinth share?


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

The Imprint of Seven

From a purely rational perspective, a labyrinth that has seven circuits could be expected to have as its resonate factor the number seven. If so, how is human nature so structured as to resonate to seven? What is there about seven that, since time immemorial, has caused it to be considered sacred?

Jung, towards the end of his life had a hunch:

I have a distinct feeling that number
 is a key to the mystery . . . .


Not feeling he had years enough left to pursue this mystery of number, he asked Marie-Louise von Franz to take over the pursuit for him. Her willingness to do so resulted in Time and Number, "reflections leading toward a unification of depth psychology and physics." (Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1974). Intuitively Jung had perceived that the unity of the psyche and of matter was to be understood in the single digit numbers as they function as archetypes. Similarly, the structural imprint of seven upon a labyrinth may reveal the nature of its function as an archetype.


Jung, from his contemplations on "the enigma of natural number," concluded that numbers were capable of “constellating” images, and moreover that number was the means by which constellated images were “ordered” or “structurally arranged.” If the numbers inherent to a labyrinth's pattern define or indicate its archetypal function, then going deeper into the mysteries of these numbers would seem a worthy pursuit.

Jung had a further perception which may help explain how the pattern of a labyrinth can serve as an inter-dimensional interface. His observation was that number functioned as a link between the visible and invisible worlds of matter and spirit. In fact, his hunch about number being the key to the mystery concerned the underlying unity upon which the multiplicity of the created, manifest world rests, and in which "everything divided and different belongs to one and the same world"--to the unus mundus. (von Franz, p 9)


Before delving into the essential meaning of any number, and wherein its mystery dwells, a primary consideration is its relationship to the first four integers, each of which embody a fundamental or foundational, universal principle: As one speaks of unity as the whole, so its primary division or separation is into two; with three and four following as the principles of heaven and earth--of things pertaining to spirit and to matter. Seven, then, as the sum of three and four, relates to an interactive creative process by which spirit (as three) enlivens form (as four). According to the Genesis account of the seven “days” of creation, the creative cycle that seven completes has six active phases followed by a sabbath of rest in preparation for the beginning of a new cycle.

Three and four, as primary numbers, have corresponding geometric shapes, with three’s shape being the triangle and four’s the square. Thus seven takes shape as a combination of a triangle and square. The triangle, when doubled, becomes the familiar Star of David—symbolic of the Jewish faith (Figure 1); while the square, when doubled, is a dominant theme of Islamic design (Figure 2). Triangle and square, however, do not combine so as to form a familiar or pleasing design, but when they are arranged so as to grow out of each other in a spiraling or serpentine way, what emerges is a two dimensional representation of the DNA “ladder of life.” In this combination the principles of three and four can be seen to generate a movement that is both dynamic and spiraling. (Figure 3)

When the DNA spiral is visualized as a double helix, its ladder, reminiscent of Jacob's dream, is one on which the energies of heaven and earth intermingle. Because of the times in which we live, such images are sorely needed to replace of the old dichotomy of spirit versus matter, which for a number of centuries now has dominated both religious and scientific thought. In Rhythms of Vision, "the changing patterns of belief," Lawrence Blair writes:

The genetic code, which was only cracked by Drs. Watson and Crick in the early 1950s has caused great interest as it hints at the enigmatic connections between “matter” and “spirit”—between organic tissue and the invisible furnace which moulds it into the stream of biological evolution. (p.86)

In the no-time zone of dreams and visions, of angels and archetypes, could Jacob's vision have been an anticipation of the discovery of DNA's double helix? And did Blake dream the same dream? (Figure 4) Is the spiraling pattern of a labyrinth analogous to the link between worlds that only seems discontinuous?



William Blake's  "Jacob's Vision"
Figure 4


The Cycles of the Psyche

Patterns, symbols, diagrams, systematic arrangements of design components, in all of these ways human consciousness expands in non-linear ways that entrain the mind to think in terms of wholes which are interconnected and interrelated. Similarly, cycles, according to Dane Rudhyar's psychology of astrology, leads to an understanding of time, not as objective but as a subjective "right time" for the new possibilities inherent to the significant turning points of the cycles of a human life. Here cosmic harmonies are understood to reflect the patterns and rhythms of the cycles of the psyche. To be in touch with this is to be able to "seize the day." Therefore, whether in spiritual direction, in crisis counseling, or in simply processing the "stuff" of one's own life and times, getting an overview of where a person is in a whole life cycle, and then narrowing in on the current circumstances is a good place to begin. It is just such a perspective that labyrinth and moon in conjunction offer in their division of sacred space and sacred time according to seven.

Chronobiology and Seven-day Rhythms

There was a time when religion was looked to for an understanding of the mysteries of life. But in recent times, particularly with the advent of subatomic physics and microbiology, the hidden aspects of life, which previously were taken on faith, have become the sphere of science.

In an article titled “The Seven Day Week: A Chronobiological Perspective” Robert Lohmeyer makes note of how very specific rhythms have been found to follow the pattern of the week. Important to Lohmeyer’s work of charting “Lifecycles” is a statement by Jeremy Campbell: (see )

. . . circaseptan (7 day) rhythms are one of the major surprises turned up by modern chronobiology. A central feature of biological time structure is the harmonic relationship that exists among the various component frequencies. A striking aspect of this relationship is that the components themselves appear to be harmonic or subharmonics, multiples or submultiples, of seven, a number that has played a disproportionately large role in human culture, myth, religion, magic and the calendar.

Lohmeyer notes that the rhythm of the week is inherent to the human being and not just a cultural phenomena. If the imprint of seven exists in the cellular memory--even the DNA--of earth bodies, and if the moon can move ocean tides, why not human emotions as well? As who has not experienced a sudden inundation of emotion against which one has been helpless to turn back its tide?


Moreover, in terms of the seven-circuit labyrinth, chronobiology offers an explanation of why for so many the experience of walking a seven-circuit labyrinth restores a sense of balance, peace and well being.



Seven in the Night Sky

When our remote ancestors were nomads and roamed their native lands according to seasonal rhythms, they observed in the night sky the movements of certain dominant lights. They numbered those visible to the naked eye as seven: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, and from which would come names of the seven days of the week. This ordering of time into seven days predated by a thousand or more years the writing of the biblical account of the seven “days” of creation. But the account was a rendering of a far more ancient, universal and poetic understanding of seven as the basis of all creative cycles. Although by now calendars have become complex and confusing, keeping time was simple when performed according to the moon's four phases of approximately seven-days each.


Another ancient resonance is the seven-note musical scale, and still another, the seven colors of the rainbow spectrum. In each case the association is to movement--to the vibrational frequencies of light, sound, and things cosmic by which the human spirit feels uplifted, connected  and part of the whole of life.



Figure 5

The Simple Arithmetic of the Harmonies and Sub-Harmonies of Life Cycles

Previous cultures' understanding of the labyrinth and its functions confirm that the key to its symbolism is the moon’s cycle. But more important is how this corresponds to the same cyclic progressions of life's journey--a progression that came to be marked by cycles measured in units of seven. And because it was a progression rather than a repetition, life’s journey was conceived as ascending spirally rather than in circles. The ascending spiral of a journey through life was seen as having three major stages of four seven-year cycles. This pattern of three stages of four seven-year phases, or a total of twelve, would become the basis of the systematic symbolism by which the harmonious patterns of the heavens would appear reflected in human personalities and affairs. But if, as archetypal astrology holds, the harmonies of the outer heavens are the same as those of inner space, then what each is reflecting is the harmonic patterns inherent to outer and inner--the imprint of the macrocosmic on the microcosmic..

With seven as the sum of three and four, and twelve as the product of three times four, little wonder seven and twelve--in their harmonic and sub-harmonics, their multiples and submultiples--came to be how inner and outer space and objective and subjective time were divided. In this same scheme of numbers, it also followed that the archetypal span of a whole life would be seven times twelve, or eighty-four years. (Figure 5)



The Birth/Life/Death/Rebirth Continuum

The first step in defining a labyrinth is to determine its center point. Next a knotted cord serves as both rule and compass to establish the four directional lines and the seven circuitous pathways. In the pattern that emerges, the single way in is also the way out, and therefore symbolic of the birth/life/death/rebirth process as a continuum: birth leads to fullness of life and this to death and rebirth--the same continuum as observed in the progression in the moon’s monthly journey from new to full, to dark, and new again. Life leads to death and death to rebirth. To come face to face with death, and to then experience rebirth--literally or symbolically--was the rite of passage enacted in ancient labyrinths. Even Christian baptism was initially a near-drowning experience. In either case, the death was to one stage of life or the soul’s journey, and rebirth into a new cycle or stage, or level of consciousness.


In a labyrinth, or its symbolic equivalent, the initiate's confrontation was with the fear of death. Psychology now understands how this fear and the need for certainty are related. A major life transition is a similar confrontation. Each of life’s major passages necessitates facing uncertainty. This demands staying in the present moment, free from past regrets and future expectations. Only in this way can a fresh vision for the next stage of life be received, which, when it comes, brings a renewal of purpose, meaning, and a fresh infusion of creative energy and enthusiasm for life.


Cretan Pattern
Figure 6

Hopi Pattern
Figure 7





Movement Around the Still Center

To arrive at the center, the labyrinth is “threaded” by following where its path leads. Even though there is only one way to go--forward--from within the path the pattern that leads to the center is in no way apparent. For the Cretan pattern, alternately the way leads clockwise and counterclockwise, four of one, three the other, for seven circuits in all. With the rational or left brain engaged in following what it experiences as a progressive and systematic course, the rhythmic and recursive movement frees the right brain to move into a higher, intuitive state of openness and receptivity.

At times the center is almost within reach, but then the path takes a turn back out and away from center. And one intuits how like life this feels. Finally, though, the center—the place of rebirth--is reached. In the movement from periphery to center, a change in conscious has occurred. Openly, receptively, the center is entered as a still point charged with new, if unknown, possibilities. Here, the old having been shed and the cycle having waxed to fullness, the time of waning begins. Moving back out, the path  repeats its course in reverse, so that in all fourteen paths--seven one way and seven the other--have been negotiated. What distinguishes the Hopi pattern from the Cretan is that its initial path moves counterclockwise making it the mirror opposite of the Cretan design. (Figure 6 and 7)


The symbolism of the labyrinth, like life, is convoluted and ambiguous. Yet it points to the greater, transcendent reality of which it speaks. But through the ritual its walking performs, the eternal truth it embodies is experienced in a way the soul understands and by which it is reassured that all is well.


What Else Have Labyrinth & Moon in Common?

In the labyrinth’s present return to popularity, what are the conditions of its recurrence?

As an archetypal symbol, to what universal principle does it belong?

Our primary clue is contained in the seven-circuit labyrinth as the Hopi’s sign for Mother Earth. The probable reason this design moves counterclockwise first is because spirals in this direction denote tribes or clans with an affinity to the earth, while clockwise spirals show an affinity to the sun. Central to both Cretan and Hopi patterns are their four cardinal directions and their correspondence to the moon’s four phases. In this way, four is the first structural number the labyrinth shares with the moon.

If earth is mother and moon is goddess, the labyrinth serves both: the mother who gives life and who then receives it back in death; and the goddess who obliges sacrifice and ritual. The problem here is that our contemporary ears recoil at these terms and cause us to discount them as too primitive. However, the modern psyche is but a thin layer resting precariously on a deeply anchored primitive foundation. And if ritual and sacrifice per se have become irrelevant terms, surely they have their psychological parallels.

If earth and mother, and moon and goddess, are understood as four aspects of the feminine principle, what is the labyrinth’s relevance to this principle? In an extraordinary way, seven, as the sum of three and four, again provides the key. With four aspects of the feminine principle already noted, expect to find a complementary trinity of tasks or ways that serve this principle. And to discover an ancient trinitarian representative of the divine feminine, we need look no further than to the ancient Celts and their Triple Goddess upon whom it fell to guide the soul’s passages into, through, and from life. To her also fell responsibility for the soul’s other major initiations. Thus she was first of all the mother who gave birth; secondly the one who nurtured the life force of the physical body and served, as well, as midwife to the soul’s passages. Thirdly, she served as goddess of wisdom in the transmission of the peculiarly feminine ways of knowing. She was thus the Mother Goddess of body, soul and spirit, and none other than the personification of Wholeness. As the triple goddess her symbol was a triple spiral. (Figure 8)


Symbol of the Ancient Celtic Triple Goddess
Figure 8


If the Hopi saw in their labyrinth motif the image of Mother and Child, how might walking labyrinths today be understood as coming into the presence of the Triple Goddess of Life, Compassion and Wisdom?--whom some call Mother, some Mary, and some Sophia.


Astrological Glyph
 for Taurus
Figure 9

The Cyclic Nature of Existence

In design and symbolism, the seven-circuit labyrinth is lunar, and its myth and rite an enactment of the lunation cycle. This is further clarified by Western culture’s Greco-Roman myth of the Minotaur, with Mino(s) meaning “one dedicated to the moon,” and Taur(us) being the astrological sign identified by a glyph that is a combination of the full and crescent moon. (Figure 9). The dromenon here is the eternal and universally understood journey of the moon from new to full to dark—from birth to fullness to death. Basic to the moon’s monthly journey round the earth is how its phases inform the soul of the cyclic nature of all of existence.

As a lunar rite, the Minotaur myth is rooted in the Minoan religion and the age of Taurus. As an astrological age, Taurus, an earth sign, gives way to Aries, a fire sign, followed by Pisces, a water sign, which now is giving way to Aquarius, an air sign. Uniquely, the labyrinth and its central myth are witness to four successive ages whose signs are represented by all four elements. Four ages, four elements, four ways of functioning, and four phases of the moon--all speak of wholeness, roundness, and all things feminine.

In the myth and the labyrinth as its dromenon--a thing done--the remote past of recorded history is brought forward, with each age building or inscribing and leaving behind traces of its labyrinths. Thus in this motif the past is honored and its value incorporated into the present to be carried forward into the future as we leave behind the remnants of our labyrinths in witness to our veneration of the feminine principle.

But in honoring the past, what additionally is required, whether speaking of an aeon or a stage of life, is that each give way to the next, each be released so rebirth on a new level can take place. Thus through many deaths and rebirths, the life of the soul comes to fruition and humanity ascends the evolutionary spiral. Addressing this universal law, Jesus counsels:


Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)


In these words Jesus is attempting to prepare his followers for his crucifixion. Crucifixion, as defined in The Metaphysical Dictionary, is “the giving up of the whole personality.” In Jungian terms, crucifixion is understood as the death of egocentricity. But no matter how defined, the death of self-will can be a long and painful process, but one that ultimately leads to the birth of the inner, transcendent Christed Self.


The Psychology of Astrology

Although with the age of reason and scientific thinking astrological symbolism lost favor, archetypal psychology had no other systematic symbology on which to rely, and therefore no choice but to retain its imagery. Nor has its symbolic validity been easy for us in the West to ignore, with traces appearing throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Most distinctly this can be noted in the seven by twelve numeric grid upon which a very large part of biblical symbolism is based, and which scriptures have served as a repository for a symbolism ages old and universally understood.


My interest in the symbolism of astrology began in the early 1980s when I attended an all-day seminar presentation by Joseph Campbell. His subject was the universal symbolism of death and rebirth. My ears perked up when he said that the only systematic symbolism Christianity could claim as its own was Dante's Divine Comedy. The framework of Dante's masterpiece is the soul's three stage journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. Jungian Helen Luke has compared Dante's three levels to three states of consciousness with the final Paradiso phase of the journey from Earth to Moon and to the planets beyond. In Dante's schemata, the Moon and each of the planets are juxtaposed to the levels of purgatory and hell. In this way Dante exposes hell as a cycle of self-inflicted meaningless suffering; with purgatory as where "sin" is exposed as the relentless ways the soul unconsciously punishes itself, but which duration is only for as long as the penitent determines, at which time the soul is free to move to a higher level. For Dante, the ascent in consciousness is marked by the transformation of "vices" into "virtues." In this way higher states of consciousness are understood to evolve out of the transformation of the instincts and the ego. The Self, in other words, is born of a metamorphosis, and as a caterpillar must return to a womblike cocoon in order to emerge as a butterfly. Although each of Dante's three states are divided into nine levels, each follows its own spiral course: first the downward descent into hell, followed by a winding ascent up Mount Purgatory. (A side note here is the similar, circuitous ascent modern day pilgrims make to the top of the Glastonbury Tor in Southwest England, and which for Bob and myself was our introductory initiation into the mysteries of the labyrinth.) Finally Dante is led up and out into the heavens, free from Earth's gravitational pull to follow the course of the planets "and other stars."


It is hard not to conclude that essentially the labyrinth is to be walked, run, danced, or crawled as a symbolic enactment of the soul's spiral ascent in consciousness, one that is a continuum begun before birth into this life and that will continue beyond. Time was when our myths provided and supported a visual imagery that reinforced the soul's desire to know in greater detail the nature of the worlds beyond this limited reality. Let us hope for a return of an imagination for the inner dimensions of reality.



The 84-Year Ascent up the Tree of Life
Figure 10

Life's Triple Spiral Journey
Figure 11

The Triple Spiral Ascent


The labyrinth's four directional lines, around which its seven paths wind, are crucial to understanding its lunation symbolism. But Native American spirituality goes a step further to honor three other, vertically-aligned directions--the sky above, the earth below and one’s own heart center. By this total of seven directions the tribal person knows him- or herself as connected to the farthest reaches of the horizons, to heaven and to earth, and therefore to both inner and outer worlds.

Astrology, as a personality typology system, assigns one of the four elements to each of its twelve signs. Thus each element is repeated in three different signs. And, as with DNA's four bases which are arranged in triplets, the four elements are repeated three times or, when viewed spirally, on three ascending levels. Here the symbolism becomes a formula for the fulfillment of a life's potential. Similarly, Jungian psychology looks upon the four functions of sensation, thinking, intuition and feeling as its compass of wholeness.


Another means by which to understand the journey through life as in three stages relates to Saturn's approximate twenty-eight-year "return" to its position in the sky at a person's birth. This is reinforced by the moon's more or less twenty-eight-year progression back to its place at birth. The importance of the timing of these cyclic returns around ages twenty-eight to thirty and again from ages fifty-six to fifty-nine is affirmed by both transpersonal psychologists and astrologers. Even Jungian analysts who are also astrologers, such as Liz Greene and the late Luella Sibbald, confirm the significance of these passages. Dane Rudhyar goes even further in pinpointing them as life's most crucial turning points, and when second and third "births" onto higher levels of consciousness are most likely to be experienced. (Figure 10)

Universally, the ascending path of spiritual development is held to be spiral. (Figure 11) Why this is so may be because life has a way of taking us around and over familiar feeling territory. But there is also the sense of viewing the familiar from the higher perspective of having been there before, which is to say with greater consciousness.


As the path of life is viewed as a triple spiral journey, so in negotiation three in-and-out circuits through the labyrinth 84 turns in all are made--14 in and 14 out times three making the 84--and which in Practicum II are corresponded to life's triple spiral journey.


Go to Practicum I For the comprehensive understanding of cycles see Ray Tomes'
work at
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