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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:
the labyrinth relates to life's cyclic passages and initiations.
the dromenon--what the labyrinth enacts--is the soul's eternal rebirth.
delineating sacred space, its complement is the moon's demarcation of sacred
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
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.
The Imprint of Seven
Jung, towards the end of his life had a hunch:
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.
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
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?
The Cycles of the Psyche
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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:
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.
Life's Triple Spiral Journey
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)
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 http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~ray.tomes/
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