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Labyrinths: Walking Between the Worlds
by Sarah Campbell
What are labyrinths? What are their meanings? Their messages?
Labyrinths are among the most ancient and powerful of magical tools. As I work with them, in my personal practice and as a coordinator of community labyrinth walks, I have found myself wondering whether they are aligned with the North/Earth, or the Center where all things come together and are transformed. Sometimes they seem to be one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both.
Most of all, the labyrinth seems to be a tool of Mystery, which is anchored in the Earth. They are rock art, cave drawings and ancient earthworks. I sense that the labyrinth is a tool of integration, which we can use to understand multi-dimensional ideas, and to expand our ability to walk between the worlds. We walk the labyrinth as it floats on the earth plane. At the same time the labyrinth exists both Above and Below. We can use it to help us find our way to other realms and realities - and our way back.
Working with the Chakras in the Seven-Circuit Labyrinth
The labyrinth I use most often is the classical seven-circuit labyrinth. Often, I walk the labyrinth with an awareness of the connection each of the seven paths has to one of the seven in-body chakras, or energy centers. Using this practice, the walker can connect with each chakra individually, activating all of their energy centers during the walk. With practice, the walker will make observations, including the existence of "blocks" or injuries, and then use that information to heal and balance the chakras.
This exercise gently requires that the walker spend a significant amount of time attending to the lower chakras (Root, Sex, Solar Plexus) which are most connected to the physicality of the body, because those corresponding paths will be encountered first. The fourth path, which corresponds to the Heart chakra is walked next, and is a transition to the upper chakras (Throat, Third Eye, and Crown), that are more spiritual in nature.
Exiting the labyrinth, the walker returns to the lower chakras at the end of the walk. It's a familiar pattern: ground, do spiritual work, re-ground.
To include this as part of a ritual, or as a piece of work in your personal practice, build small, color-saturated altars at the beginning, and perhaps the end, of each path. You might also lay colored ribbons along each path. Use the color that is associated with each chakra for an added visual cue. This will tell the walker which path they are on and to which chakra the path corresponds. Assign the paths to the chakras in numerical order from the outside to the inside. The outermost path corresponds to the first, or Root, chakra, which is Red. The innermost path corresponds with the seventh, or Crown, chakra, which is Purple. The Center corresponds to the Divine, Goddess or God.
The pattern in which the chakras are walked is not straight from the Root to the Crown. Rather, the path corresponding to the 3rd chakra is the first one walked - suggesting that Will is exercised in making the decision to walk. The pattern for walking the paths is quite interesting, and has provided me with many hours of meditation. It is (on the way in) 3-2-1-4-7-6-5-8 (Solar Plexus, Sex, Root, Heart, Crown, Third Eye, Throat, Goddess).
The 11-Circuit Labyrinth
Last August, I facilitated the building of an 11-circuit classical (or Cretan) labyrinth at a Quaker camp in northern Ontario. Through my reading, I'd learned that in Scandinavia, the 11-circuit labyrinth is quite commonly found on rocky shores. In fact there are hundreds of stone labyrinths along the coastlines of Sweden and Finland. I think there may be something important that we don't yet know, that compels people to build 11-circuit labyrinths at more northern latitudes. Adding a second "L" or chevron in each corner makes the seed pattern for the 11-circuit labyrinth.
This seed pattern overlays in an interesting way over the magic square of 49, which is traditionally associated with the planet Venus. (The 7-circuit labyrinth is connected, via the magic square of 25, to Mars.) Because of its energetic connection to Venus, I think it is possible that the 11-circuit labyrinth may exude a peaceful, loving energy.
I wanted the participants of the workshop to experience the connection of the paths with their chakras, so after some experimentation on paper, I set up a walk using color-coded altars at the beginning of each path, and ribbons along the length of each path to subtly identify the paths to the walkers. In addition to the seven in-body chakras, I assigned a path to each of the four elements. Depending on whether the elements are the outside paths or the inside paths, the pattern for walking is altered, and I have not developed a sense for which I prefer. For this particular walk, I put the elements on the inner circuits. Most of the people at this workshop had never worked with their chakras or the elements. Before the walk, I led them in a Tree of Life grounding meditation and included an activation of each chakra. That gave them enough information so they responded to the messages the altars and ribbons were giving them as they walked. My father, one of the walkers that day, told me afterward that he had never before felt so connected to the Earth and the Divine as he had during that meditation and walk.
The numerical order for walking the 11-circuit labyrinth is 5-2-3-4-1-6-11-8-9-10-7-12 (12 being the center).
Assigning the elements to the outside paths or the inside paths, the patterns are walked in the following orders:
5-Root Chakra (Red)
6-Sex Chakra (Orange)
10-Third Eye (Indigo)
7-Solar Plexus (Yellow)
3-Solar Plexus (Yellow)
6-Third Eye (Indigo)
As I work more with this labyrinth, I hope that these patterns will reveal some additional information or connections. Are they astrological? Musical? I don't know.
Working with Giving and Receiving in the Labyrinth
Several years ago I began incorporating another piece of work into my labyrinth walks. I'd been meditating in an effort to learn about "Receiving What Is Offered." What began as an effort to be more psychically receptive grew into something quite exquisite, and continues to expand my understanding of the process of Receiving. Walking the labyrinth, I often found myself holding my cupped hands in front of me, in a posture that to me meant I was ready to Receive. Soon I felt compelled to walk while carrying an empty bowl. I was the vessel I carried. Before long I realized that the posture I was using for Receiving was the same posture I might use for "Giving" or "Offering." As I walk the labyrinth with my empty bowl, Receiving and Offering, it seems to me a seamless act of Being. This is very similar to the Breathing Practice that many of us share as an expression of our relationship to the plants. We breathe in with gratitude for the very oxygen in the air, and we breathe out with love, exhaling carbon dioxide for the plants to breathe. I've come to think of both of these seamless acts as Service. When I am clear and in the moment, Receiving and Offering becomes a continuous sustainable circuit of moving energy. The sense that Giving and Receiving are two separate, and even opposite, acts falls away and I can feel that that it is one act of balance. And - this is thrilling to me - one is not sustainable without the other. We can no more give without receiving than we can exhale without inhaling. Many of us try to give and give, denying ourselves, thinking ourselves generous, but eventually we will deplete ourselves. Learning to Receive will heal us.
We live in a culture that is, in many ways, based on a false dualistic Either/Or paradigm. We are taught to understand the world around us by defining each thing and then separating ourselves from it. In the Reclaiming tradition, we are practicing a religion that utilizes a more inclusive Both/And model for understanding the Universe and Beyond. This viewpoint allows us to understand All That Is by aligning and integrating with all that exists. The labyrinth is a tool that can help us to understand in our bones, perhaps even on a cellular level, how it is that Both/And works. The labyrinth can assist us as we make a global paradigm shift away from dualism, to an integrated and interconnected understanding of all that is.
Sarah Campbell is a priestess in the Reclaiming tradition, a labyrinth builder and devotee, as well as an aspiring herbalist. She is thrilled to be teetering on the brink of grandmotherhood. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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