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Walking Our Spells

Labyrinths of Healing

by Rowan Phillips | Photos show RQ volunteers building the five-minute labyrinth

During a visit to Chalice Well in Glastonbury, England in the mid 1990s, I spent hours walking the rugged sides of the tor and meditating at the well. Like the planets in my own chart, this was earth and water, and the places where they converged to create a liminal site of pilgrimage. When it was time to leave, I wondered how I could re-create this sense of pilgrimage and liminal time for myself and for others. The labyrinth has provided one powerful answer.

Anyone who has walked a labyrinth may know that it is a wonderful, kinesthetic way of calming the mind, dropping unwanted cares, and working out problems. One way to use this sacred tool is as a walking spell, either for healing or for gathering and focusing intent.

Labyrinth spellwork can become a physical journey inside the structures of the body. A woman I've known for several years recently commented that a Chartres labyrinth we'd walked reminded her of a brain. To improve memory, or to recover some information I need, but cannot consciously recall about an important event in my life, I can drop into trance, and search the structures of my brain. By opening my intuition, listening, and feeling with my hands, the journey becomes a chance to recover awareness, and to build or strengthen neurological pathways among these many channels. In the center, I'll speak or sing my intention, and walk slowly out, celebrating memory, and continuing to repair and connect any points that need my attention.

Similarly, a person with digestive problems can enter the bowels, soothing and listening, and asking for the support of the body, and any allies or deities she has invoked, in restoring health and mending damage. I like to think of the goal, or center of the labyrinth, as a major organ, with the paths becoming the structures leading to it. While obviously not a substitute for good health care, the labyrinth can be a means of trancing into the body for a look at what ails us, and can be a tool for tending the places that need magical as well as medical attention.

Two priestess friends who attended Witchcamp this summer returned with a small green finger labyrinth which they gave me as a gift. They knew that earlier in the year, days after taking my Master's exams, I got Bell's Palsy, a spontaneous episode of rapid and usually temporary damage to a cranial nerve. For the first few months, my face sagged, coffee dripped unglamorously from my mouth, and my speech was sloppy. The gift of the green classical labyrinth, charged in the healing ritual, helps me to focus my intent on regenerating the nerve as I trace the seven circuit pattern in my daily practice. I often sing Donald Engstrom's beautiful chant, "Every step I take is a healing step" during this kind of work.

During a class I co-taught this summer, I walked the labyrinth as part of the Isis and Osiris myth. I entered at the point where Osiris's brother Seth enters the cave in jealousy to hack his divine brother's body to bits. In the midst of my own walk, I encountered the family member I've cut off, the one I've excised from my own life, and I focused my awareness on experiencing the path from her point of view. After the ritual, I followed up by using a clay finger labyrinth as the foundation of a spell which I placed on my altar to help me explore the hidden parts of that troubled relationship.

An important way of enhancing the power of a labyrinth for use in healing spells is to site it properly. If you know how to dowse with a pendulum or dowsing rods, these can be used to determine where the best location might be for sitting and working with a finger labyrinth, or for placing the goal and entrance of a walking labyrinth if its location is within your control. This process can be as simple as invoking a healing deity and asking that deity to show you, through pointing with a pendulum, where to sit and work on your own behalf.

Labyrinth experiences have a way of becoming cumulative, like erased words from an old manuscript page seeping to the surface, and blending mysteriously with the new writing found there. For this reason, it is helpful to be patient with healing spells, and to be willing to trace and retrace a pattern over time, whether by hand or through walking. At times part of the answer will emerge, but will not make sense, or will not become visible or audible until a later labyrinth experience draws the elements together, providing a flash of insight or clarity.

I am always interested in comparing notes with others who are working with the labyrinth, and can be reached at rowan@portlandreclaiming.org.

Rowan Phillips is a geomancer, priestess, and labyrinth devotee who lives in Portland, Oregon. She builds earthworks, dowses, teaches, and helped spark Portland's Magical Activism Cluster.

Photos show RQ volunteers building the five-minute labyrinth

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