(Originally printed in the Fall 2006 Issue of the MCOI Journal page 14)
A labyrinth is a flat circle or square consisting of a path that winds round to the center (not to be confused with a maze, which is enclosed). In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was the name for the maze-like enclosure for the half-man, half-bull Minotaur.1Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, 642 The history of the labyrinth is murky; there is Christian use of it as early as 324 AD found in a basilica in North Africa.2Jeff Saward, “Labyrinths In Ireland,” http://www.labyrinthos.net/The%20Labyrinth%20in%20Ireland.pdf However, the purpose of these early labyrinths is unclear, and it appears they were chiefly decorative or symbolic. Smaller labyrinth designs have been found carved on rocks or stones, and these are thought to have been symbolic—possibly for luck or protection.3Saward, “The First Labyrinths,” https://www.labyrinthos.net/First%20Labyrinths.pdf; Abegael Saward, “The Rocky Valley Labyrinths,” https://www.labyrinthos.net/C32%20Rocky%20Valley.pdf
Though mazes are more complex, labyrinths and mazes originally were the same thing. Mazes “filled a magical function” in the traditions of the esoteric Kabbalistic alchemists, to whom it symbolized the “work” of alchemy and were associated with Solomon.4Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, Note: Solomon was and still is seen by those involved in esoteric magical practices such as alchemy as having possessed magical powers. This is why the labyrinths in cathedrals came to be called Solomon’s Maze. To the alchemists, entering and emerging from the maze possibly signified death and resurrection through their secretive magical practices.5Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996,643
The better-known, larger labyrinth is the thirteenth-century labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France, which originated in the Middle Ages and served as a substitute for going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem when the Crusades prevented this journey.6Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, 642 After the Crusades, the labyrinth remained largely unused until the 1990’s. So where does this recent trend of fascination with labyrinths come from, and why are people walking them?
Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is widely credited with initiating the labyrinth movement in the United States in the 1990s. After visiting the thirteenth-century French labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, she brought the idea back to her church (Grace Cathedral) and in 1996 founded Veriditas—a non-profit organization dedicated to introducing people to labyrinths.7See https://www.veriditas.org/
The description on the Grace Cathedral web site illustrates the concept of the labyrinth that is promoted today:
The Labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.8“The Cathedral Labyrinths,”https://www.trainingwheelsgear.com/products/labyrinth-walk
Artress also is the author of Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. The labyrinth has come to be used as a spiritual and psychological tool and has been promoted as a way to approach God.
What are some of the concerns regarding the labyrinth?
The concerns fall into three categories:
- The labyrinth has no biblical prototype or pattern as a way to approach God.
- The labyrinth as used today is often advocated as a way to have a spiritual experience with God. However, we are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) or by seeking experiences.
- God is not obligated to provide spiritual experiences simply because we initiate or expect them. We are reconciled with God through faith in Christ, and it is through our daily walk—in Bible reading, prayer, and worship—our relationship with Him grows.
The labyrinth has no biblical prototype or pattern as a way to approach God.
- The labyrinth is based on man’s design. Since it is marketed principally as a spiritual tool, we should ask, “What is a spiritual tool and is such a thing biblical?” The labyrinth is usually promoted as a way to feel spiritual or become close to God, but the Bible does not teach the use of man-originated tools for such purposes. In the Hebrew Scriptures (O.T.), any design of a physical object or structure that was used in a spiritual manner—such as the design of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 35-40) or the Temple and its fixtures built by Solomon (2 Chron. 3-7)—was based on instructions given directly by God, who gave specific directives on how to build and furnish it. These edifices originated with God, were built to signify His presence among the Israelites, and were used to worship and glorify God (Ex. 40: 34-38; 2 Chron. 7.1-3,12), not to evoke experiences for man’s satisfaction. Water baptism and communion—both participatory physical events for the Christian—were initiated and commanded by the Lord, not as vehicles to satisfy the participant, but to represent the sacrifice and redemption provided by Christ.
- The biblical pattern for approaching God in the New Testament is through belief in Christ as the Savior Who atoned for sins and bodily rose the third day (1 Cor. 15:1- 4). We have access to God through Christ (Eph. 2: 6-7, 17-18; Heb. 10:19-22).
- The labyrinth is publicized as a spiritual tool, not just for Christians, but also for anyone who is seeking a spiritual experience, or even just as a tool for self-reflection.
- The labyrinth gives many the misleading impression that one can be close to God without Christ.
The labyrinth is advocated as a way to be close to God; however, we are to “walk by faith, not by sight” or by seeking experiences.
- We are told “Without faith, it is impossible to please God …” (Hebrews 11.6) and faith is defined as “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1). “Hoped for” here does not mean wishing for or hoping for something in the sense of maybe not getting it. Biblical hope is knowing God’s words and promises will be fulfilled. We do not need to “feel close” to God to know He is with us; we are not instructed to walk by sight or feelings, but by faith.
- Seeking to evoke an experience often can bring one on. This may create an appetite for more experiences because people can feel good doing it. Then it induces not only a desire for more experiences, but also a sense that one must experience or feel something in order to believe one is genuinely in relationship with God.
- Seeking an experience is self-oriented, not God-oriented. Since we can pray and think about God anywhere, walking a labyrinth automatically sets up an expectation that something special should happen. And disappointment results if there is no feeling or experience.
- Experiences and feelings can be deceptive. Even if walking a labyrinth gives a powerful experience, it does not mean it is from God or that the person actually is closer to God. Experiences and feelings are not the measure of truth. It can lead a non-Christian into believing they have encountered God when they haven’t. In fact, there is nothing about walking a labyrinth that prevents one from having a counterfeit spiritual experience, even for a Christian. Feeling “close” to God is not the way to gauge our relationship with Him. Rather, our relationship with God is reflected in the fruits of that relationship (Gal. 3.22-23) and other behaviors. Not all spiritual experiences are from God. Labyrinths have been used at youth group rallies and retreats, thus possibly leading teens to believe that feelings indicate contact with God.
- Seeking experiences feeds the sensual self, not the spiritual self. We should take note of the fact that one of the charges against false teachers is their appeal to sensuality (2 Peter 2:18). Since Satan can present things in the guise of spirituality and goodness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), we need to watch appeals that claim spirituality but cater to bodily or emotional feelings. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel God’s presence, but that should flow from a Christian’s daily walk with the Lord, reading His Word, prayer, and worship. It should be initiated by God, not us.
God is not obligated to provide an experience or feeling at our command or demand.
- The labyrinth raises an expectation and assumes that we should have a spiritual experience as a result of walking the labyrinth. Pagan religions use rituals, incantations, and techniques to call forth their gods. Christianity is the opposite: God has reached down to us and given us the means for reaching Him – faith in Jesus Christ. It is God who laid out the pattern for communication and relationship with Him; we do not generate the pattern.
- Our desire for intimacy with God is sufficiently met through faith in Christ and the biblical blueprint for our interaction with God. It grows over time, and it is not an instant, drive-in, take-out experience we obtain through a technique.
The Black Hole
Because of teachings invading the culture and the church that promote experience over doctrine and feeling over faith, Christians might get the idea they are missing out on something and need “deeper” experiences with God. Although we have a Savior who died for us, and we have the Scriptures—which are “… profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17), it is being suggested or implied that these are not enough.
Could it be that Christians are not immersing themselves in the study of God’s Word, and thus, are trying to fill that void with ways to have spiritual experiences? We should remember the power of God’s Word, and that it is our spiritual nourish ment. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Successful marketing techniques induce in consumers the yearning for something they really may not need and then offer a product to fulfill that desire. Similarly, promoting the thought that we must have experiences to feel close to God creates an impatience and dissatisfaction with the challenge of walking by faith and implies that we are not getting truly deep or intimate experiences with God. Experiences are fleeting; they come and go. They are like black holes that are never filled and lead to futile attempts—over and over—trying to fill them. Offering the labyrinth as a spiritual tool can create such a black hole, because each experience is never enough—there always must be more.
The labyrinth, itself, is merely a design. Simply walking a labyrinth is not the issue; the problem lies in attempting to evoke a spiritual experience or believing that walking a labyrinth must bring one closer to God.
Seeking to conjure up experiences can become a substitute for the authentic deep relationship with God that flows from a day-to-day relationship with Christ and comes by faith, not feeling. Faith does not rely on feelings for the true peace or satisfaction we have in Christ; because true peace is not based on feeling, but rather on the historical fact that Christ rose from the dead—proving He is Who He claimed to be and reflecting the constancy that is Christ Himself.
“I tell you … when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)Ω
Before trusting Christ, Marcia Montenegro was a professional astrologer and was involved in Eastern and New Age practices for many years. Through her ministry, Christian Answers for the New Age, Marcia speaks around the country and on radio, and writes on New Age and occult topics. She has a Masters in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC, and serves as a missionary with Fellowship International Mission, Allentown, PA. Based in Arlington, VA, she is the mother of an adult son and author of SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids, (Cook, 2006).You can find her online at: CANA or on Facebook at Christian Answers for the New Age
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|↑1||Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, 642|
|↑2||Jeff Saward, “Labyrinths In Ireland,” http://www.labyrinthos.net/The%20Labyrinth%20in%20Ireland.pdf|
|↑3||Saward, “The First Labyrinths,” https://www.labyrinthos.net/First%20Labyrinths.pdf; Abegael Saward, “The Rocky Valley Labyrinths,” https://www.labyrinthos.net/C32%20Rocky%20Valley.pdf|
|↑4||Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, Note: Solomon was and still is seen by those involved in esoteric magical practices such as alchemy as having possessed magical powers.|
|↑5||Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996,643|
|↑6||Jean Chevalier, Alain Gheerbrant, A Dictionary of Symbols; trans. John Buchanan-Brown; Paris: Robert Laffont S A, Jupiter, 1982; NY: Penguin Putnam, 1996, 642|
|↑8||“The Cathedral Labyrinths,”https://www.trainingwheelsgear.com/products/labyrinth-walk|