The Labyrinth As A Spiritual Tool: Description, History, And Evaluation -- By: Kenneth C. Harper

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 02:3 (Aug 2001)
Article: The Labyrinth As A Spiritual Tool: Description, History, And Evaluation
Author: Kenneth C. Harper


The Labyrinth As A Spiritual Tool:
Description, History, And Evaluation

Kenneth C. Harper

An Autobiographical Preface

The cable car lurched up Powell Street in San Francisco; at the Knob Hill stop we got off. We were attending the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society convention, and had arrived a few days early to take in the sights. Entering Grace Cathedral (Episcopal), we immediately encountered the labyrinth. Since I knew but little about labyrinths, we did not walk it. It was not, however, my first encounter with the labyrinth in a spiritual setting. Over two years earlier, a Festival of Christian Art at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church (in the San Diego area) had included a portable labyrinth, with the pattern painted on canvas. Between those two incidents I had seen a few articles in denominational publications touting the labyrinth as a powerful and recently-rediscovered spiritual tool.1 I was determined to learn more, and that day in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral was the beginning. I read Lauren Artress’s paean to labyrinth walking, walked both a portable labyrinth in Orlando and an outdoor one in Saint Louis, and delved deeper than I would have guessed into New Age spirituality and sacred geometry.2 The distilled product of my research I now present to this gathering.

Description and Definitions

Labyrinths are elaborate, intricate, and sometimes bewildering patterns, typically leading from an opening in the perimeter to a center or goal in the middle and out again. Labyrinths may be unicursal or multicursal. Unicursal labyrinths have but one single serpentine path; the walker, if he or she moves continuously forward, will inevitably arrive at the center. Multicursal labyrinths have false routes, dead ends, and one correct path out of many; in theory, if the labyrinth were complex enough, a walker might never reach the center, and might become hopelessly lost. Although by formal definition the words labyrinth and maze may be used interchangeably, for purposes of clarity in this paper the word labyrinth will be used only of unicursal patterns or structures, and the word maze will refer only to multicursal structures or patterns.3

Labyrinths and mazes may be enclosed or not. Those which are enclosed use walls to separate the different paths or parts of paths, and blind the walker to where he or she is relative to the whole pattern. These walls may be the interior walls of a cave, cardboard and fabric (as in a child’s fun-house maze), or topiary (as in the hedge mazes of formal gardens). Labyrinths used in a spiritual context are never enclosed. The pattern is flat upon the surface; the walker’s vision is not...

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