A brief history
Labyrinths are an ancient symbol, which like Shamanism, appear to have permeated all cultures throughout time. Based upon the universal symbol of a spiral, a labyrinth creates energy in the same way as a spiral does creating sacred space within themselves. The energy of a labyrinth is such that underground water has been found to alter direction and form domes beneath them.
The word labyrinth is often used to describe a maze and labyrinths are often confused with these. Unlike mazes though, all labyrinths have a single path, there are no dead ends and only one entrance/exit so it is impossible to get lost in a labyrinth. Wherever you are in one you can always find your way home.
It is thought that two of the first dateable, simple labyrinths date from about 1200 and 2500BC and may have been used for ritual. These are known as classical labyrinths with usually three or seven circuits, designs that have been found all over the world, in many different cultures, carved into rock, turf or marked out on the ground with stones. The oldest known existing example can be found in Luzzanas, Sardinia carved into rock in a Neolithic tomb perhaps suggesting the labyrinths connection to life and death.
It is also possible that the cross at the centre of the labyrinth represent the four directions, north, south, east and west, honoured by Native Americans, furthermore 12th century Hopi labyrinths were seen as a symbol of birth and creation and were known as Mother Earth. Celtic clans also had labyrinth designs laid out in stones or carvings, cut into the rock face in sacred places, woven into material or engraved into jewellery. Italy, Egypt, Spain, Peru, Iceland, India, Russia, Sumatra and Greece are also all known to have had labyrinths and the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur from Crete is probably the best-known European labyrinth story.
In the Middle Ages there was real development of labyrinths and they started to be incorporated into cathedrals in Europe with the best-known remaining example being in Chartreuse. Pathways increased from seven to eleven and the directional axes were broken up making more complex designs designed to be walked. Although a pagan symbol the church accepted it seeing the single path as the path to salvation.
The Labyrinth and Shamanism
In 'By Oak, Ash and Thorn Modern Celtic Shamanism' the author D.J. Conway explores the idea that ancient shaman knew the energy patterns that run through the earth, patterns such as those known in Britain as ley lines, or in Ireland as faery paths but also known throughout the world. Patterns that link ancient earthworks and sacred or power places. It is his thinking that terraced and spiralled hills, circles of stones, spiralled mounds and labyrinths were ways of controlling and directing earth energy, the energy being guided into the centre of the space where those who understood could make use of the power.
Conway looks at the role of the labyrinth as a shamanic tool where he speaks of both the spiral and the labyrinth as being shapes that allow us to move into or away from a specific centre. He suggests that this is exactly what we do when undertaking a shamanic journey. The use of labyrinths as a shamanic tool is not limited to Celtic shaman though as Russian shaman are also said to have used labyrinths in order to increase their ability to enter into a different state of consciousness.
Sig Lonegren a well known dowser and labyrinth expert also speaks of the labyrinth as a tool which can provide us with a safe way to move safely between the realms. One school of thought is that the labyrinth works as a bridge between levels of awareness. By engaging our left, analytical, logical brain with focusing on the path and the repetitive movement of walking, we free our right, creative, intuitive brain to move beyond the here and now and into non-ordinary reality.
How You Can Use a Labyrinth for a Shamanic Journey
So how might we use a labyrinth to help us when we journey especially if we don't have one to walk or space to create one? The answer is by using a finger labyrinth or drawing of a labyrinth. These can be found in books or on-line.
After the journey
As with all journeys it is good to write down your experience. When you write things often come back to you in more detail and insights can become clearer.
If you would prefer a more physical method then take the drawing of the labyrinth and glue something like string or sand around the lines leaving you enough space for your finger to trace the path. You could even make a labyrinth out of plasticine on a piece of cardboard. Follow the same method but this time you can move into your journey with your eyes closed.
This is just one suggestion. If you like the idea of using a labyrinth you will find your own way. As with all journeying there is no right or wrong.
Labyrinth: pathway to meditation and healing by Helen Raphael Sands
The Sacred Pathway and The Sacred Pathway Companion by Lauren Artress
By Oak, Ash and Thorn by D.J. Conway