It was fascinating for me to visit the birthplace of the original Labyrinth movement, the Cretan palace of Knossos. In North America, due to the influence of new-age leader Dr Jean Houston and Lauren Artress from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, labyrinths have been appearing everywhere, including at my old alma mater and the church where my grandmother had her funeral. Ironically, the emphasis in the actual written documentation about Labyrinth usage was not how to enter the labyrinth but how to escape the labyrinth.
The labryinth story starts with King Minos, the legendary founder of the Cretan Minoan civilization. Minos rejected a beautiful bull offered him by a Greek deity. Because of this rejection, the Greek deity had Minos’ wife have physical intimacy with another bull, giving birth to a troublesome son, the Minotaur, half bull/half human. To contain this difficult ‘teenager’, Daedalus built the labryinth, which essentially functioned as a prison for King Minos’ awkward step-child.
You all understand how hungry ‘teens’ can be. So King Minos demanded six young Athenian men and six young Athenian women to be sacrificed at the Labryinth where they would be eaten by his Minotaur step-son.
The book Heritage Walks in Athens comments that “in myth again, Athens’ most important King was Theseus, son of Aigeus, who defeated the Minotaur and released the city from the vassal’s tax paid to Crete.” Theseus escaped from the labyrinth after his girlfriend Princess Ariadne gave him the thread to follow out of the Labyrinth back to freedom.
The term Labyrinth comes from the Lydian term Labyrs which means “double-headed ax”, an object of cult worship among the Minoan Cretans. While at the National Museum of Crete, I took a picture of an actual historic “Labyrs/Double-Edged Ax”, an object of worship used in the labyrinth to devour the young. The Labyrinth is the place of the sacred ax used ritually to decapitate victims while offering them to the sacred Minotaur bull. Similarly to the Canaanite/Philistine bull god Baal, the Cretan sacred bull was worshipped for its male sexuality and power.
A ex-new-ager who attended our congregation participated a while ago in the Labyrinth. Upon walking to the centre of the circle, she immediately sensed a dark spiritual vortex sucking her down.  Fortunately, being a Spirit-filled Christian, she later renounced her involvement in the Labyrinth and through prayer was cut free from the bondage that she was sensing.
Being westerners, we often fail to realize that seemingly harmless ‘physical’ techniques can have significant questionable spiritual impact on our lives. An example of this might be how many people innocently get hooked into Hatha yoga through the guise of a community centre yoga course. Because Hatha yoga appears to westerners to be merely physical in nature, we fail to see the religious syncretism that we are involving ourselves in. Nothing from a Hindu perspective is merely physical, because for Hinduism, the physical is merely an illusion. So-called physical yoga asanas are designed to open the psychic door to the Hindu deities through ritual reenactment of specific Hindu deities. Community-Centre Yoga is in reality the ‘marijuana’ entry-level drug of the new age world.
One of the patterns with the dozens of new-age fads sweeping North America and the West Coast in particular is that they all pop up out of the blue but claim to have rediscovered an ancient secret technique that we all need. Many of them, including the fast-growing Labyrinth fad, even reconstruct a plausible but misleading Christian history used to persuade well-meaning Christians. The Labyrinth, as currently practiced, has very little to do with the Chartres Cathedral, and very much to do with Dr. Jean Houston’s impact on the new-age-friendly Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The alleged Chartres connection is somewhat like a post-modern sound bite, a recently invented media-driven ‘history’. There is no written history of labyrinth walking at Chartres. All we have is the fact of an unused labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral. It is like an empty crab shell into which anything can crawl. Nature hates a vacuum. Is the Chartres situation being used as a legitimization for introducing new age practices into unsuspecting churches? There are also astrological symbols in the stained glass window at Chartres, but no one yet is recommending taking part in ‘christian’ astrology classes because of Chartres.
Dr. Jean Houston, who is ground zero for the labyrinth movement, is listed on the Internet as one of the 10 top New Age speakers in North America The inside cover of Jean Houston’s 1997 book A Passion for the Possible describes herself as ‘considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest teachers…’ Of concern to renewal-oriented Christians is that Houston teaches her students on the ‘Mystery School’ how to speak in occult glossolalia. She encourages her participants to ‘begin describing your impressions in glossolalia’ and even to ‘…write a poem in glossolalia.’ This counterfeit phenomenon, of course, does not discredit the genuine Christian gift of tongues/glossolalia that is available after renouncing the occult, receiving Jesus as Lord, and asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit.
As a past president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, Jean makes use of her doctorate in ‘Philosophy of Religion’ to gain access to areas where most new-agers and occultists can’t go. For example, as noted widely in media a number of years ago, she became a consultant to Hillary Clinton, helping her to ‘channel’ the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Labyrinth, also called the Dromenon, is the official symbol of Dr. Jean Houston’s new-age ‘Mystery School’ which one paid $3,775 to be initiated into over a series of 9 weekends. Houston describes her Mystery School students as ‘…the dancers of the Dromenon…’.
In Houston’s book The Mythic Life, she credits H.F. Heard’s novel Dromenon with its ‘psychophysical state of ecstasy and spiritual awakening’ as the inspiration to adopting the image of the Dromenon/Labyrinth as the symbol of her work.
Heard, a Vedanta Yoga devotee of Swami Prabhavananda, was an early pioneer of the New Age and even the Hippy movements with his recommendation of LSD and fire walking as spiritual initiation exercises. Jean Houston notes:
Again I owe a considerable debt to Gerald Heard, for it was under the name of H.F. Heard that he published a remarkable fictional story ‘Dromenon’, the inspiration of which provided me with the naming of my own first center. In the story, an archeologist encounters a therapy in stone, a mystical transformation of body, mind and spirit…An example of the Dromenon can be found on page 1 (of Heard’s book The Great Fog). This is the famous dromenon found on the floor of Chartres Cathedral. I often use this in my seminars by inscribing it on the floor and having the participants walk its pathways, always to great effect.
Heard’s novel tells the story of an architectural student who, with the help of an Orphic/hermetic soul-guide, gains gnostic enlightenment after dancing through a labyrinth concealed beneath a British church building. The labyrinth dance, according to Heard, is meant to be a reenactment of the dancing Hindu deity Shiva, the definitive symbol of yoga. Canon Lauren Artress from Grace Cathedral brought the Labyrinth back to her Cathedral after experiencing the Labyrinth at Jean Houston’s Mystery School. Artress notes that she was
hardly prepared for the force of my own reaction. As soon as I set foot into the labyrinth I was overcome with an almost violent anxiety. Some part of me seemed to know that in this ancient and mysterious archetype, I was encountering something that would change the course of my life.
It is interesting that Artress, with her Cathedral connection, became far more prominent in her labyrinth promotion than her new age mentor. Artress notes:
I worked with Jean Houston in her Mystery School in 1985. In 1986, I was asked to serve as Canon Pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco…These programs eventually led me to the rediscovery of the labyrinth in 1991 when I returned to the Mystery School for one weekend.
Jean Houston wrote in her book The Possible Human about ‘…the growth of Dromenon (Labyrinth) communities. As acknowledged in labyrinth websites, the labyrinth is a mandala, which is actually a Hindu ‘occult’ meditation process brought to the Western world by the grandfather of the New Age, Dr. Carl Jung.
Is it a mere coincidence that the labyrinth resembles the coiling of the yogic kundalini snake? Is the Labyrinth actually a form of walking yoga? Might the labyrinth be a thinly disguised yogic initiation rite into new age oneness, into the gnostic reconciliation of gender opposites? It is unthinkable for many westerners to imagine that walking the labyrinth might yogically kill the mind and remove one’s sense of self.
The Labyrinth has since spread to thousands of towns and cities, and is making a measurable impact in Canada. Artress claimed that “over a million people have walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral alone…” Even the infamous Starhawk, the self-declared practicing witch and colleague of Matthew Fox, is walking the labyrinth nowadays . One of the stated purposes of the Labyrinth is to connect us to the mother goddess, of which the labyrinth is a symbol. In her book ‘Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool’, Canon Artress states that “The labyrinth is a large, complex spiral circle which is an ancient symbol for the divine mother, the God within, the goddess, the holy in all creation.” Artress says that “You walk to the center of the labyrinth and there at the center, you meet the Divine.” Jean Houston claims that “As we encounter the archetypal world within us, a partnership is formed whereby we grow as do the gods and goddesses within us.” To Jean Houston, it seems that all of life is made up of polytheistic labyrinths.
In her book The Hero & the Goddess, she recommended: ‘Now, taking a favorite god or goddess by the hand, a Greek one this time, explore the labyrinthian winding of your left hemisphere…Take the deity by the hand and begin to explore the labyrinth winding of your right hemisphere, the place of intuition.’ My prayer, as Jean Houston’s new-age Labyrinth fad impacts the Church, is that we may be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector
BSW, MDiv, DMin
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.
It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).
Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form. Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.
Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version. You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.
To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.