The Labyrinth Symbol of the Mystical Journey

The Labyrinth ― Symbol of the Mystical Journey

The ancient symbol of the mystical journey.  It represents the maze of the mind and spirit.  And, the path can either be fruitful or being lost in the maze of dead ends.

A labyrinth or labyrinthine is a geometric maze of paths or passages. They often design these structures to confuse the traveler.  You cannot see which route is best.   Trial and error is the only way to find the correct path.   And, there is frequently only one path to the goal which is typically at the center of the maze.

Sometimes there isn’t a way to reach the goal.  Some contain riddles and tests, obstacles, and even traps.  One must solve these in order to reach the goal.  Each of these elements is a symbol of the mystical journey.

Two Basic Types of Labyrinth

There are two basic types of labyrinthine (1).  First, the unicursal.  This is a puzzle with a single route leading to the center.  Sometimes the path leads through the center and out again.  There are no choices with this type.  One walks the maze to confront and overcome obstacles.  It often takes the traveler through tough terrain.  The subterranean mazes the passages can have long narrow passageways.  Or, require one to jump over frighteningly sizeable holes.  It’s common to find paths that require balancing and jumping from rock to rock. These are all designed to test the traveler.

The second type of labyrinthine is multicursal.  This is the maze with many options and many dead-ends.  The idea is to cause the traveler frustration and confusion.  They also contain clues and riddles.  The traveler must decipher these clues to navigate the course.  Sometimes, there is no way to solve the enigmatic riddles.  The puzzle is unsolvable. It is simply a trap.  Once the traveler is in the structure, they must solve the puzzle, be rescued, or they will perish.

Where Are They Found

They often build these puzzles in subterranean caverns or caves.  When constructed above ground they obscured from being viewed from vantage points.  This ensures travelers cannot see how to negotiate them.  Ancient cultures of Crete and Egypt built these for religious acolytes to prove their worth.  Many of these were underground structures. When Christianity took over these sacred sites, they constructed Churches on top of them.  Thus, making the maze catacombs for the dead.  The closer they buried you to the center, the higher your status.
Today we can find the pattern of the labyrinth in the pavement designs in French cathedrals.  One of the finest examples was in the nave at Notre Dame Chartres. A person following the winding puzzle would walk more than 800 feet before arriving at the center.  We find similar patterns in Paris at the cathedral of Reims and Amines.  The latter was inscribed in stone inlaid at one time was inlaid with brass imaginary (2).  Some suggest these tiles were created as a substitute for the pilgrimage to the holy sites. It was for those who could not undertake such physical hardship.
The Scripture of the Western theological constructs is a multicursal labyrinthine.  It contains many contradictions and inconsistencies.  The theology is mitigated dualism from Assyrian and Babylonian mystery religions.  And, therefore it requires priests and prefects who can lead the initiate through the maze.  The center is a salvation of the soul, an afterlife in heaven for those who are worthy.  And, an eternity in hell for those who are unworthy.
Some believe the Nazca Lines are one of the earliest kinds of labyrinths. During the time they built the lines about 500 BCE the area in Peru was a high plains desert. This made creating the lines a dangerous venture. Today we can make out the animals and symbols of the lines from an airplane.  However, as a traveler on the ground, one must be able to interpret the image by seeing only one part of the pattern.  The combined length of all the lines is over 1,300 km or 808 miles. The group covers an area of about 50 sq km or 19 square miles. The lines are typically 10 to 15 cm or 4 to 6 inches deep. Imagine trying to walk their path?
We also find them in stories.  In Pan’s Labyrinth, the structure is an integral part of the story.  It serves as an entryway to an imaginary realm with magical beings.  The wealthy aristocrats of Europe would create these mazes out of hedges.  And, some secret societies still use these mazes in their initiation rituals.

Symbol of the Mystical Journey

This puzzle is a graphical representation of the mind and spirit. The symbolism of this pattern can take on a variety of meanings.  The path to or through the center is a typology of transformation found in many spiritual paths. It can symbolize death, rebirth, attaining realization, successfully navigating trials and tests.

It presents the initiate with a picture.  It foretells what to expect if they embark on the spiritual journey.  The labyrinthine is the domain of The Great Mother and walked by a man.  The Judge sits at the center to acknowledge all those who find the correct path.  There are many parallels in Egyptian and Sumerian mythology that are mirrored in Western theology.

Walking the labyrinth is not to be taken lightly.  It is a symbol of the mystical journey.  A commitment to your inner quest.  Some people create these patterns in the ground as a way of recommitting to their spiritual practice.  Or, it can also be a ritual used to honor ancestors.

The appearance of this type of maze in dreams can be significant.  Sigmund Freud took dreams seriously. He theorized that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. And, so our repressed aggressive and sexual instincts are the substance of dreams. In other words, your dreams express socially unacceptable sexual instincts.

So, one way to interpret the labyrinthine in dreams is the search for sexual fulfillment.   Shamanic traditions have a different take on this type of sign.  A lot depends upon your history.  A maze is not one of the most common terrains in the dreamscape.  If they occur in your dreams, automatic writing is one of the best ways to determine what this means to you.

In Conclusion

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Interested in spiritual exploration?  Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey (3). This too is a typology for the spiritual path.  Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their path.


(1) An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper 1978
(2) The Catholic Encyclopedia and International Work, Vol. 14 1907
(3) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia

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