Years ago, my family went to a church that was a mix of liturgical and contemporary traditions. During Holy Week, one of the things they offered was a contemplative evening with a labyrinth walk. I borrowed my parents’ car and went on my own, walking the labyrinth spread out on the floor in the darkened sanctuary, deep in thought. I emerged feeling centered, refreshed, at peace.
A month or so later, I was telling a friend at the Christian retreat centre I once worked at about the experience. “Labyrinths?” she said. “Aren’t those New Age?”
Instantly, what had been a beautiful spiritual experience was tarnished, a source of shame and guilt that I had participated in it. In that world, anything New Age was probably of the devil, it was dangerous, and it opened the door to sin, possibly even to demonic possession.
A couple years later, I did a bit of research and ran across the tradition of medieval labyrinths. I pointed to that and went, “Hah!” The labyrinth walk I’d done was validated, no longer darkened by my friend’s assumptions. What I didn’t realize then was that I shouldn’t have needed to validate my experience to her.
In reality, labyrinths are ancient, occur in numerous cultures, and have spiritual significance in more than one tradition; they have been used in both pagan and Christian rituals. My friend’s take on it was a typical reaction for a conservative-leaning American Christian, one that she, at sixteen, had probably learned from her family or her church. It was unlikely that she had thought to investigate it further.
But I, at seventeen, didn’t think to immediately research what she said and process it critically. I let her assumptions and my own colour what had been a positive spiritual experience. At that age, I wasn’t ready to critically examine the religion I’d been raised with and see its inconsistencies (at least, not any more than I already had at that point).
I worry sometimes about what will happen when my family finds out that I’ve departed the tradition in which I was raised (worrying doesn’t help it, but that’s GAD for you). I know it will happen at some point, but I don’t know when, and I’m not ready to share that with them, because I know they’ll be unhappy about it. I honestly don’t know how they’ll respond. I’ve dropped hints here and there, but I haven’t said anything explicitly and neither have they. Recently my mom said something about she and I disagreeing on some things spiritually but that not screwing up our relationship, and I’m going to hold on to that.
What I don’t want to do is diminish the joy I’ve found in embracing a new way of understanding the world. The first time I took part in a circle, at Pagan Pride in September, it was wonderful. The delight I feel when I read books like The Spiral Dance is very real. The ancestor ritual I did at Samhain was deeply meaningful to me. I don’t want to allow myself to be so easily swayed by someone else’s opinions which may or may not be well-informed. I want to listen, yes, but I want to form my own take on the subject.
So next time I come across a labyrinth, I will admire its beauty, and remember the lesson it has taught me. To be myself. That all things in the end come back to their beginning. That the journey I walk was my journey when I was a teenager seeking the Spirit in the dark of the labyrinth, and it is still my journey when the labyrinth I roam is that path both ancient and new, and she who waits for me is one who encompasses the light and the dark.
“And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.
“For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess.