noun, plural al·che·mies for 2.
1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
2. any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
It is the nature of life to transform. Living things are a constant growth process–cells replace themselves, size changes, color shifts. Our outlines flicker and adapt, grow and diminish. Slowly to our eyes, of course, but we are always in flux.
It is the nature of matter to transform. Apply the right forces, and rough ore from the heart of the earth becomes sword or plow. Sand becomes glass. Wood becomes coal.
It is the nature of spirit to transform. We pass through trials and wonders on this path, and each high or low point leaves a mark. We come through the other side as different people. Our value systems change. Our outlook is forever altered. And when we look back, we do not recognize the past self gazing into our own eyes.
It is a simple thing to create a Labyrinth. A Labyrinth is a sigil in the truest sense of the word–a drawn design that, once etched, has power independent of the hand that drew it. Labyrinths can be spray-painted on the ground, drawn in the sand, chalked on the driveway. They can be made to last, or made to be ephemeral.
This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting a Labyrinth and Labyrinth workshop at Fertile Ground Gathering, a Beltane festival in Northern Virginia. The festival takes place in a State Park, so the Labyrinth needed to easily melt away after the weekend.
Robin (my working partner) and I created ours out of 80 pounds of flour, sprinkled in the timeless design of the 7-circuit Cretan or Seed Labyrinth.
It was easy to lose sight of intention as we sweated in that field, slowly walking the curving arms of the Labyrinth, stooped to pour the flour on the ground. Easy to forget the purpose of the design while we focused on creation in that hot, humid clearing. Easy to lose sight of the 5000 years of history as I walked, barefoot, across the design again and again, to find sticks and sharp stones that might distract other walkers.
But no matter the creator, or process of creation. The sigil of the Labyrinth is true. After we’d finished building the Fertile Ground Labyrinth, showered off the sweat and flour and changed, we came back to the field. I breathed deeply at the entrance and placed my foot upon the path. And there it was. That just-below-hearing hum I’ve come to associate with Labyrinths. That sense of deepening. As I walked, I felt the knots of the day slipping away. I felt my consciousness slipping into a dream state. The moss on the ground was soft beneath my bare feet and muffled my footsteps. As ever in walks, I passed through thoughts and emotions as well as the turns marked out in flour on the ground.
As one foot fell after another, I found myself walking other Labyrinths in my mind. My very first one, so like the Fertile Ground Labyrinth: flour in a field. My home Labyrinth, laid out in brick and earth. The canvas Chartres Labyrinth we sometimes roll out at the UUCF. The Dancing Woman Labyrinth. The creaking wood floor of the Chartres inside the church in which I became a Labyrinth Apprentice. The sigil holds true, always. This pattern, this ancient design, connects to a spiritual practice so old that its original name has been lost to the mists of time.
I knelt in the center, in front of the round altarcloth, cauldron and white flowers, and felt myself sinking into that immense sea of time and space. The wonder of the Labyrinth, the transformation of design to form to spirit, filled my mind. Labyrinths humble me. To be a part of a tradition so much older and greater than myself is more Grace than I know what to do with.
To be able to help others into that Grace by creating the sigil and guiding weary souls onto it is equally humbling. My part is small. The transformation of a Labyrinth walk can be breathtaking in its scope. Some walkers found answers to problems. Some healed. Some prayed. One tearful, grateful whisper; “My Mom is here.”
That is the power in the pattern. The true alchemy. It is not just the matter in which the Labyrinth is created. The alchemy is in the spirits that pass through the pattern.
It is the nature of life to transform. It is the nature of matter to transform. It is the nature of spirit to transform.
Alchemy. Flour into spirit. A miracle small enough to be overlooked and large enough to change a life.
It is the nature of Labyrinths to transform as well.