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Thirteenth Moon

Working with Labyrinths

5rhythms dance, ritual, writing, holidays in Crete

labyrinth Karfi, Crete 2000

'Coming out' on the path


The first labyrinths I built or danced were small 5 circuit ones made of stones in an olive grove in Crete. As soon as we had finished our dance rituals in them we threw the stones back into the stream. We had been warned that local people might associate them with satanism!

I had been visiting Crete as a pilgrim of Goddess sites for years: the same number of years I had been practising the ecstatic dance of Gabrielle Roth which I now teach. Gradually it became clear to me that I was meant to bring the two together again: to take people to dance on Cretan soil, where the snake and bird and bee priestesses had once danced the divine unity of all life. I was led to a tiny village hidden in the mountains of SW Crete, far from anywhere I had visited before, and found the place. I called my first course Rhythms of the Labyrinth. This was before I had ever walked a labyrinth or even seen one off the page. The climax of the week, which included dancing, entering sacred caves, and remaking the myth of the minotaur, was the labyrinth ritual.

Soon labyrinths became inextricably linked to all my groupwork. I began to make 7 circuit labyrinths on dance floors with salt, flowers, dry bark mulch. When we had danced to release our bodies and open to each other and to spirit, we made a circle round the labyrinth and held it for each other to walk.  

It was back in Crete, two years ago, that I met Lauren Artress and her canvass labyrinth. I had just been facilitating Rhythms of the Labyrinth for the wildest group of priestesses I had ever had the privilege of working with! They'd chanted and stamped 'Mother I feel you under my feet' in an early Christian chapel with punishment pictures on the walls, howled deep within a cave that is so palpaply powerful that the church fathers still climb the mountain to hold mass inside it once a year, and during the labyrinth ritual we'd all found ourselves talking in tongues. Something was being channelled through our bodies and voices and our connection to this sacred earth, that none of us would ever forget.

When the group left, I crossed the island to a 4 star hotel in where an American woman had organised a 'goddess conference'. It turned out we were a group of about 15 facilitators, but that the hundred or so hoped for paying participants had failed to materialise! So Lauren Artress was collected from the airport with her huge purple canvass labyrinth, and artists and writers and archaeologists gathered. The dance space was a glitzy conference room with a white tiled floor and fluorescent lights, and the labyrinth was to be placed on the main street outside the telecommunications office opposite the hotel! Nothing could have felt further from the earth and body based energy I'd just come from! 

Previously the conference organiser had created a stone labyrinth on the pavement with a sign explaining that it was part of the Cretan inheritance. The stones had been kicked around and the sign knocked down. I was convinced that this 'in your face' approach was misguided. That modern Cretans are deeply conservative in their religion and fiercely defensive of having their culture interfered with by outsiders. But Lauren's mild and strongly grounded presence seemed to diffuse hostility and the chaos subsided sufficiently for us to walk the labyrinth safely, though with quite a few onlookers. It was my first experience of an 11 circuit labyrinth, and a good one: much more solitary and meditative than the earthy rituals I'd been used to. I learnt that much more public labyrinth rituals could work in a different way. We couldn't strip our clothes off or talk in tongues, but something powerful did come through!

The year after that, another change: I taught a course in Crete with Rose Flint, a friend who is a Priestess of Avalon. This was in the same place among the olive trees, but we made a seven circuit labyrinth and Rose introduced more conspicuous ritual elements: smudge, candles, costume and body painting.  Very interestingly, for the first time in about 5 years, a man walked past as we were doing the ritual, then back a little later, and watched us. I was scared for the first time. Scared of what I'd been told about the Greek orthodox church and their obsession with satanism. Scared of how the Greek macho mentality might react to women being powerful in this way. What must we have looked like to him? The man was the owner of the land we were on. 

Someone in the group knew enough Greek to talk to him about what had happened, and just before we left she managed to do so. All he said was that he knew that we were praying! My relief and gratitude brought tears to my eyes. And I should have known. After all, we'd heard this old man singing to his trees as he watered them. There is something much deeper in the land here than the overlay of the orthodox church.

One of the most incredible manifestations of this for me happened during the second Rhythms of the Labyrinth course in Crete. On the first course we had enacted the myth of the minotaur, having a man arise from the water as the sacred white bull that Poseidon sends to Minos. A woman who had taken part in that was living in Crete, and had built a small labyrinth on a beach nearby for her birthday celebration. As we were having lunch at a taverna during the second course, about six months later, the woman came to me very agitated. The rotting carcass of a bull had been washed up on the beach at the very spot where she'd built  her birthday labyrinth!  We were a bit spooked. The wall between the worlds was not usually this thin, even here in Crete. But this was real. Men arrived to clear away the carcass. And the next day we read in a national newspaper that cattle had stampeded in - wait for it! - an aeroplane flying over the Aegean, threatening to destabilise the craft so that the pilot opened the hatches and dropped them into the sea. This happened to be around the height of the Mad Cow disease crisis. I leave you to make your own interpretaions!

When I first taught dance in Cyprus, the participants were all Cypriot. I made a labyrinth on the beach to focus our closing ritual. Again, I was advised to disperse the stones before we left. I don't mind doing this. I love the sense that the spirit of the labyrinth remains visible on the ground after the lines have been removed. But when I returned to Cyprus last year, we made a larger labyrinth on the same part of the beach, and everyone agreed to leave it there. The next day I was delighted to find small children's footsteps on the path. 

For the last two years, I have been astonished how labyrinths seem to be sprouting wherever I turn - or is it that I am drawn to places and people connected with labyrinths? I went to Omagh, where I had grown up, after the terrible bombing. I wanted to offer something but it didn't become clear how. About 9 months later there was a message on my answerphone asking if I could teach the dancework in Omagh. She didn't know me, she'd just found my name on a list of teachers. I offered to make a labyrinth as part of the w/e, and it emerged that her friend had funding to create a labyrinth in Omagh's park. There is now an Omagh labyrinth.

This year, 2001, has seen my first venture into establishing a permanent labyrinth. Again, the labyrinth itself has been my teacher, in that the twisting path I am on is full of surprise and revelation. I unexpectedly secured a small amount of Millenium funding to restore a spring near my home. I knew I wanted to build a labyrinth into the design, but felt shy to put this into the actual application. The funding stipulated that a proportion of the money be spent on my own training or self-development. The first course that was suggested to me happened to be one in earth sculture run by ÍJim Buchanan! But although I'd seen pictures of Jim's work, my left brain didn't put the two together, and it wasn't until I walked into the training room and saw a card with a huge labyrinth on it on every chair, that I realised in amazement why I'd come! Seeing slides of Jim's work was a revelation. Again, I was being told that labyrinths are now out there in the world, like BIG and beautiful, and I don't have to be shy to use them any more. Moreover, the labyrinth on the card on my seat was the Chesterfield labyrinth, only a few miles from my home. Last weekend I took a group there to walk it as part of my new women's 'untraining' course, Labyrinth's Way.

I am writing this only a few days after receiving my first copy of Caerdroia, and suddenly feel part of a network that I know will lead me through many more twists and turns to ever more empowering revelations! I look forward to meeting and dancing with many of you on the path! 

Cora Greenhill. 

copyright 2001 the author

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