What's In A Belly?

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© Lisa Sarasohn 2000

Soul-Power | Authentic Voice | Archaic Knowing | Labyrinth | Inner Guidance | Connection to the Mother | Origin of Dreams
Healing Sleep | Peacemaking | Resonance with the Earth
| Tribal Survival

The labyrinth... ancient symbol of the soul's journey to the source.

The labyrinth, elaborating the spiral, defines a path into and out from center. It maps a journey from the world at large to the secret core of existence, to the divine source within our center. It charts a path from complexity and chaos to the single point, to the World Navel, the point at which all planes of existence converge, the point through which life force flows ceaselessly to replenish the world.

From ancient times, cultures throughout the world—from the Arctic to Africa—have delineated the labyrinth. Labyrinthian designs, taking a variety of forms and drawn to a variety of scales, appear on cave walls, stone monuments, grave markers, pottery, coins, and the bellies of clay figurines.When laid out with pebbles or standing stones on the ground, or embedded into sanctuary floors, the labyrinth becomes more than a visual symbol: it becomes the pattern for sacred dance.

The labyrinth establishes the center and protects it; the design structures how we approach the center and how we leave it. As we travel, the circuitous route invites us to shed our own outer layers—husks of falsehood, deception, illusion, arrogance. Moving through the labyrinth requires courage, faith, tenacity: at times the path takes you further away from the center, not closer to it.

Stripped of pretense, you arrive, raw, and step into the mystery which awaits you.
Absorbed into that essence, porous to the upwelling stream of life,
you are drenched, soaked through, suffused by grace.

The journey outward asks that you bring the center with you, bring your renewal with you into the world. It asks that you return to the world with eyes washed clean, blazing, willing to see in a new way, willing to see into to the sacred center which every manifestation of this world harbors within.

In some depictions, the labyrinth displays the coiling of the intestines; it is a "Palace of Intestines" holding secrets, omens, and portents at its core. In ancient times, sensing the belly to be oracular, diviners would consult the entrails of sacrificial animals for guidance. A woman who read such omens was, in Latin terms, a haruspica, literally "one who gazes into the belly."

Some traditions clearly link the labyrinth to woman's belly and to the belly of Mother Earth. In this sense, the design configures the soul's return to the womb for renewal and its emergence from the womb in rebirth.

As a word, "labyrinth" means "House of the Labrys." The labrys is the double-bladed axe invoking the presence of the Goddess and signifying her power of regeneration.

The labrys represents the Goddess' capacity to turn death into life. With its convex blades, the axe reiterates the shape of the butterfly and recalls its transformation from caterpillar through cocoon to winged creature. The open crescent of the axe's upper edge recalls the arc of the uterine tubes curving from the uterus to the ovaries.

The House of the Labrys, then, is literally the sanctuary enclosing the icon of woman's pro-creative power.
The labyrinth is the body of the Goddess, enclosing her womb.

In its origin, labyrinth refers to the Palace of Knossos in Crete, an edifice richly decorated with signs of the labrys. In this and other settings, a patterned floor may have structured sacred dance, women dancing on a path leading to the center and out again.

In the Greek telling, what the Cretan labyrinth holds at center is the Minotaur, a monster with human body and bull's head. The Greek hero Theseus succeeds in slaying this monster with the help of Ariadne, daughter of the Cretan king. As he journeys through the labyrinth, Theseus unwinds the ball of thread which Ariadne has given him to mark his route. He finds and kills the Minotaur with the labrys, the double-bladed axe. Then, following the path he has traced on his journey inward, he safely threads his way out of the labyrinth. Having promised to marry her, Theseus takes Ariadne with him as he leaves Crete, then abandons her on the island of Naxos.

With its manipulation of ancient symbols, this story encodes the patriarchal culture's appropriation and despoilation of women's sacred power. For eons the bull, like the labrys, symbolized the Goddess's capacity for regeneration. The bull's crescent horns recall the cycling of the moon through its phases and the cycle of women's monthly bleeding. Its horn-crowned skull reiterates the shape of women's generative organs.

The Minotaur, literally the Moon-Bull, is the sacred symbol corrupted, the power of the Sacred Feminine made monstrous. When Theseus, wielding the labrys, slays the Moon-Bull, he is taking the Goddess's power into his own hands and turning it against her, destroying the Sacred Feminine. When Ariadne, enamored of Theseus, gives him the key to slaughtering the Moon-Bull with impunity, she becomes accessory to her own disempowerment. Her allegiance shifts from the Sacred Feminine to the conquering hero.

Like the story of the pestilence contained within Pandora's box, this story of the monster at the center of the labyrinth vilifies and demonizes the generative potency contained within women's bellies. As does the story of Pandora's box, this myth likely builds upon and revises older stories and traditions.

We can imagine, for example, the original Ariadne—her name means "all holy"—as a priestess of the Goddess. We can imagine her leading a line of women dancing through the labyrinth, a length of scarves tied end-to-end threading through their hands. The women's purpose is not death but life. They are dancing through the labyrinth to meet the Moon-Bull not in struggle but in ecstatic celebration. They move to meet not a monster but the Goddess and her life-renewing power.

Walking the Labyrinth

I went to church one Sunday night to walk the labyrinth. The sanctuary was entirely clear except for an enormous sheet of canvas which covered the floor. Drawn upon the canvas was a same-size replica of the labyrinth embedded in the stone floor of France's Chartres cathedral, dating to about 1225 C.E.

The woman who brought the replica introduced the labyrinth to the hundred of us who had gathered. She told us something about its history and significance, and she invited us to walk it, entering the design when we felt moved to do so.

As she was speaking, I could barely wait for the chance to begin. My body rocked back and forth, my belly throbbed with insistent yearning. I felt a reaching from the center of my womb as if there were a magnet there being drawn irresistibly to the mother lode at the labyrinth's center. This great hungry need felt ancient in origin, urgent, not to be denied.

Once given the invitation to begin, I could wait not a moment longer. Rising and walking to the labyrinth's entrance, I could only kneel and stretch my body out full-length, bringing my belly to the canvas-covered floor. My body crawled forward through the first straight passageway in a passion which pressed belly to earth, pulled toward the labyrinth's center.

At the end of that first straight segment I rose from the ground to walk, then dance the curving turns, each of the labyrinth's turnings having its own nature, its own flavor. Reaching the petals at center, I felt a surge of life energy rushing up through my body as if I were standing within a fountain of joy, renewing me, suffusing me. I played in that fountain with the belly-energizing patterns of movement and breath, feeling how gestures such as Stretch Up/Press Down added to my sense of energies converging and interchanging at this central point.

When the time came to return, I didn't want to leave the center. I left regretfully. The ordinary outside world, I thought, would be dingy compared to those moments of pure bliss I'd experienced at center.

On my return through the labyrinth, I learned that the journey to center is not for staying there, not for disappearing into the numinous. It is not for abating the desire blazing through my belly to merge with the source. The journey to center is for dipping into that essence and being refreshed. It is for returning to the world willing to look deeply for that center as it might be hiding anywhere, and everywhere.

Soul-Power | Authentic Voice | Archaic Knowing | Labyrinth | Inner Guidance | Connection to the Mother | Origin of Dreams
Healing Sleep | Peacemaking | Resonance with the Earth
| Tribal Survival


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