Symbols: the Labyrinth

So it took some explaining for me to appreciate the labyrinth. Mazes, I could understand the appeal, as those “require acute attention to choices at intersecting paths and a high degree of critical awareness to remember detours and dead ends. Mazes do not grace those who enter; they taunt, tease, and challenge.”

Cretan Labyrinth

Cretan Labyrinth (pg. 81) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘It is the oldest (…) form of the labyrinth, dating back at least 3,500 years.’

Labyrinths, in Melissa Gayle West’s case studies, do grace those who work with them. They provide a time and shape-of-space set out for liminality, for psychic (as in, pertaining to the psyche) development—yet, the structure is open enough that anyone can travel in them at their own pace, in their own way, with any approach they have. I find two common processes in the cases included in Exploring the Labyrinth: The first is those who have been harmed and hardened (into “small selves” as West describes it; having created a complex or intense focus around a specific issue) travel a labyrinth and gain a bigger perspective through that walking meditation; that intensity, or that defensiveness that precludes healing, tends to soften and release. The second are labyrinth-travelers who enter too lofty, too cerebral, and find the travel grounding—the labyrinth has an opposite effect of focus and integration.

Mentioned often, too, is the benefit of Second Thinking. If a traveler can catch how they approach the labyrinth, they can examine how they approach life. I’d considered labyrinths pretty but pointless. From entrance to center and out again, it’s too easy to be worth working with. It took more explaining before I could appreciate it.

Three labyrinths featured in the book included the organic, off-center Cretan labyrinth above, drawn from an equal-armed cross axis. West presented the Chartres labyrinth below as an innovation in labyrinth design that diverged from labyrinths throughout world history, but I can’t help but expect more than a surface scratching of art or architectural history would show the lineages and influences of it.

chartres

Chatres Labyrinth (pg. 96) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘Named after the permanent stone labyrinth set into the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France during the thirteenth century…It is a distinctly Christian pattern, an equal-armed cross visible in its elegant layout.’


The third labyrinthine pattern, a simple spiral, made a brief mention.
spiral

Ibid.


My one’s more like a spiral, really, as the path doesn’t ebb to the periphery before flowing towards the center again. It just zigzags towards the center.
combinationlock
While the full-sized labyrinths are meant for walking meditations, I very much like the idea now of having a hand-held labyrinth to work with. The meditative mind state can be done while the labyrinth-traveler traces the path with their fingertips. Made out of pottery clay or salt dough, that would provide a tactile component, and of course the same time and symbolic shape-of-space that labyrinths make, to invite or facilitate that meditative mindset.

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An Expeditious Retreat

Rose ought to have a better introduction than this. I was in my mid-teens, mulling over gritty reboot fairy tale retellings that I could do, and she was one of them. I could have sworn that I’d seen Rose as Chelsea Hobb’s Gerda in The Snow Queen (Hallmark, 2002) but apart from the ringlets she’s given when she’s trapped in springtime, there’s not much resemblance. Which is odd, because her actual face and body keep changing whenever I meet her.

The drawing above is of the youngest-looking version of her I’d encountered, who seemed to wear a specific world all the time.

And during our most recent encounter, I was going to suggest that she leave it.

labyrinth

Tuning in to my surreal fetch sometimes comes with senses, attitudes, or memories that my corporeal and sidereal fetch don’t have. Sometimes it manifests in feeling as though a guiser I’d never seen before is a very old friend. Other times, it manifests in my freezing up in the middle of doing something that I surreal-y know how to do without thinking, because I’m sidereal-y thinking about how I do it (because that part of me had never done it before.)

This time, it was an information dump.

I’d taken it as a given that the center of the red brick labyrinth is a walled garden where Rose would sit with her tea set. And I can never find the door. If she randomly wants me to join her for tea, I am randomly summoned there for tea and randomly banished. We never do anything else.

This time, I managed to walk in uninvited, and give a stern warning about someone else who might walk in uninvited; and this was my own fault, but this was how I could minimize the damage, if she would cooperate by evacuating then she’d be one less possible—

What? My corporeal-sidereal mind pulled away from myself a bit. What did we do this time? What did you do?!? This isn’t happening.

That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t ask. I only felt moderately confused by myself.

“Nobody can find this place,” Rose said, meaning that she wasn’t leaving. I’d pointed out that the labyrinth remained open to the sky, but…she had a point. One entrance, one exit, one winding path, and I’d still manage to take a wrong turn. Rose knew this place better: the place did whatever she wanted to whoever else was unfortunate enough to wander into it. Of course she was safe, here.

Then Captain Foxglove strode in and said, “I’ll escort her.”

I might have gesticulated between us and the walls, bleating, to try to communicate that if I could find the center garden of my own volition for once, and Foxglove could do the same and they hadn’t even met, then the security wasn’t very good anymore.

On the other hand, Foxglove and Rose kept looking at each other with expressions that at least told me that they knew one another very well.

So Rose listened to Foxglove after he’d made the exact same report to her, and suggested the exact same course of action as I had—and without any argument at all Rose wrapped up her own tea set in the tablecloth and looked to the bottom of the stone bird-bath for pearls.

“There are seashells in almost any harbor we stop at,” Foxglove told her, though he’d looked terse, he’d kept his tone encouraging. Rose decided not to waste time on the pearls. She had a flower crown that she’d reached up to put on Foxglove’s head. It got there; they’d both looked so solemn about it.

I could make sense of it. Before, I thought that I’d found Rose by a slightly different form accompanying Captain Marigold, and when I’d looked in that one’s eyes she appeared empty of any mind. I wonder now if this exact moment was always going to happen, so that the shell that followed Marigold around would be ensouled by a real Rose. Maybe the shell was a sort of ghost from the future.

I’d stopped this Rose, right before she left, to look in her eyes. I couldn’t. It was like starting mirror work, and all I could see was a mirror. This Rose wasn’t empty that I could see, but all I could see when I looked at her eyes were…eyes.

Despite being sort-of around for a decade, even despite all the tea parties…this was, really, the first and only conversation-like exchange that Rose and I had ever had. I’d described her before as “too obstinately enigmatic to blog about” and maybe that is the thing: she’ll always have a labyrinth of some kind around her, maybe she is safe and content by nature, inherently inaccessible, and I had made some grave mistake in sending her out into the world. Even if she were going to bring life to Marigold’s pet ghost from the future.

Nah, Foxglove’s made the grave mistake, if that were the case, because he’d said the same thing but she listened to him.

Besides, one of Foxglove’s crew had eyes pop out of sockets at the end of accordion springs when I looked into them. Had they been coil springs, I would have guessed that mechanism were built into such a guiser-body to facilitate expressiveness in the eyes. That they were accordion springs swayed my suspicions more towards that every otherworld I quest in is potentially trolling me.

So they both left. Somehow. I didn’t catch them going over the wall, but the center garden of the red brick labyrinth has no door.

The Secret Garden, musical adaptation by Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon

The following entry may contain triggering material, and spoilers for the Broadway musical version of The Secret Garden, extending spoilers to the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I was so happy to find this musical on Spotify. It’s one of my very all-time favorites simply for the music, especially the Broadway recording that polished everything up. The songs don’t always lend themselves to egoistic solos, or toe-tappingly earwyrm-hummingly catchy show tunes. The book is hardly the quotable tragicomedies of Sondheim. What makes this my favorite show is the choral arrangements, counterpoint melodies in duets or quartets, and orchestration. I listen to the strings more than the voices. It’s almost ambient in how diffusively the music carries the story. The styles range from jigs to Gregorian chants to operatic arias, yet always remain distinctly story-telling songs.

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in 1911, begins with a young English girl living in India. Mary Lennox is rich and spoiled and her parents are always too busy partying with other rich English people to do any actual parenting, so they leave her to be raised by Indian servants, and they all die of plague. The End.

Oh, no, wait—Mary Lennox is the sole survivor of the plague. Now orphaned at ten years of age, the soldiers who discover her then whisk the child off to her nearest relation in Yorkshire, Not In India. Her hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven is too busy grieving as a widow to be a parent, whether that’s to Mary or to…well, there are other children in the enormous manor and on the moors that really nobody wants to pay attention to, except to keep them apart. Mary Lennox—being far more temperamental and belligerent than a life of privilege can usually explain—is having none of it.

The musical takes some liberties with the story. The deceased Lily Craven’s soprano has far more presence onstage than in prose where her ghostly influence (of memory, of serendipitous coincidence) can afford to be more subtle. Doctor Neville Craven, Archibald’s undeformed brother, is the most passive antagonist I have ever read. In both versions, rumors about how mercenary Dr. Craven is do come up, and Neville doesn’t do anything or even scheme to do anything to pick up that plot point. He just does his job as the family doctor, as competently as an Edwardian-age physician can. This isn’t very competently at all because, in the world Burnett has constructed, people need magic, whether that’s the magic of a relationship with the land, or the magic of ghosts guiding us from the afterlife even through our grief, or the magic of friendships between upperclass children and the half-wild siblings of the sassy-but-not-too-sassy servants, or…the magic of an individual thinking so positive that they’re not disabled anymore…Anyway, versions that aren’t the book seem to really like putting Neville in a love triangle with Lily and Archibald so he’s misunderstood about being mercenary.

The music—

Hold on. One day maybe, I’ll write about Burnett’s magic as a proto-new-age sort of Law of Attraction or New Thought type belief system, or the Glamour dynamic of Mary Lennox’s and Sara Crewe’s relationship with Indian-ness and the exoticization of their ancestral home, or friendships across class/age/gender gaps (more like chasms) in The Secret Garden, but for now this video has this transcript and I recommend them for purposes of becoming wiser than fictional Edwardians when it comes to disability.

The-Secret-Garden_Marsha-Norman_Lucy-Simon

My fancasting would be Priti Ghandi as Lily Craven (warning: autoplay of music samples on every page). And, I don’t even know if Naveen Andrews sings, but he can rock a top hat so that’s my fancast/headcanon Neville.

Naveen Andrews

Naveen Andrews can rock a top hat!

“A Girl in the Valley” served as the background music while I was writing The Red Room and now that I hear it again, “It’s a Maze” must have been what inspired a red-brick labyrinthine Scape that I call the 2nd Chamber (and in Western Faery, the Sienna Sierra. Sierra Sienna? One of those.) I never blog about the 2nd Chamber because it’s usually just there to slow down Point A to Point B and a Guiser named Rose may or may not sometimes be there. Rose has been too obstinately enigmatic to blog about.

My favorite song remains “Winter’s On the Wing”, which I’m beginning to associate with a personification—I call guiser—of time—I call phase, and put in a subcategory under guiser. Dickon Sowerby whistles in spring time that I, having been a tropical creature all my life, haven’t the foggiest idea what the big deal around equinoxes is in almost all pagan or occult literature. Or even a foggy idea about fog. But here he is, and next up is my personification of the summer lady: Ilse Neumann from another Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.