The following well documented insights were submitted to Menno-lite by a reader named Clara in response to recent posts on Mennonites and the Labyrinth.
Walking the Labyrinth: Walking the Swastika
I was intrigued by the post on February 6th “Did these Young Mennonites Walk the Labyrinth?”, particularly the photo of a labyrinth. I noticed the four sides to this labyrinth – it is a circle divided into four quadrants with an obvious center. The next post on February 9th “Mennonite Labyrinths” shows a similar circle divided into four sections with a center. The second post begins by raising the question: “Would Mennonites actually walk the labyrinth?” In my mind, I asked: “Would Mennonites actually walk the SWASTIKA?”
How can I say something so outrageous? Recently I was doing some research on the derivation of an occult symbol and I stumbled onto the history of labyrinths. I discovered that labyrinths are cross-cultural and originate from widely diverse pagan societies over at least three millennia. If you go to this webpage, you can read about labyrinths and see these graphic depictions of a labyrinth. I became so curious that I started digging further. I learned that a labyrinth is also a symbolic ritual, it is a space set aside for spiritual activity. This activity has covert sexual and spiritual significance.
It hit me in the face. When looking down at a labyrinth from above, the connection to a swastika is obvious to the naked eye. Some labyrinths also resemble the eastern religions’ Yin/Yang symbol. When I researched the origins of these two symbols I learned that they are actually share some common meanings in the occult.
I pulled a book off my shelf by Dr. Cathy Burns, who has done extensive research on the occult and its symbols. Her book Masonic and Occult Symbols Illustrated (Sharing, 1998) explains that a labyrinth is related to a double-headed axe, a symbol used in witchcraft known as a “labrys.” This word is connected to female anatomy, and it has to do with both fertility and “celestial illumination.”(p. 247-8) Dr. Burns cites Albert Pike, a famous Freemason who said that a labyrinth “was built in honor of the sun” (p. 319), and she mentions that the labyrinth is used by the Eastern Star (the women’s Freemasonry organization).(p. 319-321) Sun worship and fertility rituals was the old pagan idolatry condemned by the Bible—Baal worship. This included perverse sexual rites of initiation.
I grabbed two more books off my shelf. These were written by Richard Noll, a historian who wrote about the rising culture of German occultism just prior to the Nazi regime in Germany. He explains the reasons why the swastika became the German symbol of spiritual and political rebirth. He wrote that
The National Socialists constructed their ideology out of the elements of German Volkish thought that had been popular for several generations among the educated middle classes. They borrowed their solar symbolism from occultism and Aryan mysticism. The National Socialist flag contains a white solar disk or mandala at its center, in which is set another solar symbol: the Hakenkreutz or swastika, a symbol of eternal recurrence and regenerative power. The sun was a potent natural symbol and National Socialist rhetoric was often laced with references that link the power of the sun to the Volk. (The Aryan Christ, p. 273)
The swastika wasn’t just a symbol on a flag. It had deep religious and cultural significance to the Germans of that era. There was a religious meaning behind the swirling sun of the swastika:
Self-deification, or becoming one with the god within, was a pagan appeal to reject Christianity, its symbols, and its Semitic god. The dynamic swastika was hailed as the alternative to the cross. An article on the swastika in a 1918 issue of Die Tat by Illse Alma Drews exemplifies the use of metaphors in a neopagan… sense…: “As the Christians joyfully gather round their cross symbol, so should all of us, too, who confess the new religion, meet each other under the common sign of the swastika. . . . The swastikas can, like no other sign, warn and arouse us, light the holy flame in us, so that we become joyful sacrifices to the highest. . . a victory sign of the new, inner-world God.”(The Jung Cult, p. 346)
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophists, who during the 1880s began to promote a Lucifer-worship cult, “popularized” the swastika through her activities and her writings. Noll wrote that “Blavatsky adopted it as part of the official insignia of the Theosophical Society and also as part of her own personal crest.” There was a definite “solar basis of swastika symbolism and its prevalence in archaic Celtic and Germanic symbolism….”(The Jung Cult, p. 77, 335) The Theosophists, by the way, are the forerunners to the modern New Age movement. (For this history see Constance Cumbey’s The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow).
The German psychiatrist Carl Jung developed a method of “active imagination,” which was a way to “have a direct experience of God as a star or sun within.” The star or sun was depicted by the swirling sun of the swastika, the “ancient Aryan sun wheel,’… a symbol of god that could be found in the ancient homelands of the Aryans… in the form of circular mandalas.”(The Jung Cult, p. 114). This same occult technique is now popularly called “visualization” and it is very popular in the church world. This technique, which is often used in meditation and contemplation, would explain how labyrinths are used for spiritual purposes. As people step into the swirling sun of the labyrinth, they can then experience “the god within.” As they move towards the center, they are imitating a sexual and spiritual union with “God.” How heretical!
It is interesting to read about the historical, cultural and religious context to this sun-worshipping “neopagan culture in German Europe at the turn of the [last] century.” Some of this sounds a lot like the New Age movement today. Certain other occult activities accompanied this swastika motif. For example, here is how Aryan sun-worshipping connects to the eastern Yin/Yang:
“Aryanist sun-worshipping imagery, runic symbols, swastikas, and towering pillars of fire are synthesized with male and female figures, often nude, who symbolized the great cosmic principles of Masculine and Feminine. Typically there are polar opposites united within or just under a circle that symbolizes god as the sun—the primordial ground of all being. In one book illustration…, the Masculine and Feminine are united in a Janus-like bust depicting the Aryan ideals of male and female beauty. This syzvgy, this union of opposites, is surrounded by solar rays and crowned by an encircled swastika, a solar symbol of regeneration and eternal recurrence.”(The Aryan Christ, p. 114)
Why were the German people so interested in this type of occultism? The historian Noll said that the Germans were seeking to rediscover the “sexual magic and sexual religion of the ancient Aryans” which were being touted by the Theosophists as a way to return to a genuinely German volkish (folk) religion. The disliked Christianity and wanted to supplant it with something new and more exciting. Noll explains the heresies that then developed:
“The Aryanist and occultist theory popular in bohemian circles was that the universe had been created from a primordial fiery chaos out of which the first two principles to emerge were the Masculine and the Feminine. Only from the eternal tension between these opposites, the eternal joining and separating of the two, could the creative force, the primal energy of the sun or fire be released. On the individual level, only the integration of the Masculine and Feminine principles within the soul could restore the connection with the internal solar fire….”(The Aryan Christ, p. 118)
In other words, the Germans of the late 1800s and early 1900s became enthralled with the ancient occult idea of connecting the sun with sexual energy. These solar myths generally refer to bringing heaven to earth in an ecstatic union that is depicted sexually. It is also described in terms of spiritual elitism as a way for man to become God. In order to achieve godhood, man needed a “medium between the sacred and profane,” a means to develop an “altered state of consciousness.” (The Aryan Christ, p. 9) The swastika represented one such medium. In like fashion the labyrinth provides a physical medium in which to gain access to godhood. Today this is sometimes referred to as being a “co-creator” with God.
Of course, we have the perspective of 100 years later. We know the “rest of the story”—what terrible things happened when Germany was under the flag and symbol of the swastika. The Germans connected this solar religion to that of creating a new breed, a master race of pure-blooded Aryans:
[T]his blazing primal energy was also associated with blood. Therefore, to release the creative potential of an entire race, eugenics would be necessary to create pure prototypical Aryan males and females who could then produce progressively superior progeny.(The Aryan Christ, p. 118)
How did the frightful master race idea become so widespread? Madame Blavatsky “and her Theosophical Society played a key role in the dissemination of occultist doctrines at the turn of the [last] century,” especially the Aryan race mythology. (The Jung Cult, p. 67) Noll wrote that Blavatsky
chose the name theosophy (“knowledge of God” or “divine wisdom”) for her doctrine, which was based on the idea that all of the world’s religions and spiritual traditions down through history were derived from a long-lost “secret doctrine” that had been revealed to her by these divine beings [her “guru-like ‘ascended masters’”]. The secret doctrine included… the “root races” of mankind, which prominently described the “Aryan race.” (The Jung Cult, p. 61-2)
So how do labyrinths connect with swastikas? An entry on Wikipedia shows a Black Sun wheel symbol in a floor mosaic. It is a swastika embedded in the floor in the Wewelsburg Castle. This labyrinthian floor mosaic is a “twelve-spoke sun wheel,” and it was embedded on a ground floor room in the North Tower of this castle by high-ranking German SS generals who were deeply involved in the occult. This Wikipedia report states that:
Traditional Christianity was to be replaced by a “völkisch” (folkish or racial) cult. Instead of Christianity, Himmler wanted a moral doctrine derived from the pre-Christian pagan Germanic heritage. Cultic ceremonies and rituals were part of the everyday life of the SS. The Wewelsburg was to be a center of a “species-compliant” religion (German: “artgemäße” Religion)
According to studies commissioned by the Third Reich regarding the beliefs of the pre-Christianized Germanic peoples, it was estimated that these pagan ancestors believed in “a grand force or a grand god in the background of the multiplicity of gods and spirits who becomes visible in a multiple way in the universe, on earth and in the life of all beings and facts”. So the sun was interpreted as “only one, but a very important and big expression (of that force or god) in the surrounding events and in the life of the ancestors”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sun_(occult_symbol) )
A related Wikipedia entry on the “Sun Cross” depicts a similar four-quadrant sun wheel (“a cross inside a circle) for the purpose of sun worship. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_cross) And the Wikipedia entry on “Swastika” includes an extensive discussion of the cross-cultural pervasiveness of this symbol, relating it to the double-axe of witchcraft, and noting its four-hinged geometrical symmetry with a noticeable center. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika) It is undeniable when comparing the symbols—the labyrinth bears a unique resemblance to the swastika. The fact that their spiritual meanings are similar underscores the point: the two are one in the same. The labyrinth is just more “acceptable” to our modern sensibilities; it is less offensive.
The swirling sun known as a mandala is also connected to the idea of a swastika and a labyrinth, according to Dr. Cathy Burns in her book Masonic and Occult Symbols. A mandala is sometimes viewed as a “MAGIC CIRCLE,” (p. 181) and like a labyrinth it is said to be “an aid in inducing certain mental states and in encouraging the spirit to move forward along its path of evolution.” (p. 273) Dr. Burns quotes from a Theosophical Society publication:
The word mandala originates from Sanskrit, meaning holy or magical circle. Three principles of order determine structure of a mandala: the center, the radiation that emanates from the center, and a periphery of the circle. The center represents the MYSTERIOUS SPIRITUAL FORCE, birthplace of all existence within space and time. The emanation streams from the center toward the circle’s periphery, uniting the inner and outer. Our road to self-realization may lead to the center of being. There, too, we may discover a peaceful centeredness and healing energy of color therapy.” (p. 182-3, emphasis added by Burns)
Viewed in this context, then, the popular Labyrinth Walk takes on a terrible significance. Not only is it overly connected to eastern mysticism, but it is also related to sun god cults with their sexual orgies. The identification of labyrinths with swirling suns, mandalas, Yin/Yang and swastika symbols should be offensive to any true Christian believer.
The question then gets back to: “Would Mennonites actually walk the labyrinth/swastika?”
[*Published with permission from the author.]
Eastern Mennonite University Labyrinth:
Chartres Labyrinth Design:
Sun Cross Swastika: