The medieval labyrinth ritual and performance: a grounded theory study of liminality and spiritual experience



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To explore the concept of the medieval labyrinth as a spiritual tool generating the phenomenon of transformational spiritual experience as found in the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress’ Theater of Enlightenment, seven labyrinth ritual performances were created and thirty-two participants were interviewed. The central argument is that ritual and performance both share the concept of spirit—a developing consciousness towards self-knowledge, which is the journey to wholeness. Explaining the what, why, where, and how of phenomena occurring in performance is the work of performance studies. Situating the labyrinth as liminal performance, the phenomena of transforming spiritual experiences are explored. Chosen to generate theory, grounded theory methodology involved: developing categories and themes inductively rather than imposing classifications on the data; analyzing interview narratives of subjects’ spiritual experiences; and formulating a set of relational statements as labyrinth ritual performance theory. Using an outdoor medieval labyrinth and an indoor portable canvas labyrinth modeled after the Chartres labyrinth and built by artisans from Artress’ nonprofit, Veriditas, thirty-one subjects perceive they had spiritual experiences: (1) relating to the Divine—God, Goddess, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Spirit, Essence, or the Universe; (2) finding Self—inner knowing, inner Self, life-force, or center of Self; (3) walking a sacred space—demarcated space for meditation, design of ancestral tradition, or historical Christian tradition; (4) gaining meaning— intellectual and emotional clarity of events, life-plans, problems, or situations; and/or (5) creating intention—co-creation with energy forms or the natural world. The three stages of the labyrinth path mark where change occurs while emotions, appreciations, motivations, values, and attitudes mark what changes. How change occurs involves contextual, causal, and intervening conditions; actions/interactions; and consequences that parallel the continuum of Krathwohl’s taxonomy in the affective domain. Individual stories emerge around themes of spiritual, personal, and/or social development. This study contributes to performance studies in exploring what ritual does to the performer by way of thought, action, emotions, the senses, space, time, embodiment, and agency. Implications suggest the field of performance studies deal with the concept of Spirit in performance and research.