labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines
the image of the circle and a spiral joining together to create a purposeful
The labyrinth represents the journey to our own center
and back again, out into the world. Used for centuries, the labyrinth
is one of the oldest transformational and contemplative tools used for
prayers, ritual, initiation, personal and spiritual growth. The labyrinth
symbolizes the path to be followed in cycles; in life and in death and
in rebirth. Throughout Europe the ancient labyrinths were known as Walls
of Troy, Troy Town or City of Troy, the city of the ancient pagan world.
With the advent of Christianity they became known as Jerusalem, the
spiraling paths representing the pilgrimage to the holy land or the
one true path to eternal salvation.
Labyrinths are often confused with mazes; the difference
being that a maze is like a puzzle and has many turns, twists, dead
ends and blind alleys. One is required to the left brain with its logical
and analytical thinking to find the right path into and out of the maze.
The labyrinth, on the other hand, has only one path; the way in is the
way out. It requires the use of the right brain which involves creativity,
imagery, and intuition. When walking the labyrinth, the right and left
hemispheres of the brain are balanced, creating just the right state
for accessing creativity and intuition. When we let go of our analytical
ways of thinking, our energy is freed up for decision-making, unblocking
creative blocks, seeking inner guidance and inspiration. No matter where
you are in the labyrinth, the center is always visible. Creative visualization,
journaling and affirmations can be combined with walking the labyrinth
for even better results.
The earliest known labyrinth is believed to be a petroglyph
on the wall of a subterranean stone burial chamber in Sardinia called
Tomba del Labarinto or Tomb of the Labyrinth. Petroglyphs and drawings
of labyrinths from the second millennium BC have been found throughout
Europe in such places as India, Syria, Greece and Italy. Roman labyrinths
have been uncovered throughout the former Roman Empire from Spain to
Britain to North Africa to Yugoslavia. Labyrinths have appeared throughout
the world from 500 AD to 1500 AD. Huge stone labyrinths were built along
the Scandinavian coastline from Iceland to Russia. Here in the American
Southwest, labyrinths were drawn or carved into cliff dwellings and
Turf labyrinths, made by cutting trenches into the turf
for paths, were cut into the earth in England, Germany, and Poland.
Tile and stone labyrinths were set into church floors in Italy, North
Africa, and France, where one of the more famous designs is laid out,
the Chartes Labyrinth.
Named after the permanent stone labyrinth set into the
floor of the Chartres Cathedral near Paris during the thirteenth century,
the Chartre labrynth has eleven concentric paths that wind through four
quadrants of a circle. It is a Christian pattern that has an equal-armed
cross visible in its layout. In the center is a rosette, a six petaled
design representing a rose, traditional symbol of the Virgin Mary and
of enlightenment. This labyrinth would be walked as a pilgrimage and/or
for repentance. As a pilgrimage it was a quest or journey with the hope
of becoming closer to God. When used for repentance, the pilgrims would
walk on their knees.
Another popular design is the classical or seven circuit
labyrinth (also known as the Creten labyrinth or the labyrinth of Knossos.
It is the oldest and most universal for, of the labyrinth, dating back
3,500 years. In Greek mythology, Daelalus was an Athenian architect
and inventor who designed the classical labrynth for King Minos of the
Island of Crete. It was built as a prison for the Minotaur, a man-eating
monster who was half-man and half-bull. It’s design was such that
no one who entered it could escape the Minotaur. Theseus, an Athenian
hero, entered, slayed the Minotaur and escaped. (Angered at the escape,
King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.
They could not find the exit, so Daedulus made wax wings so they could
both fly out. Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and
he fell into the sea. Daedalus flew to Sicily where he was welcomed
by King CoCalus. King Minos went after Daedalus, but was killed by the
daughters of Cocalus.)
The legend of Theseus and the Monotaur was well known
and popular with the Romans. In Pompeii, the famous town destroyed by
the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, an image of a labyrinth was discovered
scratched into the pillar of a house with an inscription reading Labyrinthus
hic Habitat Minotaurus (The Labrynth, Here lives the Minotaur). Old
coins of Crete are adorned with this classical labyrinth design.
The labyrinth is a sacred path. Walking it is a meditation.
It is important to allow every walk to be an open-minded one. Labyrinth
space is sacred space. It is difficult to hear the Goddess speak you
when you have a closed mind. Before entering the labyrinth, pause and
say a prayer or make an intention. You harness the power of the labyrinth
by being fully conscious of your intentions. The intention may be either
a statement or a question. Intentions could be prayers for a particular
person or situation; a birthday or anniversary. You can use the walk
to reflect on the past year or future goals. You can work with a particular
emotion or state, bringing it to the center for healing. You can pause
at the center and meditate. When you are ready, just retrace your steps
back out the same was you went in. It is always a good idea to pause
upon exiting to say a prayer of thanksgiving and ask blessings for the
next person to follow you.
Creating a labyrinth is creating sacred space. Laying
out a labyrinth can be a difficult endeavor. The easiest method of drawing
a seven-ring classical labyrinth would be by starting with a “seed
pattern.” The seed pattern consists of drawing up a cross, corners
and dots. The design could be scratched on a sandy beach with a stick,
or laid out using bird seed, rope, sticks or large pebbles. I have even
seen where people have made an herb garden in such a design.
Labyrinths are making a comeback with schools, churches,
parks and hospitals building them. We will soon be able to enjoy the
labyrinth at the University of Redlands, which will soon be completed
and open to the public.