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The Labyrinth

By Selene Silvermoon
(Written for Ecclasia)


The 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 path.

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 mesas.

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.


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This page last updated August 7, 2005