Labyrinths: The Journey to the Center of Our Souls

A place where we meet the truest parts of ourselves

History of Labyrinths

Labyrinths date back as far as ancient civilizations. There are pictures and writing about labyrinths found in Greece, Crete, Egypt, France, and Spain. In Scandinavia, they were formed with white rocks and called "Troy Towns." The most common place to find a labyrinth was at a city gate, the seashore of a coastal town, the entrance of a home, in a church or temple, and occasionally a tomb. Some pyramids have labyrinths cut into them. During the middle ages, labyrinths were most commonly built and used in monasteries.

There are two medieval labyrinths in France that are still visited often, one at the Cathedral in Chartres and the other at Mont San Michel in Normandy. Boticelli designed a labyrinth that lies in the gardens outside "il Duomo" in Florence, Italy.

The Purpose of Labyrinths

Labyrinths were often used as a form of protection from attack, usually at a city's gates. The path was assumed to confuse attackers and so distract them to give the city's militia time to form an effective defense. These labyrinths had high walls and were made of clay bricks.

Labyrinths were also built in temples to honor a deity, such as Zeus or Poseidon. In the middle ages, they were built at the entrance to a cathedral, as a means of spiritual purification for the faithful. Often baptisms were performed at the center at the Easter vigil. Sometimes monks would play ball to honor Jesus' resurrection with joy along the path of the church's labyrinth. If a church was small, the labyrinth was placed in the adjoining gardens.

Labyrinth Building Materials

Labyrinths were originally built with stones, mosaics or clay bricks. In Mexico, South America and Central America, archeologists found baskets with labyrinths woven into them, often as a symbol of abundance given by a deity. Some modern labyrinths are built with natural materials, such as stones or bushes, usually outside, and meant to invite the person who walks them to greater intimacy with and caring for nature. Placing stones in the sand on a seashore is a popular way to build a labyrinth in the twenty-first century.

Types of Labyrinths

There is a variety of types of labyrinths designed for specific purposes. One type is called a Yantra labyrinth, and was used by Hindu midwives to meditate before assisting births. Others are named for the regions or countries they were found in, such as Baltic, French or Italian. There are labyrinths designed for promoting specific types of healing, and others to promote world peace. The links at the end of this article lead to more information about the types of labyrinths that have been developed and what they are used for, such as for patients in hospitals or children in schools. Walking labyrinths with my husband and daughter has been part of our home-schooling experience.

Labyrinths are Not Mazes

Mazes are puzzles with a variety of turns, some of which may take you nowhere, and some are difficult to solve. Labyrinths have one path in and out, and the movement guided by the path is often pendular. It leads you from the outside toward the center, steadily, gently, peacefully. Walkers exit the labyrinth by the same path they entered. There are no false turns or "dead ends" in a labyrinth. There is no race to get to the middle and back out again. Walkers progress at the pace that is right for them.

The Modern Use of Labyrinths

The Shape of a Labyrinth

Their form is a spiral path within a mandala. The path reaches one way, then curves toward the opposite direction, making the right and left sides of the walker's brain dance together. More neurological pathways form between the two hemispheres, in favor of greater intimacy and communication. Such cooperation can only improve the quality of any walker's life.

The time spent in a labyrinth was often time in solitude, a walking meditation close to nature. It was important to approach this symbol of eternity with respect, with an open heart and senses. Most often, farmers and other workers who earned their living close to the earth, walked the labyrinth uttering quiet prayers of thanksgiving.They are often still approached in such a manner.

Who walks labyrinths now, and where?

Labyrinths are now often walked in groups, with a specific type of energy as their focus. Artists and poets are such examples. My husband, daughter, and I walked the labyrinth in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, on Tremont Street in Boston, with a group of poets. Some of these poets were also mimes. After walking the labyrinth together, and dancing in the middle, we presented to each other artistic projects we were working on at the time, or poems we had just written. After our spiritual gathering at the church, we often met to eat together at the cafe next door. When the basement of the church was being used by other groups or renovated, we walked an outside labyrinth at Boston College. The labyrinth is where we meet our muse(s), both individually and collectively. This is still true for me, since I am blessed with a neighbor who has created a wooded labyrinth at the south end of our co-housing village. The fragrance of pine and the serenade of the songbirds, crickets, and chimes are escorts to the waking dream world within and without that awaits my attention.

Images of Labyrinths I Have Walked ~

3D plaque reflecting the design of the student memorial labyrinth at Boston College
3D plaque reflecting the design of the student memorial labyrinth at Boston College | Source
A piece of the actual BC student memorial labyrinth at dusk
A piece of the actual BC student memorial labyrinth at dusk | Source
Wooded labyrinth at my co-housing village in central Massachusetts
Wooded labyrinth at my co-housing village in central Massachusetts | Source
Piece of a labyrinth designed by Boticelli, located in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on Tremont St., Boston
Piece of a labyrinth designed by Boticelli, located in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on Tremont St., Boston | Source
Children are very imaginative, playful, and expressive labyrinth walkers
Children are very imaginative, playful, and expressive labyrinth walkers | Source

Walking the Labyrinth as a Sacred Path

Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice
Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice

Many people have discovered the Labyrinth path as a useful form of spiritual practice. This book is a good one to start with if the idea appeals to you, too.

 

The Healing Power of Labyrinths

Labyrinths heal our energy so that our spirit is balanced. This can be done either alone or in groups. Sometimes a group walks a labyrinth with a person in mind who needs healing from either physical or emotional pain. The sacred energy that connects us to the labyrinth was often referred to as Kundalini energy, which is coiled around the base of our spine. The spiral walk of the labyrinth "unwinds" that energy and releases it to be used for healing, good works, and creative endeavors. The best evidence of this is in how children approach labyrinths. They are playful and full of joyful energy.

Labyrinths in the Modern Age

The recent fascination with labyrinths stems from a sense that there is something missing in the lives of modern humans.The constant competition and pressure to perform without much time for relaxation and "unwinding" causes heavy burdens of stress on our systems. Illness is often suffered as a result. Labyrinths have been built by people who have realized the importance of taking time for walking meditation with labyrinths, and others are invited to join the fun. Children are included in this new movement to revive the labyrinth as a form of art, architecture, and meditation, for they benefit from such a spiritual practice as much as adults do in the 21st century.

Create Your Own Labyrinth

More people have decided to muster the energy to create labyrinths of their own. A few of the links provided below offer guides for this process, and my personal Amazon "catalog" of labyrinth books leads you to worthy guides to have in your hands. So, go ahead and grab a stone. Place it at the center of the circle you imagine, keep placing those rocks until you are done, then walk it.

Reflections from the Center of the Labyrinth, by one who walks

Walking the labyrinth keeps me in touch with what is most important in my life. The practice helps me focus on the path that I am traveling. The sacredness of creation touches me at the center, body and soul. I am not the same. The world is alive, pulsating with that energy. I cannot keep it in. I want to share it.

Walking with Company

I often invite my daughter to walk the wooded labyrinth with me. She has walked other labyrinths with me. Often she agrees, and enjoys playing games that use nature as their center, such as pretending that we are faeries. She is the embodiment of my muse...and with her there is the fire that, at the beginning of time, brought life to the world. It is both silence and a song.

Snowy Labyrinth in Winter

Our co-housing labyrinth on a sunny afternoon in December, right after a dusting of snow.
Our co-housing labyrinth on a sunny afternoon in December, right after a dusting of snow. | Source

A Book of Labyrinth Meditations

Labyrinths Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace
Labyrinths Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace

This book features the history of labyrinths and describes the contemporary use of labyrinths as sacred path toward a deeper relationship with the divine.

 

Using Labyrinth Resources

Provided for you in this hub are links to a variety of resources for creating, walking, and sharing labyrinths. Some are histories. Some are collections of meditations to use with inspiring quotes. Others are links to people who are willing to build a labyrinth for you near your home.

Links

The links provided lead to sites that feature the history of labyrinths and the philosophy behind their presence in or near churches. Labyrinths have also been built on the grounds of hospitals, prisons, elementary schools and universities. The World-wide Labyrinth Locator may include a labyrinth someone may have built a labyrinth close to where you live. Our community labyrinth is featured on the locator provided by the Labyrinth Guild of New England, as is the Chartres-style labyrinth on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway located downtown Boston.

Videos

I have not included YouTube videos on my list of links, but I have viewed a number of Dr. Lauren Artress's videos and they give a very good foundation to how a labyrinth can be used in solitude, with another individual or in groups. She founded the organization Veriditas, which has a home base in San Francisco.

Books

There is an abundance of books about labyrinths. I have read an archaeological collection, a guide to building labyrinths written by a landscape architect living in Ireland, and a book of meditations to use for different purposes when walking the labyrinth alone, or leading a labyrinth walk for others. Dr. Artress wrote Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. It is the book I will be reading next on the subject.

Children and Labyrinths

Children often take to labyrinths like ducks to water. When made with natural materials, the labyrinth is a direct connection to their imaginations. Children live in their bodies, so their physical selves are closely woven with their spiritual selves, their divinity. My daughter has walked a number of labyrinths with my husband and I since she was very young. It was important to me to include a link to a site dedicated to creating labyrinths for children.

A Tabletop Labyrinth for your Home ~

The Sand Labyrinth Kit: Meditation at Your Fingertips
The Sand Labyrinth Kit: Meditation at Your Fingertips

This kit provides all of the items you need to create your own sand labyrinth in your home. If you have grown to love labyrinths, it will help you keep up with the practice no matter what weather is outside our door.

 

Create More Labyrinths

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© 2010 Karen Szklany Gault

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Comments 9 comments

Anesidora profile image

Anesidora 6 years ago from Pandora's Box

Oh what a nice hub! I was totally unaware that labyrinths were making such a comeback. When you reached the center of a twisting or climbing labyrinth, you'd discover there everything you are seeking.

You!


Dobson profile image

Dobson 6 years ago from Virginia

Well, there you go i learned what a labyrinth actually was. I am not sure what it is I have considered a labyrinth over all these years. Thanks for setting me (and I suspect others) straight!


Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 6 years ago from New England Author

Thank you, Anesidora and Dobson, for your kind feedback. :0)


Wendy Krick profile image

Wendy Krick 6 years ago from Maryland

Deepak Chopra talks a lot about the labyrinth. I meditate but have never walked a labyrinth. I would love to do it one day. Thank you for this beautiful hub.


LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

When I was a kid I was fascinated with these designs, I used to try to copy them and make my own. Great hub.


Sage Williams profile image

Sage Williams 5 years ago

An amazing hub and so very well written. I must get to Boston and check out the Labyrinth's that you mentioned or better yet make my own. Thanks for sharing.

Sage


Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 5 years ago from New England Author

Thank you all for your lovely comments. Hope you all have a chance to walk a labyrinth near the place you live, or that the books I have recommended on Amazon may help you build one of your own. Slainte!


CapturedWord profile image

CapturedWord 5 years ago from United States

Very neat writing! I Love this kind of stuff! Thanks for the great work!


Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 5 years ago from New England Author

Glad you enjoyed reading my writing about Labyrinths, CapturedWord. Hope you will have a chance to walk one.

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