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The Labyrinth - an intricate path to peace

Updated on January 31, 2014
The Labyrinth at the Naples Botanical Gardens (Naples, FL)  a place for meditation.
The Labyrinth at the Naples Botanical Gardens (Naples, FL) a place for meditation. | Source
Another photo shot of The Labyrinth at the Naples Botanical Gardens.  It is of classical Greek style.
Another photo shot of The Labyrinth at the Naples Botanical Gardens. It is of classical Greek style. | Source
Rock drawing of a classical labyrinth in Valcamonica, Italy.
Rock drawing of a classical labyrinth in Valcamonica, Italy. | Source
Carving stone labyrinth,  Hoysaleswara temple, Hatebidu, India.
Carving stone labyrinth, Hoysaleswara temple, Hatebidu, India. | Source
Stone labyarinth on Bla Jungfrun (Blue Virgin) Island, Sweden.
Stone labyarinth on Bla Jungfrun (Blue Virgin) Island, Sweden. | Source

I first became interested in labyrinths the first time I walked this one at the Naples Botanical Gardens in Naples, FL. Set aside in a beautiful, serene area this is a place for quiet meditation for which most labyrinths serve today. This labyrinth is in the classical Greek style, one of the oldest labyrinth styles in the world today. Therefore, labyrinths have been around in the world for a long, long time, having been discovered all the way back to pre-historic times of circa 2500 BC.

Today, most labyrinths are found in parks or in churches to help you achieve a contemplative state. As you walk among the turnings of the labyrinth, you lose track of direction and the outside world. The distractions fall away and following the twists and turns of the path quiets the mind.

This is exactly what I discovered as I navigated the Naples Botanical Garden labyrinth. I have walked its path many times, beginning at the bottom of the labyrinth and walking to the center to the lovely, small fountain in the center. The echos of falling water sooth the mind and leave me with a refreshing feeling both inside and out. Once at the center, I pause for a few moments to take in the lovely gardens, flowers, lake and plants surrounding me.

Signs warn that this is a meditation area and those approaching are to be silent and respect those within the labyrinth. After a few minutes at the center, I then find my way out of the labyrinth and back to the beginning. I have gone full circle literally and figuratively in meditation and depending on how much meditation I do and how fast or slowly I navigate it, I can spend anywhere from twenty minutes to half an hour in a pleasant 'other world' of my mind and the botanical gardens. It is complete peace.


What exactly is a labyrinth?

A labyrinth is described many times as a puzzle, synonymous with a maze, but actually the two are different. A labyrinth is a single path (unicurial) and has only a single non-branching path which leads to the center. As it twists and turns it has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

On the other hand, the maze is a complex branching path (multicurial) which choices of path and direction. Today, we traverse mazes in corn fields or gardens of large estates and they can be very difficult to navigate even sometimes causing us to get lost in them.

The only way to get lost in a labyrinth is in your mind as you meditate as they are not designed to stymie the walker, but to produce enough concentration, that the walker can find peace and tranquility.

The word labyrinth is a pre-Greek word of Minoan origin. The Greeks popularized and designed the classical style as seen above, and first used it at the palace of Knossos in Crete. It is derived from the Lydian word labrys which means double-edged axe.

It was a symbol of royal power with historians believing today that the labyrinth was originally laid in the royal Minoan palace in Crete, The House of the Double-Axe. This same symbol was also discovered in palaces throughout Crete.

Many of the labyrinth symbols were associated with goddesses in these Cretin palaces because the Double-Axe was the symbol of the beginning or arche of the creation .

The labyrinth is also believed to have run and meandered to give the "Greek key" its common shape and modern name.

During the 3rd century BC the back of Greek coins were stamped with the labyrinth. And, at this time, the labyrinth was any unicurial maze that was circular or square in shape.

The Greeks were not the only ones to use labyrinths in their architecture and coinage, but the Egyptians, the Italians, the native American indians, Indians from India and the Swedish from Sweden all were fascinated with labyrinths.

Greek key design labyrinth.
Greek key design labyrinth. | Source
Typical medieval labyrinth pattern.
Typical medieval labyrinth pattern. | Source

Labyrinths of Medieval times

It was during the medieval period that labyrinths became used for religious reasons and labyrinths were put in the floors of many cathedrals in Europe. Less complicated labyrinths were used on these church and cathedral floors.

It was during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries that many labyrinths were laid in the Gothic cathedrals of Chartres, Reims and Amiens in northern France. They became symbolic allusions to the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Some historians today believe that prayers and devotions accompanied the walking of their intricate paths. It is also believed that Christian pilgrims who could not actually travel on a pilgrimage to a specific shrine for whatever reason, substituted the 'path to Jerusalem' through walking a labyrinth.

The pilgrims followed the labyrinth path on their knees while praying, especially at the cathedral in Chartres, France. There is no evidence, however, that the early, early Christians used labyrinths in this way. This seems to be a medieval phenomenon.

Pilgrims walking a labyrinth symbolized the hard path to God with God as the center of the labyrinth and the entrance symbolizing the pilgrim's birth. The pilgrim walked the path of the labyrinth descending toward salvation or enlightenment. This substituted for pilgrimages those were not actually able to make.

Many of these cathedral labyrinths are thought to be the inspiration for many outside turf mazes in the UK which have survived to today in Wing, Hilton, Alkborough, Saffron, and Walden.

It is also during the medieval period that five hundred or more non-religious labyrinths were constructed of stones in Scandinavia, mostly in the coastal areas. They were constructed in the simple seven or eleven classical forms and thought to be constructed by fishing communities.

It was believed that labyrinths trapped malevolent trolls or winds in the labyrinth's coils and this would ensure safe fishing areas and expeditions. The stone labyrinth in the Iles of Scilly were not discovered by archaeologists until the nineteenth century.

Labyrinths appear in most parts of the world today such as native North and South America to
Australia, Java, India, and Nepal, to name a few world-wide places.

A class of students walking The Labyrinth for Peace.
A class of students walking The Labyrinth for Peace. | Source
Although the most usual pattern of labyrinths is round, they can also be square in shape and pattern.
Although the most usual pattern of labyrinths is round, they can also be square in shape and pattern. | Source

Modern labyrinths

Labyrinths today can be both literal and symbolic. Labyrinths designed on floors or outside on terrain are large enough that the path can be walked as is the one in the Naples Botanical Gardens. Today, they are used mostly for private meditation.

There are also symbolic uses for the labyrinth especially in literature, art and films. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was fascinated with labyrinths and used them many times in his short stories; for example, The House of Asterion.

Borges use of labyrinths in his stories have inspired other writers to use them also. For example, Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, and Mark Z. Danielewski, House of the Leaves, are two more authors who have used them.

Octavio Paz, in his book on the Mexican identity, The Labyrinth of Solitude, used the labyrinth to describe the Mexican condition as orphaned or lost.

The film, Labyrinth, from the 1980s presented the search for meaning in a symbolic modern labyrinth.

Both, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso are artists who have included labyrinths in their art and paintings. Miro and his painting, Labyrinth (1923) and Picasso and his painting, Minotauromachia (1935) figure labyrinths in the paintngs.

In this sense, labyrinths have served as a metaphor for situations that are difficult to be extricated from. It is an image suggesting one getting lost in a subterranean dungeon like world.

Grace Cathedral labyrinth. (San Francisco)
Grace Cathedral labyrinth. (San Francisco) | Source

Healing Powers of the Labyrinth

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Grace Cathedral Labyrinth

Although the religious significance of labyrinths has faded over the years and their service today is more for entertainment or symbolic reasons, there has recently been a resurgence of labyrinth use of the spiritual aspect.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has two labyrinths, one indoors and one outdoors. The indoor labyrinth is inlaid on the floor of the cathedral and was introduced by the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress in 1994. In 1995, she founded Veriditas "to facilitate the transformation of the human spirit through offering the walking labyrinth experience."

The process has three stages to the walk:

  • Purgation (Releasing) and the letting go of the details of your life. As one walks the labyrinth there is the shedding of thoughts and distractions. This is the time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
  • Illumnination (Receiving) happens when one reaches the center of the labyrinth. The walker can stay here as long as he/she likes. The center is the place of meditation and prayer. It is here that one receives what there is to receive.
  • Union (Returning) as one leaves the center of the labyrinth, he/she follows the same path out of the center as he/she came in. Here is the entrance to the third stage of the process which is joining God, your Higher Power or the healing forces at work in the world.

Each time one walks the labyrinth and goes through this process one becomes more empowered to find and do the work for which he/she feels the soul is reaching.

Can there be traffic jams while walking a labyrinth? Yes, but those walking are respectful and allow others by and around them as they traverse on their spiritual journey.

The labyrinth at Grace Cathedral can be walked on a daily basis while a yoga exercise and class also uses the labyrinth. The cathedral also offers a candlelight labyrinth walk and a labyrinth peace walk.

For those interested in seeing different labyrinths or walking them, there is The Labyrinth Society which provides a locator for modern labyrinths all over the world and their link can be found below.

Whether you are just interested in these 'puzzles' or have a religious or spiritual reason for walking a labyrinth, they are fascinating at least to me. The peacefulness and serenity attained by walking a labyrinth is worth the time and the walk.


Copyright (c) 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved

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    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      How interesting, suzette. Really enjoyed reading this piece. I remember having a wooden labyrinth box as a child and loved it, where one would hold on to the two side handles to control the small silver ball flowing around the board.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Faith: Thank you so much and I'm glad you enjoyed this. Yes, I had one of those hand-held labyrinth puzzles also. I forgot all about it until you mentioned it. Thanks for your comments and for your visit. Most appreciated.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting Suzette! I wish I had on in the backyard. Love it and love the message.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks Bill. So glad you enjoyed this. Yes, I wish I had one in my backyard also. It would certainly help some days. It would be wonderful to be able to start each day by walking a labyrinth!

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Why must paths to peace be so complicated? It's a thought provoked by this article.

      Would be handy if labyrinths could imprison malevolent forces. But as I learned from watching a Superman movie, just when you think you never have to worry, General Zod and his cronies end up in Houston by accident! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I love all the photos pictured of labyrinths. The message of peace in connection with these is so interesting.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 3 years ago from San Francisco

      You did a great job on this! thank you

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 3 years ago from Southern California

      I was fascinated by your explanations of the spiritual aspects of the labyrinth. Well done! Voted up.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Av wonderful hub Suzette; thoroughly enjoyed and voted up.

      Eddy.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      cmoneyspinner: It is sort of an oxymoron isn't it? LOL Well, peace, I think, is more difficult to maintain. It is easy to go to war, but it its harder to maintain the peace - it takes more work. Life would be so much easier if it would capture and imprision malevolent forces. Thank you so much for your comments and for your visit.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      teaches: Thank you so much for your comments and for your visit. Today, this is something that does promote peace within and without.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mhatter: Thank you so much and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Have you ever seen the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral?

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jenna; Yes, the spiritual or meditative aspects are what I like the most about them. Thanks for your comments and for your visit.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Eddy: So glad you enjoyed this and thanks for the vote. Hope all is well with you.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      suzettenaples -- Thanks for talking back. I'm glad you appreciated the humor, but grasped the profound truth at the same time.

      I was away from HP for a while but have come back to re-discover that this is still a very nice writing community here.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      cmoneyspinner: I think HP is the best writing community on the web right now. I love the feedback and communicating with one another. It is so pleasant and I learn so much from all of you out there. I am so glad you came back and commented again. And, I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for your insightful comments.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

      I love to read on the mysteries and the philosophy behind labyrinths. Thanks for sharing.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Vinaya: I too am interested in this area of knowledge. I found this so interesting myself. Thanks for reading and for your visit.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 3 years ago from Georgia

      This is a very in depth, fascinating article about labyrinths. I have never walked one, but I can imagine how focused you must become in order to successfully navigate through it.

      Your information about them has given me a reason to put visiting a labyrinth on my to do list. Thanks. Voted up and sharing.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

      Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Nice hub

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Cyndi10: Thanks and I am glad you enjoyed reading this. I have found these a very peaceful and tranquil walk to take and I just wanted to share it with others. Glad you want to try one of these. It does take your mind off your troubles. Thanks for you comments and your visit - most appreciated.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thank you Sanjay and thank you for visiting.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 3 years ago

      Hi Suzette

      I have never walked a labyrinth before but now that I have read your hub it is something that I would like to do.

      Voted up +++ and sharing.

      Take care

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Sueswan: Thanks so much for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I enjoy walking the labyrinth and it is so helpful to me to clear my mind of all the gunk and dwell on the positive. Then, when I researched a bit about them I found it so interesting and that these are all over the world in every culture.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 3 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello suzettenaples. This is a very interesting hub and subject. It fact this is the second article that I read about this not often thought about subject. Again, you have brought interesting information to your many folleres. Me included.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      mckbirdbks: Thank you so much for reading this. I didn't know much about labyrinths until I ran into this one in Naples. It was a good experience walking it for me and I am into meditation as a way of calming the woes of life. LOL. Walking a labyrinth is better for me when trying to deal with life's stresses. Thanks so much for your interest and your comments.

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Suzette,

      This is a fascinating article and presented in a user-friendly way. This seems like it would be a perfect HOTD! A definite share/V+.

      Kim

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Kim: You are so kind. Too bad you are not on the HP staff! I honestly had no idea about labyrinths until I ran into this one in Naples, FL. I was fascinated by it and have walked it several times. That is where the idea for this hub came about. I didn't realize how far back into history labyrinths went and was so surprised to find this out. I am into meditation so labyrinth walking for meditation purposes fascinates me. I'm so glad you enjoyed this also.

    • profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago

      Suzette,

      I just wanted you to know that I submitted this hub for the editor's choice which I if I understand correctly leads to HOTD. The article really is that good!

      Best,

      Kim

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Oh, Kim: You are so sweet. I didn't know about all this, but thank you. You are so kind and I appreciate your recommendation. Thank you!

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      I never realised that labyrinths and mazes are not the same until I read your hub. Very interesting. Must find one sometime and try walking it.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      DreamerMeg: Thanks so much for reading this and I am glad you enjoyed it and found it informative. I find labyrinths fascination and also great for meditation purposes. Thanks for your visit and your comments.

    • profile image

      Mklow1 3 years ago

      Fantastic Hub as usual, suzettenaples! Your depth of research is amazing because I never realized that there was so much to labyrinths. Keep up the great work. I always enjoy coming to your page and learning something new.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 3 years ago from Prescott Valley

      Oh, these are used in weddings a great deal. I know that they have many other uses, but I really love when people use them in their wedding ceremonies.

      What a beautiful article! Very nice job!

    • suzettenaples profile image
      Author

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mklow: I had never come upon a labyrinth until I found this one at the Naples Botanical Garden and it got me thinking about them. They are quite interesting and I didn't realize how long they had been around. Thanks so much for your kind comments and I am glad you enjoyed reading this.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      VVanNess: How interesting! I didn't know these were used in weddings and I would love to see a wedding where one is used. What a lovely way to start out new married life. Thanks so much for your comments and additional knowledge about labyrinths. I appreciate your visit.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      This is really interesting and you have included so many details. The meditative aspect of the labyrinth sounds great and definitely worth trying.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Anna: I really had no interest in labyrinths until I came upon this one at the Naples Botanical Gardens. I found it interesting and decided to do some research and I had no idea they had been around for so long or what a history they have. It truly is a meditative experience if you want to make it that. Thanks for your visit and I'm pleased you enjoyed this.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I'm completely fascinated by your information on Labyrinths! I want to walk a labyrinth now. I used to live in the 'Bay Area' and drive by Grace Cathedral many times, not knowing about the labyrinth. I will locate one nearby and will also build one here in the mountains where I live. Voted up and across (not funny) and sharing everywhere. - Audrey

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 2 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thank you vocalcoach! I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. These are easy to make with some stones and a large enough area. They are wonderful and peaceful! Thanks so much for your interest, votes and share!

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 16 months ago from London England

      Interior of Unitarian church situated in Hampstead North London in England has a quite large version of the labyrinth on their tiled floor.

    • suzettenaples profile image
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      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 16 months ago from Taos, NM

      limpet: Thanks for the information. I love to find labyrinths and when I am again in England, I will check it out.

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