Labyrinths: The Journey to the Center of Our Souls
Images of Labyrinths I Have Walked ~
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.
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
Ideas for Using Labyrinths as a Spiritual Practice:
- The Labyrinth Society
This organization, known affectionately as "TLS," is made up of labyrinth enthusiasts from all over the world. Every member of TLS brings new information, insights and new opportunities to the organization.
- World-Wide Labyrinth Locator - Welcome
The World-Wide Labyrinth Locator has been designed to be an easy-to-use database of labyrinths around the world. Information about labyrinths you can visit, including their locations, pictures, and contact details, are accessible here, along with inf
- World's Premier Meditation Space Creator
The Labyrinth Company provides landscape architects, hardscape contractors and landscape designers with paver labyrinths, garden labyrinths, portable floor labyrinths, and other meditation labyrinth products for churches, hospitals, homes, etc.
- The Labyrinth | Resources for Medieval Studies
Medieval labyrinths had a unique character and purpose. Most of them were built in or near churches. Read more to learn about the history and purpose of labyrinths in medieval times.
- Labyrinth - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Offers more historical background than the scope of this hub.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Create More Labyrinths
Are you inspired by this hub to build your own labyrinth and walk it?
© 2010 Karen A Szklany