the labyrinth

What is a Labyrinth?

The Labyrinth – A Potted History

A labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in most sacred traditions across cultures throughout time. It is an extremely effective tool for contemplation and meditation. Effective for individuals seeking guidance – spiritual or secular or for groups seeking pathways to greater harmony and resolution.

They seem to gain a resurgence whenever a society is in the midst of rapid change and development. Perhaps this reflects the desire for a sure path in uncertain or confusing times.

Science currently carbon dates the oldest labyrinth in Crete at 5,000 years, however the labyrinth is likely to be far older.

The most ancient pattern is named for the number of circuits around the centre: The Classical 7 circuit labyrinth. This has been found on pottery, etched into cave walls, shows up at known sacred sites and in women’s birthing rituals.

Roman and Greek labyrinths were generally quite linear, moving from one section to the next in an orderly fashion. 

Next came the Medieval labyrinths which had a walker ‘get lost in order to find their way’. It was adopted by the Christian church for prayer life and so of the 80 gothic cathedrals built during the Middle Ages, 22 of them had labyrinths. The only one remaining today, in its original form (laid in 1201AD) is at the pilgrimage cathedral in Chartres, France. 

Labyrinths have appeared as walking patterns, weavings, carvings, jewellery, described in ceremonial scriptures.

The Classical 7 circuit labyrinth

Roman / Greek style labyrinth

A Medieval labyrinth

Labyrinth or Maze?

A maze can have many paths (multicursal) and dead ends. It is an intellectual exercise requiring you to decide this way or that. It is designed to increase adrenalin, ie. raise fear and/or excitement about whether you will succeed.

A labyrinth by contrast has only one path (unicursal) leading to the centre. There are no decisions needed, only to take the next steps along the path to succeed. How you take those steps becomes the source of insight and greater self- knowledge.

The Labyrinth Today

Today people around the world use the labyrinth to quiet the mind, find balance, to encourage meditative states, insight and celebrations. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural tool of wellbeing.

Labyrinth walking is being incorporated at medical centres, prisons, memorial parks and sanctuaries, such as Labyrinth Lane.

Who walks a labyrinth?

The labyrinth is accessible to people of all ages and all walks of life. It meets the walker where they are at, not vice-versa.

At Labyrinth Lane

A full size ‘Petite Chartres’ – 7 circuit Medieval walking labyrinth has been built from earth materials. It is set within a permaculture yielding garden to enhance introspection and reflection on the cycles of life.

What it provides for you

The labyrinth meets you where you are, not vice-versa.

Healing not curing.

Learning or strengthening how to access the resources within yourself.

JOY! Transforming how you relate to your life circumstances, making peace and coming more alive.  

Connecting with your essence.

In walking a labyrinth, a deeper knowing of self is possible.

Walking the Labyrinth

There is no wrong way to walk a labyrinth.

Follow your natural rhythm/pace.

Experience the experiences that arise (rather than holding onto a desired expectation).

Everything that happens during your walk is a metaphor for your life right now.

You can walk quickly or slowly. You can walk all the way to the centre and out again, or walk to the centre and then leave by walking straight to the entrance. You can stand still; sit down or kneel; dance; overtake people or move very slowly; stop and start again. Listen to your own rhythm.

A Few Suggestions

Approach the entrance with a quieter mind: take a few slower breaths as you let go for a short time, the concerns of the outside world.  

You are traveling to your inner life. 

Be mindful with your very first step onto the labyrinth. 

Walk with ’soft eyes,’ an open mind and heart. 

Sometimes people find it useful to see the walk as 3 stages –  release, receive, return.

stage 1 : release

As you walk toward the centre, what is there to let go of in this moment?

Some describe this as a moving from your outer life toward your inner life.

stage 2 : receive

Letting go creates space. You might be in or near the centre of the labyrinth. Pause a moment longer in quietness, absorbing your experience.

You’ve arrived at your inner life.

stage 3 : return

Leaving the centre is the time in your walk to begin reflecting on and integrating your experience.

…moving out again from your inner life to your outer life.

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