Introduction to the Labyrinth-part 1
What is a Labyrinth?
A Labyrinth is an ancient pattern that can be found in many cultures around the world, dating as far back as 5 thousand years. Labyrinths represent an archetype of wholeness along with circles, spirals and mandalas. Labyrinths have been discovered in the Americas, Australia, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. The Celtic people called it the Never-ending circle, and the Hopi refer to it as the Man-in-the-maze. The Labyrinth, as a symbol of the Divine Feminine, represents the Womb of the Goddess and the cycles of death and rebirth.
A Labyrinth is not a maze. Mazes are constructed to confuse the walker, with many different paths and dead ends. The walker must engage in left-brain thinking in order to reach a solution. A Labyrinth, on the other hand, is unicursal, that is, there is only one path in to the center, and the same path leading back out. There is no puzzle to solve, so the thinking mind can disengage, allowing space for the intuitive mind and creativity to flourish. One could say, people enter mazes in order to lose themselves, but they enter Labyrinths in order to find themselves.
The Labyrinth can be viewed as a metaphor for life. How we walk a Labyrinth is often comparable to how we act in the world. Some people may become confused, doubting they are on the right path, others may retrace their steps or hesitate, afraid to make a wrong move. Still others may walk in to the center and immediately exit, leaving their work unfinished. The Labyrinth meets each person where they are at, and so, no two experiences are the same. The Labyrinth calls you to experience directly what is happening in your life. The paths, the turns, the center all have something to teach you.
From the entrance, we can see the center, our goal, but it is not a direct path. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way. We may come near the center, only to find ourselves moving away from our goal. This is true in life, just when we think we have reached the end, it can feel like everything is falling apart. At these times, it is important to remember that if we hold on a little longer, if we continue to take it one step at a time, we will eventually reach our destination.
There are two basic styles of Labyrinth, the Classical and the Chartres Labyrinth.
The Classical style of Labyrinth may have initially evolved from spirals and circles. This simple ancient pattern can be found around the world. The classical labyrinth usually contains seven circuits (circuits are the number of times the path goes around the center). Although it is uncertain how old the pattern actually is, coins featuring the labyrinth in Knossos were dated to 3500 BCE. The Labyrinthos, “Place of the Double Axe”, at Knossos, was created to simulate the sacred caves in the area. These underground caves were painted red and contained thousands of double axes (labrys), a symbol of the Goddess. The labrys image can be found in the Chartres Labyrinth where the path turns back on itself.
The Chartres Labyrinth contains 11 circuits, and came to prominence in the Medieval churches of the 12th century. These Labyrinths were used by Christians as both a form of penance, and, as a transformational tool. Walking the Labyrinth was comparable to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There is some evidence that dancing and games may have taken place on the Labyrinth during holy days such as Easter. Although Christian in origin, the Medieval Labyrinths were built on sites that were sacred to the Mother Goddess and Her imagery is evident in the lunations along the perimeter, the labrys at the turns, and the rosette at the center.
The Chartres Labyrinth is divided into four quadrants, symbolic of the four directions and the four elements (with spirit at the center). The quadrants may also represent the four seasons, and it has been proposed that the Labyrinth may have been used as a Solar calendar. The meandering path makes 28 180 degree turns, which suggests a possible connection to the Lunar calendar as well. The builders of the Labyrinth incorporated Sacred Geometry into the design.
How to use a Labyrinth
The act of using a Labyrinth, whether you use your feet, a stylus, or finger, is referred to as walking. There are a variety of sizes, from the small, hand-held and lap Labyrinths to Labyrinths which are large enough to allow many people to walk at the same time. Although there is no right way to walk a Labyrinth, there are some guidelines that can be followed which may enhance the experience and bring greater depth and meaning to the walk. One important thing to remember, according to Rev. Lauren Artress, is to “experience your experience”.
Walking the Labyrinth is a practice, not a discipline, that is, it is flexible. The walker is guided by what she needs from the walk, whether she is aware of that need or not. When she enters the Labyrinth with an open heart, free of expectations, she may come to a place of deep learning or profound healing.
At the entrance, the walker may wish to set an intention, this may be for healing, a question, a celebration, a prayer, or she may have no intention at all. The path leads her to the center, where she may wish to spend as much time as she needs. The spiraling path creates a vortex of energy at the center and though it is a place of stillness, it is also a place of tremendous potential, with the walker as the spark to set things in motion. When she feels ready, the walker will take the same meandering path back out.
In order to create a meaningful walk, Artress recommends following the 3 R’s: Release, Receive, Return.
Release is the act of letting go and quieting the mind. As the walker spirals into the center, she can let go of blocks, expectations, excess energy. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and release in love, as each step takes the walker further and deeper into herself.
The center is the place to Receive. As the walker comes to a place of stillness, she is fully present in the moment. She is open and receptive, and may receive messages or images, insights or solutions to problems, or she may simply feel a sense of serenity and clarity.
The Return part of the journey provides the walker time to integrate her experiences and to ground prior to re-engaging with the mundane world.
Whichever style you choose, and whichever way you walk, this form of meditation can offer tremendous opportunities for healing, growth and personal insights, stress relief, inspiration and so much more.
To find a labyrinth in your area, visit the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.
Artress, Lauren Walking a Sacred Path
Artress, Lauren The Sacred Path Companion