People are Mystified by my Labyrinth

When people hear about my new labyrinth, the first question isn’t “Why?”, which I’d expect, but rather “What?” So we’ll start there.

What is a Labyrinth?

At first glance, a labyrinth and a maze look the same. There’s an entrance, a center, and a path you walk. But, as this previous post explains, there are big differences between the two constructions. A maze is deliberately deceptive, full of twists and turns intended to get you lost. A labyrinth is unicursal, meaning that there is a single path and the entrance and exit are the same.grass labyrinth

When Were the First Labyrinths Created?

Designs of labyrinths have been found on pottery, tiles, and tablets that date back 5000 years. Almost every region of the world has labyrinth symbols in its antiquity.  Celts described the labyrinth as the Never Ending Circle. In Native American tradition, it is identical to the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze.

Where Will You Find Labyrinths?

The best known labyrinth was embedded in the stone floor of Chartres Cathedral near Paris in 1201. Other notable examples include ones in: the Old Summer Palace, Beijing; Dunure Castle, Scotland; Lands End, San Francisco; The Edge, South Africa, and Damme Priory, Germany.

Today, labyrinths can be found in parks, prisons, retreat centers, medical centers, and backyards like mine.

To find a labyrinth near you, check out the worldwide labyrinth locator

The Path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper and deeper truths.

Journey on Earth

Why Walk a Labyrinth?

Prehistoric labyrinths are thought to have served as traps for harmful spirits. For example, more than 500 labyrinths, built in Scandinavia, were probably constructed by fishermen to trap trolls so that fishing expeditions would be safe.

The Middle Ages were a big time for pilgrimages. When long distance travel was dangerous or too expensive to allow for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, people would travel instead to places like Chartres. There, they’d walk the labyrinth, sometimes on their knees. Their belief was that if you walked the labyrinth with the dedication of a pilgrim, you would be transformed.

Today, labyrinths have religious or spiritual meaning for some, and meditative value for others. Trained facilitators guide people through labyrinth walks to help them relieve stress, gain creative insights, quiet their minds, and recover a sense of balance and perspective.labyrinth under construction showing ground cloth

How Do You Build a Labyrinth?

There are great examples of labyrinths and detailed instructions for building one on my Pinterest board. Unfortunately, I’m spatially challenged and not at all comfortable trying to work out the spiral or circular pattern that is typical of most labyrinths.

Fortunately, there’s a company that prints labyrinth designs any size you want on weed blocking landscape cloth. I chose 11′ x 11′ (larger ones were too expensive for me) in the classic Chartres design.

A labyrinth can be constructed with paver stones, grass, hedges, just about anything. Mine is rocks from my property to form the design, with limestone screening to make the path. There’s also a one-inch layer of limestone screen underneath the landscape cloth to provide a solid base (the stuff hardens like concrete) and hopefully prevent weeds.

Context matters when the goal is a quiet, reflective journey inward, so I’ve tucked my labyrinth into a spot in the lower meadow that can be glimpsed from the house but can’t be seen from the road. Three Zimbabwean stone sculptures of angels encircle the space. When I have time, I’ll cut more branches from trees to complete a simple path down to a nearby stream. A wooden bench will be added next year.

Solvitur ambulando=It is solved by walking.

Saint Augustine

How Do You Walk a Labyrinth?

There are no rules. As you can see from my photos, the paths are narrow so it’s impossible to stride through a labyrinth quickly. As in life, the idea of a labyrinth is acceptance that we are where we are meant to be, placing one foot in front of the other as we journey.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth?

 

28 comments

  1. I’m sure I walked a labyrinth as a child, so it has been a while. Some parks in Belgium have them. This is an interesting subject – I had no idea about the meaning of labyrinths or the difference with a maze. I should look up what the Dutch word for maze is…

    This is so wonderful that you built one in your yard, Karen. Have you been walking it? I can totally imagine it brings peace and contemplation, especially if you live on a quiet property. Well done!

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. I think it will bring peace and contemplation, but you know how it is. I’ve been so busy finishing it and also doing a million other things, that I haven’t walked it even once yet. That’s embarrassing to admit to, but i’m in frantic mode at the moment and very much in need of some labyrinth walking. Maybe Monday…

  2. I’ve walked one a couple of times…in a park, at a church. Very meditative. It’s so cool you have space for your very own! Hmmm, pictures of it in all seasons? What does it look like with newly fallen snow? What fun.

    1. Great idea, Pat. I will definitely take some photos in the various seasons. That way too I’ll be able to include the bench and the path by the stream whenever I get around to doing those things. At this point that’s looking like a next year project.

  3. It was so much fun building this labyrinth, and great to be doing something outdoors. I get so much satisfaction seeing something completed.

  4. Oh wow! Your very own personal labyrinth! That is totally great that the design was on the ground cloth…how easy that would be to place the rocks. I would imagine it took a lot of stress out of the process. What would be left is sheer hard labor moving each rock into place (and getting it to the chosen site in the first place. I must say though both of you did a spectacular job building the labyrinth. It looks great.

    How much have you both walked the labyrinth since its construction? I like how you can glimpse it from the house but remain unseen from the road – it sounds to me like the perfect placement. I hope the limestone screening does keep the weeds out of it.

    I am with Pat, can you take pictures of it in each of the four seasons? You could do an update on this post to share them with us so we could get more of a feel of being there. I love the stone angels guarding the labyrinth. It would increase the feeling of peace and sacredness of the space, at least for me it would.

    1. I’m so happy about the stone angels too, Susan. I think the labyrinth is the perfect spot for them.
      I confess I haven’t walked the labyrinth yet at all, but soon – I’m promising myself that.
      Having the ground cover made a huge difference. I don’t think I would have even attempted it without that support.
      The individual rocks weren’t too heavy and we did that fairly slowly, just a few rocks a day and not every day. The limestone screening was a different beast -quite heavy at the end when we were pouring it from bags onto the path.

  5. Your labyrinth looks very cool! I have walked a labyrinth before, the one behind the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto. I discovered it on a brochure about things to do for free in the city! Despite its rather hectic setting the labyrinth was a place of calm amidst the chaos of the city. It was also an opportunity to experience the energy of the city in a very positive way. I love that the labyrinth teaches us that we can come back to the same place and feel it differently.

    1. I’ve walked that labyrinth behind Eaton’s Centre too, Gayle, and agree with your assessment. It’s in a perfect spot -a calm little oasis in the midst of the intensity of a big city. The only thing I don’t like about public labyrinths is that they’re public! I always feel a bit foolish walking slowly with eyes downcast when I think other people are watching me. Silly, I know.

      1. That labyrinth behind the Eaton Centre is the only one I recall ever seeing. I did walk some of it, but in a public place I did feel rather conspicuous – which defeated the whole purpose of trying to lose yourself with your thoughts.
        It is a very pretty spot though, surrounded by trees and the archway at the end.

  6. How nice that you have your very own labyrinth… how many people can say that? I’ve walked a few… it can be a great way to gather your thoughts… or let your mind wander.

    1. It absolutely is kind of cool to have my own labyrinth, Janis. My province (Ontario) has an online labyrinth network and I’m thinking of adding mine to their database. But I need a name for it. Any suggestions?

  7. Good to know the distinction between maze and labyrinth!
    In the late 1980s, my husband and I took our two, then tween, children to the maze in Stra, Italy (one of the two hedge ones left, I believe). After we admired the villa and its view of water flanked by lawns, we entered the maze (http://www.hotelroomsearch.net/im/city/stra-italy-0.jpg) in which Napoleon got lost. Well, we did too and were relieved to be rescued by the guide at the top of the turret in the centre of the maze. Unless one knows the exit route of the maze, there wouldn’t be much “solvitur ambulando” happening.

    1. Hi Noeline,
      You’re absolutely right – mazes are a whole different animal. They can be interesting, and are always challenging in a mind-bending, puzzling kind of way, but they are far from relaxing!

  8. Interesting! I have been to Dunure a couple of times and don’t remember a labyrinth so had to look it up. Apparently it dates from 2008 and is on a headland overlooking the castle, so that is probably why I missed it. Next time I will have to venture beyond the castle.

    1. You’ll have to let us know what the Dunure labyrinth is like, Anabel. I think it’s interesting that the Smithsonian magazine considers it one of the best labyrinths in the world. It would be great to know if you agree.

  9. Hi Karen, I didn’t know the different between a maze and a labyrinth so thanks for the information. A labyrinth sounds like a much nicer place to walk!

  10. Hi, Karen – We have a labyrinth in the park at our local beach front. So cool that you have built one on your property. I look forward to hearing more about how you use it and your thoughts on it.
    Donna

  11. It seems to me that building the labyrinth was likely as much of a zen activity as the ultimate walking of it. Quite frankly, I’m just as happy sitting and letting my eyes wander the circular swirl 🙂

    1. That’s interesting, Joanne. It never occurred to me to ‘walk’ a labyrinth with my eyes, but since your message I’ve realized that I’ve been doing just that. I’ve been so busy these last couple of weeks that I haven’t had much time for labyrinth walking. But two or three times a day, I’m over by the labyrinth and I stand and gaze at it. I still hope to get to some regular walking, but in the meantime am finding that labyrinth gazing feels pretty zen in its own right.

  12. I don’t have a labyrinth on my new property, but I do have a really lovely garden with curved beds and paths. I like to just in it and gaze at it, or up on the deck gazing down at it. Sometime soon, however, I am going to have to unpack some gardening tools and start clipping, pruning and weeding!

    I like the interesting shapes of the rocks in your labyrinth, Karen.

    Jude

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