Labyrinths provide the gift of time and space for being with oneself. With the chaos and stress in this day and age, many are turning to labyrinths and the practice of walking meditation. By setting an intention and trusting the path, a metaphorical journey leads to the center. Individuals and groups walk labyrinths to celebrate holidays, mark transitions, cultivate peace and listen to our own inner wisdom. Found in public parks, schools, hospitals, churches, and museums, labyrinths offer an open invitation to connect with oneself, the environment, friends, family and the community.
The Seven Circuit Classical Labyrinth is one of the oldest and most common patterns-- a tablet from Pylos, Greece has been dated to 1200 BCE. The greatest number of surviving walkable labyrinths can be found in Sweden, where hundreds created with field stones line the coast of the Baltic Sea. Woven into baskets in the American Southwest, the Man in the Maze reflects the classical labyrinth and Cretan coins from 400 BCE also featured variations of the pattern.
There are a multitude of other historic designs including the Baltic Wheel (with a separate entrance and exit), the Chakravyuha (with a spiral center), Roman Labyrinths (often square shaped), and English Turf Mazes (the largest and most peculiar design located in Saffron Walden). Contemporary labyrinths can draw upon old forms with variations due to theme and location. A design created by Lars Howlett and Robert Ferre for Sofia University in Palo Alto combines the classical and medieval designs to create a six circuit labyrinth centered on the theme of inner wisdom.
The history of labyrinths is both mystical and mysterious. Their definition and origins are vague and debated. Metaphorically and mythologically, labyrinths refer to networks of perplexing passageways popularized by the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. Today, for greater clarity, labyrinths are defined as having a single pathway that usually winds its way to a center. Unlike a maze, there are no dead ends and instead of walls, the path of the labyrinth is laid out on the ground with the design and destination in full view from the entrance.
The Eleven Circuit Medieval Labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France is a widely replicated pattern. In 1201 AD the labyrinth was inlaid in the stone floor of the nave following the principles of sacred geometry with lunations surrounding the design. Lauren Artress brought this design to Grace Cathedral in 1994 and it is now permanently installed in stone both indoors and outside, inspiring thousands of others to build labyrinths of their own.