LABYRINTHS and THEIR USES
Sara Jean 8/6/05

What is a labyrinth?

JARETH: AND YOU, SARAH. HOW ARE YOU ENJOYING MY LABYRINTH?
SARAH: IT'S A PIECE OF CAKE.
JARETH: REALLY?
(from the movie Labyrinth --1986)

Labyrinth is still one of my favorite movies. As a child it was a fantasy place with a gorgeous king and a girl who was just as misunderstood and suffering from some of the same things I was. The best part is she had my name as well.

I did not know when I was young that labyrinths were a real thing. The goal is to get to the center and truly is an opportunity for discovery along the way.

I have never found a famous singer posing as a king waiting in a castle but I have found some answers. I have never had to battle goblins but I have battled thoughts and found answers to some internal questions. Labyrinths have found a special part in my life since I found out what they can and often do accomplish for me.

When I once tried to describe Labryrinths to someone they said "Ohhh labyrinths like a Mandala right.

Well not exactly. A Buddhist Mandala is usually made out of sand and could be loosely described as artwork. It is made on a flat surface often illustrating a palace with four gates representing the four corners of the earth. There are other forms of Madalas too but this is better saved for a different class. I do not know much about Mandalas myself except that the act of creating it, if I understand correctly is a form of meditation.

In this Respect Mandalas and Labyrinths are alike because. They are both used to focus thought or energy, except a labyrinth is also most often something you can walk through.

Oh so you mean like a maze right? Well sort of. A Maze is a journey just like a Labyrith is, however a labyrinth is geared towards right-minded thinking. Mazes are left-minded as they offer you choices as to what you want to do or where to go. Labyrinths offer no choices and therefore are better for meditation. When someone walks into a maze they must make choices as to which direction to go and when they reach a dead end they have to turn around and go back and try and find a new route. A maze is only solved when you, usually through trial and error, pick all the correct turns and come out the end. Labyrinths have no choices. Once you are in the circuits the only goal is to get to the center of the design and the only way out (in most common labyrinths) is to go back the way you came.

Labyrinths have been found all over the world and have been made of many different materials. Some of the most famous labyrinths are in French cathedrals. They look like complicated designs, and some even look like a fingerprint. I will start with the classic basic 3 circuit pattern and progress from there.

The Three Circuit Labyrinth was often found on coins in Crete 300 years BCE. This is by far one of the simplest labyrinths to draw and to create. To draw one like this it starts with a simple design called a seed pattern. The size of the seed pattern is deceptive as youget into bigger labyrinths you will find that the seed patterns will seem too small but the lines grow very quickly you will see.

Most Labyrinths you see are seven cicuit and are just a little more complicated then the three. By adding more lines to the original seed pattern you come up with a much larger pattern. This can be repeated infinitely to make bigger and bigger labyrinths. There is one line added in the seven circuit, adding two lines between the crossed lines and the dots results in an 11 circuit labyrinth, three lines will give you a 15 circuit labyrinth.

The group of labyrinths classified as medieval are a bit more complicated and require quite a bit of thought process and planning to create. The labyrinths in this category loop back and forth like rope laying on itself. The most famous of these labyrinths is the Chartres Labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral in France. It was built approximately 1200 CE and is actually tiled into the floor of the church.

The Chartres Labyrinth is an 11 circuit labyrinth. The Medieval group contains seven and 15 circuit labyrinths as well. Theses labyrinths are found in churches and fields in France England and even Belgium.

Not All labyrinths are round. As the idea of labyrinths for penance and reflection came about in the 1200's many churches wanted one of their own. Not having the large space some of the cathedrals had, smaller churches used what space they had and constructed labyrinths that took up the space they had again tiling it into the floor of the churches.

Finally there are labyrinths that are classified as contemporary or meandering. These are labyrinths that have are not ancient but are created recently by people well versed in mathematics and people who have access to paper and pencil rather than rock and turf.

As the reclaiming and reintroduction of labyrinths has come about in the past few decades there have been labyrinths that resemble the classics and yet contain simpler patterns and even pictures or form a picture them selves. I have seen Jesus fish and Snoopy shaped labyrinths. The reality is that just like other things in our world like music that can move your soul, and the presence of natural wonders that cross over between people of completely different faiths and paths labyrinths draw to people for reasons we may not completely understand.

Uses of Labyrinths

Cultures have used labyrinths for many different things. Nearly all people who use them or have used them walk through them. This can be done with the physical act of walking or it can be done with a smaller labyrinth and the user lets their fingers do the "walking".

To walk a labyrinth you start at the outer most entrance and proceed to the center. I feel the best way is to find an actual labyrinth to walk barefoot through. Barring that you can draw one yourself and walk through it. If you have the cash they are sold in a lot of new age shops I have seen them small enough that you can "walk" through them with a pen tip and I have found places that sell 80 square foot canvas ones. That you can physically walk though.

The Chartres Labyrinth in France is one of the longest of the walk able labyrinths . Taking the journey to the center is 858 Feet or just under 3 football fields. It was meant to be used as a journey or as a penance some penitent walker were said to have done the entire length on their knees. The Six Petals in the Center represent the 6 days of Creation and Spiritual Awakening. Going clockwise around the rosette the petals represent:
1 - Mineral
2 - Vegetable
3 - Animal
4 - Human
5 - Angelic
6 - Mystery or "unknown"

The accepted way to use the Chartres pattern is to walk through the pattern (saying your penance or prayers or what-have you) and when you come to the center contemplate the mysteries of creation. Of course this is only one idea and it is heavy in church dogma.

I am fortunate enough to have a Chartres near my house. When I walk it I think about my things I want to purge, contemplate the elements and the goddess and myself or the Lord and Lady or whatever I want to focus on that session and upon exiting I picture leaving the purged items, thoughts, or feelings, in the labyrinth.

In Greek mythology a labyrinth was used as a prison. There was a King who kept a Minotaur in a labyrinth and would sacrifice 14 people to the Creature in the maze every year, in exchange for not killing everyone in his kingdom. Until Theseus destroyed the Minotaur and found his way out by following the string he had unraveled on his way in. The secret of how to find his way was given to him by a maiden named Ariadne. Ariadne was a Goddess of vegetation. This ancient connection seems only to add to the fact that labyrinths are popular with goddess worshipers now.

The classic seven circuit labyrinth also has associations with the seven primary chakras of the body. The outside ring being the root chakra, followed by the sacral and so on where the final turn in the labyrinth is the crown.

Walking through the labyrinth you do not encounter the chakras in ROYGBIV order but rather an order that makes for two more interesting observations. Given that chakras also reverberate to different harmonics the song of the labyrinth can be seen on a treble clef like this:

More exactly 3-2-1-4 / 7-6-5-8 or E-D-C-F / B-A-G-C this is a pattern that repeats itself twice just in two different keys.

A woman once told me that her son's teacher was nearly forcing her to put her son on ADD/ADHD medication so that he may focus in class better. This woman had the same feelings I do regarding avoiding medication children until there is no longer an option. She taught her son how to draw the classic 3 circuit labyrinth and instructed him to do so if he felt like he was off track. The child avoided medication and improved his grades. Not surprising there is no scientific evidence that drawing labyrinths is truly what helped the boy but I for one believe.

But honestly this is all getting pretty technical. I believe in the power of labyrinths because I walk through them. I find focus in them. Most importantly I enjoy them. I hope I may have brought some enjoyment to you as well.

Sara Jean


Library