A book I read recently featured a labyrinth and I got to wondering about them. Here’s what I’ve learned. Although maze and labyrinth are often used interchangeably, there are distinctions for the purest. A labyrinth features a single, non-branching path leading to a center. Unlike a maze, the path of the labyrinth is not intended to be difficult or confusing. So no corn labyrinths for Halloween, please! Labyrinths have appeared in most cultures at some point or another across the globe. The designs have occurred on baskets, pottery, body art, caves, and churches. Their meaning is not fully understood, which made me think about crop circles. From Roman to Renaissance times, most labyrinths have traditionally been unicursal.
Labyrinths reached their most grand expression in the gothic cathedrals of northern France (Chartres, Reims, Amiens). These were magnificent pavement labyrinths set in the floor. Some believe pilgrims walked these paths in prayer or meditation although it was never an early Christian practice. Some guide books of the 18th Century refer to the practice of walking the labyrinth instead of making a costly journey to the Holy Land. No one really knows though if pilgrims did this. The grand medieval labyrinths probably did inspire the later turf mazes found in the UK.
Walking a labyrinth can be seen as a pilgrimage moving toward salvation or enlightenment. Lately there has been a resurgence of interest in the use of labyrinths as a spiritual tool. More and more are being built. If you go to the Labyrinth Society’s website (below), you can search for one near you. I was surprised to see how many are in and around Denver. Many of these are connected to churches or are in private hands, but there is certainly a chance for me to walk the labyrinth.
Locate a labyrinth near you: http://www.labyrinthlocator.com
Make your own finger labyrinth: