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Archive for March, 2013

“A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.”
― Rebecca Solnit

Just as Japanese Gardens provide a meditative space for inner contemplation, a labyrinth is a physical map to the inner realms. My first exposure to labyrinths was upon hearing the tale of the Greek hero Theseus and his defeat of the Minotaur of Crete within the confines of the Cretan labyrinth. Though a story shrouded in the mist-blurred reality of mythology, archaeologists have discovered Cretan labyrinths dated from the fifth century BCE and mirror similar cave mazes found in India. Some believe the architecture of the labyrinth is the basis for the mandala which I will discuss in the final post of the series.

The labyrinth is generally associated with the myth of Theseus but during the eighteenth century labyrinths were referred to as the Game of Troy, reference to another Greek myth. Two labyrinth patterns have become standards for categorizing labyrinths, the classical pattern and the Chartres pattern named for the most famous labyrinth at the Chartres cathedral. The classic pattern is a seven circuit pattern generally associated with the Cretan labyrinth experienced by Theseus. It is the most common pattern and is also linked to the Battle of Troy due to the symbolism of the labyrinth being a fortress protecting a symbol of the sacred feminine, Helen of Troy. Although labyrinths are present in many different cultures, the construction of labyrinths primarily flourished in Europe.

The second most common pattern of labyrinth is the Chartres pattern. During the Middle Ages, many Christians journeyed to the Holy Land in a stream of religious pilgrimages. With the perpetuation of the Crusades, travel for Europeans became more dangerous. Labyrinths were constructed along in the courtyards and naves of cathedrals as a safe alternative to the Holy Land pilgrimages. Walking the labyrinth in penance simulated the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The most famous of the Middle Ages is located at the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the thirteenth century. The Chartres labyrinth is designed for eleven circuits, divided into four quadrants, symbolically representing the cross of Jesus Christ. The center of the labyrinth is adorned with rosette design with six petals, symbolically representing the six days of creation. Like the mandalas, the center of the labyrinth has special significance as the focus of the circle, the space with the power to move the observer to see beyond the image.

Based on the mathematical formulas of Pythagoras, labyrinths were constructed as a cosmological map representing the unity of the cosmos with special significance to the number one. The idea of the medieval labyrinth as a cosmological Christian map mirrors the purpose of the Buddhist mandalas as a visual representation of the religious view of the cosmos.

Five years ago my wife and I came across reference to the benefits of walking labyrinths to help calm the brain and improve their focus. This came at a time when we were doing a lot research on Autism and searching for ways to improve the condition of our daughter. On a vacation to Sedona, we discovered that a labyrinth had been constructed there and we took advantage of the opportunity to try it out. Major improvements were not made from this simple exercise of walking the labyrinth in our daughter, but personally, I felt calmer after completing the circuit. There is a subtle energy with the walking of the labyrinth that when tapped into could lead an individual to move beyond the geometric shape of the labyrinth itself and begin to explore the inner self.

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We have revisited the labyrinth many times including walking through the its mazed cobblestoned paths yesterday. Every time I walk the labyrinth, I literally feel my stress levels recede. It took three circuits yesterday, but by the end I had a feeling of inner contentment not previously felt during last week’s quagmire of pressure.

Walking a labyrinth will help an individual to reconnect with nature by stripping out the stresses of modern life and allowing a beam of inner peace to break through the barricade of anxiety and connect with the energies of nature. So find a labyrinth and try it for yourself, you will be surprised at the results. Don’t know where to find a labyrinth, try this handy search engine.

World Wide Labyrinth Locator

While the labyrinth is a symbolic journey, a literal walk in the park in some cases, it is a representative map to the inner consciousness of the individual. A labyrinth is an artistic expression that we can physically interact with, walking a circuitous journey into the realm of the non-physical.

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