Teacher Created Materials
A Journey of Twists and Turns
by Randi Mrvos
What do you think of when you hear the word "labyrinth"? Do you think of a maze or something that is difficult and unclear? Yet a labyrinth is anything but difficult or unclear. And it is not a maze.
Think of a maze as a puzzle composed of confusing paths which often lead to dead ends. Its crossroads challenge visitors to make a choice of direction. Have you ever walked through a maze constructed of tall hedges or towering cornstalks? You probably got turned around or lost your way. On the other hand, you can't get lost walking a labyrinth. But you can walk off the path if you're not concentrating. While there's no wrong way to walk a labyrinth, a labyrinth challenges you to stay focused.
A labyrinth only has one continuous path. It twists and turns, but it always leads to the center. The path is purposeful. It is designed to take the walker away from themselves and into a sacred space.
A labyrinth is best viewed from above. The perimeter may be round, rectangular, or polygonal. The walls or lines of the labyrinth serve to mark the path. Most walkers retrace their steps along the same path to return to the outside. Sometimes with larger groups of people, walkers reach the center and then step out of the labyrinth.
Labyrinths have been used for over 3,500 years as patterns or walking paths. Circuitous patterns were carved in wood or on rocks. They were woven into the design of a blanket or basket. As walking paths, labyrinths were arranged on shorelines with sea-washed stones. Others were placed in deserts, laid with colored stones in the floors of churches, and cut into village greens.
Labyrinths have been found on nearly every continent and in nearly every major culture. But the beginnings of labyrinths are difficult to trace. The island of Crete located on the southern coast of Greece is the most likely place of origin. A clay tablet and ancient coins, both inscribed with labyrinth patterns, have been found around the shores of Mediterranean.
The two most common labyrinths are the Classic-7 or Cretan and the Medieval or Chartres. The Cretan labyrinth refers to the symbol on the ancient coins from Crete. Its single pathway loops back and forth seven times before reaching the center. Some people think that the Cretan pattern represents the movement of the planet Mercury over an extended period of time.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, a variation of the Cretan labyrinth spread to France. The design was set into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral. The Chartres labyrinth has an eleven circuit pathway. The pathway surrounds a 6-petal rosette which lies in the center. Instead of making the hazardous trip to the Holy Land, Medieval Christians walked the labyrinth as part of their spiritual journey.
Labyrinths can be used in parks, churches, health spas, prisons, hospitals, and even schools! A labyrinth can be drawn on a parking lot with chalk or marked in the grass with paint. It can be laid out as a mosaic, cut it into a lawn, or planted with flowers, but it usually follows certain guidelines:
The perimeter separates the interior space from the exterior space and has only one opening.
- The path changes direction and fills the interior space. It usually can not require the walker to make a choice. The path leads the walker repeatedly past the center and then ends at the center.
- The walker always sees the center.
- The entrance and the center are connected by a single path.
To walk a labyrinth, follow these six steps:
Remove: Put away cell-phones and watches. Take off your shoes if you like.
Release: Quiet your mind of thoughts.
Relax: Walk the path toward the center, offering a prayer or addressing an issue.
Receive: Take your time to feel peacefulness and to accept what the moment offers.
Review: Follow the same path back, reviewing what occurred in the center.
Realize: Apply your experience to the world outside the labyrinth.
During the Middle Ages, labyrinths were used for sacred purposes like meditation and prayer. Likewise, today people use labyrinths to meditate and pray, as well as to relax, to think through problems, and to overcome stress. By walking a labyrinth or by tracing a labyrinth pattern with your finger (using your non-dominant hand) you too, can unwind before a big game or to relax before a test. It can help you to settle down when you're feeling angry and to perk up when you're feeling sad. Whether you walk one or trace one, begin at the opening and follow the path until you reach the center. Retrace the path back to the opening. As you become an adolescent you will have another tool to help you handle peer pressure, deal with adults, and manage school work.
Did you know:
The Battery Park Labyrinth in New York, N.Y. was constructed to reflect, heal and honor. It takes the walker on long sweeps of the pathway, turning back and forth toward the center. At the center, the walker views the empty space in the skyline where the World Trade Center once stood.
How to draw a labyrinth: http://www.labyrinthsociety.org/html/howto.html
How to use labyrinths at school: http://www.labyrinthresourcegroup.org/manual/
A database that locates labyrinths around the world: http://www.labyrinthlocator.com
Charles M. Schulz's Snoopy as a labyrinth: http://www.leastudio.com/snpy.html
Blackton, Stephanie (Public Relations Chair, Labyrinth Society), personal communication with author, 9/21/08.
Dickey, Tom. "Labyrinth provides path for a spiritual journey." Presbyterian Record 126, i.10 (Nov 2002):22-24.
Fisher, Leonard. Theseus and the Minotaur. NY: Holiday House, 1988.
Hohmuth, Jurgen. Labyrinth & Mazes. NY: Prestel, 2003.
Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth. NY: Prestel, 2000.
"Labyrinths of Kentucky," Kentucky Educational Television, 6/13/08.
McCullough, David. The Unending Mystery. NY: Pantheon Books, 2004.
"Relaxing in a Labyrinth: Once trod by pilgrims in the Middle Ages, quiet circular walks are winning fans among today's frantic families." Time 158, i.8 (Aug 2001): F23.
Unsworth, Tim. "The Ancient Labyrinth makes a comeback: Walk through maze recalls our wandering journey through life." National Catholic Reporter 39, i. 42 (Oct 2003):20.
Zimmerman, Ann. "Do the labyrinth walk? Discover where the twisting, turning path leads." Highlights for Children 59, i.10 (Oct 2004):5.
The author wishes to thank Stephanie Blackton for her expertise.
Randi is a columnist for The Creativity Connection, an editor for the educational website www.Viatouch.com , and a former consultant for Pearson Digital Learning. She writes for children's, parenting, and writers' publications. Her publishing credits include Byline, Mothering, The Christian Science Monitor, Highlights for Children, Know, Nature Friend,
and Learning through History Magazine.