A labyrinth is a unicursal path, usually drawn on a floor or on the ground. That means there is only one way in to the center of the Labyrinth and the same way back out. That’s what makes it different from a maze.
Many people confuse the two. They see a geometric design and think immediately that it is a Labyrinth. Nope. There are famous mazes. Like the one at Hampton Court in England. And corn mazes in the fall on farms. These are fun to get lost in and spend sometimes hours trying to find the way out. You can come upon dead ends or choices to make as you wander.
Not so in a Labyrinth. Just one way in and the same way out.
Why are they confused? Well, it’s that dang Minos guy in Crete who had a “labyrinth” built to keep in the Minotaur. Ya. It was a MAZE. But I don’t think I can fight that legend. We will just move along.
Labyrinths are predominatntly in two styles
– classical and Chartres.
The Chartres labyrinth was put in the floor of the nave when it was built in 1190s. No one is exactly sure why and what it was used for. There is some research that the clergy played a “game” on it during Easter – of the priest walking to the center and then tossing a ball of yarn out to others standing on the outside… back and forth… to somehow symbolize Christ’s resurrection. Others say it was used as a way for people to make a symbolic pilgrimage when they were not able to make a real journey to the Holy Land. Records were lost in WWII. And there is also speculation about the classical labyrinth. Some say that Swedish fishermen would walk the labyrinth before a fishing expedition to “trap” the evil trolls in the labyrinth so they wouldn’t jinx the trip.
All I know is that the labyrinth is a magical mediation tool. When you walk a labyrinth, there is no right or wrong way. Only the way you walk it that day. You can go slowly. You can go quickly. You can go barefoot. You can wear boots or high heels.
What most do is use the path to the center as a time to consider the concerns you are having – or be free to see what comes up in your mind as you walk to the center. In the center, you can take a moment or longer, to receive. To receive guidance, ideas, messages… whatever fits for your beliefs. And the journey back out, covering the same path, is a time to reflect on how to integrate whatever you have received or learned into your daily life. Or just relax back into the world.
Labyrinth experiences vary. Some people laugh, others cry. Some just walk.
I personally have had profound experiences. And no experience. Depends on what I apparently needed that day. The labyrinth walk on a Chartres design is truly a walk into another state. As many times as I have walked this design, while walking, I have no clue as to where I am in the labyrinth. You turn back and forth so many times, you lose yourself. And that is the point.
Another spiritual experience at Chartres. (And if you are interested, you can find labyrinths near you by using the worldwide labyrinth locator. http://www.labyrinthlocator.com And if you are near the Bay Area – there are two at Grace Cathedral.)