Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Labyrinth and Me

Although I just happened to stumble upon my first labyrinth, quite unintentionally, I would – in time -- grow quite fond of the labyrinth experience. It became a coping mechanism, a place of peace, a way of preparing for the day ahead.

Let me explain: Last summer my church set up a labyrinth walk, which I ignored because I was too busy preparing a four-week curriculum and lesson plans for India. Fortunately, I got a second chance: a labyrinth in Tamil Nadu, India, on the Lady Doak College campus.

As a former teacher of English Language Learners, I was part of a group of 10 American teaching volunteers who spent a month teaching English at a southern India orphanage. The orphans were cheerful, friendly, enthusiastic and bright — a joy to teach. The Indians who assisted in our program were thoughtful and competent, but I ran into a problem.

Even though I was her supervisor, one of my co-volunteers – a professional person turned volunteer teacher – disagreed with many of my teaching techniques. She was big-hearted and generous, but I found her opinionated and bossy. In short, we made each other angry.

Eventually, we had a confrontation.

Too agitated to be around others, I decided I would walk the school’s labyrinth. Before I got very far, my mood began to ease and my turbulent thoughts mellowed. My initial brisk pace slowed. By the time I arrived at the center of the labyrinth, I found myself talking with God and brainstorming solutions.

When I stepped out of the labyrinth I felt better and ready to resume my work.
The labyrinth, as I said, became coping device for me. I got to know that labyrinth pretty well and, after a time, I got to understand my strong-willed co-worker. Although we probably never will be close, we came to an understanding -- an understanding that started on the pathways of a labyrinth.

Header from samulli
That experience inspired me to learn more about labyrinths. Here are 13 things you might not know:
1. Although some definitions might disagree, labyrinths aren’t mazes. Mazes have intersections and require you to make choices about which way you go. No such decisions are needed in a labyrinth.
2. Labyrinths have one pathway into and out from the center.
3. Unlike mazes, labyrinths don’t attempt to trick you. There are no dead ends or blind alleys.
4. Labyrinths require you to make only one choice and that is whether or not to enter.
5. Labyrinths are found in many cultures. The Hopi nation used the labyrinth as a symbol for “mother earth.” It wove that labyrinth into its baskets and actually carved some just outside their pueblos. Archeologists believe these labyrinths date back to around 1,100.

Petroglyph Hopi Arizona 1000dc
6. Apparently labyrinths were common throughout England and France in the late 16th century. Shakespeare may be referencing labyrinths in his play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
7. Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have created stone labyrinths along the coasts. People believe sailors built them to gentle fierce winds by trapping them within the stones.
8. In the Christian tradition, labyrinths mirror the spiritual journey.
9. One of the earliest Christian labyrinths is in the church of St. Reparatus in El Asnam, Algeria. It was formed out of black and white tiles in 324 A.D.

Labyrinth in S. Maria-di-Trastavera, Rome found in Mazes and Labyrinths by: W. H. Matthews
10. You can make labyrinths out of many mediums. There are stone, turf, fabric and tile labyrinths.
11. Some churches such as Grace Cathedral in San Francisco have traveling labyrinths made from wool or canvas.
12. There are even paper and painted labyrinths you can trace with your fingers.
13. Labyrinth walking has gained popularity recently. In 1998 the New York Times dubbed that interest the "Labyrinth Movement.”

Want to learn more about this intriguing subject? You’re invited to visit these sites:

Other sources
“Walking a Sacred Path,” by Lauren Artress
“Mazes and Labyrinths,” by W. H. Matthews
“Mazes Around the World,” by Mary D. Lankford
“Labyrinths and Mazes,” by Jurgen Hohmuth


  1. wow! i think i knew ... none of those! :) happy tt!

  2. You remind me of the babe...babe with the power...

    Sorry to me, Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies.

  3. Awesome!! Very interesting!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Really weird... ready for this? As I'm reading about you walking through the labyrinth, I'm growing more relaxed and peaceful. I can feel the stone walls; see, smell, and feel the cool shade...

    Whoa. Very powerful thing, these labyrinths.

  5. I am Harriet, Kristi and Lori,
    I think labyrinths are cool and before I found my first one, I didn't really know anything about them. Thanks for visiting.

  6. Journeywoman,
    Grin. I like the movie Labyrinth too.

  7. all interesting stuff. I think my son mad one out of his mashed potatoes last night, but I didn't see that on your list. lol.

  8. Susan Helene Gottfried,
    You've got to walk a labyrinth. I bet you'd love it. There might be one near you. Check out

  9. Amy,
    Your son probably did. Thanks for stopping by and let me know if you upload the potato labyrinth, I'll come see it.

  10. Hmm so there lies labyrinth of knowledge before me and I may choose to know or not know :)

    Happy TT!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. I thought the two words -- labyrinth and maze -- were interchangeable. I'm a writer and I should know better! Thanks for setting me straight! I'll never again refer to my mind as a labyrinth because when I say that I mean it follows a twisty path, not that it only has one outcome. Good to know!

  12. I love labyrinths! I feel so mellow by the time I get to the middle, and like I'm coming out of water when I get back to the edge.

  13. The Gal Herself,
    Yeah, I thought mazes and labyrinths were the same thing until I started researching. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Alice Audrey,
    I'm a fan of labyrinths too. I like your description of the calm you feel. Thanks.

  15. I didn't know labyrinth's weren't really just a maze. Very intriguing post!

  16. Thanks for sharing this interesting information. I have a friend into Labyrinths but I didn't know most of this ;--)
    Hugs and blessings,

  17. Fascinating subject. It's so interesting the many and varied cultures they can be found!

  18. Thanks for sharing this. This certainly counts as one of the things I might not have known otherwise. Life should be like labyrinths with no dead ends and blind alleys. Have a great weekend!

  19. Very cool information! Thanks for sharing. I've never thought of a labyrinth as being calming, but now I will!

  20. This is a really interesting post. One of the places we stayed at in the US during our last visit had a labyrinth. I really enjoyed walking it and found the process very soothing.

  21. I have read about labyrinths and it was a labyrinth to me, lol !

  22. Ella and Storyteller,
    I have to admit until last summer I didn't know much about labyrinths myself. Thanks for visiting.

  23. Heather,
    I was surprised so many cultures had labyrinths too.

  24. yyam,
    I agree. Life should be more like a labyrinth. Grin. Thanks.

  25. Sherilee,
    Yep, labyrinths are calming, at least in my experience. Thanks for stopping by.

  26. Rims,
    Ah, thanks for your insight.

  27. Shelley Munro,
    It's neat that we had a similar experience. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Gattina,
    Your comments always make me smile. Thanks.

  29. great information I have heard that they are quite peaceful what do you think

  30. I think today would be an awesome day to walk in a Labyrinth with a friend.
    Have a great weekend.