Brought from ancient times to the present, now encouraging the creation and use of labyrinths as a path of healing, inspiration and peace.
The traces of labyrinths and the legends about them have a very long history. The most ancient of labyrinth designs, the classical design, is found worldwide. It appears in petroglyphs in Spain (dating from around 2000 BCE), on silver coins from Crete, laid out with rocks in northern Europe, painted on bark in Indonesia, and carved on rocks in the deserts of the American Southwest.
For more than 500 years, from 165 BCE to 400CE, elegant labyrinth designs flourished as floor mosaics in all corners of the Roman Empire. Many were situated near doorways, perhaps for protection, though most were too compact to be walked, suggesting that they were designed for visual contemplation.
Most famous of the medieval labyrinths is the pavement labyrinth found within the nave of Chartres Cathedral, France. Echoing the shape and complexity of Gothic rose windows, the labyrinth was laid in the early 13th century (1200-1220 CE), and though often covered in chairs, can still be walked today. The eleven-circuit design is organized into four quadrants, symbolic of the cross. Reputedly walked by pilgrims as a metaphor of the journey to Jerusalem, medieval church labyrinths illustrate the allegory of Christ’s life and destiny. This pattern, recently popularized by the work of Dr. Lauren Artress, is among the most frequently encountered patterns of modern labyrinths.
The most prolific of the Native American labyrinths, the Man in the Maze, is woven into the baskets produced by the Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham tribes of Southern Arizona. Like baskets, labyrinths serve as containers for cultural and archetypal, rather than material, goods. The Hopi of northern Arizona also employ the labyrinth in their mythology, the square seven-circuit classical pattern symbolizing the Sun Father giver of life, the road of life which should be followed, and the Mother Earth.
There are many contemporary patterns being created, some can be traced with a finger, some are viewed as spiritual icons, but most are intended for contemplative walking (or joyous dancing). A few years ago, for a New Year’s Day celebration on the beach in Encinitas, California, 200 people helped build a labyrinth in the sand, and more than 700 people walked it.
Charlotte has a new labyrinth addition as well. The Almetto Howey Alexander labyrinth at the McCrorey YMCA is an 11 circuit medieval pattern, the labyrinth design itself is full of symbolism. This is thought to be the first “African-Centric” labyrinth in the US.