Labyrinths are powerful ancient symbols, and if you’ve been following Live Fluently, you know that I love symbols. The purpose of this symbol, even more closely aligning with my interests and inspiring my extensive knowledge of it, is to represent a healing journey inward. Interestingly, the inner structure of the ear is called a labyrinth, which is integral component to communication.
Maybe you’ve walked through a maze before. Corn mazes are fun as an autumn activity, and hedge mazes are often known to keep you lost for hours. I always think of the hedge maze in one of my favorite books/films, The Shining. Its snowy ending keeps us on edge about who will reach a ‘dead end.’ Although mazes and labyrinths have often been used interchangeably, they are actually very different. Mazes have been created as puzzles to challenge the logical left side of the brain. They offer choices, and many choices lead to dead ends. Mazes also tend to have more than one entrance and exit. Labyrinths on the other hand are more intended for engagement of the right side of the brain (though some experts claim they engage both sides). Labyrinths offer space for self-reflection. The biggest difference between the two is that while mazes are multicursal with infinite ways to reach the center, labyrinths are unicursal with one pathway to the center.
Labyrinths can be recognized by their loopy-looking patterns, with almost spiral-like coils. To follow the path is to go back and forth, inward and outward. The loops/path are also called ‘circuits,’ and the most common labyrinths have 7, 11, or 15 circuits. These passageways have been used cross-culturally beginning nearly 4,000 years ago. Some of the earliest labyrinths were buildings and visual symbols carved as designs. An early usage was for a “Virgin’s Ring” where a virgin female would stand at the center of the labyrinth while males would competitively race along the pathway to reach her. Precision was crucial, and winning her over required flawless execution. This female/male idea involved in labyrinth history has contributed to theories that indicate it is a symbol of unifying feminine and masculine energies and the unconscious drive for attaining wholeness. Seven-circuit labyrinths have represented journeys inward by way of the seven main chakras for instance, while some 15-circuit designs are more of a cosmic, planetary journey representation.
Labyrinths have been used to assist in childbirth, for terminally ill patients, for protection, to relieve stress, to release trapped spirits, or to harness magic and good luck (originally for sailors and fisherman). Hindu customs believe labyrinths summon gods and Christian traditions view labyrinths as a metaphor for pilgrimage and journey. The unicursal pathway brings the journeyer near the center initially, but they cannot reach it until they continue along the outer rings first. To enter a labyrinth is like embarking on a Hero’s journey. The return journey back outwards is seen as a rebirth. One way to use a labyrinth might be walking in its structure in the form of a building or a two-dimensional design. Another way is a “finger labyrinth” tracing its path on paper. You can create a labyrinth using stones in your backyard garden or feel its effects with pen/finger to paper. Some famous locations around the world have walking labyrinths! For example, the Chartres Cathedral in France has an 11 circuit (I think) labyrinth and Land’s End in San Francisco, California also has an elaborate outdoor walkable design. The peaceful rhythm in addition to focus and attention allows an individual to go into a trance-like state of mind or meditation. Labyrinths have therapeutic properties but also help people to solve problems in their life. Entering a labyrinth with an issue you’re struggling with is supposed to resolve once you reach its center. A labyrinth’s prompt for development and growth make it a powerful tool for “life-changing insights.” It links our inner personal life to the Earth. The labyrinth journey is the overall human condition, the journey of life.
A little personal history with labyrinths, I first saw one created with stones in a courtyard for walking. This was exactly 3 years ago, early summer of 2018 in Peru. Someone explained to me its meditative purposes and general symbolism. That summer the labyrinth metaphor became ever-present in my life, especially as I went on a literal pilgrimage across Spain. By mid-August for my 24th birthday and in celebration of moving to Leeds for school, I had a seven-circuit “goddess” labyrinth tattooed on my ankle. Later, I decided that part of my final Master’s thesis should include a chapter on labyrinths. The concept has remained important to me, and I’m happy I get to share it when people notice it on me. Some people might say something is ‘forever in their hearts,’ but here, the labyrinth is also forever on my left leg…
Follow your life labyrinth, and if you like this page, please share it!
Griffith, J. S. (2002) Labyrinths: A Pathway to Reflection and Contemplation. Clinical Jour- nal of Oncology Nursing: 6 (5) pp. 295-296.
Martineau, J. (2005) Mazes and Labyrinths In Great Britain. Wooden Books Ltd, pp. 2, 20, 48, 52-54.
Metzner, R. (1971) Maps of Consciousness. The Macmillan Company, pp. 55, 79-80.
Pennick, N. (1990) Mazes and Labyrinths. London: Robert Hale Ltd, pp. 13-179.
Simpson, L. (2002) The Magic of Labyrinths Following Your Path, Finding Your Center. Element, pp. xxi, 8-10, 20
West, M.G. (2000). Exploring the labyrinth: A guide for healing and spiritual growth. New York: Random House. in Griffith, J. S. (2002) Labyrinths: A Pathway to Reflection and Con- templation. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing: 6 (5) pp. 295-296.