Labyrinths and mazes were once considered to be the same thing, or nearly so. Today the two are distinctly different, both by definition and purpose. A maze is a kind of game, designed to trick us into losing ourselves. A labyrinth has a more spiritual meaning, and is designed to help us find ourselves. These ancient puzzles fascinate us to this very today.

 

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse  


In the simplest sense, a labyrinth is a winding path following a complex pattern leading to a central spot. Mazes also feature winding paths leading to a center, but there are false leads, dead ends, and circuitous routes to make reaching the center a puzzle to be solved.

 

Traditionally, mazes were built where they could be looked down upon, so that the patterns that were hidden to those at eye-level could be revealed to those above. Today, particularly complex designs are sometimes created using compact shrubs so the pattern will be visible—and thus appreciated—by those at ground level.

 

Goblins of Labyrinth 

 

The “secret pattern” mazes that are most common today originated in Italy only about 600 years ago. Descriptions of mazes can be traced back thousands of years B.C., with references in the cultural histories of the Romans, Greeks, Cretans, Syrians, Celts, and Christians, as well as some Native American tribes. Mazes usually feature hedges of yew, holly, boxwood, privet—even corn. The clipped or sheared hedges resemble sculpted topiary, as in medieval knot garden designs. Low hedge mazes may use compact plants such as thyme, hyssop, and lavender and are often found as central features in herb gardens. Mazes can also be constructed out of stone, logs, bricks, concrete, wood panels, mirrors—even water.     

 

Labyrinths can be architectural features, such as those laid into the floors of some ancient churches. They can be literally sculpted into the earth or laid out as hardscapes, with paths as simple as stone or shreddedbark, or as complex as mosaic. They are created on a flat (or easily“walkable”) surface, and usually feature paths carved from or set into the ground with stones or paving materials. Labyrinths can also be made out of grass or shredded bark, as long as the paths are clearly outlined or defined. Today labyrinths can be found on the grounds of churches and as areas of meditation in parks and other public places.

 

One of the most famous mazes in the world was built in 1690 at Hampton Court in England, where thousands of visitors come to see it—and walk it—every year. Lists of modern labyrinths in the United States and other places can be obtained from The Labyrinth Society.


RECOMMENDED READING:

 

Labyrinths for the Spirit  
  
 

 

               

 

 

 

 

The Way of the Labyrinth

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Healing Labyrinth 

Message Edited by becke_davis on 08-11-2009 04:36 PM
Comments
by Sunltcloud on ‎08-13-2009 01:04 PM

Wow, Becke,

 

I haven't thought of labyrinths for some time. But as I am reading your blog I am reminded of the last two I walked in New Mexico in 2007. These are flat ones. One is in front of St. Frances Cathedral in Santa Fe. It was a meditative experience; I forgot the groups of people who stood on the fringe and wondered what it was supposed to be.

I walked with my camera in one hand and a pen in the other. "Camera and pen, nothing else," I thought all the way in and out.

 

The second one was at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. A most spiritual place, surrounded by red mountains, infused with the presence of Georgia O'Keeffe. It is a plain, gravelly labyrinth, only marked by pebbles and small tufts of grass laid out in a spiral design. A few rocks in the center hold things left behind -  coins, pebbles, flowers, even gum wrappers. I guess everybody feels compelled to leave somthing. I left a tiny teddy bear.

 

Now you made me want to read one of the books you posted. And I want to visit a maze. Thanks.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-13-2009 03:25 PM

I was amazed at how many labyrinths there are! There is one by my sister's church in the Chicago area, and there's one within a few miles of my house in Cincinnati. A local nursery also made a corn maze last year -- I'm noticing a lot of mazes popping up lately!

 

I've been to Santa Fe many times but don't think I've been to St. Frances cathedral. Thanks for telling me about this -- I'll make sure to visit it next time I go there.

 

The Ghost Ranch sounds fascinating -- I'm going to go look that up! 

by katknit on ‎08-15-2009 07:23 PM
There's an outdoor labyrinth at St Bartholomew's Church in Manchester, Ct. The one at Chartres is amazing. In England, there are turf labyrinths called "mizmazes" , and it's easy to confuse mazes with labyrinths. They are different, however.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-15-2009 08:51 PM
I wish we could post pictures on the blogs -- I'd love to see the maze in CT, katknit. Chartres is amazing, and I've been in the maze at Hampton Court -- it's easier to get lost in it than you'd imagine!
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