This morning, one of my colleagues mentioned that she had planted a labyrinth in her garden recently. She added that early on New Years’ morning she had gone outside and walked the labyrinth, “asking for guidance and seeking peace.”
I had never heard of “Labyrinth Walking” so I decided to try to find out more. What is the history of the labyrinth? What effect, if any, does walking a labyrinth have on the walker?
My Google search turned up the Labyrinth society (labyrinthsociety.org) which “offers support to those who create, maintain and use labyrinths” and to provide “education, networking and opportunities to experience transformation.” (Italics mine)
Ah, ha! The first clue! The society defines a labyrinth as a “single path or unicursal tool for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation” and says that “labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity.” (Just be careful your Right Brain doesn’t become so creative, your Left Brain forgets to look where you’re going.)
Apparently there are several types of labyrinth, from the Classical Greek (found on Cretan coins from 400 to 500 BCE) , Roman and Medieval labyrinths found in various churches and cathedrals.Modern contemporary labyrinths are designed to “enhance spiritual perception,” and are touted as an alternative medical treatment for cancer amongst other dire ailments. (Note: Walking a labyrinth will not cure your cancer, no matter how “spiritual” you find the experience. It may help you to relax and calm your mind, which may be beneficial.)
The Labyrinth Society site offers some basic information on “Sacred Geometry” (whatever that is), and a Labyrinth Locator. If you want to become a member, it will cost you between $50 and $1250. Membership entitles you to access to the Energy Keepers, a group of volunteers who will provide you with “loving support” and “energy” to help you overcome your troubles.
All very nice, I’m sure. Nowhere on the site does it state exactly how the 140 Energy Keepers acquired this marvellous power, or how they will channel it to you, the financially disadvantaged, bereaved and suffering Labyrinth walker.
There is a very religious slant to the whole thing, of course. Various websites talk about “spiritual awakening”, “prayer tools”, “balancing the chakras” (what??) and “discovering your own sacred inner space”.
Very New Age.
Wikipedia, on the other hand, has a much wider and more historical view of Labyrinths. Here, I read about the ancient Greek, Egyptian, Native American, Indian and Roman labyrinths, and their decidedly pagan use in meditation, myth and making things look pretty.Prehistoric labyrinths were supposed to trap any naughty Evil Spirits that might be lurking around, and were also used as paths for ritual dances.
There is no evidence that early Christians attached any significance to labyrinths or mazes. and it was only in the 17th and 18th centuries that crawling along the labyrinthine path on your bloodied knees was considered an adequate alternative to a pilgrimage to the “Holy Land.” Even today, walking along the labyrinthine path is supposed to lead to salvation, enlightenment, and so on.
My opinion is this: if you want to walk around in circles to think and clear your head, you could use a labyrinth – or you could just pace up and down like a normal person. Or you could just sit and think, and clear your head. Or, you could just sit. Any one of those actions is going to relax you, or focus your mind, or make you feel better. Running around the block or punching a pillow or pounding out some rock ‘n roll on your piano will make you feel better.
Why do people feel the need to attach “spiritual” significance to a meandering walk along a laid-out pathway?
Does a labyrinth laid out by a landscaping contractor in a Hotel garden also have “Special Spiritual Powers?”
How the hell would you know???