Mar 082011
Medieval Labyrinth by Wikipedia

Recently, I have taken an interest in mazes and labyrinths. When I was young, I found the movie Labyrinth fascinating. This was something I never forgot even though it has been over twenty years. Although I could not fully appreciate the movie then, I watched it again a few months ago and enjoyed myself thoroughly. But it was only yesterday that I realized the error in the movie’s name. You see what the movie depicted was a maze, not a labyrinth. Labyrinths are not supposed to confuse people; they are actually for healing and centring the mind.

What is the Difference between a Maze and a Labyrinth?

For many of us, the word labyrinth is synonymous with maze. But in truth, they are slightly different. A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) left-brain puzzle with choices of paths and directions. Making the wrong choices could lead to dead ends and frustrations. In a maze, it is hard to find your way and easy to become lost.

Maze by Purpy Pupple

On the other hand, a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has a single, non-branching path, which leads to the centre and back. The route is unambiguous and is easy to navigate. A labyrinth is not a complex puzzle. Instead, it can be a great tool for contemplation. But here I am getting a little ahead of myself; let us first look at the background of labyrinths.

Classical 7-Circuit Labyrinth by JamesJen

Background of Labyrinths

Labyrinths have been around for a few thousand years. They are not exclusive to a culture or country but appear throughout the world. Some of these places include Europe, North Africa, India and America. In fact, many ancient cultures like Greek, Celtic and Mayan used labyrinths for their own ends. But that is not all. Labyrinths also played a part in major religious traditions. During the crusades for example, labyrinths were symbols of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

We can divide labyrinths according to the period that they appear. The earliest types of labyrinths belong to the classical group. They are famous for their simplicity and symbolism. In the classical design, a single pathway loops back and forth to form seven circuits. Eight walls bound the goal that lies in the middle. While seven circuits are common, there are also eleven, twelve or more circuits. Other types of labyrinths are of Roman, Medieval and Contemporary designs.

The Benefits of Walking a Labyrinth

When you walk a labyrinth, you will find that the twist and turns cause your awareness to shift from the right to left-brain. This helps to open your mind to ideas. Personally, I enjoy using a labyrinth to relax. I find that tracing my finger along the many loops helps to take my mind off matters. Here are some other uses of walking the labyrinth.

-Problem Solving/Contemplation

How to Walk a Labyrinth

Walking a labyrinth is as simple as tracing your finger or cursor along the path. As I move towards the centre, I clear my mind of thoughts. Upon reaching the centre, I take the time to be aware. After which, I begin my journey outwards to finish the process.

I am no expert on using the labyrinth since this is all rather new to me. Here are some of the links that I found helpful concerning the use of the labyrinth.

-The Sacred Labyrinth
-The Labyrinth Society

Taking Action

Have you ever used a labyrinth for contemplation? What are your thoughts about it? Do you have any other views about the labyrinth? Do share your views and comments below. :)

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  18 Responses to “Finding Harmony in the Labyrinth”

  1. Hi Irving,
    What a facinating post. I’ve always loved the challenges of mazes. Some people like crosswords, some scrabble. My thing is mazes. I buy books of puzzle mazes at a local bookstore. I’ve never walked a laybrinth, but I’m very intrigued. I love the idea of taking my mind off maters since I tend to be a brooder. Thanks so much for the links! Take good care Irving!
    Dandy recently posted..I need a hero!My Profile

    • Hi Dandy,

      It is great to see that you love the challenges of mazes. I would imagine you are very good of getting in and out.

      Until recently, I never knew the difference between a maze and labyrinth and never knew it could be used for contemplative purposes. But it is definitely worth looking into because it is easy to do and a refreshing change to the norm.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

      Irving the Vizier

    • Wow. What a powerful post! I love how you buorght me right to your labyrinth experience with you. I, too, love that form of walking meditation. I’ve done several and am always amazed at the impact of what seems like such a simple concept. This line, in particular, struck me: As I walk the path of life I am uncertain at times where I am going or what a particular set of circumstances is leading to, but I press on, having faith there is a God and there is a purpose to my walk. I am blessed to have neighbors who actually have a labyrinth as part of their back yard’s landscaping and welcome anyone and everyone who wants to walk it at anytime to come along. Hardly anyone uses it, but I sure do! Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Hi Daphina,

        I am glad you enjoyed my post!

        Wow, I wished my neighbours had labyrinths as part of their backyards. I would be happy to go over for a walk once in awhile. Or I might just get one of those foldable labyrinths I saw online.

        Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. My church has a labyrinth and I have walked it several times. It is surprisingly peaceful. I really appreciate the background information you provided. I have always loved Greek mythology, and I remember the story of the minotaur in the labyrinth on Crete (am I remembering that correctly?). Now that you have explained the difference, I am thinking that must have been a maze in the myth.

    Great post!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..The Wisdom to Know the DifferenceMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      That’s beautiful! I know that there were lots of churches in medieval times that had labyrinths. It is lovely to know someone who has actually walked it. I feel that it is important to know the background and origin of things. Doing so helps to give us a great appreciation for it.

      You have remembered correctly. It was Greek mythology about the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete…amazing you even remembered the place it was in haha! You are also right. That was in actual fact a maze, not a labyrinth. It makes me think that if it had been a labyrinth and the Minotaur kept walking it, it might have been a nicer creature instead. It might even have found peace and not needed to be killed. ;)

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

      • I find playing with Labyrinth as a breather from a very chaotic work. It seems a rest of my mind and emotions doing it. Thanks for sharing me about the difference about labyrinth and a maze.
        hannyfa recently conversationsMy Profile

        • Hi,

          I am glad you found my article useful.

          I agree that playing with the Labyrinth is a great way to relax the mind. We all need a few methods of relaxation that helps us to unwind because different situations may require different methods.

          Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  3. A completely new and interesting topic to me altogether. I had no idea that a labyrinth could mean these but my hubby is explaining the mythological story where labyrinths were maze-like and someone (not sure who) had to always keep their hand on the wall as they entered the labyrinth so as not to get lost and get out the other side, otherwise you never found your way in. This probably makes little sense when condensed so much but nonetheless, I enjoyed this post, Irving (and I am willing to argue back with hubby if you have a better story ;))!
    Farnoosh recently posted..Depression- How to Recognize it and Regain ControlMy Profile

    • Hi Farnoosh,

      The topic is just as new for me as it is for you. :D

      Your husband has clearly confused the myths and definitions of maze and labyrinths. It is not surprising given how people have used them interchangeably. He might be referring to the Greek myth of the labyrinth that was constructed by King Minos to hold the Minotaur. But as Galen rightly points out, that was in actual fact a maze. Admittedly, the hero Theseus used a ball of string to navigate that maze to slay the Minotaur.

      In any case, I have read about placing your hand on the wall to navigate a maze. Known as the right or left hand rule, it will only work if the maze is simply connected; ie all the walls are connected together or to the maze’s outer boundary.

      But if the maze is not simply connected; if the start or endpoints are in the center of the structure or the pathways cross over and under each other, placing your hand on the wall may not get you out. To solve such disjointed mazes, there are other algorithms like pledge or tremaux’s algorithms.

      Labyrinths are not meant to be confusing. They have a single path and are intended to be used for meditation or contemplation. It is mazes that give people headaches with their puzzles. I am glad I found this unorthodox topic hehe! :D

  4. I have been in desperate love with labyrinths for nearly a decade. I’ve always wanted one, but have never had a yard where I could grow a proper one. The experience of truly walking the labyrinth, just me hidden in a tall hedge or high walls, will one day be fulfilled.
    Delena Silverfox@Coupon Codes recently posted..GoDaddy Coupon CodeMy Profile

    • Hi Delena,

      Loving labyrinths so strongly for nearly a decade is admirable. I can imagine what it would be like to walk in a labyrinth with high walls. It is a lovely dream. I hope it becomes a reality for you soon! :)

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  5. This really is a fascinating topic Irving. I didn’t know the difference between a maze and labyrinth and I’m very thankful for your clear and helpful input. I especially love that while a maze can obviously provoke frustration (a lot) a labyrinth as you say can help bring calm and relaxation.

    I’m sure Denver has a labyrinth — I’ll check it out. Thankyou again for your very interesting and helpful reflection.
    Christopher Foster recently posted..35 steps to happiness and inner peaceMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      I am glad you found this topic fascinating! I enjoyed reading about labyrinths and mazes myself. :)

      Do let me know how it was like to walk a labyrinth if you manage to find the one in Denver!

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  6. Hi Irving,
    I love walking labyrinths. I use it for clarity and as a walking meditation. Actually, on my second date with my now husband we walked a beautiful garden labyrinth by a church. When we got to the center of the labyrinth, where we usually stop and meditate, he knew he wanted to marry me. Since it was only our second date, he didn’t say anything until a year later when he proposed. On our one-year anniversary, he took me to the same garden labyrinth and when we got to the center, he dropped on one knee and proposed. He wanted to propose in the labyrinth because that was the place that for the first time he had envisioned our life together. Therefore, labyrinths are very dear to me.
    Loving blessings!
    Andrea DeBell – britetalk recently posted..Change how you feel- choose happinessMy Profile

    • Hi Andrea,

      Wow! That is a beautiful story! I admire how your husband could hold his tongue and wait a full year before proposing. I doubt I would be able to contain myself for that long if I were in his position with someone I knew I wanted to marry. But good things do come to those who are patient and timing is everything.

      Thank you for sharing such a lovely experience with us! It does make me look at the labyrinth from a different and more romantic angle. :)

  7. Irving,

    I was immediately drawn to the title of this article so it would seem that labyrinths are calling to me. If I understand you correctly, sometimes you simply walk through the labyrinth with your finger on a page? I don’t have a labyrinth nearby, but I would love to explore the idea with my finger and/or with artwork. Thanks for this lovely article.
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..Where Two Roads DivergeMy Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      Yes, you could just print out the design of the labyrinth on a piece of paper and trace it with your finger. There are even wooden handheld replicas in the links that are sold online. There are also large labyrinths which you can unfold and place on the ground for you to walk around in. That is one way of having a ready made labyrinth at hand when needed. It kind of reminds me of nomads who pack up their tents and move about haha!

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

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