This past weekend I had the chance to walk a real labyrinth for the very first time. I’ve seen them before, of course, but they have always been way too small to walk on anything but your tiptoes, let alone to get a true experience. I attended the Festival of the Muses: A Goddess Gathering this weekend. It was held at Joyful Journey in Moffat, Colorado. In addition to the spa experience (hot springs, sauna, massage, etc.), they also had a very large, and well thought out labyrinth.
I walked it twice, both times in the morning. Because there were plenty of other women/goddesses at the Festival, I never had the chance to walk it alone. But even walking it in quiet meditation with other people was a magical experience.
When I returned home, I wondered about labyrinths in general. How did they come to be? Were they used by pagans thousands of years ago? Every one that I’ve seen recently, with the exception of the Joyful Journey labyrinth, was built into a church floor, generally no bigger than 6′ in diameter. Were they used by the ancient Christians? What was the history?!
Turns out the first known use of a labyrinth was a story from Greek mythology. It was built for King Minos of Crete to hold a Minotaur. In reading the story, it sounded to me as though it was more of a maze to keep the Minotaur in, than a labyrinth with an easy exit. (A Minotaur is a mythological monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Here’s the story in Wikipedia.)
As I’ve read more, I’ve learned that there is a distinct difference between a labyrinth and a maze. A maze has multiple paths with choices to make when a path splits. To make it more confusing, there are many dead ends. A labyrinth has a single path in, and the same path is taken to get out.
Labyrinths were incorporated in Christian churches as early as 1000 AD, but I haven’t been able to find out what purpose they served.
More recently, labyrinths are built in public spaces and on church grounds as a way for individuals to walk a path of mindfulness and contemplation. That was certainly what I experienced.
My Labyrinth Experience:
So many thoughts bubbled up as I walked. My intention was to walk the entire thing thinking of what I was grateful for. But so many other revelations were made for me that I started thinking of those things as well. And, of course, each revelation was just another thing I was grateful for!
I realized that walking the labyrinth was a lot like a big project. You start working towards the project and you get turned around. You continue working towards it and you can see the end; you can see what the end result will be. So many twists and turns and you feel like you’re going backwards, but all the while you are still working towards your goal; in this case, the center of the labyrinth.
Once you reach the center, you feel so grateful. You realize all you have to be grateful for. And, when you finish a major project, you also feel so grateful! Regardless of the project, you know how much you have accomplished and how much you have given to the world by completing it. In the same way, you recognize that by walking to the center of the labyrinth, you have given so much to the world. You have spent undivided time in gratitude, and in connecting to the Divine, or just walking silently and meditatively. Just by doing THAT, you are giving back to the Universe, giving back to the Divine, giving back to Mother Earth.
This labyrinth had a beautiful marble angel at the center. She has received many gifts – crystals, flowers, and other precious objects – from previous visitors. What a beautiful sight to stand there and take in all the positive energy from others who have walked that path. As I stood in the center, I turned to each of the Directions and thanked each of those spirits as well.
As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I noticed things I hadn’t noticed on the way in. It’s all about the ebb and flow of life; the ebb and flow of your breath. It seems as though my heart had opened just a little more, so that I could be that much more observant of my surroundings.
A rock that looked like a rock walking towards the center, looked like a heart on the way out.