Labyrinths: Walking a Spiral Path
In Signs of Life, Angeles Arrien defines five shapes found in the art of cultures around the world: circle, square, triangle, cross, and spiral. Not only is the use of these shapes universal, the symbolic meaning given to each carries across cultures as well. It is the form itself, in fact, that brings meaning, and the spiral, a curving line around a central point, symbolizes movement, growth, and change. It indicates a continually shifting perspective that is inspiring and life-renewing.
The labyrinth, a twisting, turning spiral path leading to a central point, offers a direct experience of the energy of the spiral. Labyrinth designs appear throughout human history, sewn into basketry, etched on cliff walls, and built into the floors of cathedrals. Labyrinths create a sacred space where time slows down and the potential for growth and change is palpable. Walking a labyrinth is a metaphor for life—the path shifts in unexpected ways, sometimes diverting you from your goal, but ultimately leading you to the center. Unlike a maze, there are no dead-ends and you can't get lost.
The labyrinth is a powerful meditation tool, helping to quiet the mind and allowing time for personal reflection. As your fingers or feet trace the path toward the center, you are drawn deeper into yourself, toward your own center; as you trace the path back out, you emerge with new-found clarity and connection to your true self.
Sacred Geometry of the Labyrinth
In addition to its spiral nature, other geometric and numerological elements can shape a labyrinth's character and energetic influence. Following is a few notable examples, both ancient and modern, of the sacred geometry of labyrinth designs.
Seven-circuit Classical labyrinth
This ancient seven-circuit labyrinth (so called because the path creates seven concentric rings around the center) is rich with symbolism. It draws on the mystical quality of the 7, a number of transformation and vision. In medieval times, the seven circuits were seen to correspond to the seven visible planets, and a walk in the labyrinth was a cosmic journey through the heavens. The seven circuits can also be seen to represent the days of the week, the chakras, colors, or musical tones. Meditating on these correlations while walking the labyrinth can deeply enrich the experience.
(The picture above is of a Classical labyrinth carved in a rock wall near Tintagel castle, Cornwall, England.)
Eleven-circuit Chartres labyrinth
The eleven-circuit labyrinth built into the floor of Chartres cathedral uses the power of the number 11 to bring spiritual guidance and illumination. The six-petaled flower at the center adds balance and harmony to the still point of the walk.
The continuous meander labyrinth
The path of this labyrinth does not stop in the center, instead moving through it in a continuous spiral. This, coupled with the asymmetry of the design, gives it a more organic quality, encouraging flow and easeful change.
The Unity Labyrinth
The Unity Labyrinth at the Labyrinth House in Portland, OR, is a beautiful example of incorporating sacred geometry elements into a labyrinth design to bring forth a certain intention. It was created to represent (and facilitate) the coming together of two energies, whether two people, two ideas, or two aspects of self, and soon after its installation became the sacred space for the marriage ceremony of its owner, Paula Hills Starr.
Two entrances lead to two paths that meander independently until meeting at a vesica design in the center. The vesica piscis, the almond-like shape created by two identical circles overlain so that they touch each other's centers, is an ancient symbol of the unification of opposites, signaling reconciliation and balance.
Additional design elements enrich the labyrinth with the energies of other numbers and shapes. The vesica motif is repeated, radiating out from the center in four directions, creating a cross that grounds the design and connects it to the four corners of the Earth. Along one axis of the cross, seven vesicas represent the seven chakras, which can be walked as a meditation of their own. The paths create five circuits, calling in the transformational and dynamic energy of the number 5. A circle around the perimeter unifies the various elements of the design into a cohesive whole.
The resultant mix of energies creates a labyrinth that is movement-filled yet centering, dynamic yet soothing, further exemplifying the unification of duality into oneness.
The Unity Labyrinth was designed by Stephen Shibley (see more of his designs at www.fertilegroundservices.com) in collaboration with Paula Hills Starr of the Labyrinth House (www.theearthplace.com), where the labyrinth is regularly open to the public.
Walk the Spiral Path
There are many ways to experience the meditative benefits of labyrinths, whether tracing a labyrinth design on paper or walking a labyrinth at a nearby church or garden. Here are some resources to get you started:
Draw your own
Visit a labyrinth near you
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