Labyrinths

and the labyrinth experience

Labyrinths are an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years or more, and are used symbolically, as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony, among other things. Labyrinths are tools for personal, psychological, and spiritual transformation. Labyrinths evoke metaphor, sacred geometry, spiritual pilgrimage, religious practice, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building.

The "Labyrinth Effect"

It appears that walking or otherwise interacting with the labyrinth might enable a set of physical responses (increased calm, quiet, and relaxation; decreased agitation, anxiety, and stress) that allows for the emergence of a set of "state of mind" responses (increased levels of centeredness, clarity, openness, peace, and reflection). In turn, these "state of mind" responses might increase one's receptivity to flashes of intuition, hunches, nudges from one's "inner voice," and other types of insight regarding one's problems, issues or concerns.


Rhodes, John W. “Commonly Reported Effects of Labyrinth Walking.” Labyrinth Pathways, 2nd Edition, July 2008, pp. 31–37.

Labyrinth Pathways is one of two annual journals available to members of The Labyrinth Society.

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Labyrinth carvings and constructions from hundreds to thousands of years old are found in numerous places around the world. There are similarities in the designs of these figures despite geographic and cultural differences and the passage of time. Global interest in labyrinths has ebbed and flowed, but there is something about these ancient symbols that keeps revitalizing that interest. The Classical labyrinths go back the furthest, the Roman and then Medieval labyrinths were later significant shifts in structure and materials, and now we are in a contemporary period of resurgence and innovation.

The essential features remain the same: a bounded, interior space clearly demarcated and different from the ordinary, exterior area, with a continuous though meandering path to the center and back out again, usually by the same path. A great variety of materials have been used to create labyrinths including stone, tile, grass, sand, earth, carved wood, and painted canvas. There are etched and mosaic labyrinths, finger and stylus labyrinths, and permanent, temporary, and portable walkable labyrinths.

True labyrinths are unicursal—meaning that they have a single path (contrasted with mazes which are multicursal)—and are usually intended to provide a meditative, reflective, and/or spiritual experience. The path may wind back and forth repeatedly, but there is no intended confusion and usually nothing blocking the view.

Some labyrinth patterns, both historical and contemporary, have features outside of the standard form such as more than one opening between the exterior and interior, absence of a center space, intersections and path choices, or dual paths specifically for ceremonies or conflict resolution. Nonetheless, they may still be considered labyrinths, rather than mazes or simply paths, due to the intended use and effect of the design.

The distinction between the terms labyrinth and maze in everyday use are not always so clear.