Coin From Knossos, Greece ~ 100BCE
Found in nearly every culture and continent in the world, labyrinths are a shape or pattern which create a single path from the outside edge to the center. Unlike mazes, there are no wrong turns. Labyrinths are one of the earliest symbols that Man inscribed on rocks, in caves, and later on coins, in mosaics and churches. Intertwined in its curves is the pattern of this mysterious human journey we call life, and our relationship to the source of life itself. Wherever the labyrinth is found, a reverence for this deep human symbol is expressed, as if there is an important knowledge inherent in it. Look at the labyrinth images here. What do you feel as you gaze upon them? Also, notice the striking similarities in labyrinth style despite disparate cultures and era of creation.
Superstition Mtns, Arizona ~ Hohokam Time Period
Burt, Ireland ~ 15th Century
Pylos, Greece ~ 1200BCE
Arizona ~ Anasazi
Even though I know there are no wrong turns in a labyrinth, no dead ends, and I have walked them dozens of times, a funny phenomenon often happens to me as I walk. Along the path I encounter doubt. I catch myself thinking, “this will never get me to the center. I am totally lost and turned around!” Yet, eventually, if I trust and continue upon this mysterious path, it delivers me to the center. What relief! As I return from the center, sure I will return to the perimeter, this experience gives me the gift of the insight: in my life I am always on the right path. If I trust and continue, I cannot get lost. A powerful gift indeed.
There are studies that have been done at Harvard Medical School among others which show that walking a labyrinth creates a “relaxation effect.” It is highly effective at increasing relaxation and reducing anxiety. Believe it or not, simply being relaxed results in tremendous long term health benefits!
Scientifically it is also interesting that the labyrinth patterns of repeating left and right turns are thought to stimulate the left and right sides of the brain. We may actually be creating new neural pathways in our brain as we move our bodies through these twists and turns. Do you see similarities between a brain and a labyrinth? What if our brain is a complex, 3-dimensional labyrinth?
Tucson, Arizona ~ 2010
At the Inns at El Rancho Merlita, owner Diana Osborne poured her heart into creating a labyrinth for our guests and our community. She chose the Tohono O’odham labyrinth design because it is of this Sonoran Desert land. Known to the O’odham as “I’itoi ki:k,” meaning I’itoi’s house (I’itoi is name of a Creator God), this design is often referred to as the “Man in the Maze”.
Southern Arizona, Pima & Tohono O’dham Tribes ~basket c. 1900
For the Tohono O’odham, the path is our life with our goals and dreams at the center surrounded by the turns and challenges along the way. You can read a little more in detail from our labyrinth handout here.
Chartes Cathedral, France ~ 17th Century
Labyrinths speak to a deep part of us which transcends time, culture, and language, perhaps that is unconscious much of the time. Carl Jung said that, “the unconscious fulfills a positive role…showing the conscious mind what needs to be done to get rid of unease and unhappiness and achieve fuller satisfaction in life.” Walking the labyrinth allows us to re-enter the deep, innate wisdom that lives within each of us.
As always, we’d love to have you come visit us at the Inns at Rancho Merlita. Come experience a desert-born labyrinth on this desert soil. If by chance you can’t make it here, you may find it interesting that finger labyrinths have long been used in the same way as walking labyrinths. In Lucca, Italy, there is a small labyrinth on the wall before entering a cathedral dating back to the 1200s. Worshipers would trace the lines before entering, creating a separation from ordinary life to the inner cathedral of sacredness contained within us all.
Lucca, Italy ~ 1200s
So wherever you are, you can take a minute to zoom into your favorite labyrinth in this blog and take the journey deep into this timeless human experience. Write us and let us know what you find!
The ERM Family
Celtic Labyrinth ~ 14th Century