Chambers Creek Foundation

What is a Labyrinth?


The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool, used for the purpose of prayer, meditation, reflection, and contemplation. It is a universal image representing the path of life, and its winding walk in toward the center and out again symbolizes a pilgrim's walk with God, a symbolic journey in the form of a walking meditation. Walking the path is a sacred ritual that can provide insights, courage, and understanding in facing life’s challenges.

The labyrinth is found in various forms in all religious traditions around the world and throughout history. The labyrinth is not a maze; there are no tricks to it, and no dead ends. The labyrinth has only one path which leads to the center and out again. If you make a misstep, you will simply end up at the center or at the beginning. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror of the way we live our lives; it touches our sorrows and releases our joy. So walk it with an open heart and mind.

The History of the Labyrinth

The rediscovery of the medieval labyrinth, a twelfth century mystical tool, may be one of the most important spiritual developments of the last decade. Throughout human -history there has been the practice of making a spiritual pilgrimage – a search for the holy. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to God's people journeying to a land of Promise, to Zion, to sacred places. The Psalms witness to this deep yearning within people. The first Christians were called "people of the way," as they tried to follow the path Jesus set before them.

In the Middle Ages, Christians were expected to travel to the Holy Land at least once during their lives. As travel became too dangerous during the Crusades, certain cathedrals throughout Europe were designated as" pilgrimage cathedrals." Christians would journey to those sites where they would make a prayer-walk of the labyrinth, laid in the cathedral’s stone floor, as a symbolic completion of their pilgrimage. This is why these labyrinths were sometimes called the "New Jerusalem." Today, labyrinths are being used in churches, hospitals, retirement centers, parks, prisons, and in retreat and conference centers as we recover this sacred practice. The labyrinth appeals to all ages, from youth to senior citizens.

Suggestions for walking the Labyrinth

  1. Before you begin, stand just outside the entrance, and prepare yourself for the walk by quieting outside and within, clearing your mind and becoming aware of breathing. You may want to think of those concerns you are bringing with you to the walk. You may want to say a prayer before you begin.
  2. It is customary to remove your shoes before you walk, though in outdoor labyrinth this may not be practical or possible for some. You are welcome to walk with or without shoes according to your preference.
  3. Because the labyrinth is a two-way street, you may “pass” people, or let others step around you, whichever is easiest.
  4. As you begin, find your on pace. There is no need to rush. An average walk takes 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. If there are others making the walk, remember to be considerate of their space and need for silence, as you would want for yourself. You may stay in the center as long as you like, unless there are many waiting, in which case you may choose to shorten your stay.

Some people find that the labyrinth walk falls into three stages:

  • RELEASING (Purgation) – quieting the mind and letting go of the details of daily life as you walk into the labyrinth.
  • RECEIVING (Illumination) – opening to insight and new awareness as you near the center or sit or stand in the center.
  • RETURNING (Union) – moving outward, taking the silence and peace and insight with you into your day.

The labyrinth walk is different each time one walks it. Often people find peace, solace, release, and deep sense of joy. When walked with a community of people, the walk is a shared journey, an activity that groups do together to build solidarity and shared vision.

There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Simply relax and enjoy your journey.

For more information, see the book by Rev. Lauren Artress, Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool.