The labyrinth is a pattern of lines laid in concentric circles, called circuits, making up a single path going back and forth all the way to the centre and back out the same way. Unlike a maze, there are no wrong turns, and it is not a puzzle!
There are two basic forms. The earliest, thousands of years old and common to many cultures, is the Classical seven circuit pattern. This evolved through several variations into the more complex eleven circuit, four quadrant Chartres design often found in the margins of medieval manuscripts beside a particularly involved piece of reasoning. It was installed in a walkable scale in the floor of the nave at Chartres Cathedral in France in the 12th century, one of several labyrinths of that kind that were installed in the Gothic “Notre Dame” cathedrals built in France to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary during this period. Church records suggest that the cathedral labyrinths served as pilgrimage sites when travelling to the Holy Land became too dangerous.
Having fallen into disuse in the 18th century, labyrinths were rediscovered in the past thirty years by investigators in the fields of mathematics, architecture, comparative religion, psychology and anthropology. The potential for practical application was soon recognised and developed by ministers, psychotherapists, educators, dowsers, musicians, visual and performing artists. Labyrinths are valued for the gentle way that walking them (or tracing out the path in a little “finger labyrinth”) restores calmness and balance to human consciousness, fosters insight, and invites personal and spiritual integration and development. Labyrinths are being installed in hospitals, schools, parks, retreat centres, and churches around the world, as a way to reduce the toll that our stressed and hurried modern culture takes on us. The World Wide Labyrinth Locator lists over 4000 labyrinths at the time of writing, with more added daily.