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ney that required the Church’s guidance and support. Me- them in touch with simple body rhythms. Because g
dieval labyrinths were circular in shape, the circle being a labyrinth walking involves physical movement, partici- ki
universal symbol of wholeness, completion, and unity.
pants may find themselves becoming more mindful of al
their breathing patterns, the repetition of their footfalls, h 
By the seventeenth century, however, many cathedral nt
labyrinths were removed or destroyed. There is some dis- and the reorientation of the entire body that occurs as ri
they move through the circular turns within the by
agreement among scholars regarding the reasons for their a
removal. Some experts think that the labyrinths were re- labyrinth. More particularly, the overall pattern of move- L
ment in labyrinth walking—first inward toward the cen- 
moved because the cathedral clergy had forgotten their 
history and original purpose, while others speculate that ter of the labyrinth and then outward on the return 
path—holds deep symbolic meaning for many people.
they were destroyed to prevent children from playing on 
them during Mass and disturbing worship. Another factor Specific benefits that some people have experienced 

was the growth of rationalism in the seventeenth century as a result of labyrinth walking include:
and the hostility toward religion that emerged during the 
• answers to, or insights, personal problems or circum- 
French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. stances
The labyrinths were regarded as remnants of “supersti- 
• a general sense of inner peace or calm
tion” and therefore offensive to “enlightened” people.

The contemporary revival of interest in labyrinth • emotional healing from past abuse or other traumas
walking began in the early 1990s, when Dr. Lauren 
• a sense of connection to, or unity with, past generations 
Artress, a psychotherapist who was on the Special Min- of pilgrims or family ancestors
istries staff of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francis- 
• reawakened interest in their specific religious tradition
co, attended a Mystery Seminar led by Jean Houston, who 
describes herself as “a scholar and researcher in human • greater awareness of their own feminine nature or the 

capacities,” and directs the Foundation for Mind Research feminine principle in nature, often associated with cir- 
in Pomona, New York. Dr. Houston presented the 
cular shapes and patterns
labyrinth as a tool for spiritual growth that would lead the 
seminar participants to their spiritual center. She had taped • stimulation of their imagination and creative powers

the forty-foot-wide pattern of the Chartres Cathedral • improved ability to manage chronic pain
labyrinth on the floor of the meeting room. Dr. Artress felt 
• faster healing following an injury or surgical procedure
drawn to return to the labyrinth later that night and found 

walking through it a powerful experience. She then made 
a pilgrimage to Chartres itself in 1991, followed by further Description

research into the history and significance of labyrinths. Labyrinth construction and design
After returning to the United States, Dr. Artress made a 

canvas version of the Chartres labyrinth for use in the San Contemporary labyrinths are constructed from a 
Francisco cathedral. It was introduced to the public on De- wide variety of materials in outdoor as well as indoor 

cember 30, 1991, and was used twice a month until 1995, settings. In addition to being made from canvas, mosaic 
when a permanent outdoor labyrinth made of terrazzo flooring, or paving stones, labyrinths have been woven 

stone was laid down in the cathedral’s outdoor garden.
into patterned carpets, outlined with stones, bricks, or 
hedgerows, or carved into firmly packed earth. Most 

modern labyrinths range between 40 and 80 feet in diam- 
eter, although larger ones have also been made.

In general, labyrinth walking is said to benefit par- One classification scheme categorizes labyrinths as 
ticipants by allowing a temporary suspension of so- 
either left- or right-handed, according to the direction of 
called left-brain activity—logical thought, analysis, and the first turn to be made after entering the labyrinth. The 
fact-based planning— and encourage the emergence of 
entrance to the labyrinth is known as the mouth, and the 
the intuition and imaginative creativity associated with 
the right brain. Lauren Artress has said, “The labyrinth walkway itself is called the path. Classical labyrinths are 
defined as having a simple path with an equal number of 
does not engage our thinking minds. It invites our intu- 
itive, pattern-seeking, symbolic mind to come forth. It turns and counter-turns. Labyrinths are also classified by 
the number of circuits in their design, a circuit being one 
presents us with only one, but profound, choice. To enter 
of the circles or rings surrounding the center of the 
a labyrinth is to choose to walk a spiritual path.”
labyrinth. The labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, for exam- 

In addition to helping people open themselves to the ple, is a classical eleven-circuit labyrinth. Three- and 
nonrational parts of the psyche, labyrinth walking puts
seven-circuit classical labyrinths have been constructed


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