Have you ever walked along a labyrinth?
The labyrinth shape has been around for centuries and its layout mirrors our inner body design. The intricate pattern of the brain surface, the coiling inner ear, the numerous loops of the small intestine. The labyrinth is unicursal which means it consists of one pathway twisting and turning to a central goal. (As opposed to a maze which is multicursal. This has one correct path to the centre hidden amongst numerous dead ends and junctions).
Following the path of the labyrinth takes you on a mindful journey of healing. The walk becomes sacred and powerful. As you step along its path there is no need for decision-making, (as opposed to walking a maze where you have to work out which direction to go). In the labyrinth you simply walk calmly towards the centre with full attention to being present on this little, yet powerful, journey.
The labyrinth has long been associated with the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to legend, at the palace of Knossos in Crete, a Minotaur, half-man, half-beast, was imprisoned in the centre of a labyrinth.
The Minotaur was fed humans from Athens – seven young men and seven young women each year. One year, Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, volunteered to go. He promised his father that if he killed the Minotaur, he would return to Athens with the sail of his ship changed from black to white.
When Theseus arrived in Crete, Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, fell in love with him. Theseus agreed to take her with him back to Athens in return for her help. So she gave him a ball of thread to unwind behind him as he travelled through the labyrinth. He killed the Minotaur and was able to follow the thread back out.
As with most myths, there are variations within the story and the characters.
Who was the Minotaur?
He was said to be the son of Queen Pasiphae who was married to King Minos of Crete. She slept with a bull and the resulting Minotaur was her son. King Minos didn’t wish to kill him but hid him in the labyrinth.
Why did Athens have to send seven men and women across to Crete?
The son of King Minos of Crete, Androgeus, had visited Athens and participated in some games. But he had been killed. King Minos was furious and so demanded this yearly punishment.
Ariadne began the journey back to Athens with Theseus but when they stopped at an island she got left behind. There are two versions of what happened; maybe this was accidental or it was on purpose. In either case, Theseus did not change the sails. So as his father saw the returning ship he noticed the black sails. King Aegeus therefore thought his son was dead and threw himself into the sea where he drowned. Ever since then it has been named the Aegean Sea.
Walking the labyrinth today
Before you begin walking a labyrinth, tie a piece of thread around your wrist. (In recognition of how Ariadne gave Theseus some thread). You can then dedicate it to a person you wish to remember. Or it can symbolise that you are connected and safe. You will find your way back out easily to freedom and new life.
Another link with the Greek myth as you walk your labyrinth, is to acknowledge how the Minotaur was killed in the centre. This can make a powerful symbol for you if you have a long-endured struggle you’re ready to surrender. As you reach the centre of your walk, let it go!
And was there really a labyrinth at Knossos, Crete?
If you visit Knossos, Crete there is no labyrinth. Yet, silver coins depicting a labyrinth, dated around 500 BC were discovered there. The labyrinth was clearly an important symbol to the Ancient Greek people of Crete. The mystery remains why.
Where can you walk a labyrinth?
You may find labyrinths in parks, churches, wellness centres, and at sacred sites all over the world.
Here are a few:
Wisdom Centre, Romsey, Hants. (which we have walked on both our Mindfulness Retreat Day)
Norwich Cathedral, Norwich
Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
Chartres Cathedral, France
The mizmaze at St Catherine’s Hill, Winchester
There is a treasure of symbols and meaning to the labyrinth. Look up your nearest labyrinth to experience it for yourself. Or seek one out on your holiday travels.
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Coach, Place of Serenity
Good book: ‘Walking the Healing Labyrinth’ by Helen Raphael Sands