October 24, 2013

Labyrinths Large and Small

By Margaret Rappaport

With some confidence we can say the labyrinth symbol is more than 4,000 years old. Jeff Saward wrote a thorough history of small labyrinths from many cultures in the ancient world. They were drawn on rock faces and pottery and notably coins. His work is well worth reading, not because what is known is conclusive, but because what is known about the labyrinth over time is important for understanding its meaning and use.

Over two thousand years hence, as the appearance of the labyrinth became more prevalent, its popularity continued to grow. Our certainty also increased about its importance in people’s experience. For example, when Christianity pervaded the territories of the Roman Empire following the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325CE, the labyrinth symbol was absorbed into Christian philosophy, architecture and domestic life. European labyrinths abounded during and after this period.

Today there is another astounding resurgence of interest in labyrinths, large and small. There are organizations, libraries, schools and health centers focused on the labyrinth as a source of spiritual development, as well as health and wellness. A good resource for information on the current world wide popularity of the labyrinth is www.labyrinthos.net

Many recently built labyrinths are large enough for individuals or groups of people to walk. They are made like gardens and often are associated with towns and neighborhoods and other civic institutions. They are indoors and outdoors. Workshops and facilitated walks are offered to guide people to the potential power of walking the labyrinth design.

Simultaneously, there is a brisk market in table labyrinths, finger labyrinths and small labyrinths to look at and ponder. What do we do with the labyrinth when it is too small to walk? As the ancients did, we take contemplative exercise. We gaze at the design and we think, feel and imagine just as we do when we walk. The longer and more concentrated the looking, the greater the spiritual impact and the better our physical and mental health.

Margaret Rappaport