Different types of labyrinths
The Classical 7-circuit Labyrinth
This is the oldest labyrinth pattern. It comprises of seven circuits (paths) that you walk in a certain way to get to the centre.
The seven circuits in the labyrinth can be compared to the seven chakras (wheels of light or light centres within the physical body). When you walk this labyrinth, it causes your life-force energy to move through the chakras in a specific pattern. You start walking in the third chakra, then go down to the second chakra, then to the first, then you move up to the heart (fourth) chakra, then to the seventh, then sixth and finally the fifth chakra before you reach the centre or goal.
If you draw lines (the number of lines indicating which of the seven circuits it is) in the sequence that you walk the labyrinth; that is 3-2-1-4-7-6-5, it forms what looks like a cup. This cup, some say, relates to the Holy Grail and its secret knowledge.
Jeff Saward, labyrinth master, played around with the pattern of the concentric seven circuit labyrinth and worked out that it is a variation of the meander pattern or Greek key. This is even more apparent when you look at the labyrinth version that the Hopi Indians of Arizona weaved in their baskets.
Called the Man in the Maze, the corners are squared-off, not curved, and the basket is woven in a spiral from the centre out. Unlike most labyrinth designs where the entrance is at the bottom, the Hopi example of the Man in the Maze features the entrance at the top and there is always a male figure at the entrance.
The Hopi people of northern Arizona also have a long tradition of using the labyrinth. In their mythology the labyrinth appears in circular as well as square forms. The circular version of the 7-circuit classical labyrinth symbolizes Father Sun, the giver of life. The square version, which is actually two labyrinths, one inside the other, is known as Mother and Child. It is a Mother Earth symbol and it portrays the unborn child within the womb or otherwise the mother cradling the child after birth.
The classical 7-circuit labyrinth, which can easily be drawn from a seed pattern, can be enlarged by changing the seed pattern to make an 11-circuit, 15-circuit and 19-circuit labyrinth. It can also be reduced in size to make a 3-circuit labyrinth. (See Create Your Own for details.)
The Medieval 11-circuit Labyrinth
According to labyrinth master builder Robert Ferré, who did an extensive study on the origin, symbolism, design and meaning of the famous Chartres labyrinth, the path pattern had already existed some 300 years before its installation at the church. "The design had been developed not as a device for walking, but as an illustration used in manuscripts as far back as the ninth century."
The Chartres version, which is the best known and best example of a walking-size church labyrinth today, is unique in that it has certain features, like the petals in the centre and the lunations on the outside, that makes it distinctively Chartres.
Apparently the Chartres labyrinth originally had a bronze plaque in the centre which portrayed the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. This Greek myth tells the story of how Theseus successfully slayed the Minotaur, that was kept in the centre of the labyrinth on the island Crete, with the help of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos. Theseus found his way back out of the labyrinth maze with the help of a thread that was given to him by Ariadne.
The Minotaur symbolizes our shadow side that we need to acknowledge and integrate before we can become whole. Another way of explaining the myth, writes Robert Ferré, is that Theseus represents the pilgrim, the Christian, the seeker, who must overcome his inner fears and temptations (the Minotaur) with the aid of spiritual guidance (the thread).
The Chartres design is rich in symbolism. Together the labrys or double-headed axes (visible at the U-turns) form the shape of a cross when the labyrinth is viewed from above. The centre of this labyrinth has six petals, symbolizing a rose. The rose is a symbol for Mother Mary and can also represent the Holy Spirit. Both the rose and the lotus, the Eastern equivalent of the rose, have been regarded for ages as symbols of enlightenment.
Another meaning assigned to the six petals is that it symbolizes the six days in which God created the universe or the six stages of evolution. The six petals symbolize the six realms or kingdoms: clockwise from left - mineral/crystal, plant, animal, human, angelic and the unknown.
The lunations are the ring of two-third circles that decorate and complete the outside circle of the labyrinth. It is thought that ancient labyrinths served as a calendar, with each quadrant representing a quater of a year (four seasons, four directions). There are 28 cusps in each quadrant, forming a four-month lunar calendar (4 x 28 = 112). The lunar calendar was used to calculate the exact date of Easter, which occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox on March 21.
The Reconciliation Labyrinth
The Reconciliation Labyrinth (a copyright design) differs from the archetypal labyrinths in that it has two paths leading to the centre. This contemporary South African design includes the image of a person with raised arms, symbolizing hope. The two entrance paths start at the feet of the person and a third path exits between the two entrances through the body of the person, as a new way forward. This acknowledges that while journeys to a place of common healing do not start from the same place, the place to start when one has the intention to relate is wherever one's feet are.
Halfway through the walk, one starts to walk in the other's footsteps giving you the opportunity to look at the situation from a different perspective or through the other's eyes.
Clare Wilson, designer of the Reconciliation Labyrinth, explains: "The walker can explore intrapersonal dilemmas such as searching for reconciliation in the relationship between one's lived and unlived life, one's light and one's shadow, the manifest and unmanifest, the profane and the sacred. It can help new understanding emerge in situations where conflict has or does occur whether in homes, workplaces or communities."
The Goddess Labyrinth
Within the womb-like pattern of the Goddess Labyrinth is the sacred spiral, an ancient symbol for the Mother Goddess and Earth Mother. Entering the circuits of the labyrinth can be like returning to the womb. As we walk toward the centre, we are returning to the sense of security we may recall feeling while being held in our mother's arms or even while floating in the womb.
We return to the womb, not to die, but to be healed, transformed and rebirthed into a whole new self. It can be a spiritual rebirth, a new insight on a situation or a decision to start a practical change in your life. The womb is also a place of creativity and represents the potent void from which all creation springs.
The Goddess Labyrinth further differs from archetypal labyrinths in that it has a choice of two pathways spiraling to the centre. When you walk to the centre, you leave the world behind and walk your way back to the womb of the Earth Mother. Walking the path of rebirth, healing and transformation.
Ian Stevenson, world leading authority in aura kinetic training and author of Riding from the Heart, built his first horse size labyrinth in 1992 on his property in New York State. Since then he has lead kinetic equestrian clinics all over the world. He finds the work in a labyrinth provides a vital key in the quest for a more supple and stronger horse ready to face the rigors of any equestrian discipline.
Horses sense or feel energy much better than us humans, thence the quick results the labyrinth pattern can have on horses as well as the horse and rider team. Riding your horse through a horse size labyrinth provides unique possibilities for both the horse and rider. On a very basic, yet very enjoyable level, it can be used as a warm up and cool down exercise before and after training. Encouraging bend, focus and harmony between horse and rider.
On deeper levels the labyrinth has the ability to address issues on a physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual level. Again ensuring health, harmony and balance for any being involved in simply walking the pattern of the labyrinth.
According to Ian, a labyrinth provides a key to the successful improvement of focus, suppleness and strength of the horse. Focus is also enhanced for both the rider and the horse, giving them the opportunity to work together in an attuned way. Becoming as one. Riding in the zone.
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