What is a labyrinth?

Labyrinthoct2010A dream was fulfilled when our Two Worlds Tree Labyrinth was built and usable.

Our labyrinth is not of a traditional design but completely an inspiration that synthesizes many traditions that have become inner instincts over my past 55 years. For me, this is an expression of instinct and tradition collected since when I started my focus on ritual and the divine as a wee boy.

What is a labyrinth?
- I am always asked

Where do they come from, is a hastily followed question, but origins can only be guessed. What they have been used for during times of humans is purely an imaginative guessing game.

Perhaps the most famous ancient labyrinth was in ancient Crete

Queen Pasiphaë of Crete had a desire for a specific type sacrificial bull and chose to breed such a bull from her own womb. After an act of bestiality she gave birth to the half man, half bull Minotaur and had a labyrinth built to cage him.

Each year, Pasiphae's husband, King Minos, demanded that seven boys and seven girls be taken through the labyrinth as a sacrificial offering to the Minotaur.

One year, a warrior, named Theseus, sneaked in with the children and unravelled the string from a ball of twine as they travelled through the labyrinth. This was to give them an escape trail back out.

When Theseus reached the centre and faced the Minotaur he battled with it until he killed the Minotaur.

Structurally, it seems this famous "labyrinth" of the Minotaur was not a labyrinth at all. Its was a "Maze" as it contained distracting destinationless halls and chambers.

However, this journey through the Maze to the Minotaur is very connected to a divine purpose labyrinth walk today. Though the Minotaur was hidden in a centre of a maze, the journey to the Minotaur was symbolic of a labyrinth journey that people walk today.

The focused labyrinth walk can often commence with concern and fear for the "inner monster", the confrontation with it in the centre, followed victory and release from forces of darkness and unknown, as you walk back into the "light".

With this in mind I feel the Pasiphae story was originally told as an instruction before using a labyrinth in ancient times.

Following the Path

The appearance and experience of a labyrinth does seem to clearly define a journey to the centre of our self, a journey to our most hidden inner shrine.

Reaching the centre of a labyrinth is like accomplishing a stage of initiation, first being challenged and then being accepted into the arms of an invisible unconditional, forgiving un-gendered divinity of love.

For me a labyrinth is transcending. It releases us from the commands and demands of the boundaries of time, distance and the variations of cultures.

For me a labyrinth is a bridge from the mundane to the divine. When the divine recharges us we leave behind our old skin and return to the mundane with a new skin, new focus, new inspiration and an overall good spa-like "make-over".

If we can add water and fire facilities in the mix, even better

Isn't a labyrinth a maze, you may ask?

A maze has detours, dead ends, traps. Its a place where people can get lost, but a labyrinth can be a wonderful place where lost people can find themselves.

Labyrinths have no traps but lead along a single path to a definite destination. It is intriguing how many churches have labyrinths as patterns within their floors. Apparently they are regarded as symbolic roads to "Jerusalem", the total essence of pilgrimage.

Is pilgrimage really about transformation more than reverence for places referenced by our faiths?

I also feel that labyrinths may be approached too much for solemn purposes. I, personally, feel they are well suited for joyful purposes. I tend to think of a labyrinth walk as being more of a dance than calling for prayer. Watch what a child does as soon as she or he enters a labyrinth ... that's honesty to divinity !!!

Reaching the centre and back again

There are other names for Labyrinths. I actually like the Native American of "Medicine Wheel" best off all, but do not use it much myself due to our modern interpretation of what "Medicine" is. To me, "medicine" is about seeing the light and experiencing the calm of healing. Medicine is not really pills and potions administered. We do not need to have illness and sickness, or as our locals say "curse", to receive and benefit from "medicine". I believe Medicine can actually strengthen us from receiving the "curse".

A suggested labyrinth journey should be of three stages

• Purgation - a releasing, a letting go, a shedding, of distracting thoughts that remove us from the present to another place and another time, a release from the commands of the man made measurements of time and distance so that the mind quietens, heart opens and love can surround and embrace us. This is love. This is medicine.

• Illumination - a willingness and confidence to receive when you reach the centre, where you pause awhile, stay as long as you need, say a prayer, receive a prayer, receive love from others who may also be in the centre too. Sometime you have to fight demons that still remain with you when you reach the centre, but now you'll have the confidence, mastery and warriorship in spirit to do so.

• Union - when you take the journey to depart the labyrinth this is when you embrace and share the union of your divine with the great spirit and enjoy the healing spirit of the labyrinth's "medicine". With repeated journeys in labyrinths you will discover that union becomes stronger and stronger, but always undemanding.

Each time you walk the labyrinth with this three stage intent,
the more its will become "medicine" working within you.

This does not need dedication to one labyrinth but a routine of finding and using a labyrinth somewhere, even if you have to imagine one being present.

With repeated journeys in labyrinths you will discover that union with the divine and with others becomes stronger and stronger, but always undemanding and unconditional.

Our own Two Worlds Tree Labyrinth has some peculiarities for this as it is a symmetric labyrinth rather than single path labyrinth. The above journey works very well within it, though, and includes utilities you may not find in other labyrinths.

In addition we have found our labyrinth works incredibly well for the union and reconciliation journeys between two people such as man and wife bonding to pro-create life together or two leaders wishing to find union to benefit the people they lead. Hopefully this will include interfaith unions in the near future.

Shortly, I am going to build a triple spiral labyrinth, at Carrowcrory.

I am also growing alder tree hedging outside of the labyrinth perimeters so that we can open our labyrinth to 24 hours a day use without sleep disturbance to our very few local neighbours.

Coming Soon

I am completing a small book "30 Ways We Have Used Our Labyrinth", which may well be 40 ways or 50 ways by the time I finish this. Please look out for this.

Let us know at http://www.celticways.com/contact if you would like a copy. It will be available for a very small donation to aid our labyrinth upkeep.


  1. Thanks John for this great article, good luck with the triple spiral labyrinth project.

  2. Hi, John. I have made a video of the labyrinth. The video will be on youtube tomorrow. Thanks for a great tour of Carrowkeel. I never would have entered the cairns without your encouragement. What an experience.

    Jane Gilgun


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