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Walking a Labyrinth

October 3, 2013

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Ever walked the winding path of a labyrinth? My mother-in-law has created a beautiful outdoor garden labyrinth—and introduced me to this curious new trend that's also an old tradition. If you own land, perhaps you'd like to create your own labyrinth. Learn more . . .

What is a Labyrinth?

In a labyrinth, you follow a curving pathway that winds to a center. (Unlike mazes, which have false paths and dead ends, labyrinths are not designed to be difficult to navigate.) Once at the center, you simply take the same path out.

Labyrinths have existed for centuries and may be best known from Greek mythology, which includes the tale of the architect Daedalus creating a labyrinth as a way to keep a monster—the Minotaur—from eating the children of Athens.

In the Middle Ages, labyrinths were often made on the floors of religious buildings. One of the most ancient labyrinths is built right into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France; it was meant to provide a meditative journey for body and spirit.

Today, labyrinths have experienced a resurgence of interest. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that walking a labyrinth can lower the breathing rate, blood pressure, and chronic pain as well as reduce stress levels and anxiety.

They are being built at hospitals, local churches, wellness centers, playgrounds, and prisons.

I also just learned that the town just down the road from The Old Farmer's Almanac, offers a labyrinth walk on New Year's Eve/Day! Visitors walk the Peterborough Labyrinth at the Town Hall to reflect on the past year and start the new year fresh.

If you’d like to see if there is a labyrinth near you, here is a worldwide “Labyrinth Locator.”

Planting a Garden Labyrinth

My mother-in-law created her own garden labyrinth using ornamental grasses and flowers.

She was inspired after she and her sister took a trip to Missouri to visit a labyrinth designed on a prairie.

Returning to their horse ranch in rural Ohio, she laid down rope in a “left-hand chakra” design, planting warm-season grasses along the rope’s edge. However, the spring was very wet and they plants didn’t take.

That fall, she replanted, setting out hundreds of real plants in a labyrinth path with 8 feet between the pots—as you can see in the picture below.

All of them died! After this dismaying experience, she decided to take a different approach. (In gardening, we try, try again!)

The following spring, she prepared the soil so that it was not too compact and she simply spread seed—all native grasses this time. She also mixed in different biennial wildflowers. They took!

Here is a photo from early summer:

The design is set up for the size of their mower—and they mow the paths regularly whenever they mow the lawn. Eventually, she says that the ornamental grasses will kill off the flowers; they grow quite tall to provide that peace and quiet.

Here is an aerial view of the ranch and labyrinth design (next to the big barn):

It's hard to get a sense of the design when you're in the middle of it!

If you focus your mind, the experience of walking the labyrinth is so relaxing, especially as you are amid nature—with the sight, sound, smell, and touch of the plants, birds, and butterflies.

It’s almost as if you’ve entered into a hidden world away from the “chatter” of everyday life. You can simply reflect, release any tensions, and rejuvenate.

Of course, you can also run freely through the wildflower paths as my son did with youthful abandon!

In the fall, the grasses start to brown and die down. They are burned to the ground on a very wet winter’s day.

Until next spring!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this meander into the world of labyrinths. Your comments and musings are welcome!

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Catherine, our New Media Editor, joined The Old Farmer's Almanac in 2008. She edits content on both this Web site, Almanac.com, and the companion site to The Old Farmer's Almanac for Kids publication, Almanac4kids.com. She also pens the Almanac Companion enewsletters and keeps up with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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Comments

Wonderful article about

By Janice Cagan-Teuber

Wonderful article about Labyrinths. What is the reason for burning the grasses? Especially if the grasses don't "die".

Thank you, Janice! Great

By Catherine Boeckmann

Thank you, Janice! Great question. As well as mowing the paths and doing some pruning, it's important to clear out the old dead grasses and weed growth every 2 to 3 years. You conduct a controlled burn on a day that is NOT windy. If this done in the wet spring, the heat can help germinate new growth, too.

Thank you for your answer

By Janice Cagan-Teuber

Thank you for your answer about burning the grasses. I appreciate it. After I read your article, I searched for labyrinths within 10 miles of my location. BOY! Was I surprised at how many were within that space. I was even at one last night, when my brother and sister-in-law were visiting from California. We went to Faniuel Hall Market, in downtown Boston. Across the road is a memorial to the Armenian Genocide. And lo and behold, there is a labyrinth right there! I thought it was just a decoration, with a fountain in the middle. I'm going to go back there, this weekend, and walk it!

Thank you, again!
Janice

I truly was inspired by the

By Julianna Faucher

I truly was inspired by the article on the labyrinth. It's lovely to have someone bring awareness to this simple and effective natural environment for the soul. Thank you! I'm going to find a way to work one into my own property.

Julianna, Thank you. It means

By Catherine Boeckmann

Julianna, Thank you. It means so much to hear this. I'm not sure where you live but you may enjoy this labyrinth site for ideas:
http://www.chakralabyrinth.com/9-vesica-star-design.htm
http://www.chakralabyrinth.com/prairie-labyrinth-kansas-city.htm

Very interesting! I guess

By georgewilson

Very interesting! I guess it's not surprising that it helps to be surrounded by nature this way--like a cocoon.

I loved the article and I

By Mike T.

I loved the article and I love labyrinths. I only wish my backyard was large enough to have one as well.

There are a number of

By JBL55

There are a number of patterns for small labyrinths here -- maybe you can adapt one for an even smaller space depending on your situation: http://www.angelfire.com/my/zelime/labyrinthssmall.html

Catherine, you did a

By Alison Stratman

Catherine, you did a wonderful article about labyrinths in general, and about this specific labyrinth. I have walked it many times, and each time the experience is unique - precisely what I need at that particular time. I loved that you showed that children, especially, "get" what labyrinths are all about. It's joy, wonder, peace, and connection, all at the same time. I love this article and the pictures!

Catherine did an amazing job

By Beth Fitzgerald

Catherine did an amazing job of relating the use of labyrinths! What an amazing article and so very correct. It's taken many years but we're having fun with it! Keep up your amazing work...we love it!!!

Thank YOU for sharing your

By Catherine Boeckmann

Thank YOU for sharing your unique creation! I knew little about labyrinths until I saw yours. I've since learned that labyrinths can be created out of pavers, gravel, steppable plants, and even tape on the floor for a New Year's eve party!

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