A labyrinth is different to a maze. You enter a maze to lose yourself and a labyrinth to find yourself. The philosophy of a labyrinth is that there is no choice along the way. The only decision is whether you enter the labyrinth and trust that the path will lead you to your goal. With their ageless forms and swirling pathways, labyrinths invite playful interaction as well as soulful contemplation. The earliest examples of labyrinths date to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods; they were found carved on rocks and painted/scratched on pottery. In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos.
You enter a maze to lose yourself and a labyrinth to find yourself.
The Tohono O’odham people of Native America created a labyrinth dated to the 17th century, which features I’itoi. The Tonoho O’odham pattern has two distinct differences from the classical one: it is radial in design, and the entrance is at the top, whereas traditional labyrinths have the entrance at the bottom. Curiously labyrinths also appear in Indian manuscripts and Tantric texts from the 17th century onward.
Cultural meanings for labyrinths range from people believing they were traps for malevolent spirits, paths for ritual dances and a way to frighten and prevent demons from accessing the space. Nowadays, labyrinths are a symbolic pilgrimage where people can walk the path ascending toward salvation or enlightenment.
Pattern Language and the labyrinth
The labyrinth above was created for Boom Festival in 2010 with dedicated volunteers. The idea was that people attending the festival would have a place to “ground” when the crowds or music was too hectic. Many rocks were collected. This was the most challenging part of the labyrinth as they were collected by hand and transported by wheelbarrow to the site.
Building the labyrinth
Before you start working on the ground, practise the pattern on some paper first. Practising helps when you will draw the design on the earth.
Seven seed pattern
- Draw a cross. This is the beginning of your seed pattern. Mark corners and dots as shown.
- Connect the top of the cross with the right top-hand corner. Then left top-hand corner with the dot on the top right. Continue as the drawing shows.
- Continue steps 5 to 9 as in the drawing. Practice this several times on paper. Sacred geometry should flow from you, so make mistakes on paper first.
Now it’s time to draw it on the earth, but before you start drawing, decide on the size of the garden beds and the pathways. Use lime or wood ash to make your markings. You should do this a few times before you get it right. Lime or wood ash is easy to rub back into the earth.
The pathways of the labyrinth we constructed were around 50 – 60 cm wide for the garden pictured below. The garden beds were around 30cm wide. Now with a tape measure in hand, start with your cross. Measure out the path distance along with the size of the garden. So for this garden, we knew every new marking needed to be at least 1m apart.
Using herbs in the labyrinth
Plant the labyrinth with strong-smelling herbs, flowers and medicinals. This makes your labyrinth not only beautiful but functional too. If you’re using rocks, choose Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage, savoy and oregano. These plants handle the summer heat, and the stones keep them dry over winter. You can also create a border of agaves, lemongrass, and comfrey. Read more about how to keep you plants healthy here.
Choose a beautiful centrepiece, either a fountain, dwarf fruit tree or small pond. Anything that attracts the eye to the centre. Adding a water element to your labyrinth has benefits of reflecting light, and attracting beneficial insects. Read more about water elements here.
As the plants grow, herbs can be harvested for teas, tinctures, and to add to your favourite dish. Have fun finding yourself!
Lucy Legan is a writer, gardener, permaculture educator, food forester and bestselling author of Planet Schooling – How to create a permaculture living laboratory in your backyard. She lives in Mullumbimby with her family.