Labyrinth and Maze Walking
"The labyrinth is one of many tools to enhance prayer, meditation, contemplation and spiritual growth, the walker can stop any place on the path for insights into personal growth.
Sr. Dorothy Jean BeyerLabyrinth walking is the practice of journeying to and then returning from the center. A labyrinth has a clearly marked path to follow, and is not a maze in which you can get lost. Labyrinths can be thought as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; you can walk the path ascending towards salvation or enlightenment. In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was designed by Daedalus to imprison the Minotaur; but the labyrinth serves a symbolic meaning, as well. “Walking the labyrinth” is said to be a deeply personal and revealing meditative experience by which a person gains insights into their true nature.
During the middle ages, labyrinths were built in a number of large European churches. The full flowering of the medieval labyrinth design came about during the 12th and 13th centuries with the grand labyrinths of the gothic cathedrals, most notably Chartres and Amiens in Northern France and Siena in Tuscany.
There are also remarkable examples of the labyrinth shape from a whole range of ancient cultures. The symbol has appeared in forms and media, such as petroglyphs, pavement, grass and basketry, throughout most parts of the world, from Java, Native North and South America and Australia, to India and Nepal.
Many labyrinths exist today in churches and parks to provide people with a meditative way to relieve stress. Labyrinths can now also be found in retreat centers, hospitals, prisons, parks, airports and community centers. There are around 2,000 permanent labyrinths in the United States alone.
Labyrinths may be created with stone, tape, fabric, sticks, chalk, plants, and many other materials. "Finger labyrinths" are also rising in popularity, as small wooden or metal plaques on which the labyrinth pattern is traced with a finger or a stylus.
Labyrinths and mazes can be found around the world and they are important cultural works, offering rich insights into our history and the human psyche. Mazes, by contrast, are designed to be a strategic challenge; they are one of humankind’s original physical puzzle games. Unlike a labyrinth, which is designed to be contemplative but easy to complete, a maze is intentionally difficult to navigate. Both labyrinths and mazes symbolically reveal two sides of the human spirit: complexity and simplicity; mystery and design; intuition and sensory experience. They are emblematic of the eternal philosophical tension between free will and fate. Here are some of the most complex, beautiful, and creative mazes and labyrinths around the world.
The Most Famous Labyrinths and Mazes in the World
(Image via cosmickid99)The world’s longest maze is at the Dole Plantation on Oahu, Hawai’i. Comprised of 11,400 tropical native plants and covering 3.11 miles, Dole has not only created the largest maze on earth; the company has taken it online where you can attempt to navigate the maze virtually.
(Image via lesbazeilles)Called the largest plant maze in the world, the ever-changing maze at Reignac-sur-Indre, France blossoms into a brilliant field of sunflowers in summer and in winter is remarked and sown to reappear as a new design in spring. In 1996, the maze’s debut year, over 85,000 people attempted to find passage through the 10-acre puzzle.
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
(Image via Amazing Maze)The corn field maze at Cherry Crest is so challenging, two full time “Maze Masters” remain on site to guide lost tourists attempting to solve the puzzle and make their way through the maze’s 2.5 miles of paths, bridges and twisty turns.
Snakes ‘n Ladders
(Image via Daily Mail)A creative twist on the standard maze, one enterprising designer, Michael Blee, built the world’s largest snakes ‘n ladders game – it covers a 6 acre plot (it’s his tenth and largest to date). The hedges are all at least 9 feet high, assuring a very challenging game for those who play.
Davis Mega Maze
(Images via About.com, Jaunted, Family Resource Center and Boston.About.com)The Davis Farmland Mega Maze is unique in that it changes completely from year to year! Whether it’s a king’s crown, a dinosaur or a city skyline, visitors never know what they’ll be navigating next.
(Image via Longleat)Longleat‘s classically beautiful 16,000 yew trees form a hedge maze in the U.K. that covers 1.48 acres and nearly 2 miles of paths. The wooden bridges built into the massive puzzle reveal an unusual feature: Longleat is a three-dimensional maze.
(Images via Visit Victoria and Tour Victoria)The famous maze at Ashcombe is Australia’s oldest maze, and there’s plenty to do there along with the challenging maze. Nearby gardens offer a rose maze in addition to the traditional hedge mazes that have evolved over some 30 years of development.
(Image via Richardson Farm)The Richardson Farm has a number of large corn mazes, but the fairy tale castle is perhaps the most…enchanting. The mazes change annually, and this castle is now closed, but it’s thrilling to view regardless.
Hampton Court Maze
(Image source)The oldest hedge maze in Britain is the Hampton Court maze; not so huge, perhaps, but amazing considering that it was built in 1689 and is written about in novels and poems. Hundreds of thousands of people visit this maze that was created during the time of William of Orange.
(Image source)The Imprint is an homage to the original mythical story of the maze: the foot is meant to represent a colossus, or minotaur’s foot. Built in 1975 in Gloucester, The Imprint receives thousands of visitors every year.
(Image via Grace Cathedral)The Grace Cathedral labyrinths in San Francisco, CA show the varied forms that mazes and labyrinths can take. Rather than taking organic forms in plants or trees, these architecturally designed stone and tile labyrinths – both an indoor and outdoor labyrinth are located at the cathedral – offer an inspiring chance for spiritual contemplation in the midst of the bustling city.
Lands End Labyrinth
Also in the Bay Area is the famous Lands End Labyrinth. From this stunning vista one can see the Golden Gate Bridge, all of the Bay, Angel Island, and the San Francisco skyline. It’s known the world over to spiritual seekers and labyrinth lovers as a place of unsurpassed beauty and tranquility.
Victoria Park Water Maze