So, I went for a run in the cemetery this weekend. That might sound a little odd, but it's a very park-like cemetery with a big pond and geese and ducks. People bring little kids to feed the ducks all of the time and there are always couples walking their dogs and whatnot. Also, it's an old cemetery with some really interesting tombstones and mausoleums "“ think of a smaller version of PÃ¨re Lachaise. Plus, I always feel a little bit like Nate Fisher from Six Feet Under when I run in the cemetery.
Anyway, because this is such a big cemetery I always find something new when I'm running or walking the dogs. This weekend I found a labyrinth.
I'll be the first to admit, I didn't know there was a difference between a labyrinth and a maze. In a maze, you're offered different options. You can go this way or that way, left or right, stumble upon dead ends, etc. In a labyrinth you only ever have one option. You enter the labyrinth at the mouth of the path and follow that path until you get to the center. Then you turn around and follow the path back out. "Uh, so, what's the point?" you might be thinking. A lot of people walk labyrinths for prayer or meditation. It's said to have a very calming effect.
In very ancient times, (Pliny's Natural History, written somewhere around 77 AD, mentions four ancient labyrinths) it's believed that labyrinths weren't necessarily used for prayer purposes "“ instead, they were intended to trap evil spirits. But by medieval times, the design had expanded to include religious motifs such as the path to God (the entrance to the labyrinth was birth and the middle "goal" was God).
Another misconception about labyrinths, at least for me, is that they have "walls" "“ you might be visualizing a hedge maze (I was). And they can, but that's not necessarily the norm. That's why I was a little confused when I happened upon the labyrinth in the cemetery "“ there was a sign explaining the labyrinth, but when I looked to where it pointed, I saw nothing but grass. But when I looked a little closer, there were bricks set level with the grass that marked the path of the labyrinth. That seems to be more typical of labyrinths. And they don't have to be made of grass or hedges at all "“ lots of labyrinths are painted on a floor or inlaid out of marble or something along those lines. After my run this weekend I became very intrigued by the whole labyrinth concept and did a little research, so I'm sharing the most interesting tidbits with you guys.
The First Labyrinth (we think)
To honor Theseus and recognize that he saved all of Greece from this horrible monster, the labyrinth was put on coins that date back to three centuries before Christ. The coins are still around "“ that's them in the picture. But interestingly, no bits of the actual palace labyrinth at Knossos have ever been found.
Apparently England used to be rampant with labyrinths "“ although there are a bunch around today, only eight of them are considered "old". The Saffron Walden labyrinth is one of them. It's the largest of the eight and has been around at least since 1699. An ash tree used to stand in the center, but now it's just open space.
Carved into the Tor "“ the WHOLE hillside "“ are seven deep, mostly symmetrical terraces. A person walking the terraces will eventually end up in the same place they started "“ just like a labyrinth. This is pretty hard to prove, though, so for now it's just a theory. Another (outlandish?) theory is that the Tor was shaped into a spiral maze for religious purposes and that the Tor was where the underworld king's spiral castle was located.
I have to say, all of this talk of labyrinths plus the warm weather that seems to have FINALLY hit Iowa this weekend has me wanting to go in our (miniscule) backyard and build my own labyrinth. Maybe this summer.
Do you guys know of any labyrinths in your areas? If not, check out the world-wide Labyrinth Locator. It doesn't have my tiny little cemetery labyrinth on there, but maybe you'll have better luck than I did! Let us know if you've discovered any in your town or on your travels.