“There’s a new maze… flower.. brick. … picnic… thing!! Behind deatheaters and that art building with the cool paintings of statues!
Fresh within the last week. Big men in big trucks came, masoned and left. What is it? A super awesome and completely extraneous future gazebo, perhaps?”
—Posted by Braille on Wesleying, September 6
Well, not quite. Considering such suggestions and the mystery surrounding this new addition to campus, I am delighted to take this opportunity to introduce you, Wesleyan, to the labyrinth. The details of how this installation came to our campus remain mostly mysterious to me, but I can tell you a little bit about what the labyrinth is, and how we can use it.
Although the words are often used interchangeably, a labyrinth is not a maze. There are no dead ends or forks in the road where one has to decide which way to go. Someone walking a labyrinth follows the circuitous path to the center, and then follows the path out the way she came in; the entrance becomes the exit. The labyrinth is an archetypal design, meaning it has arisen independently in many cultures of the world throughout history. There are labyrinth designs as old as 5000 years, and they can be found in traditions as far-flung as those of Native Americans, Jews, Celts, ancient Cretans, and Aborigines. The designs of labyrinths are often inspired by the circles and spirals of nature.
The paved pathway now permanently located between the Davison Art Center and the Anthropology Department building, is, in particular, a seven-circuit medieval labyrinth, modeled after the labyrinth laid into the floor of Chartes Cathedral in France in 1201. Many Christians of this era vowed to make pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. As the Crusades made such travel dangerous, the Church designated seven pilgrimage cathedrals throughout Europe where they built labyrinths, according to the principles of sacred geometry, for seekers to make symbolic pilgrimage. The Chartes labyrinth is the only one among the pilgrimage cathedrals that survives today, and was first rediscovered and replicated for our time in 1994 by Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Thus, the Chartes-style labyrinth is one of the most popular labyrinth designs encountered in the 21st century.
The labyrinth has become popular in the past two decades as a tool for quieting the mind and meditative walking. A few colleges around the country have them and find students frequenting them during stressful times like finals, and perhaps drop/add. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but it is intended to be a sacred space, not so often used for picnics. Many people find it useful to come to the labyrinth quietly, with an intention, need, or question in mind and to use everything that arises during the walk as a metaphor: the journey of the labyrinth comes to symbolize the larger journeys of our lives, and can act as a mirror in inspiring reflection on how we are traveling.
Many people from a variety of religious, spiritual, and non-religious or spiritual traditions have found the labyrinth a useful tool for reflection in times of transition, grief, and everyday contemplation of questions. As we attempt to reconcile the tragic loss of our beloved classmate and friend Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, and to figure out how to move forward as individuals and as a community, it is a gift to have a quiet space for reflection mysteriously built in to our campus.
For more information about the labyrinth, please visit www.veriditas.org, or e-mail questions to amccarthy@wes.