The BlueShoe Traveler

Labyrinth Walker at St. Mark's Epsicopal Church, Antioch, TN.

St. Mark's Episcopal Church,
Scott Lee e-mail:
phone#: 615.361.4100
3100 Murfreesboro Pike, Antioch, TN 37013
public location, always open 

MAP to labryinth location

Walking a Labyrinth for Inner Peace:
An Old Art Finds New Fans

A Look at Labyrinths: Antiquity Meets New Age

While it wouldn't be exactly true to say that Ovid and Homer are on Nashvillians' tongues as often as Coca-Cola, most of us are aware (however dimly) that our city's heritage has been informed "by something Greek." In the 1780's, when the new town was perched on the edge of the frontier, Nashville became known as the "Athens of the West." It earned this title, in part, because of its educational institutes and its leaders' commitment to classical learning. Eventually, as the population moved westward, the honorific title for the city changed to "Athens of the South."

Our "Beyond the Blue" excursion this month reflects Nashville's classical heritage; we're going to take a look at the art of labyrinths, an ancient symbol that's making a modern day comeback, particularly among churches and hospitals. Archaeological evidence and ancient writings show that labyrinths go back thousands of years and were probably used for a variety of purposes, including the religious. The most famous labyrinth known to Westerners is from the Greek myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth created for him by Daedulus. In recent years, labyrinths as structures or paths to be walked have been built (often by churches) and maintained for the public's exploration and pleasure. People who walk labyrinths often testify to the soothing, meditative quality of the experience. Some claim that there are healing properties associated with labyrinths. Frequently placed in gardens, the labyrinth provides a plane where culture meets nature and the physical world is shaped in a beautiful fashion to evoke the spiritual world. One such labyrinth has been constructed near Nashville. For a different kind of travel experience, visit the labyrinth at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. It's free, it's open all the time, and it's in a lovely setting that is conducive to taking you "beyond the blue" of the normal hum-drum tourist attractions. MAP to labryinth location

Is a labyrinth a maze?

Yes and no. Many contemporary sources on labyrinths, particularly the ones you find on the Web, distinguish a labyrinth from a maze in the following manner:

A maze has high walls over which you can't see. Very often your visibility is restricted to a few steps ahead of you. The maze is designed as a puzzle or mind game to test you. You are forced to choose which paths you will take. If you take the wrong path, you'll get lost. Confusion, deception, and trickery are the hallmarks of a maze.

A labyrinth, by contrast, has low walls or none at all: you can see the whole design of the labyrinth at once. It is constructed as a single path that you follow to the center and then back out again. You don't have to choose between diverging paths. There's only one way in and one way out. The only choice you have to make is whether or not to enter. Progression, exploration, and enlightenment are the hallmarks of a labyrinth.

Knowledge that you aren't facing a maze keeps it from becoming a maze.

The above distinctions, however, may not be as hard and fast as they appear. We remember that the labyrinth constructed by Daedulus (as told in the myth of the Minotaur) was "an edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nore end, like the river Maeander, which returns on itself, and flows now onward, now backward, in its course to the sea." (Bulfinch's Mythology) Sounds like a maze, doesn't it?

One scholar suggests that the real distinction between a maze and a labyrinth "depends on one's knowledge of the structure before entering it. It will alwasy be a maze to the uninitiated. The maze's builder alone knows its secrets." (Max Oppenhemier, Jr., Ph.D)

The same structure could serve as a labyrinth to one walker and a maze to another. These dual roles are perhaps more than happenstance: "It is quite understandable that labyrinths on occasion symbolized the Universe, the latter being a labyrinth to God, its Creater, but a maze to humans." (Oppenhemier)

Given that prior knowledge, or "cueing" is significant in a walker's experience of labyrinths, it is not surprising that the modern builders of labyrinths go out of their way to reassure participants that they aren't going to "get lost" or fail in their walk. They tell the walkers that this isn't a puzzle or a test--you can go as slowly or quickly as you like and that you will always be on the same path. Knowledge that you aren't facing a maze keeps it from becoming a maze. Even so, labyrinth walkers will occasionally get turned around and walk in the opposite direction from where they intend . . . an indication of the challenge of walking a labyrinth.

Continue your exploration of labyrinths by visiting these sites:

Mid-Atlantic Geomancy: Labyrinths

Veriditas: The World Wide Labyrinth Project

Experience the On-Line Labyrinth

A Web of Labyrinths

The Labyrinth Society

How to Make a Labyrinth

Explore the Inner Labyrinth

Caedroia:The Journal of Mazes and Labyrinths

The St. Louis Labyrinth Project

The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club

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