Tag Archives: labyrinth

Three times through the labyrinth

Usually when I make a labyrinth, I walk it twice. I’m the first one in, to make sure no terrible mistakes have been made. And I’m the last one through because I do that for me, and I rather like it.

But, there is that thing about Druids liking to do things three times.

Yesterday I walked the labyrinth three times. The first two were much as usual – I took intentions and things I want to work with on that journey, and used the process of walking to explore those ideas and settle them in my body. I took things I want to make real and walked to make them more real.

Last time I walked a labyrinth, one of the intentions I’d held was that my next one (ie the one I just made) I would make for Dr Abbey to walk. So, walking this time with him present was very powerful for me.

Third time through everything went a bit mad. I felt my posture shifting, and then my hips reconfigured. They really have – it wasn’t just a labyrinth strangeness. I did a 6 mile walk this morning, and my right hip has shifted so my right foot turns out less than it did.

I had an experience of being in my body that I’m still getting to grips with. A sensation of being both more substantial and more ephemeral. Like I was some sort of delicate elf being made of gossamer, but also wholly real and solid. I seldom feel entirely real and I never normally experience myself as delicate in this sort of way. I had a keen sense of where my edges are and of my completeness as a person in a way that felt like being in my own power. It was intense and transformative.

Coming out of this third labyrinth walk I felt the need to ground, and so dropped gently to my knees and put my hands in the grass. What followed was an intense, visceral re-experiencing of my first bardic initiation slightly over seventeen years ago.  I was thrown utterly and unexpectedly into a powerful tactile memory. The words from the initiation came back to me. I remembered what I had promised. I had a strange sense of being in conversation with the land. I’m still working out what to do with this.

It is quite likely that this is in some ways a culmination of other things going on in my life. But, the first two journeys through the labyrinth were much as I expected and follow the experiences I’ve had over some years of walking it twice. Three, by the looks of it, is the magic number. But of course we knew that, because Druids do everything three times.

Fortunately I had taken food and water with me and had a very lovely and supportive group of people around me and no one there I did not know.  It’s something I’ll think about carefully when I do it again. Because clearly I’m going to do it again.

Walking with intent

One of the things I love about labyrinths is that you can do whatever you want with them. If I lay one out in the grass at my local park, anyone who wants to come and walk it can. They can do so in whatever way they like and for whatever reasons, with no reference to what anyone else is doing. It’s a nice way to hold magical space for people. At the moment it’s also really good as as an answer to socially distanced celebration and ritual.

Labyrinths transcend any specific tradition. They are a form that allows us to bring our bodies into the same space without having to agree about meaning or approach. They’re also a very peaceful, powerful thing to do and require no previous experience.

Usually I walk the labyrinth as a meditative process. I like to be the first one in – to test that I’ve put it together properly, clear twigs from the path and make sure the space works. My process with the space begins far earlier, when I ask permission, talk to the land and put down the first curve of fabric to mark the centre. I will later do a second walk in and will be the last person to walk the labyrinth before we take it down.

For my midsummer labyrinth this week I did some things I have never done before. I walked with intent. I walked to make deliberate magical transformation and I walked in no small part to do that for someone else.  In doing so I learned that walking a labyrinth is a good focus for prayers and incantations. If your intention is clear, you can use the slow rhythm of the walking to set the pace for your words. The labyrinth I use takes a person into the middle and then you have to wind your way back out again. It makes sense to work your way into the heart of the issue on the way in, and use the return journey to work out how you want to emerge from the situation.

My first walk into the labyrinth was about things I wanted to change for the next day. It worked, simply. Or things came out right anyway – who can say? But I was pushing for a transformation and a radical change of energy, and that came, one way or another.

For my second journey, I was more focused on the slightly longer term, and I set intentions about the next labyrinth I will make. If that comes to pass I will probably write about it.

An unexpected third intention arose from this process. I want the space to make a permanent labyrinth. This goes with a number of other thoughts I’ve been having and is a good additional focus for the future I am trying to imagine and make real.

A barefoot labyrinth

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will have noticed that labyrinths have become a key part of my seasonal celebrations. Each one, so far, has brought significant new experiences.

My spring equinox labyrinth was the first one I’ve shared with a sizeable group – and perhaps most significantly, a group where the majority had not been involved in making the labyrinth. I found that quite affecting. There is a big difference for me in making something that is shared.

We used a different location – in the past I’ve built them all at the same spot in a public park – which has felt a bit exposed. This time we were in a very different public space. We were in a graveyard, with the ruins of a mediaeval church, an array of massive Victorian tombs, and the clearly marked square under which lies an Orphic mosaic. The labyrinth went over the mosaic, and coming from a mediaeval church design, seems quite at home there.

I had two striking experiences while walking the labyrinth. The first, on my way into it for the first time of the day, was a visceral sense of how that bit of the labyrinth sat on the ground in the park where we’ve previously done it, and a feeling of sympathy between the two locations.

There were gusts of wind, and at some point after I’d walked my way to the centre, the wind moved something. It’s likely that the other people with me fettled this, but fettled it the wrong way. This being a bigger labyrinth design, it’s not unusual to feel you must have gone wrong somewhere, and that you’ve walked this bit before as the paths fold back on themselves. As a consequence I was there for quite some time before I realised that the labyrinth had changed, creating a closed loop I could not leave. I returned to the centre, and pondered it out, and corrected things. It’s interesting to have the elements redesign the path in this way.

This is the first time I’ve been able to walk one of my labyrinths barefoot. This really adds to the experience, creating a much deeper feeling of rootedness and engagement. It becomes a much bigger sensory experience for having bare feet. It’s also easier to handle tighter turns – some uncertainty about space meant this was the smallest I’ve made the design, resulting in tight turns at the centre where attentive footwork was required – a smaller labyrinth encourages me to go slower, because of the tight turns. A bigger labyrinth creates the room and the incentive to pick up speed.

I don’t know where or when the next one will happen, but I’ve made a proper bag to hold the parts of the labyrinth, and that’s certainly a commitment to doing more of them.

The Imbolc Labyrinth

It was cold, I grant you, but not too cold. Making a labyrinth is, as I discovered back in 2016, an intensely physical business taking me an hour to an hour and a half (depending on extra hands). But, it’s not the kind of physical activity to make you warmer, so I was unsure as to whether we’d get away with it in early February.

We did.

The making process means a person has to engage with the great outdoors for the duration, and that in turn prompts meditations on the season and its implications. I can’t say I went into the labyrinth with a clear head and walked it in a perfectly contemplative state, because my concentration wasn’t equal to that. But, I walked it twice, thinking about spring, and listening to the bird song – which has noticeably increased in recent days. I walked thinking about my intentions for the year and what I want to bring into the world. Each time I walked out of the labyrinth feeling clearer in my sense of direction.

The process of building and walking inspired me to think about when and where I want to make future labyrinths, and who I might want to make them for. I also came away with the certainty that I need to make a bag for the labyrinth to live in when it’s at home, and I need more material. I became aware of how the things I use for building only have this role, and have a growing identity as a labyrinth. I need to build on that with a labyrinth bag.

I find rituals difficult if it’s just me, or me and my immediate family – three isn’t enough people for ritual. It is enough people for a labyrinth. I can accommodate more if I need to. There’s little planning- just pick the time and place. At the moment, the labyrinth seems like a better answer to seasonal ritual for me than actual seasonal ritual. It will be interesting to see how this plays out through the year.

12 circles and Labyrinth success

My latest Labyrinth experiment took me back to the jackdaw grove, better prepared. I’d spent a while cutting strips of fabric to use for markers, and large triangles to help me define turns in the design. I knew I didn’t have enough fabric for the whole thing, but I got the first six circles, which reduced the need for foraging and sped up the whole process. It took three of us 2 hours working flat out to create the 12 circles labyrinth. We all walked it. A toddler and parent walked a bit of it, and a nice man we didn’t know came and walked it too, which felt really validating.

By the end of the process, I had the same cleared out, free floating headspace I normally have to spend a day walking to achieve. While this was intensive on the body (2 hours full of bending and squatting has left my muscles a tad sore today!) It’s not on the scale of time or impact as a 15 mile walk, but still does wonderful restorative things to my head.

It was a lovely afternoon. A buzzard, a raven and a kestrel flew over (this was not a ‘wild’ space). There were little whirlwinds playing in the leaves, and the sun shone down up on us.

Strips of fabric have charm, but they take a lot of cutting, and they catch in the wind easily. They need weighting down with found items. Leaves tend to catch on trousers and boots as you go past, and can cause havoc with rearranging paths. Better not to forage recently cut branches with dead leaves on them. It is better to make a bigger labyrinth with a more generous width of path or some of the tight turns near the centre are a bit awkward. This, however, means using more material. Very thick string/very thin rope is good – we had some white cord left over from a different project, it stays still in the wind, shows up well and isn’t heavy to carry.

I have added ten small carbon poles from a broken tent to my kit bag – as these will help delineate the turns. I just happened to have exactly the right number lying about!

It’s been a really exciting experience, walking the labyrinth we had made was something of a high. I know I can do it, so I’m thinking about where, when and how to do it again – and how to improve the kit. More white cord, I think…

Here’s an image from the beginnings of the labyrinth…


Walking the Invisible Labyrinth

I woke up one morning recently with the entirely mad idea of walking an invisible labyrinth. I feel less mad about this having read Halo Quin’s fantastic comment on a previous post about how she’s working with singing a labyrinth map so that she can walk it without having to have one laid out.

My latest experiment has been to draw a good sized version of my preferred labyrinth, and to try and follow it by walking the map. I had a flat-ish safe-ish sort of place outside, big enough based on previous assessments, and the map clutched in my hands, and off I went, very slowly.

I learned, at the very first turn that I would have to rotate the map in my hands constantly so that I could see the next move each time. It was a little bit fiddly, but a slow pace is a great enabler. At first, it felt weird, and a lot of my concentration was taken up by dealing with the process – so it didn’t feel especially spiritual to begin with. As I got into it, I could feel the flow of the journey, and that was quite an affecting shift. As I came into the last few turns, knowing I had very nearly walked to the centre, I felt elated.

I would guess that the route I walked was a very messy labyrinth, but none the less, it created a process in my mind. I think that with practice, I would get better at this, would need to scrutinise the map less and would feel the process more. I imagine it would be possible to ingrain the route into my body so thoroughly that I could walk it without reference to a map at all.

I have further labyrinth experiments planned, so there is definitely more to come, but it will likely be more sporadic from here.

A Labyrinth in a Jackdaw grove

It wasn’t a well-planned thing. We’d intended to go out to the jackdaw grove for the full moon, and, with my labyrinth obsession well under way, the larger space seemed like a place to try and build one. There were four of us working on it, and we’d allowed an hour. In that time, we managed to forage and lay out enough material for nine concentric circles, with enough space between them for a person to comfortably walk. We needed 12 to make it work, and then there’s the dividing of circles to make the winding path.

As the light dwindled, foraging for twigs and pine cones became more difficult. All the while, the jackdaws were coming into the trees around us, and a pipistrelle bat had come out to feed. It was a wonderful atmosphere to be working in, even though for much of the time we all knew that we weren’t going to make a labyrinth we could walk. I’d not gone in expecting success, just hoping to learn from the process – and I did. We’d found a perfect, welcoming space. We would need more people, and at least a two hour working period. We might be able to give ourselves a head start. Another labyrinth exploring session would be required.

In terms of making a walkable labyrinth, it was a total failure. In terms of being a beautiful, encouraging experience, it was nothing but win. Which strikes me as being consistent with the entire notion of a labyrinth. You don’t go anywhere when you set out to walk one. You just end up back where you started. It’s not about drama, it’s about the process.

By the time the light faded, it was obvious we’d struggle to make a labyrinth to the design I love, with less than a 12 foot radius. Or about Four meters, middle to edge, if you prefer. That rules out doing it in most indoor settings. I had been toying with the idea of doing an indoors one with scarves, but considering the circles in the fading light, I could see that just wouldn’t work.

I have an opportunity next year to get people walking a labyrinth in an indoors setting. I think that’s still possible, and I think (this may seem outrageous) that it can be done without building a physical labyrinth at all. This is something I will need to test, results will be posted here as they come in.

We retreated to the pub, and I drew the labyrinth, and talked about it, and we plotted.

Making a labyrinth

I’m on something of a labyrinth journey at the moment (you can read my first blog on the subject here). Having mastered drawing my labyrinth, the next move was clearly to try and make one. I decided to use the space outside my flat, and fallen leaves, as this was easy all round. It was a still day. I intended to make it as small as possible – a labyrinth for a mouse – but I didn’t really know what that would mean in practice and whether I could turn what was in my head into a physical form.

The first thing I realised was that concentric circles already existed on the grass, suggested by a number of small toadstools in incomplete fairy rings. I gave this a moment of serious thought, and came to the conclusion that I was going to have to work with the toadstool rings, and centred accordingly and that all got off to a good start.

I got eight circles down, by which point it was clear that to make a mouse labyrinth was bigger than I had imagined. Then the wind came to play, and just whipped up a few leaves, and suddenly I didn’t have circles anymore, I had a spiral. It was a deeply uncanny moment.

The thing is, that this little area is always full of whirlwinds. What we do here is spirals, and I felt very keenly that my concentric circles just didn’t work, and wouldn’t work and that I was in the wrong place. I can take a hint. Grateful for what I had learned, I started planning my next move…

One of the things that became clear to me in this process was that I really do want to incorporate found, natural items into labyrinth making. It becomes an act of communicating with, engaging with a place rather than just going out and imposing a structure on it. A seasonal element enters the mix – what I can work with will vary through the year.

On the whole I think there is a meditative aspect to making the labyrinth – even my barely started circles gave me reason to think that. It was a good thing to do, and left me wanting to try again. Which I duly did that evening.

The next instalment in the adventure will be out tomorrow!

Into the Labyrinth

I’ve a longstanding fascination with labyrinths. It started as a purely visual interest, and then a few years ago, I started having opportunities to walk them. Gloucester cathedral, on a number of occasions, put vast canvas labyrinths down for people to explore. I was able to walk a number of them over about a year.

The process of slowly and deliberately walking a labyrinth does something to the mind and body. I’m still not sure how to best put that into words, but as you walk yourself into the centre of it, you walk the shape of it into your mind. I rapidly discovered that any labyrinth which takes you straight out once you’ve finished it, is not as good for me as one that requires a journey in and out. I found the experience of walking it soothing, and settling, and it is one of my favourite meditative practices.

The trouble with it is, I don’t have a big garden, or a vast living room, or any means to keep the cathedral making these experiences available. They don’t do them anymore. I went so far as to research giant canvas labyrinths, but they start around the thousand pound mark, I certainly can’t afford one, and even if I did, I have nowhere to roll it out.

This summer, the yearning for a labyrinth became a call I could no longer ignore, and I started thinking in earnest about how to make it possible. As I was banner making for a local event, I wondered if we could paint one onto fabric, but the scale it takes to make a complicated one work, is clearly beyond me.

A day of being too ill to do much gave me a window of opportunity, and I sat down with the internet and looked at labyrinths, until I tracked down the one I wanted. One I had walked, and that I knew I would fine especially effective. All I had to do was make sense of it, and so I stared at it, and counted, and looked for patters than I could remember.

Apparently the one I’m obsessed with is a medieval labyrinth. This is Sebastián Asegurado’s version, taken from Wikipedia:

12 concentric circles. Patterns of negative space that define the turns. The placing of the crossroads at the entrance. By the end of that day, I could reliably draw a version of the above labyrinth from memory. I found the process of drawing it echoed the experience of walking it, but was not an entirely satisfying substitute.

I had to take it forward…

What happened next, will be tomorrow’s blog post, as I keep exploring the labyrinth, I’ll post my experiences. It’s a project I am incredibly excited about.