Sunday, November 28, 2010


'Im Labyrinth, verliert man sich nicht (You don't lose yourself in the Labyrinth)
Im Labyrinth, findet man sich (You find yourself)
Im Labyrinth begegnet man nicht dem Minotaurus (You don't face the minotaur in the labyrinth)
Im Labyrinth begegnet man sich selbst' (You face yourself)

-Hermann Kern

This is what is written on a sign outside the Labyrinth at the Erloeserkirche here in Bamberg. It's a simple labyrinth in church grounds that noone ever seems to walk. The words that you read before you go in hold one of the deepest truths about labyrinths and hints at the confusing nature of the legend of the minotaur in the labyrinth. There is no puzzle to entering and leaving a labyrinth, it is not a maze, there is only one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost physically. There would be no need for string to mark the way and a labyrinth certainly wouldn't trap a minotaur. So one has to really wonder what the myth was hinting at (or if the author was just confusing terminology).

Labyrinths are one of those things that have existed in so many cultures throughout the ages and in so many contexts. In Scandinavia, there are literally hundreds of labyrinths in coastal areas that people would walk before going to sea to 'rid themselves of trolls' or bad luck. There are tales of games played in labyrinths in which involve boys trying to rescue a girl from the middle of the labyrinth.

When people walk a labyrinth, they do it in any number of ways. Some folks like to be complex, build chants, hold hands, do it in a group, others like to read while walking but for me, this misses the point of what the labyrinth is about.

For me, the labyrinth is about silence and what you might face in the silence. When we become silent, even if it is only for long enough to walk a hypnotic pattern in the earth, we open ourselves up to ourselves. It's one of those times when we actually listen to ourselves, confront our thoughts and feelings. For me, the pattern, the hypnotic twists and turns is like a 'fast track' to clarity. Solutions we may not have thought of before may become clear, things that burdened us might suddenly have a resolution and you may leave the labyrinth feeling lighter or having come to some conclusion for how to deal with what it is that is bothering you.

People find silence scary. Today when I walked the labyrinth, my friend came with and experienced a labyrinth for the first time. Afterwards when we were in the cafe warming up, she told me that she'd felt a little reticent to walk it because of the silence and that she never got into meditation because the idea of silence is daunting - you never know what might come out of that silence.

And that's an interesting point, from nothing there is always something. It's not so much an emptiness as potential. Unbidden thoughts, dredged up feelings from the past and sometimes, just sometimes, voices that aren't your own and can't quite be explained.

Today it was a certain song for me. A song I sing for home ringing clear and glorious in the silence of my mind, an internal soundtrack providing peace.


crystaldawn said...

Stumbled across your blog a few weeks back while searching (desperately) for a female voice in the heathen / asatru / norse pagan world. Just wanted to drop in and say hi and glad you posted about the labyrinth. I have always been drawn to labyrinths and find the labyrinth walking experience very meaningful and useful. So much so that we made one in our backyard, I love having it there when ever I feel the need to take the journey (except when it is covered in snow as it is now ;) anyway thanks for blogging keep it up and I'd love to see a list of recommended resources etc. If you have the time or haven't already done so that I didn't see.

Birka said...

Hi Crystal, thank you for your comment.

As for stuff about labyrinths, I can recommend the following: (a class done by a friend of mine and with whom I built a labyrinth at this year's ECT)

The Labyrinth Society:

Worldwide Labyrinth Locator: