Friday, February 15, 2008

Walking Labyrinths: Learning The Art & Beginning The Practice


Walking labyrinths got added to my toolkit of practice in the early 90s. The Oakland, CA, Parks and Recreation Department commissioned Alex Champion to design and build a small Cretan labyrinth in Lake Merritt Park. Lake Merritt is a large urban lake in downtown Oakland, home to the USA's first national wildlife sanctuary and first theme park, Children's Fairyland. The labyrinth, dug into the ground, was located near a grove of cork oak trees on the northern shore of the lake. The southerly view looked out over the lake into, for a city, fairly unobstructed sky.

An invitation to the opening day maze walking, guided by Alex Champion himself, was posted in my local Pagan shop, Glenn Turner's Ancient Ways, and a bunch of us, including me, turned up that sunny morning to meet Champion, learn how and why he had constructed this labyrinth, and get some hints about walking it.

Alex Champion turned out to be a wise, charming, insightful, earthy labyrinth maker. Although I didn't know it then, he's also one of the world's leading labyrinth designers and builders. Before he puts in one of his labyrinths, he dowses (he's a traditional dowser) for two sorts of energy lines, an kind of earth line and a Water line. He sites his labyrinths to include these lines, their intersections, and where they create eddies and vortexes. This little labyrinth at Lake Merritt certainly did.

After Champion explained his siting and layout plan to us, he offered some guidance on walking the labyrinth. He suggested that we do it several times, as a group, individually, rapidly, very slowly, with eyes open, and with eyes closed. All the while paying close attention both to the movement pattern as the labyrinth wound inward, outward, and, finally, to the center. And paying close attention to the energies patterned beneath and through the labyrinth.

It was remarkable to walk the labyrinth in these various ways. The effect of the pattern and the energies changed according to how rapidly or slowly we walked, according to eyes open or shut, and according to how attentive to the site and pattern we were. We could just walk the labyrinth like it was a plain old path. Or we could walk the labyrinth like it was a gateway into a different and magically illuminating realm.

Over the next several years, this labyrinth in Lake Merritt became one of my regular ritual places. I'd walk it on my own whenever I could. But more tellingly, several groups I hung out with did many working there, mostly at night. Always the effects on awareness were direct and notable. And we weren't the only magically minded folks who did work there, either. This little Cretan earthwork became a city park altar.

The following years, hard use, and weather took its toll on the labyrinth. The flowers atop the mounds died. The mounds get worn by many, many feet walking over them. The stone borders disappeared. The earthwork became plainer. The energy pattern remained, but the earthy pattern faded. It got more difficult to work in the place. At least as far as my working there went.

I learned a lot about place and patterns in places, energies and moving within and through them from Alex Champion and from working with his little Cretan labyrinth. Maze walking has become an important skill in my overall practice. We can get to know the Earth and its wonders quite well by walking in curves, weaving ways, and circles on it, with it.

Here's a link to Alex Champion's web site, Earth Symbols:

Here's a link to a very good article on Champion and his outlook on labyrinths from SF Weekly:

Here's a link to a site with some photos of the Lake Merritt labyrinth:

And here's a link to Labyrinthos, the best overall labyrinth site:

Note: grafik from

1 comment:

Yvonne said...

Hi Pitch

I love labyrinths, they are very special. We made one in the garden but the lawn keeps swallowing it.

My favourite one is in Saffron Walden, Essex, UK.

PS - replied to your comment on my post.