Labyrinth Types

Labyrinths have been known for over 4000 years, found on ceramics, coins and illustrations, as well as walkable labyrinths laid down both outside and indoors. They are found, in some form, in most religions and spiritual traditions across many cultures and societies. Despite their long history, there are still many unanswered questions about their origin and purposes.

Early labyrinths (e.g., Classical Cretan pattern, c. 2000 BCE) followed methodical and linear paths, while Medieval patterns exemplified by the well known Chartres labyrinth (c. 1200 CE) tended toward a non-linear and more ponderous path.

use the slider to compare a 7-circuit Classical and Medieval pattern

The number of circuits is determined by counting how many paths are crossed if a line was drawn outside to centre. Notice how the Classical pattern has a regular back-and-forth path from entrance (green) to centre (purple), while the Medieval pattern is irregular with more turns and more variability of path length between turns. Walking a Classical labyrinth tends to have a predictable, rhythmic feel while the Medieval patterns sometimes feel disorienting.

Chartres 11-circuit pattern.
Click for full-size image and try following the path with your finger

One of the most significant differences between the two types is that the Medieval pattern does far more to move the walker between outer and inner regions, and amongst quadrants, during the journey to centre than does the Classical style. The 11-circuit pattern found in the Chartres Cathedral does this particularly effectively.

The “petal” centre of the Chartres labyrinth has several interpretations. One of the more common is that it represents the six realms of existence: mineral, plant, animal, human, angelic, divine. Or, seeing as it is in a Catholic cathedral, others believe the petals to represent the 6 days of creation. Another unique Chartres feature are the cusps, called lunations, around the perimeter. There are 112 in total, or 28 per quadrant, which leads some to wonder of this feature may have functioned as a lunar calendar of some type.

Forest Labyrinth schematic

The Classical and Chartres styles are said to be archetypal labyrinth patterns because they, and variations of them, recur so commonly and widely around the world. But there are also a wide variety of other alternative and contemporary patterns, both circular and square as well as custom shape forms. The pattern of the Forest Labyrinth is based on the Medieval archetype, adapted from a 7-circuit Chartres pattern into a squared configuration in order to accommodate tree rows. A traditional petal centre has been integrated into the design as a nod to the Chartres pattern which inspired it.

The predominance of labyrinths declined after the Medieval period, and though there are many theories nobody quite knows why. A resurgence of labyrinth interest began in the 1990s, largely through the work and writing of Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, widely considered the founder of the modern labyrinth movement. In the time since, both the applications and the audience of labyrinth users has continued to broaden, and many new labyrinths have been created—now numbering over 6,000 in more than 80 countries.

This content was developed to supplement your understanding and experience of the Forest Labyrinth. To learn more about labyrinths see the Resources page for helpful books and web sites.

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