Labyrinths provide solace for the soul while walking.
David-Anthony Curtis of Phippsburg, Maine, likes to think of the labyrinth as a metaphor for life’s journey.
However, when the twists and turns of fate led him to Maine from Miami, in June 2001, he had no idea that his journey would also lead him to help institute a renaissance of labyrinths in the mid-coast Maine area. In the last four years, he has helped design and build four labyrinths in this area, with more on the drawing board for the future.
It wasn’t until after the events of September 11, 2001, that he seriously considered the possibility that his land in Phippsburg was large enough for a labyrinth.
A walking labyrinth usually measures from thirty to fifty feet in diameter and consists of a series of single concentric lines, usually circles, but sometimes squares, that always lead to the center and then back out again. Unlike a maze, it has no dead ends or false pathways.
“At that time, I was overwhelmed and reeling with the grief of the 9/11 tragedy,” said Curtis, now thirty-two.
While working in the woods, he noticed how the wind seemed to whisper in the pines and the way sunlight peeked through branches and gave the ground a golden glow. “The land is very beautiful here,” he said, “and it almost seemed that this land was waiting for something special like a labyrinth.”
After measuring carefully, Curtis decided that the land was the right size for the space needed. His decision to build a labyrinth was, in part, linked to watching scenes on television of people in New York City on September 11. “As ashes were falling from the sky, people were clearing them to walk the outdoor labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church.”
Walking a labyrinth has long been considered a source of solace, but its origins remain a mystery. Although prehistoric labyrinth petroglyphs, or etchings on rock, have been found along the coastline of northwestern Spain and northern Italy, it remains hard to pinpoint their date or purpose.
The earliest known example of an authentically dated labyrinth is on an inscribed clay tablet which was preserved by fire, from1200 B.C., in a palace in southern Greece, according to Jeff Saward, labyrinth scholar and author of Labyrinths and Mazes: A Complete Guide to Magical Paths of the World.
Early evidences of the labyrinth, often in art, pottery, and stone etchings as well as large areas of the ground, have been found in practically all religious traditions, cultures, and places, including Peru, Iceland, Egypt, India, northern Mexico, Brazil, Europe, northern Africa, and the United States, especially in Arizona and New Mexico.
According to Sig Lonegren, a European geomancer (one who studies energy lines of the earth) interest in labyrinths is cyclic: “It comes and goes in cycles throughout history.”
“It was the geomancers,” Lonegren said, “who built the ancient sacred sites from the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge to the gothic cathedrals in France and England where a number of labyrinths can be found.”
Legend has it that the labyrinth can be linked to the ancient circles supposedly used by the KnightsTemplar, and supposedly transported to France.
“Perhaps, more old labyrinths can be found in Scandinavia than in any other place. The Vikings built them at inland sites along the coast, thinking that by walking them, they would ensure good wind and good catches.”
At the beginning of the twentieth century, he said, people stopped walking these labyrinths when motorized ships became the mode of water transportation and the need for good winds decreased.
A resurgence of interest started in the late 1960’s and continues today.
Mid-Coast Maine Labyrinths:
The classical seven- circuit design David-Anthony Curtis used at his Phippsburg labyrinth, Whispering Grove, differs from the more elaborate Chartres design, and duplicates the oldest known labyrinth design, sometimes known as the Cretan or Celtic labyrinth.
The Whispering Grove labyrinth offers a wide range of planned labyrinth walks for almost every holiday and season, including full-moon celebrations. Go online for directions, to check for events, and to be added to an e-mail list.
Although the circles and squares of many labyrinths in Europe are delineated by hedges of shrubbery, all of the ones designed by David-Anthony Curtis are marked with stones from the Maine landscape.
Curtis’ most recent construction, The Sweetser Labyrinth, is located at 174 Mere Point Road, behind the Sweetser Learning and Recovery Center—a center which serves adults who are recovering from the effects of trauma, mental illness and substance abuse.
“When we decided to have a healing garden, I knew I wanted a labyrinth,” said Sweetser’s program coordinator, Kelly Staples. Staples had walked the labyrinth at First Parish Church, she said. “I liked it and wanted to have one, too. I thought it would be a nice connection to the community and could be accessible to the public, as long as there isn’t snow on the ground.”
When Staples met David-Anthony Curtis in connection with his work as Men’s Outreach Education Coordinator at Merrymeeting AIDS Support Services, she asked him to design it and build it. Both the healing garden and labyrinth were funded by a grant from the J.T. Gorman Foundation.
Before Curtis helped with the Sweetser Labyrinth, he designed and helped build Hidden Meadows at 7 Harding Drive in East Brunswick.
This labyrinth graces the landscape of trees behind Donna McGowen’s home with borders of flowers, stones, and angelic statues. “It is a place of comfort,” she said.
McGowen, who is a Reiki master and healer with training in Native American traditions, said that the sense of peace, tranquility, and privacy helps draw people to her healing sanctuary, Hidden Meadows Healing Center. Go to her Web site, for more information.
Meadow of Angels
Another labyrinth designed by Curtis, Meadow of Angels, sits in the grass at the back of Merilyn Tombrink’s Topsham home. “All of the stones we used to build this came from all over the world,” said Tombrink, a healer who gives her time at the People-Plus Center in Brunswick. “Some are from other countries. I have ones from Gaza and ones from Ireland.”
The deer like to walk this labyrinth at night, according to Tombrink. “Sometimes I see deer prints all over it. I guess they just like the energy in the circle.” Unlike the other labyrinths in the mid-coast area, there are no special events planned at this time. However, it is open to anyone who would like to walk.
Southern Maine Labyrinths
Hidden Springs Labyrinth—This labyrinth, owned and operated by psychotherapist Francoise Paradis, in Buxton, replicates the design used in Chartres Cathedral, France, with one exception: “The flame in the center, which is not present in the Chartres Labyrinth, was placed as a symbol of transformation.
“At Hidden Springs,” said Paradis, “I use the labyrinth in my work with individual clients and at retreats. Some clients just enjoy the quiet meditative walk to the center and back. Others have very profound experiences that open the door for change and healing.”
This year, on September 11, the Labyrinth Guild of New England will journey on its fall pilgrimage to Hidden Springs. Go online for more information.
Meditation Labyrinth at Cliff House Resort Hotel, Oguinquit
According to Debby Fowles, who writes a guide to Portland and Southern Maine, this labyrinth is in front of the Cliff House’s new spa building, which opened in 2002. It offers the soothing sounds of the ocean, she said, and views of the Atlantic Ocean. Free to public.