Walking a Venerable Path

Herbs add scent and sensuality to the ancient practice of labyrinth walking.

| February/March 2005

  • The classical three-circuit labyrinth
  • The elaborate 11-circuit Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

  • The classical seven-circuit labyrinth

  • Ancient cultures around the world have used some version of the labyrinth, but today many people consider labyrinths an avenue for exploring spiritual aspects of life.
    Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto

The World is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! —William Wordsworth

If, as the poet says, the world has weighed you down lately and you feel that your heart is no longer quite your own, you may find the ease and quiet reflection you need in the roundabout of a labyrinth. In a labyrinth, you’ll find no dead-ends, no decisions as to the right way to go. One path leads from entrance to center. As in life, hairpin turns and doubling back may mark your way, but the route leads inexorably to your destination.

In materials as well as design, a labyrinth is limited only by your imagination, and can be as grand or as humble as you please “I’ve made them out of kitty litter on the floor that can be swept up afterwards,” says Virginia Burt, landscape architect and principal of Visionscapes, an Ontario, Canada company specializing in gardens designed to foster spiritual awareness. Rocks, bricks and paint on concrete or canvas are other materials that can comfortably outline a labyrinth.

Although herbal labyrinths aren’t common, the long association of herbs with knot gardens and parterres make them a natural fit for use in labyrinths. If labyrinth lovers — and there’s a network of them worldwide — need another good reason for using herbs in a labyrinth, it would be the strong spiritual benefits attributed to labyrinth-walking. Tracing its twisted spiral path (see Page 45) is said to quiet the mind, ease grief, inspire creativity and provide insights into life issues and problems. What better addition to this journey than the scent of herbs?


“Labyrinths are a sacred space,” Burt says. “I describe the experience as the Three I’s: initiation, at the entrance; illumination, during the inward journey and at the center; and integration, on the outward journey. It’s a walking meditation.”

The heady scent of herbs adds another dimension to the spiritual and emotional impact of a labyrinth. And if all this discussion of the spiritual seems a little far-out to the practical-minded herb gardener, planting a labyrinth can be counted as one more novel way to enjoy gardening with our favorite plants.

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