Since we receive many calls from people considering installing a permanent outdoor labyrinth, we have developed this concise information sheet regarding important first considerations when building a labyrinth. Print these pages and share them with your church committee or others who may help you build the labyrinth. As you have already noted, we are available as labyrinth makers for any involvment from consulting to complete installation. You can reach me (Robert Ferré) directly at (800) 873-9873.
Labyrinths can be located just about anywhere, including sloping ground. The paths can be diverted to go around trees, which are incorporated into the line, between the paths. The main consideration is compatibility between site, design, and intended use. If you want wheelchair access, for example, then a grass hillside wouldn't work very well. On level ground or in low areas, drainage is a necessary design feature. Many people believe that the location of the labyrinth can affect its energy and effectiveness. There is a strong tradition among dowsers to determine a certain amount of information during the siting process by asking the earth itself certain questions, and receiving answers via their dowsing implements. Non-dowsers can use prayer, intuition or any other process that allows you to tap into that deeper knowing that is available to all of us when we ask. Although the features of the site may necessarily determine many of the details, here is some of the information a dowser would determine.
1) Whether or not a labyrinth should be located there.
Of course these answers may also be determined through a rational or intellectual approach. You can also ask regarding construction materials, volunteers, and many other aspects of building the labyrinth. It reminds me of reading the neoplatonist writer Boethius, who comments, "Of course, any practical person would first invite the help of the gods before commencing a project." Of course.
A different approach is often taken by churches, because they hold that the power of the labyrinth comes not from the earth so much as from the spiritual practice of those who walk it. That is, it is by using the labyrinth as a form of pilgrimage that we go deep inside and find meaning. This comes from ourselves, not from the labyrinth. In Gothic churches, labyrinths always had the entrance opening to the west, so that when you entered the labyrinth you were facing east, towards the altar and the rising son (risen Son). The Chartres labyrinth, in particular, incorporates important symbolism which is represented through intent of design, not from dowsing. So, these are two different traditions and possibilities.
Besides the cost of the labyrinth itself, on-going maintenance is an important factor. In Scandinavia, for example, many 7-circuit labyrinths are made of stone, placed on the ground in the appropriate pattern. This is a very easy way to lay out a labyrinth. Unless the ground is treated and covered with mulch, grass will grow between the rocks and frequent trimming will be necessary. The same is true for landscaping a labyrinth. In Zurich there is a public labyrinth garden, requiring careful maintainence by a large group of local citizens. Some kinds of plants need little care, while others need constant attention. Public labyrinths are generally built to be low maintenance, durable, and to withstand plenty of use.
LABOR AND MATERIALS
Materials and labor determine the cost of construction. Manual labor performed by volunteers can greatly reduce the cost. For public and institutional labyrinth, wheelchair accessibility is an important consideration. Below is a brief summary of a few common labyrinth media.
Stones or Brick
If stones are simply placed on the earth, grass or weeds will grow around them, requiring maintenance. Laying down a material that allows the earth to breathe but acts as a growth barrier eliminates grow-through. In the case of large labyrinths, such material can amount to hundreds of dollars in cost. You can draw the design right on the materials and lay out the pattern with stone or brick. Fill the paths with sand or mulch or other material. Total cost of materials should be in the $1,000 - $1,500 range. An alternative is to use brick for the lines, burying it in the ground so that it is flush with the surface. The paths remain grass. Lawn mowers can drive over the labyrinth without difficulty.
Labyrinths can be built with no expense for materials by just mowing the pattern into the grass, leaving the space between the paths uncut. Another possibility is to dig out the paths with a sod cutter. Thus, the paths are simply dirt. Weeds could become a problem, so it is recommended to cover the paths with earth cloth and fill them with mulch, gravel, or other material. We once received from a municipality a free load of gravel (20 tons or so) which was actually asphalt road surface removed by a machine before repaving the street. This gravel became hard and formed an all-weather surface. (Again, the mowers could drive right over it. We left an expanse of grass two feet wide between the paths.) The ultimate earthworks labyrinth is made by forming a henge. This is done by digging out the path and piling the dirt beside it, forming a mound. The mound can be planted with grass or wildflowers, and the path can be paved if necessary with gravel or brick. Even the sides of the henge can be dressed up with stone or brick. Such labyrinths are highly labor intensive, but have existed for centuries in England.
Pavement labyrinths are all-weather and long-lasting. Labyrinths have been constructed from granite, terrazzo and brick pavers, all of which is beautiful but costly (ranging from $30,000 to $200,000, depending on the skill of the workers and size of the labyrinth). An alternative is to pour a concrete slab and put the labyrinth pattern on the surface. The concrete can be stained or painted. It can also be cut, engraved, sand blasted and otherwise treated. We have developed some proprietary concrete techniques.(See concrete and polymer and granite.
Temporary labyrinths may be installed to build interest and to raise funds for a subsequent permanent labyrinth. Temporary labyrinths can be made from a host of different materials, from painting the grass to laying out objects (stone, wood blocks) to using rope or surveyor's flags. Some permanent labyrinths are made by first painting the pattern on the ground. That first step indicates that a permanent labyrinth will hopefully follow. (We have a $5 booklet describing how to make temporary labyrinths. The same instructions are included on this website. See instructions.)
Watching people walk the labyrinth is calming and quite fascinating. Placing benches or other seating around the labyrinth is a nice touch. A pole could be installed in the center to hold a gas lantern for walking the labyrinth at night. Signage describing how to walk the labyrinth is helpful. Providing a guest book for people to write down their comments will allow you to know how some of the people experienced the labyrinth.