Skull Talk: Labyrinth’s Ancient Practice in Modern Life

On a recent Saturday I traveled two hours to drop off my son and his friend at their weekend drum corps practice. I took a detour on my return trip to visit Wisdom House, a retreat and conference center located in Litchfield, Connecticut and home to what is believed to be the first outdoor labyrinth in the state.

Labyrinth, courtesy of Wisdom House

Labyrinth, courtesy of Wisdom House

Though the origins are not clear, the earliest known labyrinths date back 4,000 years and they have been found all over the world, made in a wide range of sizes from various materials. During the Middle Ages, they were incorporated into the floor designs of European churches. They began to appear again throughout Europe during the 1970s, and by the 1990s, they were being installed throughout the United States. The labyrinth at Wisdom House was built in 1997.

When I arrived, there were three people at the labyrinth. The place is large, and they were quiet, contemplative. I could have easily entered undisturbed, but decided to wait in hope of solitude and went back to the main building to pass some time.

I walked the halls slowly, looking at pictures and articles that hung on the walls. I perused merchandise in the bookstore, including a carved wooden labyrinth whose path is traced with fingertips rather than footsteps.

In the Marie Louise Trichet Gallery, an exhibit titled Ephemera: Holding a Moment in Your Hand, caught my interest. It featured the work of Dr. Jean Linville, who created it using wooden objects that began as trees and, over time, took on new identities.

Ice cream maker

Ice cream maker

Ice cream maker, under the lid

Ice cream maker, under the lid

Through Dr. Linville, they have been transformed once again. Items such as fences, driftwood, a library chair, an old-fashioned ice cream maker, and a typeset drawer have been used to create interactive “books.” The exhibit includes poetry that Dr. Linville has written and labyrinths are a recurring motif that she compares to trees in form and as a symbol of life. The artist works out of a studio her father helped build with planks that came from trees planted by her grandfather more than seventy-five years ago.

I went back to the labyrinth where now only a wild turkey concerned with his own destination was passing through. I began where a stone set into the earth points the way in. It was not a particularly remarkable experience, but it was pleasant. The breeze and the sound of birds were a soothing backdrop for reflecting upon inner and outer journeys. I thought about long stretches and sharp turns, time and transformation, and about an artist who, like me, is inspired by trees and is reminded of her father by the smell of sawdust.

I had gone to Wisdom House for writing ideas and left with an unexpected sense of comfort and connection. Late the next day, my son came home from band camp, tired but excited about the show this season. It is called “Labyrinth.”

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*Poor Yorick appreciates the generosity and support of Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti of Wisdom House and Dr. Jean Linville for use of the photographs. To view more of Dr. Linville’s work, please visit www.jeanlinvillephd.com.

 

Sources for Further Reference

www.labyrinthsociety.org
www.labyrinthos.net
www.wisdomhouse.org

 

Catherine D’Andrea
Associate Editor



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