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Have you ever built a labyrinth?
April 13, 2014 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I feel a call to build a labyrinth. I might be able to do this in a public space (think college campus, or residence). What tips or guidance do you have about materials, plans, or the like?
posted by Riverine to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I can say that wooden stakes with plastic sheeting stapled to it isn't really sturdy enough for a windy day in Chicago, but it is inexpensive.
posted by wotsac at 5:41 PM on April 13

People will try to climb up the walls no matter how obviously a bad idea it is. So have walls that won't fall down. Straw bales stacked on top of each other are not great for that.
posted by fshgrl at 6:08 PM on April 13

I suspect the OP is talking about this type of labyrinth, not a minotaur/cornmaze type.
posted by threeants at 6:19 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

What sort of labyrinth do you have in mind? A labyrinth doesn't need walls at all; it can be nothing more than an intricately drawn path on which people can walk and meditate.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:20 PM on April 13

Labyrinths (of the path variety) have become a sort of a thing for churches (in particular) lately, to the point where there are specialists. A fair number are large enough to be viewed from the air. Some are narrow-paved paths through the grass, others resemble herb gardens or are even wholly disguised by what looks like a formal garden until you enter the path, and others are fully paved like a plaza.

I guess my main consideration would be the potential users, the terrain/surface/features, and the setting. A religious property would likely want to be purely meditative. A more public place might have children, a college campus students, and a sense of play may be incorporated and expected. If I were putting down any paving stones I would want to do it right with regard to technique, e.g. leveling sand, landscape fabric, and that sort of thing.
posted by dhartung at 6:38 PM on April 13

My suggestions assume that you cannot build a permanent fixture:

The easiest method might be to paint one on a large floorcloth. Then you could move it wherever you wanted.

I was at a retreat where we had an outdoor nighttime labyrinth where the path was marked with votive candles in small glass holders. I've walked quite a few labyrinths, but this was my all-time favorite.
posted by belladonna at 6:56 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

I think it's going to depend on the space that someone else allows you to have. You first need to line up ANYWHERE that will take you, and then see what they will allow you to do and not do.

I can't find a picture of it for crap online any more, but there's a labyrinth in my town that is a mowed path that is mostly is on one section of grass, and then you had to cross a street, where more path meandered about and then you were to pick it up again on the original side. Pretty confusing and weird to follow (especially since it's really overgrown and the path hasn't been maintained), but that kid was working with the space they allotted him at the time.

Get a space first, THEN figure out the rest of it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

I helped build this one.

I don't recommend using books.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:42 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]

If I can just recommend Nigel Pennick's Mazes and Labyrinths as a fascinating read and idea source.
posted by glasseyes at 2:20 AM on April 14

The folks here could probably help you.
posted by Sublimity at 3:48 AM on April 14

Our UU Church in Ft. Lauderdale built a labyrinth. You can call them and ask them about their experiences.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on April 14

As the wikipedia article points out, "maze" and "labyrinth" are conventionally seen as synonymous. However, if you are planning to build something then you need to think, first of all, about which: if you wish to build a maze then the aim is to construct a branching puzzle. There will be blind alleys. It should not be possible to see from one place to another. Mazes are seen as left brain and male activities. The structure therefore needs some kind of wall that prevents people from looking over it. For this reason mazes are quite difficult to make.

But you asked about labyrinths not mazes. These are more about the journey from start to finish upon a single meandering path. They are seen as right brained and female. You can let people see the whole structure because it is the journey rather than the encryption that is important. So you could use something simple like stones or lines in the sand the denote the route. They are about meditation rather than obfuscation.

Labyrinths have been build for and, and used in, ceremonies for millennia. For example there are long-standing traditions in parts of Scandanavia and Central/South America where they are built to be explored a group at the time of a solstices and equinoxes. I took part in such a ceremony where several of us would walk labyrinth barefoot and by moonlight. Each person would go in and out at their own pace - but would also greet all others that they met on their way. Building the labyrinth, in this case, required a rather back-breaking day of gathering stones and pine needles.
posted by rongorongo at 6:16 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I built a Labyrinth at my garden center. The first thing you need to do is locate your space, then you can begin to decide on the type/design, as well as the materials you want, or are able to use.

We used river stones to outline the paths - it took seven tons of stone, so be prepared for the sheer amount of material you may need, and also how to get it to your location.

Spend extra time doing the initial layout - no, the staking and stringing isn't 'the fun part', but it makes doing the fun part so much easier! Take your time - building a Labyrinth is a meditative experience, and shouldn't be rushed through.

Feel free to memail me if you want all the details :)
posted by PlantGoddess at 6:25 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

At a college campus, I participated in a prank which built a labrynth.

Make sure that there is a way around it; we built the labrynth in the main walkway between two dorms. This also happened to be where most professors walked to get to their private dining hall. Some of the professors are grumpy, some may be frail, some were in wheel chairs (one had fun going through the maze (we had a position on the roof where we could watch - eventually after a few too many dead ends he asked for some help and we gleefully complied). We had clear detour signs. (also, one was a dick and just ignored the detour and walked through our maze punching holes through the walls requiring emergency work to fix it). If we didn't have the detour I imagine this would have happened many more times.

Construction: we used the webbing used for rock climbing. We built a grid with the low point about 8 feet off the ground. We were able to make use of pillars from the architecture of the dorms. Someone had designed a maze already. We used black plastic which someone had in giant rolls eight or ten feet wide, so that was the width of the grid point for the maze (I think the grid width was one foot less so we had safe amounts of overlap). Duct tape was used to join corners/walls. Duct tape was used to tape the ends to the floor to keep them in place. There were some sections over grass, we taped broom stick handles to the bottom of the plastic to weigh it down. I think this took from around midnight-8am for about 20-30 people to finish. It was about 40 feet wide and over 120 feet long. I contributed some money, but I was just a worker and didn't know the full bill. I'd estimate $500, 40% for the plastic, 40% for the webbing and 10% for the broom handles and 10% for the duct tape. They underestimated the duct tape needs, but many students contributed some rolls.

If you can't make use of existing building architecture, costs for framing will probably dwarf everything else.

Make sure you can help people who get stuck. Someone frustrated might just wreck it to get out. If you can't have a spotter above, then have people who know the maze well constantly going through offering to help.

During noon California sun it was quite warm in the maze.
posted by nobeagle at 8:27 AM on April 14

Thanks, everyone! I may be doing this as a project at the campus where I work, so many decisions will not be up to me, and there may or may not be funding. It also may or may not be permanent. It definitely will not be a maze or have walls. I imagine something fairly flat--chalk, paint, or perhaps stones or candles. We might also try to make a finger labyrinth. If it is not permanent, I am leaning towards a large cloth, painted with the labyrinth which could be staked down and moved as necessary.
posted by Riverine at 9:19 AM on April 14

I used spray paint over previously laid out string on grass when I built one in my front yard - semi permanent and it was a very cheap option! I have also made finger labyrinths out of clay - lots of fun! Feel free to MeMail me if you want any further guidance.
posted by sarahparah at 12:36 PM on April 14

I have friends who have a labyrinth in Chicago. MeMail me if you would like details. All are welcome, so you can go check it out.

I know of two in Colorado, if you feel like traveling for your labyrinth needs.
posted by Sheppagus at 9:47 AM on April 15

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