Into the labyrinth

One little-known benefit of living on the North Coast is the opportunity to walk a labyrinth at the Crystal Castle near Mullumbimby.

While similar to mazes, labyrinths are fundamentally different in that they are not designed to lead the user astray down blind alleys. Although there are many different designs, all labyrinths share a route that winds from the outer perimeter into the centre. At a metaphysical level, this could be seen as a journey from the world into one’s own inner being, and back again. As an archetypal symbol that has obviously resonated deeply with humanity for thousands of years, the labyrinth has a strong similarity with the Indian mandala.

One of the earliest appearances of the labyrinth was in Cretan culture, and it was found on Cretan coins from 430BC onwards. It was later adopted by a number of cultures, mostly around Mediterranean region, and was incorporated into the floors of some cathedrals and churches in France and Italy.

The most famous of these, dating back to around 1200, was built into the nave of Chartres Cathedral in France, and still exists today. As the modern labyrinth movement has steadily grown, this design has been widely replicated around the world, and was adopted for the Crystal Castle labyrinth. Divided into four quadrants, it has eleven concentric rings with a distinctive six-petalled flower pattern in the geometric centre.Chartres labyrinthAt the Crystal Castle, this labyrinth is set out as a meandering concrete path divided by strips of a low thick grass, and with areas of embedded rose quartz. Those who walk it are requested to make a donation into an honesty box that goes to the Jambange Project. Money previously raised from labyrinth walkers has been directed to orphanages in East Timor, Kenya, and South Africa.

Before entering, it is recommended to pose a question or set an intention, inviting an answer. Insights can come in a variety of ways. The journey in is undertaken slowly and deliberately, with eyes down to see where you’re going and to follow the many switchbacks. This unhurried quality has the tendency to pull you into an introspective or meditative space, where the chattering mind recedes into the background. The experience is more powerful and less distracting if you have the whole labyrinth to yourself, but this is sometimes not possible.

From the entrance, the path quickly takes you tantalisingly close to the centre, and then teases by winding around the edge of the central ‘flower’ area. After this initial drama, things settle down into a quiet rhythm. Being a slow labyrinth walker, occasionally a faster user comes up behind me, and I step aside to let them go past. At the centre, I feel a need to sit for a few minutes. Despite being just a few paces from the edge, the instinct to treat it as a physical structure with walls that inhibit such an iconoclastic treatment is very strong. On the way out, I find myself getting into the zone, and engaging with the process rather than the goal, so that when the exit appears it comes as a surprise.

Close to the labyrinth is a Damanhur spiral, named after the eco-spiritual community in Northern Italy. This was created very recently, in 2015, using nine hundred bush rocks, and was constructed with help from Damanhur resident Squalo Canapa.

Before entering, there is a requirement to ensure than nobody else is walking inwards or waiting in the centre. If there is another user, you are asked to wait until they are returning in the outward direction.

Similar to a labyrinth with its one path leading from the outer edge to the centre, this is a very different experience. With a permanent curve in place of twist and turns, and a wide path, it is possible to travel fast, although a slower and more meditative speed works better. After spending what seems like a disproportionate amount of time walking the outer ring, the process seems to accelerate quickly, and soon you find yourself in the centre, where there is a smoky quartz crystal sculpted into the form of a seat.

Comparing the two different experiences, the complexity and mystery of the labyrinth engages me more profoundly than the spiral, but both are well worth experiencing.

If you are visiting, remember that residents of Byron, Tweed, Ballina and Lismore council areas receive discounted admission.

Check out Music of the Plants at the Crystal Castle here.

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