This year, The Red Shoes spirituality center on Government Street in Baton Rouge is marking its 20th anniversary.

In recognition of the occasion, the center is offering classes and instructors from its past two decades. On Aug. 24, a dozen people gathered for “Journey to the Center: Labyrinth Workshop” led by Aimée Dominique.

Dominique is a licensed clinical social worker, certified spiritual director and labyrinth facilitator. She donated the center’s labyrinth and talked about its meanings and uses over the centuries.

She noted that there is a difference between a maze and a labyrinth. A maze has dead ends and tricks and is designed to engage the mind. A labyrinth has a path to the center and engages the heart.

The labyrinth is a symbol of the journey of life, with paths that twist and turn and lead into and out of the center, Dominique said. 

She pointed out that the symbol is very old, with the oldest known image found on a coin that dates to 45 B.C. The name comes from the Greek laburinthos, referring to the maze constructed by Daedalus to house the Minotaur in Greek mythology.

Labyrinths and mazes have been used by many cultures, including Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Cretan and Native American.

The symbol, Dominique said, has many purposes. In Finland, it was walked during the blessing of the fleet and also used for safety in storms. Then by the 1100s or 1200s, it was adopted by Christianity. The famous Chartres labyrinth was finished in 1201.

Christians used the spiraling path for meditation. It sometimes was used in a ceremony for people who joined the church. It was a stop along a symbolic path, and as the new converts left the labyrinth they headed to their first Holy Communion, Dominique said.

The Chartres labyrinth was referred to as the Road to Jerusalem, she said, and was one of several that could substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

By the 1400s, the path fell out of favor, Dominique said. Churches, including Chartres, covered the paths, sometimes eradicating them. She said at Chartres, the famous labyrinth is often covered with hundreds of chairs. While often thought of as a Christian tool, Dominique said anyone can use it, especially for meditation.

The day’s activities at The Red Shoes included prompts and art supplies to help process the experience, as well as lots of discussion. Scarves were offered as prayer shawls or to serve as symbols for things to shed along the path.

In the day’s first trip on the path, a basket held plastic eggs filled with inspirational quotes. For the second trip, the eggs held single words to inspire meditation, such as love and trusting.

Basic rules

Dominque also shared basic labyrinth etiquette. Among her suggestions:

  • Remember it is a two-way street. Sometimes we want to acknowledge others, sometimes we don’t.
  • Remember the person next to the walker may be heading in the opposite direction.
  • Go at your own pace. You can pass easily at the turns.
  • Walking a labyrinth can bring tears, possibly for unknown reasons. Carry a tissue.
  • The path is clear even if it looks complicated.
  • Let go of expectations.
  • Be self-observant.

To learn more

  • labyrinthsociety.org has much information on classical, medieval and modern labyrinths and describes 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15 and 17 circuit paths. It also sponsors World Labyrinth Day in May.
  • labyrinthos.net has lots of information, including access to out-of-print journal articles.
  • veriditas.org was founded by Lauren Artress, with whom Dominque studied.
  • lessons4living.com has pages of information, including a downloadable file of 100 ways to use a labyrinth.
  • labyrinthlocator.com does just what its name says. It is a joint project between the Labyrinth Society and Veriditas. It lists 25 in Louisiana.

Facets of Faith runs every other Saturday in Living. Reach Leila Pitchford-English at lenglish@theadvocate.com.