Jeffrey Bale, World of Gardens: The Labyrinth Project:
In the fall of 2006 I was approached by a person, who helped spearhead the building of the Islandwood Environmental School on Bainbridge Island in Washington. This is an amazing institution. It is hoped that every child enrolled in school in the Seattle region be able to go to Nature camp for one week at Islandwood, where they will be guided by graduate students in environmental education. For many of the kids it is their first time in the woods. I built a cistern there that collects the water from the Learning Center in 2007. You can read an essay I wrote about it at: http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2011/06/artist-in-residency-at-islandwood.html
Beyond this is a wonderful bronze prayer wheel, with a plaque explaining that you set an intention and spin the wheel 9 times. A bell rings on the 9th rotation and your intention is sent out in to the World. It is a popular destination for island residents and visitors. On the Prayer Wheel is an inscription by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu. It reads; “I have just three things to teach: Simplicity, Patience, Compassion”.
I’ve worked on a lot of projects in the last 25 or so years, and it has been very seldom that I have been asked to build something sacred. I even had a client ask me in a sarcastic way when I finished her patio if she would have to meditate out there. Heaven forbid. But I happen to know that when you build intention in to a landscape playing on its connection to the natural world and the cosmic forces that influence it that it actually has a presence that could be considered sacred. Animals are attracted by the energy these places emit. I’ve had a Cougar, a Rattlesnake, a large banded lizard, a Great Blue Heron, and Bald Eagles visit the places where I’ve intended them to be magical. As they are used over time for ritual and introspection they become loaded with memory and history that can trigger consciousness on a profound level.
Years ago I was approached by the TKF Foundation (http://naturesacred.org) based in the Washington D.C. area to give a lecture on building sacred spaces. TKF is known for installing Poetry Benches in troubled parts of the region, like Baltimore. They also build labyrinths and gardens, sometimes in prisons. After my presentation the architects in the audience and I focused our discussion on the ethical gathering of materials as a basis for creating sacred landscapes. They were interested in having me build a labyrinth for them but there was no real idea of how laborious it would be to build a pebble mosaic labyrinth. Eventually they asked me if I would do one in recycled asphalt on a roof top in Washington D.C. It would be the first of its kind, for good reason. I declined.
After three days of gathering rock, about 3,000 pounds, I felt that I was ready to start setting stone. A pallet of mortar had been delivered to the site and 200 feet of rebar. I started by sitting on one of the 8 directional stones and doing the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra 18 times. This is an ancient Hindu Sanskrit mantra that I learned with a group of friends when we would gather on the full moon and chant the mantra 108 times. There is a description of what the mantra means at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahamrityunjaya_Mantra
I then read the chapter in a book I’ve owned for many years called ‘The Medicine Wheel’, written by Sun Bear and Wabun (Prentice Hall Press). This is a book of Native American astrology that I have used to develop my methods for incorporating Medicine Wheel ideas in to may mosaic work, mainly through orientation and the coloration of stones. I was starting in the eastern direction near where the labyrinth will be entered, building the outer ring. I am making 12 small white moon shaped mosaics and each moon represents a seasonal moon throughout the year. The first moon I would be creating would be under the title of the ‘Frogs return Moon’. The animal totem for this moon is the Beaver. I brought a few beaver chewed sticks that I gathered the week before from a beach I go to on the Columbia River in Oregon so I inserted one of these outside the circle at the point where the moon mosaic would be created.
I flanked the moon with two 5 petaled wild roses made of round red stones around a round gold center. I’ve started to make these flowers, or starbursts when I hear the bell ring when somebody is turning the prayer wheel.
Just as I was adding the last stones to the wet bed of mortar a friendly man named Mike came down the path. While talking he said he had brought his kids to the previous labyrinth for a walking meditation. I told him I would make a flower for him if he rang the bell on the prayer wheel, so he went back and did that, and I made him a sweet little flower that I have named ‘Mike’s Flower’. He came back and I showed it to him and told him to make a note of where it is so he would remember it when he walks the labyrinth. This made us both very happy.
The night before I left I wrote a description to be printed for a sign to put up by the site. It reads:
The Labyrinth Project
The layout of this labyrinth is based on the well known early 13th Century Chartes Cathedral Labyrinth near Paris. It has 11 circuits that make turns at two cross axis oriented to the cardinal directions. The diameter is 36 feet and the entrance is from the East, the direction of the rising sun. It is made from hand collected rock from various beaches on Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula, set in to mortar. 8 of the granite boulders around the perimeter are set at the cardinal points.
Counting the central ring, the number of circles is 12, which ties the labyrinth to the seasonal and lunar cycles. 12 is the sum of the Earth (4) times the Divine (3). The seasons are represented here as colors, with 12 Moons set in the outer ring. A 13th ‘Blue Moon’ sits in the sun circle in the center, symbolizing lunar and solar eclipses. This creates a native Medicine Wheel connecting the Earth, Nature, and the Moon.
Each Moon in this labyrinth has a totem color, mineral, animal, plant, and spirit keeper.
The moons, starting at the entrance and going clockwise:
Budding Trees Moon (3/21-4/19) Yellow, Fire Opal, Red Hawk, Dandelion
Frogs Return Moon (4/20-5/20) Blue, Chrysocolla, Beaver, Blue Camas
Corn Planting Moon (5/21-6/20) Green, Moss Agate, Deer, Yarrow
Strong Sun Moon (6/21-7/22) Pink, Carnelian Agate, Flicker, Wild Rose
Ripe Berries Moon (7/23-8/22) Red, Garnet and Iron, Sturgeon, Raspberry
Harvest Moon (8/23-9/22) Purple, Amethyst, Brown Bear, Violet
Ducks Fly Moon (9/23-10/23) Brown, Jasper, Raven, Mullein
Freeze Up Moon (10/24-11/21) Orange, Copper and Malachite, Snake, Thistle
Long Snows Moon (11/22-12/21) Black, Obsidian, Elk, Black Spruce
Earth Renewal Moon (12/22-1/19) White, Quarz, Snow Goose, Birch
Rest and Cleansing Moon (1/20-2/18) Silver, Otter, Quaking Aspen
Big Winds Moon (2/19-3/20) Blue Green, Turquoise, Cougar, Plantain
I try to make a flower each time I hear the bell on the prayer wheel ring. I hope to add 108 stones around the 10th circuit. The 8 rings closest to the center represent the orbit of the known planets from Mercury to Pluto. The permeable lines between the paths will be filled with crushed gravel and over time, moss and seedlings.
In walking this labyrinth, it is my hope that you will feel a change in yourself, to being one more connected with Nature in all its harmonious magnificence. Leave your thoughts behind if you can, being here in the moment, and just feel the progression refilling your opened mind as you follow the circuits. It is all about cycles, ebbing and flowing like the tides around this island being pulled by the moon. Ideally you return via the same route you came in. Step to the side if somebody needs to pass. Doing it barefoot will add the bonus of foot reflexology. Enjoy!
man’s best friend: And from a later blog on the project!
Lucy walks the Labyrinth with her nose