Designed and Painted by NE Magnet High School Art Students
and students in the Decorative and Ornamental painting program at WSU
The carpet in the center of Sacred Space is a painted labyrinth
modeled after ancient Greek and Roman floor mosaics. Until very
recently, the words labyrinth and maze have been used interchangeably.
In the last decade however, the two terms have been attributed
distinct meanings. A maze consists of a complicated pattern of
branching and intersecting paths with many dead ends, and is meant to
confuse and entrap. The labyrinth has one winding path that leads
from the outer entrance or gate to the center by way of a number of
nested circuits. Our labyrinth is a three-circuit design, meaning the
path wraps around three times before reaching the center, sometimes
called the goal.
The three-circuit design is the inner section of the ancient and
universal seven-circuit labyrinth pattern. The oldest example we have
of this pattern was carved into the entrance of a Neolithic tomb in
Sardinia dating to 2500 BCE. The same pattern was used as the
city-state emblem on coins from Knossos on the island of Crete dating
roughly 1900 to 1300 BCE. In Papua-New Guinea, some indigenous
peoples teach their children how to draw the seven-circuit pattern in
the sand. It is believed that the spirit of the recently deceased
must journey along the labyrinth path to reach the blessed home of the
ancestors, and it is vital that their children know the way home. The
Hopi peoples of the desert southwest believe that humans first emerged
into this world by way of a labyrinth path. Their neighbors, the
Pima, use the seven-circuit pattern in basketwork and as a symbol of
the Pima nation. In these cultures, the labyrinth symbol serves as a
portal between the everyday world and the world of the spirits and
The labyrinth is also a symbol of the spiritual journey or
pilgrimage. The most famous pilgrimage labyrinth is in the Chartres
Cathedral, built in France in 1194-1220. It has an eleven-circuit
design and measures 42.3 feet in diameter. This and other cathedral
labyrinths were used as places of symbolic pilgrimage for persons
unable to travel to the holy sites of the Middle East.
Our labyrinth has inset medallions with images of animals that have
symbolic attributes in many world cultures. It is important to
remember that disparate cultures may have conflicting interpretations
of any particular animal's symbolism. Observations of animal habits
are usually the basis for symbolic attributes. For example, the crane
symbolizes longevity and purity for the Chinese and Japanese, but in
northwest India is considered a rowdy and filthy bird. Perhaps the
fact of hundreds of thousands of cranes converging on the breeding
grounds in northwest India gave rise to the observations of raucous
behavior and filth.
Indigenous cultures worldwide recognize symbolic differences between
sky, earth and sea animals. Generally flying animals are symbolic of
farsighted wisdom and rapid change. Walking animals are symbols of
practical action and steady change. Swimming animals are symbolic of
emotional or hidden wisdom and fluid change.
Each of the three circuits of our labyrinth have animals specific to
the air, land and sea. In the outer circuit are animals of the air:
butterfly, owl, dove, crane, eagle, crow, and peacock. The middle
circuit has land animals: elephant, spider, monkey, cow, and turtle.
In the inner circuit are animals of the sea: snake, dolphin, starfish,
and carp. In the center is a symbol of the sun, whose warmth and
light give life to the world. As you walk the labyrinth, we invite
you to contemplate what each animal means to you.