What are labyrinths and how can they help us?

Our town has two public labyrinths, but locals and visitors alike aren’t always sure how to approach them. This Saturday, a certified labyrinth facilitator will present a workshop to show Sisters Country how it’s done.

Sara Hopkins will present a free Introduction to Labyrinth Walking at Sisters Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration on June 1.

Hopkins has led over 100 walks for students, adults, and senior groups. Her own first labyrinth walk was in 1991 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Hopkins has also walked the famed labyrinth at the cathedral at Chartres, in France.

For some, the word might evoke the high hedges of the frightening maze in the movie “The Shining.” Others might picture a series of underground tunnels designed to stave off unwelcome visitors, as in some video games.

Yet the “unicursal” style of labyrinth, the sort that people walk for contemplation and celebration, isn’t designed to get people lost. Instead, it draws walkers to the labyrinth’s center—and then back out via a different path. There are no dead ends, branching passages, or fake-outs.

The two outdoor labyrinths in Sisters are formed on the ground, with no claustrophobic horror-movie walls. The one at the Episcopal church is flat, making for easy navigation.

At Sisters Community Labyrinth, located in East Portal Park, the Chartres pattern is rendered on the ground with local stones and short shrubs acting as dividers. Both labyrinths contain a large rock at their centers.

Labyrinths appear in many cultures, historically and in contemporary forms. Many people are familiar with the Minotaur in Greek mythology. Part bull and part man, he lived at the center of the Labyrinth, a complex maze designed by Daedalus and his son Icarus for King Minos of Crete.

Various stories pertaining to this myth formed the basis for many works of art, including vases, paintings, and sculpture, for hundreds of years. Yet labyrinth designs proliferated in other contexts, too.

Cave art and pyramid descriptions from antiquity suggest ancient labyrinths. In the Middle Ages, labyrinths spread throughout Europe and beyond. Versions of the Chartres cathedral’s pattern have proliferated around the world — including to Sisters.

Workshop leader Sara Hopkins introduced local resident Anne Bartlett “to the ancient spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth twenty years ago in Ashland, when I was the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church.”

She said, “When my husband and I moved to Sisters last fall and joined the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, I was delighted to discover their labyrinth in its stunning setting.”

Bartlett is co-chair of the June 1 workshop event, together with longtime Transfiguration church member and labyrinth advocate Dick Kellogg.

Labyrinths appeal to an inclusive and diverse group of people of all ages, according to Bartlett. “It is a form of walking meditation that appeals to the ‘spiritual but not religious’ folk as well as traditional believers of all faiths,” she said.

Jan McGowan helped build the community labyrinth in a similar spirit.

“Our cohort imagined a place where individuals could find quiet and inspiration…where community could gather to share an experience, have fun, solve problems and resolve conflicts,” she told The Nugget.

Bartlett said that for centuries people have walked labyrinths “to slow down and quiet their minds, to celebrate a turning point or enable major decisions in their lives, or simply because it feels good to be outside and at peace.”

Some “spiritual but not religious” folks meet at labyrinths and spirals for louder celebrations as well. The annual Summer Solstice gathering at Sisters Community Labyrinth, for example, welcomes children, drums, and musical instruments.

Saturday’s workshop will include a guided walk of the church labyrinth, and a brief talk about the Sisters Community Labyrinth.

“Can’t have too many labyrinths in town!” Bartlett said.

She noted that the June 1 workshop is for adults only. Otherwise, all are welcome.

The labyrinth workshop takes place Saturday, June 1 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, 68825 Brooks Camp Road in Sisters. Questions may be directed to Anne Bartlett at 541-301-0301.