The Edinburgh Labyrinth

In 2004 I was involved in the birthing of a new permanent outdoor labyrinth for Edinburgh University Chaplaincy Centre. This is an old blog post, never finished at the time, that has just been found lurking in a dusty corner of my hard drive…

Di Williams, the University Chaplain at the time, is a Veriditas-trained labyrinth facilitator. Veriditas is an organisation promoting labyrinths as a tool of spiritual advancement. Founded in 1997 by Lauren Artress, a canon of Grace cathedral in San Francisco, Veriditas works mostly with the design of the medieval Chartres cathedral labyrinth, which is the foremost example of the 11-circuit medieval pattern and the sole surviving example of this type with the central ‘petals’ and circumferential ‘lunations’. Veriditas run regular pilgrimages to Chartres and train a global network of labyrinth facilitators. I had walked the labyrinth in Chartres at noon on the summer solstice of 2002, during a camping holiday to Brittany. This is one of the few days when the labyrinth is clear of chairs and accessible, and is a special day for the cathedral, which is aligned towards the summer solstice sunrise.

The Chaplaincy have a canvas Chartres-style indoor labyrinth that they laid out every Monday during term-time, but Di had long dreamt of having a permanent Chartres-replica labyrinth constructed in the University grounds (many so-called ‘Chartres’ labyrinths are not exact copies of the original, either in size or design). In 2004 the Chaplaincy finally secured the funding to construct one in George Square Gardens, right in the heart of the University.

Di invited me to dowse the best site for the labyrinth, and after dowsing the entire gardens, I found on an appropriate position in the south-east quadrant of the gardens, where a rising water source (blind spring) and two crossing energy leys created a strong power centre. However, the architect rejected this site as it was not level enough and would require too much landscaping. I returned to dowse another area, and eventually settled on a second location in the opposite, north-west quadrant of the Gardens. This did not have such good energetic qualities and additionally had two geopathically stressed water veins running under it, but I figured that I could come back when construction was finished to sort that out. One water vein ran from a blind spring nearby and I dowsed that this would hopefully move over into the labyrinth at the proper time once people began walking it (a phenomenon that has been documented many times by dowsers). A suitable centre was eventually dowsed where the water vein crossed a ley running generally westwards from Arthur’s Seat. This ley is actually a cross-country alignment recorded by Harry Bell in his 1974 book ‘Forgotten Footsteps’; it runs almost directly west to a hill called Duncolm in the Kilpatrick Hills northwest of Glasgow. It was a rather poor energetic centre compared to the original location, but it was the best compromise available, and I was confident that the labyrinth would enhance and balance the energy once completed.

dowsed labyrinth site plan
Dowsing plan of the site

In the southwest corner of the Gardens, a gap between buildings afforded a view of the distant Pentland Hills, the only natural scenery that could be seen from the new site. The hills would only be visible in winter when the trees were bare, and I calculated that the winter solstice sunset would just be visible rolling down the side of a hill into where the building line intersected the skyline. This azimuth of 197o was perfect for the alignment of the labyrinth, so that when you entered the centre, you would be facing this direction. Having the labyrinth set this way also made for a pleasing entrance angle from the perimeter pathway round the Gardens. It also mirrored the alignment of the original Chartres labyrinth, which is aligned towards the summer solstice sunrise.

landscape panorama of labyrinth site.
Panorama from labyrinth site

University architect Ron Chisholm produced an exact scale CAD drawing of the Chartres cathedral labyrinth, and in June of 2004, I met with Ron and Di to geomantically position the centre and lay out the alignment. We held a brief ceremony formulating our intent for the labyrinth, before I pinned the centre with a wooden stake. I then applied some earth acupuncture using flower essences to bless and prepare the site for the construction work to come. A subsequent blessing was performed by Tashi Lhunpo monks prior to the cutting of the turf.

Construction had been due to start in May but unfortunately had to be delayed until August, just as Chaplain Di left on an extended sojourn to Australia and New Zealand, where she was giving some labyrinth talks and visiting a few antipodean labyrinths. I did think that it was a trifle ominous that she would not be there during the main construction period, and this proved to be an accurate hunch, as I was to discover.

In August, I managed to get back through to Edinburgh to have a look and found that things were not as advanced as I had hoped, as construction seemed to have only just started. I introduced myself to the foreman of the three-man team, who to my surprise and delight turned out to be none other than Jim Buchanan, the well–known Dumfries-based labyrinth artist. I had been wanting to meet Jim for a long time, and we had a great chat about the project and the Chartres pattern in general. Jim explained that the delay in the build was due to some last-minute constructional changes, and that they had only started laying out the labyrinth in the last couple of days. The original plan had been to build the labyrinth using two colours of gravel-impregnated resin mix (for paths and walls) separated by a thin brass fillet. However, this proved too expensive not to mention fiddly, so instead they had decided to construct the walls using square granite setts, and then fill the paths with the gravel/resin compound. This would actually be truer to the Chartres original. There had been another construction delay when the quarry supplying the stone had been unable to supply the particular sizes of granite setts required, resulting in these having to be imported from Portugal.

labyrinth construction
Labyrinth construction

As we chatted, I noticed that the alignment of the labyrinth seemed to be slightly ‘off’ from the winter solstice alignment that I had specified. On checking with the compass, I found that the alignment was now nearer due south. What on earth had gone wrong? It transpired that the original alignment stakes had been removed by persons unknown in the intervening months and consequently the architect had been forced to re-mark the alignment. For whatever reason, he had only marked the N-S axis, not the winter solstice azimuth that I had specified. I really wasn’t sure what to do about this. Jim understandably was not very keen on changing anything as they had already spent some time laying out all the turns and labryses with the granite setts, and I didn’t feel that it was my place to insist that they moved everything at this stage. All I could do was resort to some dowsing to ascertain how the changes would affect the site. My responses indicated that it was not going to be as energetically active as it would have been with the winter solstice alignment, but that it would improve over time once finished. A north-south alignment is a good ‘default’ for a labyrinth to have anyway, so I left them to carry on, writing off the situation as that inevitable moment of confusion that seems to arise when constructing a labyrinth.

opening labyrinth walk
Labyrinth opening walk

The labyrinth was completed by summer 2005, and the opening ceremony was held on 6 October that year, at 12 noon. It was as I was walking out from the goal that I realised that it had been just over three years, and at the same time of day, since I had walked the original one in Chartres. On that occasion, it took 90 minutes to reach the centre due to the number of people walking behind, and I had been unable to walk back out of the labyrinth, instead having to cut across the labryses to escape. I always feel that some part of our consciousness remains entwined in the labyrinth if we don’t walk out of the labyrinth properly, and so some part of me had been stuck in the Chartres labyrinth for a little over three years before I finally exited this one!

Postscript: A couple of years after this project, I was plotting Harry Bell’s ‘Forgotten Footsteps’ network of alignments in Google Earth, and was delighted to find that the Duncolm – Arthur’s Seat ley that I had dowsed when siting the labyrinth runs right through its centre!

labyrinth ley
The dowsed Duncolm – Arthur’s Seat ley

Visit the Edinburgh Labyrinth website here.

Grahame Gardner
April 2020

Grahame Gardner
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