A tangle of tunnels hiding a flesh-eating man-bull; a clever arrangement of hedges; a game involving a wooden tray and metal ball; David Bowie in tights: any or all of these images might spring to your mind when you hear the word “maze” or “labyrinth.”
Although many people use the two terms interchangeably, they have come to mean two distinct things. A maze is a series of pathways designed to confuse: there are many intersections, many possible ways to turn, and many possible ways to get lost. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is unicursal, meaning it has only one path. You can’t get lost in a labyrinth because there are no choices to make. You follow a single path, winding back and forth and up and down to the centre, and then you follow it out again.
While mazes, whether pen-and-paper, 3D, or digital, are usually intended as a puzzling diversion, labyrinths are used as tools for ritual and meditation. (The hospital where I had my son even had an indoor labyrinth for patients; I had visions of serenely walking this labyrinth to keep things moving during labour but was sorely deluded about the process. That’s another story.)
In Toronto, we are fortunate to have many public labyrinths scattered throughout the city, due in large part to the Labyrinth Community Network and labyrinth enthusiast and creator HiMY SYeD. One of my favourites, the High Park Labyrinth, is shown here.
The best thing about this labyrinth is that it is kind of a secret. Toronto Parks & Rec agreed to its construction as long as its presence was not advertised. For that reason, if you go to High Park in search of this labyrinth, you won’t find it on any of the park maps. Look for it in the black oak savannah, about half way between the baseball diamonds and the Grenadier restaurant. It’s getting a little faded these days but we hear there's a facelift in the works.
Text by Sara Goodchild