Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alfred State Labyrinth

In Greek mythology the labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the Daedalus, a skilled craftsman and artisan known as the creator of the dancing ground. He built the labyrinth for King Minos of Crete, who after his death became the judge of the dead in Hades. The function of the labyrinths was to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull. Daedalus had made the labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it. The mythology continues that, Daedalus was aided by Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, who provided him with clues, so he could find his way out again.

Later revised to become synonymous with mazes, colloquial English standards defined the labyrinth as an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one's way or to reach the exit, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the labyrinth and maze. In America, the term "maze craze" was coined in 1970. About this time, numerous books, and some magazines, were commercially available in nationwide outlets and devoted exclusively to mazes of a complexity that was able to challenge adults as well as children.Conversely, a labyrinth is a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

The labyrinth mysticism was recently perpetuated by Guillermo del Toro's film "Pan's Labyrinth", aka. El laberinto del fauno. This graphic account of danger and fantasy brings modern viewers back to the Labyrinth's origin. The film is set "in 1944 fascist Spain, a girl, fascinated with fairy-tales, is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army. During the night, she meets a fairy who takes her to an old faun in the center of the labyrinth. He tells her she's a princess, but must prove her royalty by surviving three gruesome tasks. If she fails, she will never prove herself to be the true princess and will never see her real father, the king, again." The visual inspiration of this film invites all cultures into the wonder of myth.

Nearer labyrinth's can be found in Wellsville, Canandaigua, Honeoye Falls, and West Valley New York. In these instances, most of the labyrinths are used for relaxation and meditation purposes. Based on the labyrinth society and Veriditas' World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, there are around 3300 labyrinths in over 70 countries. By an unexpected turn of events the labyrinth has taken on Judea-Christian significance by serving as a symbol for pilgramage; the physical act of walking the labyrinth's path represents ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to travel to holy sites and lands, so labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded, and they served primarily for entertainment. However, as indicated before the significance of their spiritual aspects have seen a resurgence in postmodern culture.

Other cultural significance comes from the prehistoric labyrinths which are believed to trap malevolent spirits, or define paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center and one entrance.

Outside sources say that many newly made labyrinths exist in churches and parks. Labyrinths are used by modern mystics to help achieve a contemplative state. Walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, and thus quiets the mind.

As SUNY Alfred built their own labyrinth, unique intentions were brought forth through a press release entitled "Ancient World Comes to Alfred State". Released 05/02/2007

Volunteers began work on the labyrinth Thursday, April 26, 2007, with 106 tons of gravel was brought to the Alfred State College campus to create a labyrinth, a unicursal path that provides a walker with a quiet, contemplative space where thinking can subside so that imagination and spirit can arise. A labyrinth's path circles slowly to the center and then flows back again to its beginning.

The Alfred State labyrinth is located in a quiet grassy space opposite TA Parish Hall and the MacKenzie residential complex. Once completed, it will be available for the use of anyone in the Alfred community.

Students, community members, and faculty/staff participated in moving and raking gravel to create the pathways. Additionally, many Alfred State students had already been involved in the early phases of its planning and construction. A surveying technology curriculum student first checked the property lines; an architecture class worked together to create the labyrinth design; and the surveyor translated it to the grassy surface. A landscaping class removed sod from the pathways in preparation for the gravel.

Funds for this project were provided by a college donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The labyrinth is intended to grow in beauty as contributions for small gardens, benches, pathways, and flowering plants arrive in the years to come.

Labyrinths are located in cultures around the world. In the book, Labyrinths: Ancient Myths & Modern Uses, (2001) Sig Lonegren states: "Labyrinths are amazing tools. They can work real magic--moments that bring worlds together. Invented in the mists of prehistory by a culture that functioned on quite different levels of consciousness than we do today, these magical single-path mazes can enhance the possibility of bringing together our analytical or rational mode of consciousness with our intuitive or spiritual levels of consciousness."

Suny Alfred's Labyrinth Project designs were made by Michael Chisamore, Assistant Professor. Volunteer efforts were contributed by the SUNY Alfred architecture club.

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