The One and the Many: The Significance of the Labyrinth in Contemporary America


  • Mary Hackworth Pacifica Graduate Institute



Unicursal labyrinths, with a single, highly circuitous path based on a medieval design, have enjoyed an unusual amount of interest in the United States over the last twenty years. They appear in such varied settings as churches, parks,
hospitals, and retreat centers, their growing popularity coinciding with a time of deep political divisions in American society. The unicursal labyrinth closely resembles a mandala, suggesting that its current appearance is compensatory to
the increasing fragmentation and growing diversity in American life. The labyrinth’s popularity in meditative and recreational settings expresses a deepseated wish to walk a heroic, individual path and connect this path to a larger
purpose. As socio-psychological theories of the individual’s relationship to society move toward an “embedded” model, the labyrinth, too, suggests a collective, perhaps unconscious desire to find a middle way between individualism and common purpose as well as shared ground amid competing cultural values.