The Harmonist Labyrinth in New Harmony, Indiana, has been a favorite spot for me to visit since I was a child. With both of my parents being part of large families, finding ample space for family gatherings was a necessity. A beautiful and sizable park, across the highway from the labyrinth, was often the site for many extended family picnics and cookouts. During those assemblies, it was a tradition for a few of the family elders to bring the younger ones to visit the labyrinth, which was easily within walking distance from the park, even for little legs.
As a child, the shrubs bordering the paths were taller than my head, and I was often dependent on older cousins, to help lead me through to the center. But in many cases, I simply called out to my great-grandfather, who was broad-shouldered and over six-feet tall. He was easily seen over the tops of the bushes, and he never failed to get to me quickly, and easily pick me up and over the shrubbery, to finish the walk-through next to me.
For many years the Harmonist Labyrinth was the site where children were brought to run off excess energy, rather than being used for what it was actually built for, which was a place to pray and meditate as one walked along a single, winding, circular pathway to the center. Young adults and children often didn’t realize the garden and structure was built as a holy place and meant to be used for spiritual communication and growth, rather than a natural play ground or game board, providing a place for hide and seek, or, “Race you to the middle!“. Over time, the bushes lining the path developed spaces between them. New paths formed in those spaces, inter-linking with the main path, turning the place from labyrinth to maze. For many years it remained as such, but for the most part, the paths have since been corrected, and it is once again a labyrinth, with a path that flows easily, intertwining against itself, until it reaches the stone temple at its center.
This is not the only labyrinth in New Harmony, a small and beautiful village situated along the banks of the Wabash River, in Southern Indiana. There are others, but they are not like this one, nor are they nearly as old. The original Harmonist Labyrinth was built around the year 1820, by the German religious community that founded the village, the Rappites. The current structure was built from 1939 through 1941. The other labyrinths in the village were added later. They are beautiful as well, but they are not structured like this one, with paths bordered by flora.
Investigating the temple is always intriguing, even though I’m familiar with the interior and have looked at it many times. To protect it from possible vandals, iron bars are embedded in the stone, just inside the window casings. Years ago, the door also consisted of iron bars. However, initially the door was a concealed part of the structure, and finding it was much like deciphering a code, or puzzle, but would open easily, allowing entry to anyone who could discover it.
Today it is sealed against winter weather with a sturdy, vintage door, while the interior gets a face lift of fresh paint over the murals and lettered inscriptions on the round walls and domed ceiling.
With the warmer weather Spring brings, the Harmonist Labyrinth will be dressed up and ready to greet new guests, and again welcome the familiar ones, like an old friend.