Lourdes of the Rings

For Kay Torrez and her fellow New Age wanderers, meandering through sprawling desert labyrinths is anything but a lost cause

While baffling to outsiders, there's no denying the very real fascination that this ancient life force holds for Torrez's guests, many of whom return several times a month to douse auras, balance chakras and commune with Mother Earth.

What exactly do labyrinth followers believe? Easier to ask what they don't believe.

Channeling. Faith healing. Time travel. Space aliens. In the metaphysical stew pot that is labyrinth land, not even the sky's the limit. Were someone to figure out a way to tie red kryptonite into the labyrinth movement, it's doubtful anyone would blink an eye.

Over a potluck lunch in the rustic chow hall, the faithful regale newcomers with stories of Torrez's mecca of miracles. There was the Alzheimer's patient who "felt better" after being wheeled through a labyrinth. The young visitor who saw Geronimo's spirit right up to the center of one maze where he magically repaired the holes in an old man's auras. And the crippled girl who was carried through the maze--and later complained that her feet hurt.

"Something happens to every person who comes out here," says Torrez, who's holding court over a fresh-baked tortilla. "They may not consciously know it or feel it, but something happens as they walk the labyrinth. This is an ancient, ancient process."

As camp followers are so quick to point out, classic "seven path" labyrinths (the number of times that the single circuit doubles back on itself on either side of the center) are actually nothing new atall.

The mysterious mazelike patterns and structures appear in cultures dating back thousands of years. The structures figure prominently in Greek mythology; earth labyrinths can still be found all over Europe. Labyrinthlike imagery frequently turns up in Native American Indian symbology. The floor of Chartres Cathedral in France boasts a famous double labyrinth. In this country, the design appears in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. There's even speculation that Stonehenge and crop circles are somehow connected to labyrinths.

Noting the spirally structure of some seashells, the twisting surface of the brain and other mazelike features that occur in nature, some are firmly convinced that all the world's a labyrinth. Kay Torrez even thinks she spotted a labyrinthlike design in a DNA x-ray while leafing through the book The Double Helix, by Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson.

What's happening here--and why no one realized it until now--is something not even labyrinth mavens have a handle on.

Conversations are circular. While there's general agreement that labyrinth paths somehow correlate to chakras (a yoga concept involving energy centers within the human body), everyone's pretty much on his or her own after that. Quizzed about the specifics of such frequently mentioned topics as "phi," "sacred geometry" and "the golden proportion," Torrez's guests tend to toss the ball back to their hostess, perhaps confirming the sneaking suspicion that everyone's reading the same five books.

Or at least trying to.
"I don't understand all this myself," says Torrez, who confesses that after listening to her sacred-geometry audio tapes for the sixth time, she still doesn't get it. "Some of this stuff gets pretty heavy."

In the three years since she dedicated her first labyrinth, Torrez estimates that "hundreds" have made the two-hour trek from Phoenix to wander the desert paths. Thanks to the New Age grapevine, the meditation mecca is now a power pit stop for inner voyagers who find themselves within rental-car distance of the place. On a recent Sunday, out-of-state visitors included a couple of Florida women in town for a Reiki massage conference, a retired principal from Lubbock, Texas, and a British UFO contactee.

Although the grounds are open to the public at no cost every Sunday (except during summer months), most regulars prefer to schedule their pilgrimages around Torrez's periodic appearances at the ranch. Business and personal obligations prevent Torrez from visiting the ranch more than a couple of weekends a month, something she did last month.

January's get-together was a typical gathering, drawing 30-some participants, most of them on the far side of middle age. While the event was planned as a weekendlong sleepover, most guests opted to arrive Sunday morning and left shortly before sunset.

In between, they had no choice but to eat, drink and (in the case of overnight guests) sleep labyrinths. The noon meal is preceded by a communal grace held in the center of the Power Labyrinth, a ceremony in which everyone sings "Amazing Grace"--with particular emphasis on the second syllable. Come bedtime, overnight guests can bunk down in one of the beds in the Love Labyrinth, reportedly the best place on the property to watch the flying saucers that regularly buzz the grounds.

Because "ruptured aura" and "imbalanced chakras" are phrases that never turn up in coroners' reports, it's easy to write off Torrez's labyrinths as matters of less than life-and-death importance. But when human misery trods those winding paths, the labyrinths can't be as easily dismissed.

Worried that her testimonial will peg her as a labyrinth poster girl, a multiple-sclerosis sufferer who's found relief in the maze wants to make a few things clear.

"I haven't had any miraculous curing, and I wouldn't claim to that," says Virginia Brant, a Phoenix woman who was diagnosed with the disease five years ago. "I'm still taking my medication."

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