Lourdes of the Rings

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

Physically unable to walk a labyrinth, Brant instead traces her finger tips through a series of paper mazes, an activity that she finds relaxing. "The Lord allowed this to come into my life," she says of the book of mazes she holds in her lap.

"If I'm having a real bad day, I can put on some meditative music, walk the labyrinth with my fingers and it allows me to escape what I'm going through," explains Brant. "You know the old adage 'Got a headache? Hit your toe'? This is the same idea--the labyrinth allows you to take your mind off what's troubling you and focus it someplace else."

If Brant's experiences with the labyrinth suggest metaphysical chicken soup ("Couldn't hurt"), another wanderer's encounter might fall under the heading ofNew Age Clearasil.

Plagued by lethargy related to Parkinson's disease, Ralph Lutz made an appointment to see Kay Torrez last spring. Within hours of working with a paper labyrinth in Torrez's office, the Sun City retiree's face had erupted in such large sores that his left eye was swollen shut.

The sores broke open later that night, releasing a yellow, gluey substance that drained from his face and ears for nearly a week. Told by Torrez that the drainage was probably the result of radiation treatment he'd received for prostate cancer, Lutz sought no medical attention except for the castor-oil packs his wife and daughter administered.

When his face cleared up six days later, Lutz felt like a new man. "At first I was not into this at all," confesses Lutz. Then, flashing Polaroids taken during what he calls his "Elephant Man" period, he adds, "But now that I've seen results, I'm not a bit skeptical."

Perhaps fearing that others might not be as broad-minded, Lutz hasn't mentioned labyrinths to his doctor.

And neither has Virginia Brant. "They hardly know about multiple sclerosis," she says with a laugh. "And you want me to bomb 'em with this one?"

A retired engineer who spent 30 years working on underground nuclear tests in Nevada, Wally Sitko doesn't particularly care what the medical community thinks of his involvement with labyrinths.

In August, Sitko's doctors told him he had colon cancer.
"They wanted to go in immediately and cut it out, but I wouldn't have it," says Sitko. Instead, he turned to alternative therapies--including the labyrinth.

"My body was so saturated with cancer I was barely moving," he explains. "Three and a half months later, my body is clear."

Sitko has no idea what his doctors would think of his amazing recovery. That's because he hasn't been back to see them since the diagnosis.

"I've never really cared for doctors," he explains. "I've been told psychically that I'm cured."

Although its cheerleaders suggest that there's nothing the labyrinth can't do, even some of the movement's biggest boosters have qualms about touting the maze as a medical miracle.

"I have a lot of problems with this," confesses Labyrinth Letter editor Jean Lutz (no relation to Ralph Lutz). Reasoning that improved health is one of the few aspects of the labyrinth that can be verified by recognized science, she wonders why so few people ever document their success stories with hard evidence. "If the cancer or whatever really did go away--go back, see the doctor, prove it. But, unfortunately, no one ever does."

Workshop organizer Taffy Lancer is also leery of promoting the labyrinth as a Mayo Clinic in a maze. "The word 'cure' is troublesome; let's put it on the back burner," she says. "The labyrinth is about improving the quality of life. And if it can do that, let's use it."

In that light, some more-credentialed observers are willing to concede that alternative therapies like the labyrinth may benefit some people.

"Many healing traditions don't cure you of disease," explains Michael Winkelman, an ASU professor specializing in medical anthropology. "But they heal you in the sense of making you a whole person, accepting your life, ordering your social relations and coming to grips with your God as you know Him."

Still, "any belief in the wrong context can be dangerous," warns Winkelman. "People may, in fact, fail to take adequate measures because they utilize these other resources."

But for some terminally ill patients approaching the end of the road, a labyrinth path may prove to be a highly therapeutic detour.

"Some of these people may have already gone to biomedicine and been told, 'Prepare your will and get ready to die,'" says Winkelman. "So they're actually taking a last-ditch chance. In that case, I would argue that they've got very little to lose--and maybe a lot to gain."

As long shadows creep across her field of rings, Kay Torrez hugs her guCR>ests goodbye, then takes a breather on a bench facing the mazes. Staring into the distance, she watches an arthritic old dog that lives on the ranch hobble through the Power Labyrinth on gnarled legs.

Asked why an animal that is constantly exposed to the labyrinth's power is in such poor health, Torrez shakes her head thoughtfully and replies that she just doesn't know.

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