Posted: June 30, 2002

New Age Flim Flam at a Labyrinth in Santa Fe 

by Robert Abbott

Ann and I recently visited friends in Santa Fe, and they told us about a labyrinth there. Naturally we had to go see it. In case you’re not familiar with labyrinths, I should mention that they are not the same as puzzle mazes. A labyrinth consists of a single path that winds back and forth until it reaches a center.

Here’s a picture of the labyrinth, and that’s Ann at the center. The labyrinth was built outside the Museum of International Folk Art on a plaza surrounded by other museums. It appears, at first, to be the same as many other labyrinths, but when we reached the center, something very strange happened. Whenever we spoke, our voices resonated! It was startling. It was like we were in an echo chamber. It was an enjoyable effect and it was a fitting end for out trip to the center.

But then I started to think: how did they do that? We asked at Visitor Information in two of the museums and nobody knew anything about it. Even stranger, we realized that there was no sign with any information at the labyrinth. There wasn’t even a sign that said this is a labyrinth.

So now I really had to figure out how they made our voices resonate. I picked up a copy of Bienvenidos, 2002 Summer Guide to Santa Fe & Northern New Mexico. It had an article about the labyrinth and an interview with Len Meserve, one of the people involved in the labyrinth’s creation. Here is an excerpt:

Len Meserve . . . doused the site for the labyrinth’s location. He explained, “labyrinths are literally stone circles like Stonehenge in England conducting celestial energy and radiating them back to people who walk them consciously. That is why people who are receptive to its energy feel good every time they walk it.” Meserve douses with brass and copper rods. First, he offers a sacred invocation to the land for permission to locate the labyrinth and then, guidance in locating the ley lines. Ley lines are energy grids that travel corkscrew-like in straight lines, up and down, through the earth’s layers. On his first dousing trip for this labyrinth Meserve got no response.

But Meserve said, “On a return trip I found a water dome with two intersecting ley lines that became the center for this labyrinth.” The next time around he discovered “a third ley line pointing true north, which became the labyrinth’s entrance.” He emphasizes, “It is not the walls of the buildings on Museum Hill that resonate echoes, but the water dome in the center of this labyrinth with a pressure wave bubble that conducts sound waves for the echoes.” Meserve has been dousing and building labyrinths since 1985, including one for Shirley MacLaine atop a mesa on her Abiquiu property.

Well, now I had my answer to the cause of the resonance. The only trouble is this is astounding nonsense. It’s the sort of New Age clap trap that you hear when they explain the energy emanating from any “vortex” in Sedona, Arizona. And it’s the same hocus pocus that New Agers have brought to labyrinths.

There are those of us who are interested in single-path labyrinths because they are the predecessors of puzzle mazes and because they are also amusing diversions. In the past we have been able to tolerate the New Age claims of the healing power of labyrinths or of the energy lines that travel through the earth, and we tolerate them because we realize it is the New Age followers who have created the current revival of labyrinths.

But this is different. Meserve and his group have used something like stage magic to fool people into accepting their religious convictions. This same sort of thing was prevalent during the Roman Empire. Although Jupiter was the official god, there were mystery cults everywhere. There were even itinerant mystery cults. The leaders of these cults were not above throwing in a magic trick or two to help convince the initiates of the truth of their cult. Even today there are magicians who use tricks to promote beliefs, but most magicians (especially James Randi) condemn this form of trickery.

Maybe I’m getting too worked up over this, but I think the trickery at this labyrinth should be condemned. And the worst thing is: I never found out how the trick was done!

I also think the museums in Santa Fe are making a mistake in getting involved with this quackery. Maybe they realize this and that’s why there is no information posted about the labyrinth. But they are still involved. I hope they keep the resonance effect, because it is entertaining. But they should explain how it really happens, simply because there are people who use this resonance to advance some pretty strange cosmic notions.

If anyone has any comments or any information about what is going on in Santa Fe, please write me. Also, let me know if I can post your comments here.

And here are the comments:

June 30, 2002
From: The magician James Randi

The low circular wall focuses and reflects the sound waves back to the center....


July 3, 2002
From: Jeff Saward, editor of Caerdroia, the Journal of Mazes & Labyrinths


Read your item on the Santa Fe labyrinth installation and was fascinated by your comments. I haven’t seen this labyrinth—yet—but will be there next month to give a presentation on the history of labyrinths for the Folk Art Museum the first weekend of August, so will be interested to check your observations about the curious sound effects, although you are by no means the first to have noticed this effect. My wife, Kimberly, was there last summer and commented on her return how remarkable it was.

I don’t know how much the museum would actually endorse the comments of the dowser you mention, but I do know the man that actually installed the current labyrinth—Marty Kermeen—and he would almost certainly tell a very different and less flaky story of how the labyrinth site was chosen—it occupies a space in a courtyard that was formerly the location of a simple labyrinth created of stones, by said dowser, on a spot made available by the museum a few years previous.

Maybe it does have water domes and ley-lines, and lord knows what else, in spades, but the curious sound effect that accompanies the current labyrinth is nothing to do with such woo-woo wackiness. It is caused by the slight doming of the labyrinth (to shed such rain that falls in Santa Fe) and the circular retaining wall which act together to bring reflected sound to a focus at head height near the centre of the labyrinth. It wasn’t planned that way, it just happened as a consequence of the construction and layout of the site.

An almost identical effect can be observed at the ancient (mediaeval?) turf cut labyrinth situated on a hilltop at Breamore in Hampshire, England. Here the combination of the dense vegetation of the Yew trees encircling the labyrinth and a low mound at the centre of the labyrinth is further enhanced by the concentric turf ridges that surround the central goal. The echoing sound of voices can be distinctly heard at a height of two or three feet above the central mound, a phenomenon that was very obvious to the soundman of a BBC film crew that accompanied me to the turf labyrinth several summers ago. He was convinced that it was feedback from our radio microphones, but by a process of moving around we managed to define quite clearly where the effect was most concentrated and this was recordable through our mikes on a tape machine that was actually located amongst the trees, as well as clearly audible at the centre without the microphones turned on.

Now I could go on to suggest that labyrinths were in fact developed by early man as some kind of paranormal parabolic reflector, but I suspect that the truth is somewhat weirder than that!

Jeff Saward

Thank you, Jeff, for that fascinating explanation.

So . . . now I know what causes the strange resonance. And I guess I was a little too worked up over this labyrinth. I suspected that a bunch of New Age whackos were using a magic trick to advance their beliefs, but it was only one New Age whacko who was using an accidental occurrence to advance his beliefs. However, the magazine Bienvenidos should be blamed for believing this guy and printing that article. And once the article appeared, the museums can be blamed for not saying anything about what was happening.

The resonance is still a startling effect. If you’re in Santa Fe, I recommend a visit to this labyrinth (as well as a visit to the Folk Art museum). I think labyrinths in the future should be built in such a way as to duplicate the resonance effect.

July 12, 2002
From: Adam Fromm


I was just reading your piece on hearing your voice resonate from the center of the labyrinth.

James Randi is correct; the low wall, being a semicircle with you at the center, reflects back enough noise to be sharply noticeable. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (my old digs), there’s a similar effect to be found in front of Foellinger Auditorium, where a semicircular concrete fence, no more than a few feet high, surrounds a large patio-like area with a round plaque at its center. One of the first things the tour guides show you as an entering student is the echo effect you can hear while standing on that plaque.

Adam Fromm

July 18, 2002
From: Marge and Bob McCarthy

Dear Robert,

Your response to the labyrinth at the Museum of International Folk Art is quite interesting. I am the President of the Labyrinth Resource Group in Santa Fe and would like to fill you in a bit as to the history of our group and the labyrinth at the museum.

Our group was asked by the previous director of the museum to build a temporary labyrinth at the museum before the construction of the new plaza, where a permanent labyrinth was planned. Some of our members (including Len Meserve) were involved on a consultation basis in planning the new labyrinth. I am sure Len would agree that he was expressing his own opinions in the Bienvenidos article—not those of our group and certainly not those of the Museum.

The beauty of labyrinths and what might now be called “The Labyrinth Movement” is that there is no dogma involved—no belief system required—for the labyrinth to have meaning. Each person who walks determines what the experience will be for himself or herself at that particular moment. There are people who walk the labyrinth “for fun” and those who find it calming. There are those who walk “to get energized” and those who walk to assuage their grief. Yes, many people find that walking the labyrinth helps them to be more in touch with their “inner selves”—a time to be quiet and listen to the voice within.

My hope is that we can each respect how others experience the labyrinth and not pass judgment on views that are different from our own.

By the way, I certainly do not agree that “it is the New Age followers who have created the current revival of labyrinths.” I think labyrinths have become popular because they meet a real need in the lives of people who are caught up in the frantic lifestyle of our time.

We will be celebrating this new labyrinth all day on August 4th. The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, Canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and the person credited with reviving the labyrinth as a spiritual tool, will speak, as will Jeff Saward, labyrinth historian from England. Jeff will show slides of labyrinths from around the world. We will have three labyrinth walks—one for World Peace, one to celebrate the new labyrinth with African dance, drums and marimbas and a final one for Remembrance of those who have died during the past year. This day will be an example of the universality of the labyrinth. All are invited. For more information, contact

I hope this answers some of your concerns about the labyrinth at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.

Marge McCarthy

P.S. If you think it relevant, you are welcome to put this on your web site.

March 13, 2003
From: MJ Reilly

Mr. Abbott,

I read your New Age Flim Flam at a Labyrinth in Santa Fe article on your web page after playing your very enjoyable Theseus and the Minotaur maze.

The first time I noticed the same effect was at the Einstein memorial at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. They have a bronze statue of Einstein sitting on a circular bleacher/stairway surrounding a star map created by nailing metal studs into the ground.

My friend and I noticed the same echo effect at the center of the monument that you noticed in Santa Fe. Since we were at a science monument, we assumed that the effect was intentional to show off a scientific principle. Eventually we figured out that it was reflections from the circular stairwell that James Randi as others have pointed out.

I find it interesting on how much image and expectation can effect our view of the world. I assumed the echo effect was intentional at the Einstein monument since it was a science monument. You assumed the echo effect in Santa Fe was intentional to make the labyrinth seem magical. Yet in the end, both effects were an accident of design.

I have found that many times when I become stuck on a logic puzzle, it is due to some unjustified assumption I have created. My own assumptions block the correct path from view.

—Matt Reilly

To my article Sacred Labyrinths, in which I try to explain why a labyrinth can be interesting even if you aren’t on a spiritual quest.

To my home page.