Lady of the Labyrinth
Behind a curious domed house in Cave Creek, transcendental trespassers come to walk Taffy Lanser’s labyrinth for enlightenment, inspiration or just a dose of eccentricity
BY JIMMY MAGAHERN
Published by: Phoenix Magazine, June 2007
Sometimes Taffy Lanser catches the oddest people wandering around in circles in her backyard.
On the big lunar calendar events like the spring equinox and the summer solstice, there can be up to fifty of ’em, all shuffling around in flowing organically-grown cotton and jangling crystals, chanting Dharmic mantras to the low vibrations of an ancient Indian gong.
Other days, Lanser will spy only one to a small handful, either pacing solemnly like Tibetan lamas or dancing ecstatically like Stevie Nicks, navigating the winding pathway marked with meticulously placed stones behind her half-million-dollar mountainside home.
Such visitors are to be expected when you’re the metaphysical maven known throughout Southwest New Age circles as the “Lady of the Labyrinth.”
Ever since 1995, when the San Francisco-born Lanser laid out the first of her circuitous rock designs shortly after moving to the gently rolling hills of Cave Creek, hundreds of spiritual seekers have come flocking to the high desert ground behind Lanser’s distinctive two-story home. With its cool Buckminster Fuller-style geodesic domed roof, Lanser’s charming red brick cottage resembles an oversized girl’s playhouse crowned by a wooden replica of the Epcot Center globe.
On the nights of the equinox or solstice, Lanser will join the throng of visitors – in fact, lead them through a ceremonial rite celebrating the change of seasons – before inviting them to trod the serpentine path that enthusiasts believe can foster inner peace and healing.
But on the average day, the retired commercial investment realtor will often just putter around her hexagonal habitat while the transcendental trespassers roam her unfenced property in peace.
“If they’ve been here before, they can come and walk the labyrinth any time they choose,” Lanser says. “They don’t even need to knock on the door.”
Lanser feels she was called on by a higher power to create her 48-foot labyrinth on this spot, and consequently shuns all the perimeter security systems her neighbors in these upscale hills seem to favor.
“It isn’t my labyrinth,” she says, in a voice as calming as the wind chimes tinkling outside her window. “I am the keeper of the labyrinth. But it belongs to the universe, not to me.”
For the uninitiated, it may be hard to divine why so many New Agers have been chucking their crystals and pyramids to go walking in circles between concentric lines of rocks. While the labyrinth symbol itself, in various incarnations, dates back to at least 4000 B.C. in Greek and Mayan cultures, walking the pattern for spiritual exploration has only been popular in the states since the 90’s, and is just now beginning to approach mainstream acceptance. The medical schools at Harvard and Dartmouth recently installed labyrinths to calm stressed-out students, and “meditation labyrinths” are now found at more than 60 hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country, including the Desert Samaritan Medical Center in Mesa.
Lanser herself has done a lot to legitimize the craft in Arizona, consulting on the design of the elegant labyrinth at the Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa (where it’s offered as a “path to tranquility” along with Pilates, Yoga, and Tai Chi classes) and replicating her classical seven-path labyrinth at spots as varied as the Lodge at Sedona, Paradise Valley’s Franciscan Renewal Center and an alternative facility for autistic children in Cave Creek.
Lately, she’s also been installing many in private homes, where she sometimes worries her clients may be embracing the primitive design more as a fashion motif. Is the labyrinth merely the new Kokopelli?
“There was one I did for a gal that I think just wanted it as an enhancement to her property,” says Lanser, who normally charges $500 for her services plus the cost of materials, which can range from common river rock to expensive inlaid tile. “I’m fine building them for anyone who feels a labyrinth will fulfill something within them – besides ego.”
As to what people walk the labyrinths for, that can range from relaxation and self-reflection to physical well-being. Some believe the “sacred geometry” of the winding symmetrical circles and its intuitively reassuring single-path, or “unicursal,” design allow the left side of the brain to shut off, freeing the right side to wander in creative and contemplative tangents.
Still other labyrinth walkers – who tend to be predominantly female (something to do with freeing that imaginative and pattern-discerning part of our brains), and older (aging hippies love the lab) – just go for the kick of walking a cerebral conga line with so many “out there” individualists.
“That’s one of the things that really got me into it, was how weird the people are!” says Dona Smith, an earthy thirtysomething hair stylist more into rock concerts and family camping trips than New Age retreats – who nonetheless tries never to miss an equinox or solstice celebration at the Lanser labyrinth.
“I’m like, ‘These people could be my grandparents, and they’re out here doing this freakin’ odd stuff!
“It’s cool, you know?” she says. “Older people are on to something!”