A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. Walking the labyrinth can be considered an initiation in which one awakens the knowledge encoded within their DNA.
A labyrinth contains non-verbal, implicate geometric and numerological prompts that create a multi-dimensional holographic field. These unseen patterns are referred to as sacred geometry. They allegeldy reveal the presence of a cosmic order as they interface the world of material form and the subtler realms of higher consciousness.The contemporary resurgence of labyrinths in the west is stemmimg from our deeply rooted urge to honor again the Sacredness of All Life. A labyrinth can be experienced as the birthing womb of the Great Goddess. Thus, the labyrinth experience is a potent practice of Self-Integration as it encapsulates the spiraling journey in and out of incarnation. On the journey in, towards the center, one cleanses the dirt from the road. On the journey out, one is born anew to consciously dwell in a human body, made holy by having got a taste of the Infinite Center.
Labyrinth is a word of pre-Greek ("Pelasgian") origin absorbed by classical Greek, and is apparently related to labrys, a word for the archaic iconic "double axe", with inthos connoting "place" (as in "Corinth"). The complex palace of Knossos in Crete is usually implicated, though the actual dancing-ground, depicted in frescoed patterns at Knossos, has not been found. Something was being shown to visitors as a labyrinth at Knossos in the 1st century AD.
Greek mythology did not recall, however, that in Crete there was a Lady who presided over the Labyrinth. A tablet inscribed in Linear B found at Knossos records a gift "to all the gods honey; to the mistress of the labyrinth honey." All the gods together receive as much honey as the Mistress of the Labyrinth alone. "She must have been a Creational Goddess."
According to Greek mythology, King Minos of Crete had the craftsman Daedalus construct the Labyrinth in order to conceal the Minotaur, the half-bull, half-human offspring of Minos' wife Pasiphae and a bull. For some unknown reason, Daedalus and his son Icarus were confined in the Labyrinth. Constructing wings of feathers and wax, the two were able to escape by flying above the walls of the Labyrinth. Young Icarus, however, impetuously flew too near the sun. His waxy wings melted and he drowned in the Icarian Sea.
7-Fold Cretan Labyrinth
Another couple associated with the Labyrinth was Theseus and Ariadne. Theseus was the son of Aegeus, King of Athens. At the time Athens had to a pay tribute of seven boys and seven girls to Crete - as food for the Minotaur - every nine years. Theseus decided to put a stop to this and joined a tribute group going to Crete. There, Ariadne, one of Minos' daughters, fell in love with him. She gave Theseus a ball of string, which helped him find his way out of the Labyrinth after he had killed the Minotaur.That the Cretan labyrinth had been a dancing-ground and was made for Ariadne rather than for Minos was remembered by Homer in the Iliad where, in the pattern that Hephaestus inscribed on Achilles' shield, one incident pictured was a dancing-ground like the one that Daedalus designed in the spacious town of Knossos for Ariadne of the lovely locks. Even the labyrinth dance was depicted on the shield, where youths and marriageable maidens were dancing on it with their hands on one another's wrists - circling as smoothly on their accomplished feet as the wheel of a potter and there they ran in lines to meet each other.
The labyrinth is the referent in the familiar Greek patterns of the endlessly running meander, to give the "Greek Key" its common modern name.
In the 3rd century BC coins from Knossos are still struck with the labyrinth symbol. The predominant labyrinth form during this period is the simple 7-circuit style known as the classical labyrinth.
As a unicursal (one way in, one way out) path, a labyrinth is showing and teaching centeredness. This differentiates a labyrinth from a maze which has many paths & dead-ends leading to confusion. Like life & destiny, a labyrinth may be a long journey but it has a specific beginning and a definite end. Like mandalas, a labyrinth offers a holistic route (meandering radius) from the periphery to the center. A labyrinth imprints a 'royal groove', a ceremonial pathway designed according to principles such as Harmonic Proportion and Alternance of Energy. For instance, the clockwise (sunwise) and counter-clockwise (moonwise) spins of the meanders map out a balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
The seven circuits of the classical Cretan Labyrinth pathway have also associated with the seven primary chakras of the body. Chakra is a Hindu word meaning 'wheels of light.' They are spiraling vortexes of energy that make up the energy field of our bodies. Yoga works with the chakra system as do various complimentary healing modalities.
Notice that you don't walk these paths in order from one to eight. The sequence of the paths is 3-2-1-4 and 7-6-5-8. This is a pattern that repeats itself twice: 3-2-1-4 and then 7-6-5-8.
Chakras and Labyrinths
Musical Patterns of Labyrinths
Pliny's Natural History mentions four ancient labyrinths: the Cretan labyrinth, an "Egyptian labyrinth", a "Lemnian labyrinth" and an "Italian labyrinth".
Pliny's "Egyptian labyrinth" -- Even more generally, "labyrinth" might be applied to any extremely complicated maze-like structure. Herodotus, in Book II of his Histories, describes as a "labyrinth" a building complex in Egypt, "near the place called the City of Crocodiles," that he considered to surpass the pyramids in its astonishing ambition:
It has twelve covered courts - six in a row facing north, six south - the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other. Inside, the building is of two stories and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper storey, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade.
Pliny's "Lemnian labyrinth - "Pliny's Natural History (36.90) lists the legendary Smilis, reputed to be a contemporary of Daedalus, together with the historical mid sixth-century BCE architects and sculptors Rhoikos and Theodoros as one of the makers of the "Lemnian labyrinth", which Andrew Stewart (One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works, "Smilis") regards as "evidently a misunderstanding of the Samian temple's location en limnais, 'in the marsh'".
Pliny's "Italian labyrinth" - According to Pliny, the tomb of the great Etruscan general Lars Porsena contained an underground maze. Pliny's description of the exposed portion of the tomb is intractable; Pliny, it seems clear, had not observed this structure himself, but is quoting the historian and Roman antiquarian Varro.
The full flowering of the medieval labyrinth design came about during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the grand pavement labyrinths of the gothic cathedrals, most notably Chartres and Amiens in France.
The 11-ring labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
The best known example of labyrinth is embedded in the stone pavement of Chartres Cathedral near Paris. The Middle Ages was a time of pilgrimages. Since most people could not make the grand pilgrimage to Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the center of the world, and symbolizing the Kingdom of Heaven, they would make pilgrimages to important cathedrals such as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella and Chartres. Once there, they would end their pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth to the center, and then slowly retracing their steps to regain the 'outside world' and return to their homes. The Chartres was labyrinth sometimes walked in place of the actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and considered a holy experience. People believed that if you walked the labyrinth with the full dedication of a pilgrim, you would be transformed, the old you will be grounded at the threshold stone a purified you emerging, ready to tackle new directions in your life's journey.
The new Cathedral labyrinth patterns were all laid out according to the same basic pattern twelve rings that enclose a meandering path which slowly leads to a center rosette. The path makes 28 loops, seven on left side toward the center, then seven on the right side toward the center, followed by seven on the left side toward the outside, and finally seven on the right side toward the outside terminating in a short strait path to the rosette.
Like all cathedral labyrinths, it draws upon the ancient northern Celtic, middle eastern, and Classical Greek and Roman origins of the Christian faith. The Medieval builders were careful to incorporate their understanding of sacred architecture into the design and location of the labyrinths, which were usually placed near the entrance at the west end of the nave, beside the baptismal font at the foot of the Church. This location symbolizes our first steps on the spiritual journey.
The labyrinth of Chartres has been referred to by four different names:
Over the same period some 500 or more non-ecclesiastical labyrinths were constructed in Scandinavia. These labyrinths, generally in coastal areas, are marked out with stones most often in the simple classical form. They often have names which translate as "Troy Town". They are thought to have been constructed by early fishing communities, to trap malevolent trolls/winds in the labyrinth's coils in order to ensure a safe fishing expedition. There are also stone labyrinths on the Isles of Scilly, although none of them is known to date back as far as the Scandinavian ones.
- Le dedale - or Daedalus: the legendary architect who built a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete. Just as Theseus struggled against the Minotaur, so man struggles against evil, and is guided back out through the maze by Ariadne or divine grace. The labyrinth of Chartres, however, is not a complex maze but a single path with no hidden corners or dead-ends.
La lieue - league: which is a distance of about three miles. Although the length of the path is only 260 meters, in the Middle Ages some pilgrims would walk the labyrinth on their knees. This exercise would take about an hour, or the time needed to walk three miles.
Le chemin de Jerusalem - The Road to Jerusalem: By walking the labyrinth, the faithful could make a substitute pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and be united in spirit with the Crusaders. To make a pilgrimage to a sacred place such as the Holy City is part of an ancient and ongoing tradition of spiritual commitment. When long distance traveling became too dangerous during the upheavals of the Middle Ages, the cathedral labyrinths were installed and established as alternative destinations for pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is both a communal event and a private act of transformation. Walking the labyrinth with others reminds us that we are all on the path together, each in our own unique way.
Le chemin du paradis - Road to Paradise - the heavenly Jerusalem: By walking the labyrinth, the faithful trace the path of our long and laborious life on earth, beginning with birth, at the entrance, and ending with death, at the center. The way out symbolizes purgatory and resurrection.
There are remarkable examples of the labyrinth shape from a whole range of ancient and disparate cultures. The symbol has appeared in all its forms and media (petroglyphs, classic-form, medieval-form, pavement, turf and basketry) at some time, throughout most parts of the world, from Java, Native North and South America, Australia, India and Nepal.
Modern Labyrinths - In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the labyrinth symbol, which has inspired a revival in labyrinth building, notably at Willen Park, Milton Keynes; Grace Cathedral, San Francisco; Tapton Park, Chesterfield; and the Labyrinthe de Harbor 16 in Montreal.Countless computer games depict mazes and labyrinths, e.g. the Lara Croft series.On bobsled, luge, and skeleton tracks, a labyrinth is where there are three to four curves in succession without a straight line in between any of the turns.
Modern interpretations of the Greek Labyrinth -- In modern imagery, the labyrinth is often confused with the maze, in which one may become lost.The myth of the labyrinth has in recent times transformed into a stage play by Ilinka Crvenkovska which explores notions of a man's ability to control his own fate. Theseus in an act of suicide is killed by the Minotaur, who is himself killed by the horrified townspeople.The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges was entranced with the idea of the labyrinth, and used it extensively throughout his short stories. His modern literary use of the labyrinth has inspired a great many other authors in their own works (e.g. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves).
Cultural Meanings -- Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served either as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. During Medieval times the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to the God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). Labyrinths can be thought of as symbolic forms of pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending towards salvation or enlightenment. Many people could not afford to simply travel to holy sites and lands, so the use of labyrinths and prayer substituted that need. Later, the religious significance of labyrinths faded and they were used primarily for entertainment, although recently their spiritual aspect has seen a resurgence. Many newly-made labyrinths exist today, in churches and parks, to provide people with a meditative way to relieve stresses and regrets (the Labyrinth Society is a modern locator to labyrinths in North America). Finally, in a symbolic sense, labyrinths have moved into higher layers of reality, the internet with its hypertext feature being a good example (the symbol of "labyrinth" merges with the symbol of "book").
Creating a Labyrinth
Laybrinths come in several sizes and vary while keeping the basic geometric design.
Some are the size of a board game which you move through using your index finger.
Others are large enough to walk.
Earthwork and Rock
Garden Labyrinths can be aligned with earth energies, ley lines and grid points.
Dowsing rods can be used.
Each time you walk the labyrinth may be for a different reason. You may be seeking:
balance or centering
connection to your higher self
experiencing the energies
Once you reach the center of the labyrinth you can:
seek answers to questions
Drawing a Labyrinth
Labyrinths and Mandalas
Labyrinths are linked to Mandalas - sanskrit for 'circle that contain the Essence'. Like mandalas, labyrinths are archetypal collective symbols that transcend all cultures because they are grounded in consciousness itself.
Labrys -13, a Star Wheel Labyrinth
The center of Labrys -13 shows a 13-ring labyrinth:
follow the traced lines - and jump over the arms of the cross.
On the left & right of the center, some meanders have been expanded to fill the entire mandala: they show the stories and adventures one encounters by meandering through life. Shown as a bottom-top axis containing the progression of the chakra symbols, there is a column Light that should actually be seen in 3D as going through the center. A mandala looks like a 2-D cross-section but is in fact a 3-D sphere. On the periphery, many apprentice pilgrims are forming a queue. Eventually, when they reach the north position portal, they will be able to descend (incarnate) into their life's journeys. The name 'labrys' comes from the shape of the openings, in the north and south positions, that resemble the antique labrys, a ceremonial double ax & magical scepter of the Amazons.
Labyrinths in Different Cultures
Native American Labyrinths
Hopi Round Labyrinth
Hopi Square Labyrinth
The Symbol of the Emergence - The whole myth and meaning of the Emergence is expressed by one symbol known to the Hopis as the Mother Earth symbol. There are two forms, the square [yellow above] and the circular [red above]. Examples of these Labyrinth are carved on a rock south of Oraibi, and south of Shipaulovi. A combination of the two forms is also carved on a wooden stick which is planted in front of the One Horn altar in the Kwani kiva at Walpi during the Wúwuchim ceremony. The symbol is commonly known as Tapu'at [Mother and Child]. This type represents spiritual rebirth from one world to the succeeding one, as symbolized by the Emergence itself.
The Man in the Maze
At one level, the labyrinth symbolizes the female womb, only penetrable if one is pure and perfect. The male figure outside, representing the human seed, can penetrate the womb, fertilize the ovum, produce new life, which then emerges as a new birth or a reincarnated existence. Entry into the labyrinth gives new life to litoi, thus achieving reincarnation and eternal life.
A typical Roman labyrinth design of the simple meander type,
While the classical labyrinth was known throughout the Roman Empire, the popular use of the labyrinth as a design element in mosaic flooring resulted in a number of interesting developments, all conveniently classifiable as "Roman" varieties. While rarely encountered amongst the examples created during the current revival, these labyrinths are of considerable interest, as they represent the first real attempts to create different forms of the genre and the first major changes to a symbol that had already been in circulation for nearly two thousand years. Several researchers have attempted further classification of Roman designs, based on mathematical or geometrical properties, which allow the majority of the sixty or so Roman mosaic labyrinths to be designated as meander, serpentine, or spiral types.
England contains many unicursal turf mazes, some possibly dating back to the Dark Ages, when they were created by the nordic settlers. One distinctive aspect of British mazes is their diversity, with possibly the widest range of forms of maze of any country in the world. Hedges mazes are particularly distinctive to Britain, whilst mazes using turf, brick, stone, wood and water are also widespread. Indoors, there are mazes made of mosiac, marble and stained-glass, as well as mirror mazes.
Sweden Galgeberget, Visby, Gotland
In Scandinavia hundreds of stone labyrinths line the shores of the Baltic Sea, with over half of them in Sweden. Many are said to have been built by fishermen, who walked through them in the hope of a good catch and a safe return. Their varied names - Julianís Bower, Maiden's Bower, Trojaborg - give further insight to their purpose, as an expression of the pursuit of maidens, courtship, the act of fertility, penetration of the womb, the creation of the embryo with its umbilical cord, and the birth of new life.
More than in other countries, Switzerland seems to embrace the appropriateness of labyrinths in public places, of which more than 50 have been established in recent years, in addition to dozens of other on private property. The impetus for public labyrinths began when artist Agnes Barmettler and art teacher Rosmarie Schmid won first place among 140 entrants in a 1989 design competition for public spaces, sponsored in Zurich for the 700th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Federation. The project was constructed on the site of a former military academy (Zeughausareal), just a ten minute walk from the central train station. Some 30 meters (98 feet) in diameter, the labyrinth is of contemporary design including landscaping that is maintained by a corps of women volunteers.
Besides the Chartres and Cretan patterns, another commonly used design is the Scandinavian or Baltic Wheel, which allows a choice between a longer path or a shorter one, an especially useful feature in very large labyrinths.
The women creators of Switzerland's labyrinths have emphasized harmony with the natural surroundings, including trees, rocks and brooks in the designs. Case in point, the labyrinth at the Academy of Boldern, Männedorf (on Lake Zurich), placed in front of a Japanese pavilion, has the feel of a Zen garden. This is the largest labyrinth in Switzerland and follows the pattern of the Baltic Wheel pattern in Hanover, Germany.
In Germany, unicursal turf mazes were used for ritual procession by apprentices as they reached adulthood.
Most German labyrinths are the result of women's groups, inspired and assisted by the labyrinth community from Switzerland. Schmid and Barmettler have made more than 50 presentations to Volkshochschulen (institutions for permanent education) , Frauenzentren (women's centers), and other groups in Germany. As in Switzerland, there is a strong bent toward geomantic considerations in the design and placement of the labyrinths.
Grace Cathedral - The Labyrinth
Australia - New Zealand
The spread of European colonization to these region from the late 18th century onwards brought the labyrinth, in one or other of its forms. Many of the original labyrinths were later destroyed.
The first labyrinth in Australia appears to be the Ballarat hedge maze, in the Botanical Gardens, originally planted in 1862, cleared in 1881, replanted in the late 1880's and eventually destroyed in 1954. Most are direct copies of hedge mazes in Britain.
The first maze in New Zealand was in 1911 at the Dunedin Botanic Garden, a hedge maze, but was removed. In recent years the concept of the labyrinth has once again become popular in Australia and New Zealand.
Images by Mid-Atlantic Geomancy
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