Anyone who has walked through a labyrinth knows they can be meditative, complex, and fun. Labyrinths have an interesting history, coming partly from Greek mythology and adopted by various religions around the world, with countries such as India, Peru, Iceland, and Egypt building their own versions. A labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is a path to follow already laid out, with no choices to change direction until you reach the middle and then go back the way you came. A maze offers choices of direction, but of course, some of them don’t actually go anywhere.
The origins of the labyrinth are fairly mysterious, but in Greek mythology, the legendary artificer Daedalus designed and built the elaborate structures for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. It was supposed to hold the mythical Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Labyrinths have been used in a religious sense probably since they first began appearing. They are considered sacred space, an area that can be used for introspection and connection to God or various gods/goddesses. The more a labyrinth is used, the more powerful it becomes. Walking carefully around the labyrinth is a meditation in and of itself, the walker having to be aware of each step and where the foot is placed.
The classical labyrinth consists of 7 paths that lead to the center and is the most common design found, but there have also been classical labyrinths with 11, 15, and 3 circuits. There are other labyrinth forms, including the triple spiral labyrinth, the medieval labyrinth, and the Chakravyuha.
The Classical Labyrinth
This type of labyrinth is found in circular and square forms. Ancient classical labyrinths are found in Europe, northern Africa, the Indian sub-continent, and Indonesia, as well as in the American southwest and South America. It has a simple construction and is most likely the labyrinth associated with the Greek Daedalus myth mentioned above. The classical labyrinth also has an association with Christianity, especially the medieval era. There is a cross at the centre, which can symbolize the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. Reaching this cross can be the goal of the walker in order to use it as a focus for meditation when he or she reaches the centre.
Triple Spiral Labyrinth
The triple spiral labyrinth is a relatively new labyrinth construction, based on the Celtic triple spiral symbol. In Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, the triple spiral stands for the three realms of land, sea, and sky. The triple spiral labyrinth is described by Nancy Thiel Voogd as:
The triple spiral is a new walking path in the labyrinth world that offers a unique space for play and laughter, wonder and delight, introspection and discovery, questions and answers. Simply put, the triple spiral labyrinth is a reliable way to find what you seek. […] The pattern contains three spirals and each spiral represents a third of the life cycle. After you enter through the gateway you pass through the spirals from youth to adult to elder, before arriving at the heart space in the center. Here you pause and reflect before unwinding the spirals in the opposite direction and completing at the gateway.”
The historic origins of the triple spiral labyrinth seem to be mysterious and relatively unknown.
This labyrinth is Indian in origin, based on a battle formation described in the poem the Mahabharata, which is the story of a great war that “ended one age and began another.” The labyrinth was a formation used by Dronacharya, the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. It was used to break the enemy’s formation, to inflict the maximum damage on the opposing force. In the Mahabharata, the battle’s main conflict is that the son of one of the warriors knew how to enter the formation, but not to exit it. While the labyrinth is not like a maze and has a clear exit from the centre, the labyrinth’s form symbolizes the struggle of entering but not being able to exit. It seems to also be a symbol for the inner workings of the mind, in which one can get trapped.
To find a labyrinth near you, visit the World Wide Labyrinth Locator.
***This post is part of the Blogging from A-Z April challenge. Starting with A, every post in April will be about a topic starting with a letter of the alphabet, consecutively. For more information, please visit the official page.***