LABYRINTH: MYTH, MEANING & SYMBOL
Each man’s life is a labyrinth at the centre of which lies his own death, and even after death it may be that he passes through a final maze before it is all ended for him. Within the great maze of a man’s life are many smaller ones, each seemingly complete in itself, and in passing through each one he dies in part, for in each he leaves behind him a part of his life and it lies dead behind him. It is a paradox of the labyrinth that the centre appears to be the way to freedom.
To enter the labyrinth that is life, is to enter a world of meander, twists, and turns, of coming back to oneself, and of a circuitous route to a goal. This provides life with a torque, a tension, so that we come not to fall asleep to the deeper levels, not to slip into inertia, obsessed with surface trivia, but to be constantly alive to dancing our Dream awake – to becoming what we can be, and who we are – awakening to self.
… When we fall asleep to the very labyrinth we are constructing, as the making of our own lives, then we are deep in inertia and will be gobbled up or frightened to death by the bull-roaring Minotaur that lurks at the heart of the labyrinth. To dance your Dream awake is to grab this bull-man by the horns. … there are as many ways to dance the Dream awake as there are people on the Earth, each with a personal Minotaur living within the fabric of life as it is constructed, and unfolded.
Fig.1. The classical labyrinth as it commonly appears on ancient Cretan coins
The Hopi peoples of the southern United States built rectangular labyrinths underground, called the Kiwa, which they related to male energy, the Sun Father. Through the dark tunnels young men were sent in search of the centre, winding nearer, then further from the goal, a deliberately disorienting experience, the final approach ending unexpectedly in the central space. Unexpectedly because of the labyrinthine geometry, spiralling forward and then back. There in the centre, a ladder led out through a hole in the roof, symbolising a rebirth from the darkness of the labyrinth-womb into the bright sunlight, horizons expanded from the inwardness induced by oppressively close passages (now it is time to be in the world again), brother braves waiting to welcome the initiate into his ‘new’ life, his old, younger self symbolically stripped off in the centre, the place of initiation, after the trials of the dark winding way, and so left behind, as the snake sheds its skin.
Contemplating the entrance, which leads the eye into the enfiladed, half hidden, mysterious paths, we may be seized with a sense of adventure, and the fearfulness that attends that, acknowledged or not: precisely, a sense of misgiving, viscerally felt, of wondering what will be expected from us, which must be courageously surmounted as we step out into the unknown, take command of our own destinies in living our lives, as symbolized, paralleled, in the winding gyres of the labyrinth.
We will encounter several worlds on our journey through this, a many stranded text of necessary complexity, as commentary and explication of the labyrinth we now contemplate from outside, as also of the living of our lives. Dizzying spirals of association, cascades of linkage, will draw into our orbit all manner of intertwined things, viewpoints, attitudes, contrarieties, corollaries. We shall find resonances and remembrances in the labyrinthine past, in the uses and proprieties of ritual, hoary lore and ancient story, and that which seems basic, intrinsic to the human condition, music and dance.
Fig.2. The labrys, associated with Cretan mysteries. Left, Death, the waning moon; Right, Life, the waxing moon. After Bleakley
Labyrinth is a word derived from an ancient root meaning ‘stone’, la, whence Greek laos and Latin lapis, the solidity, the firm-on-the-ground materiality of the noun. The labrys, the Cretan double headed axe, is sometimes thought to be the origin of labyrinth. (Fig.2) The etymology is the same, but, symbolising the waxing and waning moons, the two halves of life, it can also be seen as the labia which enclose us as we are born, and the labia of the Devouring Mother at our death, and between them in the axe, the four-pointed cross of manifestation. For these reasons it appears (often held by a goddess) guarding the labyrinth entrance, as gateway to the unknown world, or the inner underworld.
The alternate word maze derives from Old English dmasian, meaning ‘to confuse’, the alert activity of the verb, the trickery of airy wind against which we need to re-member our grounding, pull ourselves together to maintain feeling contact with Earth, or we shall lose our way.
The labyrinth, from time immemorial associated with dualities of entrapment and release, outer and inner, death and birth, appears in similar form throughout the world, whether in myth, as a built structure which can be entered, or as a small depiction used talismanically, tracing the winding paths with eye or finger contemplatively as an aid to witchery, or the shaman’s journey.
In the British Isles the latter are known as Troy Stones, linked with the ancient Wisewoman tradition. In parallel, since midwifery was a part of that, is a labyrinth form of meditational Yantra called Chakra-Vyuha, used in Indian women’s magic to focus the mother’s attention during childbirth. A similar talisman known as Kota (the fortress) is found in South India as a domestic threshold protection.
In Scandinavia many, and in the British Isles some labyrinths are named Trojaborg, Troytown, or the equivalent. These are the commonest names, others apparently named after Nineveh, Babylon, Jericho or Jerusalem. We shall come back to this. There are also names which mean ‘turn’, ‘winding’, or similar, or speak of protection—Windelbahn (winding road), GĆngborg (walk-fort)—though the place names suggest ancient links with Mediterranean lands. This seems perhaps less mysterious—or maybe more—when we realize something of the wealth of ancient geographical linkages, for example, that the detail of several mythic stories of Ancient Greece are shared with the equally ancient equivalents from Indonesia (identity of labyrinth themes occur in both traditions), or in the realm of iconography, that prehistoric ample thighed ‘Venus’ figurines are found from Mesopotamia to Mexico.
Entry: the Spiral
The time has come to take the first step, and the outer world recedes as we advance into the tunnel, with only that which is truly meaningful kept with us, all the trivia of mundane life left behind, each pace a naked step in the dark into a future as yet unseen. And we perceive little else but the curve of the enclosing walls.
Labyrinth geometry is clearly spiral, and this is a symbol of great antiquity: appearing among the 10-30,000 years old palĺolithic cave paintings in Southern France and Spain; notably in the passage of the important, and spectacular, New Grange so called passage grave in the Boyne Valley north of Dublin; inscribed on Celtic monuments, where it is held to signify water (symbolically the Water of Life, or of Death, the unconscious); and elsewhere throughout the world. Spirals spontaneously arise at certain stages of meditation, and also to some succumbing to anĺsthetic. From the natural world we might also mention spiral galaxies, the vortex of a hurricane, the cochlea in the inner ear, and the spiral form of the DNA molecule, at the defining centre of life.
The shape is primordial, seen by the ancient hunter in the coils of gut spilt out after he has plunged his flint knife into the belly of his prey, a parallel with the resting snake, and maybe leading him to wonder where in these coils the females of his family/tribe harbour new life. Here is the spiral as symbol of cycles of growth (coils of gut seen as the microcosm to the macrocosm of the underworld), becoming the perfection of the circle when there is no more growth possible, unity with the One achieved, this also symbolized as the serpent Uroburos with tail in mouth who encloses the universe. Hence too the ancient association of the snake with the Goddess who presides over Life and Death, the snake seen as immortal from the suggestive imagery of shed skin, and from the absence of legs as chthonic, hugging the Earth in grounded, feeling intimacy with the Mother who spawned us all. Here is a suggestive origin of the labyrinth and its use for ceremonies and rituals of initiation, rebirth, rites of passage.
Connection with the cycles of death and rebirth is strong. In a myth from the stone age culture of Malecula in Vanuatu (the New Hebrides) the dead person approaching the entrance to the underworld, a cave, finds that it is guarded by Le-hev-hev, the Spider Goddess, who erases one half of the labyrinth she has drawn on the path. The dead must complete it to be allowed to enter, or be eaten. Having succeeded—and success is expected from long practice of the labyrinth dance in life—and descent made to the underworld, there is then discovered a great lake, the Water of Life …
The terror so many feel in the presence of the spider may be in part related to arachnid’s spiral web, a reminder, we may now perceive, of that at which all must in due time arrive.
Similarly the devout hero ģneus, mythic founder of Rome in some accounts, in his wanderings after the sack of Troy finds a labyrinth drawn on the gates to the cave of the Cumean Sibyl, by the contemplation of which we may suppose he composes himself into a suitable state for entry. The Indian Kota, mentioned above, evidences a similar belief in the labyrinth as protective pattern, found in connection with all kinds of boundaries, thresholds to other realms. For labyrinth, spiral and circle all share the fundamental symbolism of the Border of the Cosmos, and so of representations of the cosmos in little, of sacred spaces built or natural, and also of the domestic. Model houses dating to the archaic period of Greece, ancient times of magical consciousness, show large meander decorations around the walls, which may be read as shorthand for the protective labyrinth itself.
Labyrinths and spirals are also physically associated with gallows hills, some of which exist with spiral paths to their peaks: the condemned felon is prompted to review the turns or reversals of his or her own life on the way to its ending. And by a reasoning into opposites labyrinths are likewise seen as patterns of healing, renewals into fresh life. So, treading our winding way, we may also reflect on the pitfalls and ensnarements we have encountered in our own lives, and may hope for our own redemptions.
First Turn: History
We are led away from the goal, the Centre. This apparent retrospective step suggests a review of our own past, and linked with that, labyrinth history, or prehistory.
Boulder labyrinths constructed spectacularly often along the Baltic shores of Scandinavia may predate the Minoan culture on Crete, source of the Minotaur story, by the abiding meaningfulness of which labyrinth lore survives in the modern west. We might here note the very ancient association of stone with aspects of the divine, implied partly in the etymology (laos, lapis), partly in the likely ritualistic associations of certain carved stone objects chronologically congruent with neolithic stone circles, and partly from a mystical interpretation of meteorites. Clearly they have fallen from the sky, the abode of the gods, and therefore have accompanied that other divine bolt from the blue, the Thunderbolt, hurled by wrathful sky gods everywhere: a forgivable error of association on the part of those not culturally nurtured with the scientific attitude, more likely concerned with the mysticism of universal interconnectedness expressed by symbol, than with demonstrable fact.
The labyrinth, then, dates back in all likelihood to the Stone Age. Could it be older? As initiatory structure, a route to the divine, the labyrinth Centre is related symbolically to the Cave as transformational space, the spiritual centre, by intrinsic nature hidden, and symbolized by a downward pointing equilateral triangle. This in turn is related to the Mountain as spiritual centre, represented by an upward pointing triangle. The latter is visible to all in sight of it, so relates to an earlier period of culture, before spirituality was conceived as a quest pertaining to an elite, thus requiring initiatory processes, which must be hidden from the ineligible, access denied.
Labyrinths therefore associate with a later stage in human cultural evolution than the very earliest, but possibly placing their beginnings in times of magical consciousness, preceding that of the mythical. Indeed, notions of entrapment, of binding and wind magic, accompany them to quite modern times: in living memory Baltic fishermen would resort to labyrinth walking if the wind was in the wrong quarter for setting out, hoping thereby to induce an auspicious change of direction.
Fig.3. The Seal of Solomon, the Shield of David or the Mark of Vishnu, & the Cave within the Mountain
Caves naturally occur within mountains, and this is symbolised by taking the six pointed star composed of those two triangles superimposed, and shrinking the cave triangle to fit within the other, as the cave within the mountain, or indeed the chamber within the pyramid. (Fig 3) This symbol has four equal divisions, displaying the Three of creation, the active, dynamic shape of the triangle, and the Four of manifestation, the solidity, weight, of foursquaredness. But we digress, and must beware of inattention to the task in hand. What, we may ask ourselves as we continue round the circuit, may we expect to find in the shape and layout of this journey?
There are two fundamental kinds of labyrinth, the Unicursal, in which there are no diversions and dead ends, and the Multicursal, which may contain many. The latter is the common form of hedge or turf maze found in the British Isles, seen touristically as not much more than entertainment. These have their antecedents, descendants and indeed associated lore, which will not find space here. Nigel Pennick’s Mazes and Labyrinths may be consulted for comprehensive coverage.
The Hopi Kiwa is precisely equivalent in the geometry of its unicursal path to the commonest form of labyrinth, which appears all over the world, circular or squared. That basic overall dichotomy itself leads to the symbolism of the Square and the Circle, of imperfect manifestation and divine perfection. We must leave this, however, in favour of focus in this essay on the unicursal classical seven circuit labyrinth, in whichever framework, appearing all over the ancient and new worlds: associated with initiatic sites; as defenses (symbolically if not actually) around towns, such as Nineveh, Troy, Jericho or Jerusalem, held at different times to be the Centre of the World, and so to be the Holy City, requiring the most sacred protection; in talismanic form inscribed on many kinds of stone; and in myth—ģneus encountering it on the gates of Hades, the Malecula story, or in Hawaiian lore where also the labyrinth forms a trial to be negotiated before entering the underworld. The classical seven circuit labyrinth is also known as the Cretan, from its depiction on surviving Cretan coins. (Fig 1) We will prefer the appellation ‘classical’ because of the probably more ancient labyrinths in Scandinavia, mentioned above, and the world-wide distribution.
The Christian labyrinth, divided into four quarters, the path flowing between them, is derived from Roman elaborations of the classical form, based on topological extension into quadrants of the meander, that interweaving abstract symbol widespread in classical decorative art, which can be further extended into the classical labyrinth. (Fig 4) The Chartres labyrinth is the best known of this type. Pilgrimage is the symbolism: the four quarters relate to the four parts of the Mass; and the total number of turns in the path (in to the centre and out again), approximates the Biblical ‘three score years and ten’ of human life. It is considered that the point at which the pilgrim turns away from the inner ring signifies physical death, the rest of the path symbolising eternal life, or its beginnings at any rate. (Fig 5) The centre of the Chartres labyrinth depicts the Rose, which has its own rich symbolism, not least within Christianity (rose windows, the Rosicrucians).
Fig.4. The meander topologically extended on a curve. After Pennick
Other types of labyrinth are variants of the basic forms, such as the Rad, which has two entrances. European folklore relating to that involves a ceremonial ‘game’ with a maiden in the centre, to whom young heros race each other from the two entrances to claim her (release her from maidenhood, symbolized by the entrapping labyrinth), a connection with Goddess worship, marking the transition to the second of the Triple Goddess appearances, from Maiden to Mother, as the year’s green growth burgeons.
There is also a variant which from the centre provides a path directly out (as the Kiwa does with its ladder). This allows a ritual requiring plentiful space to be preceded by traversing the labyrinth to achieve the required inner orientation, and if desired followed by direct re-entry to the labyrinth centre, then out again via the winding path, as a symbol of return to profane but new life. A wedding or handfasting can be performed beautifully in that way, with suitable music …
And we reach the end of the first returning gyre: our musings undergo a change. We feel a need to count the turns, an urge to mark our progress, to find a measure for our life.
Second turn: Number Symbolism
We turn forward again, are brought to the outermost circuit. We cannot now be further from the goal. The spirit droops. How far must we travel? When will our number be up? Old rhymes spontaneously appear to consciousness: ‘… Wednesdays child has far to go …’, ‘… It’s a long long way to …’, but ‘Count your blessings’ too, and the road will pass behind, each step a milestone, a checkmark in life’s tally book.
So we contemplate the labyrinth from within, imagining ourselves into the Archimedean position from which we may perceive from without, and as well as geometry we find number symbolism.
Seven and Nine pertain to the classical seven circuit labyrinth. Seven, known anciently as the Virgin, is the number which mediates between those which precede and those which follow within the decad, containing within it the three of creation and the four of manifestation, as we saw above in connection with the cave and the mountain. Sevens appear everywhere, and most often we choose it when asked to ‘think of a number’: seventh heaven, the seven planets known to the ancients, celestial spheres, days of the week, types of crystal, colours in the rainbow, musical notes. We shall meet more of them later, and a deeper encounter with the musical connections.
And the equally richly endowed Nine, the threshold beyond which lie the higher mathematical orders of magnitude, representing superordinate realms for which our soul yearns: depicted as Norse Odin of the Nine Worlds, hanging one legged (Primal Unity, and the Wounded Healer) and one eyed (the mystic focus of the Third Eye) nine days upside down on the World Tree in order to bring back the Runes of expanding awareness; nine years of the siege of Troy; the nine months Persephone spends above ground overseeing the years growths and its decline towards the three months of death and desolation when she is banished to the underworld; the nine Muses who amuse us, which originally meant being under their sway, and still implies that, for are we not carried away, taken out of ourselves, when amused, as when dancing (Terpsichore) or writing poetry (Erato or Calliope)? And among much else there are the nine character types of the Enneagram, and the original nine Templars, who in all likelihood encountered the Enneagram with the Sufis in Jerusalem, part of a profound culture shock, and who did not increase their number until nine years had passed.
Sevenfold and ninefold forms of fully developed living systems or minerals are rare. Rather the numbers seem to imply process, creation, as in the progression of proportions in the seven types of crystal. Forms of nine associate with conception, growth and birthing: nine twisted threads of the sperm’s tail; the circle of nine tiny tubules which form the centriole of the cell, the first thing to duplicate in the process of mitosis, cell division. And the nine months of pregnancy during the course of which the nine orifices of the human body have formed. Anciently ‘nine’ was cognate with ‘new’, from Sanskrit nava, from which Latin nova, and this survives in modern French as neuf, the noun of ‘nine’ and the adjective of ‘new’. To ‘go the full nine yards’ is to reach a limit from which only a new beginning can ensue, as only the next order of magnitude can follow the number nine.
And just so is the birth of the classical labyrinth, for a St Andrew’s cross of nine dots with an upright cross through the centre is the structure from which this labyrinth can be built, or drawn, as can also the Celtic Rose and Knot, without the upright cross. (Fig 6)
Fig.6. Nine dots as the St Andrews cross, as basis for the Celtic Rose & Knot, and with the upright cross in the middle, for the classical seven circuit labyrinth. After Pennick
So we tread or dance our labyrinthine way, striving to go the full nine yards before accepting each of seven reversals or changes of fortune. To refuse to recognize the turn, the new direction, to cheat by stepping over the path’s boundaries, is to lose face, fall prey to confusion, fall into the mire, which may then force us to face up to having gone too far, and admit we are lost. Re-cognizing is to once more grasp with the understanding, to be awake to the signs, the turns in the spiral, the vicissitudes of life, and so persevering to the seventh turn, from which we reach the Centre, the octave, in the middle of the nineness of the labyrinthine structure as of our life. And there …
The rich implications of the centre will be explored later. Meanwhile, these cogitations have served to carry us round the longest, the outer circuit, and now we must take a leap three gyres in.
Third Turn: Double Spirals, and Trickery
A leap of faith, and of expectation, to the last track of the first half. Hope rises, for we are momentarily but a boundary of the track away from the centre. But only momentarily, for this is but a ghostly foreshadowing of the first glimpse of our goal, as the Grail Castle, a glimpse which may possibly be vouchsafed to our questing inner Lancelot. Now, though, we may begin to grasp the sly deviousness of the labyrinthine way, the unexpectedness of life as we live it: a rhythm of waves—forming spirally as they do—which sweep forward, then ebb back, carrying us as flotsam on the tides of life.
There is a symbolic connection between labyrinth and Sun worship, supported perhaps in the physical realm by the findings of the artist Charles Ross, who between the autumn equinoxes of 1971-2 tracked the sun’s motion in the sky with the aid of a fixed lens focussing onto planks of wood, changed daily. Collating the burn tracks so created he found that the apparent path of the sun forms a double spiral, not unlike the double spiral of the Lorenz ‘strange attractor’ perceived in atmospheric circulation data, an important finding in Chaos mathematics, this in turn being similar to the attractor found by Valerie Hunt in human energy field data (the aura). (Figs 7&8)
The outline of the Ross sun track is, too, and appropriately, the infinity sign, reminding us of the endless cycles of life and death, and of the Wheel of Fortune turning within the labyrinth of our lives. Double spiral shapes also appear on Celtic monuments, in simplified form, and more abstractly within the familiar Yin-Yang circle, the Taigetu. (Fig 9) We are dealing with something deeply primordial, not to be adequately represented in words—when we walk or dance the labyrinth with due attention, we know…
Fig.7. The Ross sun track spirals. After Knight & Lomas
Fig.8. The Lorenz ‘strange attractor’ double spirals. After Ball
Fig.7. The Ross sun track double spirals. After Knight & Lomas
In the labyrinth we see the spiral reversals conflated into one of the containing round or square shapes, and here is another correlation. There is a traditional association of the classical seven circuit labyrinth with the planet Mercury. Why? The apparent motion in the sky of Mercury’s cyclic seven year journey through the Zodiac forms a yearly pattern of three or four direct motions and four or three retrograde. The left handed classical labyrinth, the usual form, runs clockwise four times and counter clockwise three (right handedness would reverse that), thus providing, naturally, seven reversals or turns of direction or of fortune in the approach to the centre.
Mercury is the Roman name for the Greek Hermes, paralleled among others as a messenger by Egyptian Thoth, or as a language master by Norse Odin (Wotan in High German). Hermes is one of the oldest of ancient gods, patron of travellers, rogues and thieves, god of boundaries and cross-roads, originating as hermĺ, cairns, no doubt created over time by travellers marking with a handy stone an uncertainty on the way, a corner, boundary, crossroad, and those following later adding another, and another stone to the heap. Eventually mythic consciousness imbued these with invisible personhood, and Hermes was born.
Deciding to change or not the direction of travel is to become momentarily uncertain, a small introspection which carries the possibility of inner attention to soul, of motion in the vertical dimension, to the underworld, or upperworld. So Hermes acquired other aspects, as Messenger of the Gods, able to travel freely from this world to Hades as well as Olympia, and thus the conductor of souls in transformation, like Brigit to the Celts.
Eventually he appears at crossroads as a single upright stone carved with a head, and an erect phallus. For he stands also for the Trickster, cousin to the Celtic Pooka, or to Gwydion of the Welsh, who might embarrass or confuse us (disorient us in the dark labyrinthine passages), or rob us of our baggage (and so he should, for we no longer need it) while, as the psychopompos who spans the worlds, the shaman, he conducts us to the place of death, the underworld, as the shady side of life, Jung’s shadow function, the place of unconsciousness (which we visit every night in deep sleep) where may be found that which is needful for the next stage of our journey, and where we may leave behind that which is no longer required, the shed skin of the old. He knows routes there which allow return, the return out of the labyrinth, bringing back the revealed riches—the way to en-Lightenment is through taking a step into the Dark. He is present at all our transitions, transformations, changes of direction or of fortune, embuing them with sanctity, if we care to notice.
Our awareness of Hermes’ presence opens us to the sacredness of such moments [unexpected silences], of those in-between times that are strangely frightening and that we so often try to hurry past. We never really know what may lie on the other side of any threshold. I think particularly of the moments of silence that may fall in the midst of a conversation with a beloved friend, when eye is locked into eye, and one suddenly realizes how all the words have been evasions of this moment when soul gazes directly into soul.
Fourth Turn: Earth energies
As that path ends, we turn again, and Hermes leads us on the shortest circuit, which passes close round the centre, but not yet into it. Is this the glimpse of the Grail castle? Here we must be most fully embodied, fully grounded and earthed in the wisdom of feeling, or we may be subject to disorienting elation at being so close, though still so far.
Dowsing and more technological Biogeological explorations have identified not only relationships with earth energy lines, but crucially underground watercourses beneath many ancient sacred sites. The energy of the site on the surface is measurably affected by both, causing trees to twist in their growth, a striving towards the spiral, and charging up we who are there by entrainments with our bodily electro-magnetic resonances, changing our state of consciousness.
The knowledge of how to build in such ways, mysterious to modern man, dates at least as far back as the time that the megaliths were erected at Stonehenge, co-temporal with the Scandinavian boulder labyrinths, 4,000 years ago and more. Many of the latter have been examined, revealing specific relationships with underground water, in particular having been built over so-called domes, where a concentration of water trapped by an impervious layer lets out streams, known as ‘veins’, in various directions. Often the labyrinth entrance is situated over such a stream, and the curvature of the paths follows the edges of the dome.
All this could be done now aided by dowsing: what we moderns have lost is the way of placing stone structures (it appears that stone is the crucial material) on or in the ground so that the energy lines (which are often in directional relationship with underground streams, or they with them) are controlled, diverted, opened out to make space, so that it may be free of energies deleterious to the human organism, such as those which give us restless nights or worse if our bed is wrongly placed. Such abilities are not evidenced after the 14thC, with the beginnings of the Renaissance, the ‘Enlightenment’, the start of the modern period of forgetting, banishing from the mainstream non-rational wisdoms and ancient lore, for the reason that popularly evident versions had by then mostly degenerated into superstition. Of course those old traditions went underground (appropriately), where not all was lost.
Fifth Turn: Ritual space
The wave ebbs, taking us once more away from the centre. Excitement ebbs into sobriety, inducing inward reflection as to how best we may mark the passage of thresholds and staging posts in our lives, how best we may make use of the labyrinth as symbol and mirror of our life-journey, anticipating perhaps the lessons to be expected, hoped for, when we reach the centre.
Linked as it must be with ritual, the labyrinth can be seen as in two parts: the spiralling path; and that to which the path leads, the central space. We touched above on the associations of labyrinths with the entrance to the underworld, as defensive enclosures of cities as centres-of-the-world, and as domestic threshold protection. These are really the same: all have the meaning of exclusion of the ineligible and protection of the interior. Only the dead should enter the underworld, citizens and allies the city, friends and family the house. And only Love should enter the Heart, that divine centre within the labyrinth of life. All can be seen to be sacred to their purposes, by analogy with superordinate, universal considerations.
Traversing the disorienting labyrinthine way is then the Trial which tests eligibility for the Initiation into the ways of the dead, the ways of the (sacred) community, the ways of the family, and the ways of the heart. Can we stay the course? Will the defeats in our lives cumulatively weigh us down in the end? Will we then lose our grasp of the bull-man’s horns, and succumb to the living death of unawareness? We, as seekers/candidates must find resolve, to be conditioned for what is to follow by the necessities of the winding traverse. We will need our awareness centred and grounded, need to be fully embodied, focussed in feeling, or the way will be lost, the longed for rites forbidden.
Just these are the requirements and challenges of life in the manifest worldly realm.
So the central space of the labyrinth is the place where ritual is conducted. As such it is the Centre of the World, and so is indeed sacred space. It is the centre as the universe of present focus, where we are now in our journey: when we have become aware of all that is needful in this present now, and are ready to move on, we then find ourselves at the entrance to the next labyrinth of our life, and must set forth on the initiation to that centre, gathering our courage once more, or be swallowed up by our personal Minotaur.
The four directions point to the centre (the cross at the heart of the labyrinth), also the four elements in their opposing pairs: Fire and Water; Air and Earth. And in the middle, at the centre, is Ether, the fifth, the quintessence, the quint essentia, that which cannot be directly apprehended, the divine principle, represented by the Rose, and in the east by the Lotus. The rose is at once the living expression of divinity, and also the Cup, the Grail, a vessel for containment of that divinity which may in the fullest sense heal us all, through the rose at the centre of our heart as the receptacle for that of the divine essence. The rose is therefore linked with the cave as the divine centre, needfully hidden from profane view.
That caves have been seen/felt as appropriate to that of ‘otherness’ since remote human times is attested by the earliest known ritual burial site, a Neanderthal cave-bear sanctuary of c.40,000 BCE found at Drachenloch, Switzerland, where bear skulls were found, long bones inserted in the eye sockets, surrounded by a small stone circle, suggestive of the sun disc. Bear cults survive in circumpolar cultures, where the bear is seen to disappear into the earth in the winter as the sun appears to do, both reappearing with the new year, the return of light and of warmth and of life. This is why the circumpolar constellation, Ursa Major, is The Great Bear.
Subsequently, caves and other ‘doorways to the earth-mother’, into which the setting sun was seen to descend, figure prominently in the elaborating spiritual rites of mankind. In Classical Greece oracles were sited at caves, fissures, caverns, from where echoing sounds, often of underground streams, could be heard as the voices of the Oracle, the God or Goddess to whom the site was dedicated. The sense of something ‘other’ remains: who does not exper ience a change of mood when entering a cleft in the earth, or indeed artifactual tunnels or other unlit or dimly lit unfamiliar enclosed spaces, a sense of binding, of pressure which impels us within, to introspect, to see what may await us in our internal otherworld, to engage with soul. These are other such occasions “that we so often try to hurry past” by being unconscious to it, or by denial.
So we can see that the centre of the labyrinth, as the centre of spirituality—what is unmanifested—is simultaneously, in the ambiguous way of symbols, the centre of the world—that which is manifest form—macrocosmically or in the microcosm of our individual hearts. As such it necessarily incorporates images of the Axis Mundi, the World Tree: for, remembering Hermes as psychopompos, we must expect ‘vertical’ connections too from this crossroads on our journey, as befits a place of transformation.
The world tree, on which Odin hung, with its roots below and its crown above, the trunk representing the intermediate, mundane world, is the axis on which the world as we experience it spins. As the axis mundi it is an orienting system, necessarily pointing towards the Pole star.
Now we see the labyrinth of our lives linked to the Heavens, as an expanding awareness of the awesome glory of interconnectivity with all else in this universe (how securely we are held, we see, after all blind fear is banished, and trust established), the heavens abiding beyond the symbolic exit from the initiatic cave, which lies precisely at the Keystone to which ‘the plumb line of the Great Architect’ falls, suspended from the Pole star, thus defining the axle of the world.
And in the Heavens we may, if we wish or must, transfer our need for orientation, for guidance at our times of change, to a different system, the Zodiac, the twelve-spoked Wheel of Life and of Law and of Fortune, symbol of the World, and depicted as the spoked wheel, also of the Sun, and much else besides.
This leads us to consider the Solstitial Gates, the ‘poles of the year’ as two exits from the cave as place of manifestation—the world, or life as it is lived. They are the Gate of Man in the South (the candidate descends, conceptually, with the sun’s movement towards the winter solstice—the sun is at it’s lowest point in the sky, therefore the south) and the Gate of the Gods in the North (the Initiate rises with the sun’s movement towards the summer solstice—the sun at its zenith, furthest north). This translates into the compass of a day, ascending from midnight to midday (summer, north), descending from midday to midnight (winter, south).
The cave as place of manifestation is compatible with the initiatic function of the cave in the sense that, having manifested physically in this world, we will leave by the appropriate gate according to the degree of spirituality attained during this life. When, as is commonly the case, we have at the end further spiritual growth awaiting us, we will leave by the Gate of Man, which thus is also an entrance, for our return: only when we have attained the ultimate Union with the One will we leave by the Gate of the Gods, which is therefore only an entrance for the voluntary descent into the manifest world of the perfected being, as Avatar.
The Rad labyrinth form, with two entrances, may have evolved in relation to such symbolic considerations.
We may recall in these contexts the astronomical abilities of neolithic peoples apparent from the precise alignments of stone circles to the sunrise or other celestial event, and so we are returned full circle to the double spirals of the heavenly paths of the Sun and Mercury concentrated in their essence in the seven circuit labyrinth.
And so we approach the penultimate turn, which again takes us further from the centre, but now we have discerned the pattern, of a double wave advancing and receding, and can trust with joy in our hearts that the succeeding forward flow will carry us to our goal.
Sixth Turn: Music and dance
The connection of music and dance with ritual hardly needs stating. We may note that the term ‘orchestra’ derives in part from orcheomai, to dance, or a dancing place. The orchestra in the ancient Greek theatre was the circular place of dance, possibly the most ancient part of the drama—circle dances, indeed. We may note too that very young children involuntarily move their bodies when singing—for a few years they simply cannot do otherwise. On the other hand dance without music has always been unthinkable, except in some subvertive varieties of modern dance.
The parallel in the Classical seven circuit labyrinth with the commonest division of the octave, into seven notes, is easily and often noticed, and is suggestive. Each path can be associated with a note of the scale. (Fig 10) The (musical) objective is then the octave, as the aimed for transformed state, the resumption of the cycles of sound and of a ‘sound’ life at the next higher level. The journey there may be based on descending or ascending scales. With the former there is analogy with the descent to death or the fertile unconscious, then followed by the ascent from the centre out of the labyrinth into re-birth or renewed life. Chanting seems implied, changing the pitch with the turn into the next passage, a way of keeping track in the internally felt, imagined or actual darkness.
Entering the labyrinth on an ascending scale of C to C1 major gives this order:
On the descending scale, entering, the
order of notes will be
The ascending exit scale will be the mirror
image of that: 
Leaping fourths characterize these sequences, though utilizing the major mode results in the awkward augmented fourth F to B, the diabolus in musica, in the ascending entering scale. Two of the traditional European modes will successfully eliminate the ‘devil’s interval’, while changing the felt and heard character of the chant. The MixoLydian (G – G on the ‘white’ notes), which expressed as C – C has Bb, would give the ascending entering sequence :
and descending on entering :
The HypoDorian (A – A), also banishes the augmented fourth. Or maybe we are not unhappy to include that interval, feeling that it may express particular meaning at that passage turn. This is the fourth turn on the ascending entrance sequence, taking us to the shortest gyre, adjacent to the centre: an important milestone on the path. Perhaps it is marked by the slight uncertainty of a change from chest to head register.
Entering, on the ascending scale, one third from
the keynote or ‘final’ of the mode (after suggestions by Rudolf Steiner) may be seen to stand for, as the minor third (Hypodorian mode) an experience of inner balance, but leaning back to the second. As the major third we may experience a strong statement of inner balance. From both the labyrinth takes us back to the second, as a disturbance from the keynote, which we then approach. And here we find the absolute inner rest from which we can find the energy to make the leap of a perfect fourth which follows, as our first major step towards the ‘unknown’ goal, a relationship with otherness. Similarly, having reached the seventh gyre we are taken away again
Fig.10. The classical labyrinth with musical note letters assigned
for two circuits, and only then, unexpectedly, led home. Leaving the labyrinth is the mirror of these remarks, as is the descending entrance in its own context.
Such considerations suggest strongly that the sonic power of such working will be brought out by chanting to a drone on the keynote.
We can play with these scalic ideas a little, perhaps by using a ‘stepped’ scale: assigning (say)
C E D G F Bb A C1 to the successive gyres, which would be experienced as (upwards entering):
—featuring leaping fifths.
The downwards equivalent form would be:
In this version we enter the labyrinth on the interval of a second, imparting against the drone a powerful discord, contrasting with the comfortable sense of inner balance experienced on entering at the third, and perhaps foretelling the changes of mood to come. This discord returns only when the Bb is reached, which would then signal that the goal was near.
Such sequences can be used entirely according to our felt needs within the present circumstances of our lives, for received traditions pertinent to contemporary attitudes are not apparent. As mirror of our entire lives a rising sequence to the centre may be felt to be appropriate (grabbing the bull-man by the horns), reaching the midpoint of life’s achievements in the centre, followed by unwinding with descending tones as we reflect in the mirror of the ascent on the meaningfulness of what we have wrought, a traverse suited to those who have reached an age for such reflection, or to those who wish to re-enter more deeply into a particular life experience. Or we may prefer to descend, as has been suggested throughout this text, to the underworld as place of divine darkness which then leads upwards, outwards, to the light of renewal.
Another type of music, quiet, slow, peaceful, can be used to accompany the labyrinth journey as walking meditation, which may be how most approach it. Or again, something altogether more spritely could accompany an energetic approach, if we feel an inner urge to run the labyrinth, as Baltic fishermen used to do before setting sail in order to leave behind mischievous sprites who would otherwise subvert the catch. Being stupid sprites, it was said, they easily got lost in the winding paths—the labyrinth as entrapment. 
The crane, a creature greatly concerned with curvature, laying out it’s catch in an arc or circle before taking it home to it’s young, is linked with the labyrinth via its mating dance, spiralling forward and back, forward and back. Cranes, imbued by this patterning with sun symbolism and that which follows of life, death and rebirth, as we have discussed above, are therefore also seen as dead souls in flight, leaving in the dying of the year, returning to central Europe with the spring as the (re)born, a symbol of renewal, of new life.
Tsakonikos is the circle dance specifically associated with the labyrinth in Greece, and also with the crane dance, Geranos, which meets the creative sexual aspect of the crane’s dance by having the line of dancers connected with erect thumb in the curled fingers of the adjacent person. The dance proceeds sideways with slanting forward steps and some back, to a fivefold rhythm in one version:
Another version suggests nine steps and a leap (as the crane does), which would be suitably danced as three threes, symbolising the Triple Goddess as presiding deity, followed by the leap on the fourth triplet. The dance is best done in the labyrinth in small groups, or contact is easily lost, particularly at reversals in the path. What a powerful impression this would make, done while chanting to the pitch patterns explored above!
But now, we reach the …
Seventh Turn: Myth
Arrival at the centre! Our goal, the initiatory sacred space, the great turning point of the entire traverse, is achieved. Meanings unfold, concatenate, illumine. The world’s old stories rise up to consciousness, showing us that we are far from alone. Many others have been here before us, leaving indelible marks on the collective psyche, writings in the sands on the shores of the great waters of life.
In myth thus seen as record, or foreshadowing, of the human predicament, the great themes relating to the labyrinth are centred on impenetrability, which the hero or initiate will defeat, and entrapment, whereby Malevolencies are imprisoned, as we know from Minoan Crete. This Beast in the labyrinth is complemented (in the way of mythic pairs of opposites) by a tradition of the Virgin or Goddess within, who must be found and released in order to exert her powers, as modern man (particularly) needs to find his contrasexual inner treasure in pursuit of wholeness.
Among other accounts, the successive encircling defensive walls surrounding ancient Troy, found by Schliemann and later excavators, strongly suggesting the labyrinth as threshold protection, links the famous abduction of Helen with this Goddess tradition. And in parallel, from an apparently unrelated tradition, there is a legend concerning the origin of the boulder labyrinth on the island of Gottland in the Baltic, that it was constructed each day stone by stone by a king’s daughter imprisoned under the Galgenberg (gallows hill), completing it upon her release.
This would mean symbolically that the completion gained her the release, as in the Maleculan myth recounted above, in which the Spider Goddess requires the dead person to complete the labyrinth before admission to the underworld. So here the Goddess, in the person of the king’s daughter, constructs the labyrinthine entrance to the place of death (she builds it round the gallows hill), the connection with re-birth being here an allusion to her release—a ‘new’ life unfettered by what was binding her, or ‘holding her back’, previously.
The Afghan tale of Shamaili’s house provides another variant of this theme, the hero subverting the labyrinth trial. Only the Princess Shamaili knew how to enter her ‘house’ with a hidden entrance. She was the daughter of King Khunkar the Bloodthirsty, who had promised her hand in marriage to he who could find the way in, on pain of death by hanging upon failure. In an honourable tradition of folk tales the youngest of seven brothers must wait until all his six elders had failed and suffered the penalty—asleep to their lives, they failed the trial, so were banned from initiation as unsanctified. Our alert hero, Jallad Khan, resolved to succeed by trickery—shades of Hermes here. Aided by the royal sculptor he hid in a metal statue, which was presented at court. Shamaili was so fascinated by this dancing metal man that she had it brought to her (labyrinth) house, where of course Jallad revealed himself and claimed her as bride (his contrasexual inner treasure).
Here we are reminded of the Trojan Horse, and of Dĺdalus the inventor, the metal worker, who is said to have built the labyrinth to hold captive the Beast, the savage bull-man of King Minos of Crete, embarrassing result of the union of Queen PasiphaĎ and the White Bull given to Minos by Poseidon, Lord of the Sea. This beast, the very Minotaur, can be seen as the content of the unconscious, feared by those who are unawakened, Jung’s shadow function, which troubles us more, the more we ignore it, because we who are gripped by that fear of the more primitive parts of ourselves, have in consequence lost contact with our sense of body, the physicality of feelings. Confront this shadow we must, sooner or later: and then what?
In the famous story, Theseus as hero represents the bold Ego, plunging into the depths fearlessly, aided by the clue to return given him by his Anima figure, Ariadne, (her name means very holy) whose clew  of thread is the Umbilicus, the connection between the worlds, part of the birthing of the new as it was in physical birth out of the darkness of the mother’s womb.
Why did he need the thread? Navigation of the unicursal labyrinth is easy, if we are fully centred, fully awake. There are no blind passages: just keep a hand on the wall and follow it round! Something else is therefore needed in explanation. His ‘heroic vision’, serving him well in the light of the sun, left him ill-equipped for the necessary grounded feelingness of negotiating the dark confining tunnels. This, Ariadne supplied in her own fashion, obliging the hero to an un-heroic stoop, to feel his way out by following the thread lying on the ground.
Just so Dĺdalus, banished to the labyrinth with his son Icarus by an irate King Minos following the death of the Minotaur and the escape of Theseus,
unable to find a way out of his own invention, hits upon a panic solution by constructing wings for Icarus and himself, …. This is an avoidance of the muscle-and-touch sensations Dĺdalus needs to balance his high-flying intellect, represented as his son Icarus, who flies too close to the sun … and plummets into the sea (the much-needed feeling). Dĺdalus then did not follow the ground of the problem, but resorted to an intellectual solution, … a spiritual, sky-seeking solution to what was a problem of soul and body. 
Similarly, in a very different tradition, Rahab of Jericho (certainly no virgin) after showing Joshua’s spies the way through the defensive labyrinthine walls—an image of the complexity of the placenta as icon of birth, and of the coils of gut, as we have seen—was instructed to hang up a red thread as a signal that she should be spared from slaughter. The seven circuits with seven trumpets the priests were to make round the walls on the seventh day are highly suggestive of the paths of the classical labyrinth in the light of what we have discussed above.
And what did Theseus do? He killed the Minotaur, his own shadow beast deep in the labyrinthine underworld of unconsciousness, the scarce grown youth knowing not that he has ‘killed’ part of himself, and thus presaging his future deeds, defined by this failure to wrestle aspects of himself into life. Then, rebirthing himself as hero by following the thread out, he set sail with Ariadne, her sister Phĺdra, and the thirteen other Athenian tribute youths and maidens, now given the opportunity to wake up to life instead of being swallowed by the beast of unconsciousness.
Calling at the next island, Delos, the party danced the Crane dance in celebration of the victory, which can be seen as Theseus ‘dancing his animal’ to the sacred space, with Ariadne as the Goddess ruling the labyrinthine dance of life. Then, leaving Naxos, another stop on the way, he, as the Dragon Slaying Hero in hubristic certainty of his own self-sufficiency, apparently ‘forgot’ Ariadne, and abandoned her: a denial of his necessary femininity, the loss of his very holiness.
Rahab was also abandoned, left with her family to fend for themselves, her livelihood gone, in a ruined town, all others slaughtered. And Theseus, true to the heroic youthful unawareness we have outlined, ‘forgot’ another matter: the white sail he was to have hoisted to signal his success on approaching Athens. His father ģgeus, seeing from afar the usual black sail, drowned himself in sorrow in the sea that took his name, thinking his son dead, thus living out the feelings of the situation, the flowing wateryness opaque, alien to Theseus.
Here we have a clear image of the patriarchal hubris, the suppression of the feminine, that for some thousands of years has characterised our culture, which was forming at the time the Minotaur story arose. Similarly the Wasteland of the Fisher King, as another parallel, foretells the spiritual wasteland of our modern times.
Dancing the labyrinth of life
As with Theseus, so it is with us. If we fail to take life by the horns, sink into unawareness, focussing instead on the ‘heroic’ vision of our desired egoic victories, losing our sense of embodiment, so unable to respond groundedly, feelingly, to the unexpected reversals in the dark labyrinth of life, someone else is obliged to suffer our unacknowledged feeling states, and we leave a trail of abandonment behind us.
But we have the opportunity now to do better, and we can live the labyrinth form as music and dance or walking meditation, fully present in the embodied ground of our being, the better able to feel our way through the turns, the vicissitudes of Life as it is lived, and be guided by the red thread, with help from Hermes and from the presiding Goddess, to the place of healing, of re-connection with that which has been ‘lost’, the otherworld where our souls reside, umbilically joined to the Manifest World, and oriented to the Gate of the Sun, towards a future reconnection which is not regression to a supposed golden age of innocence, but strives towards, yearns for, wholistic completion, union of opposites, in full awareness balancing heart, head and soul in the Pantheon of magnificent humanly being at its best.
CJ; Sparkbrook; Dec.2003
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Fig.5. The Chartres Labyrinth, showing energy data on an amalgamated scale devised by Blanche Merz, who instrumentally investigates sacred sites, where average human energy is 6500: the Pilgrim must suffer a moment of intensely debilitating energy before being very greatly elevated in the Centre. After Merz.
 Michael Ayrton. The Maze Maker
 Alan Bleakley. Fruits of the Moon Tree
 There is one carved on slate in the Witchcraft Museum at Boscastle, Cornwall, whose credentials trace back through several generations to the Isle of Man in the 19thC, with many earlier handings down reasonably asserted.
 Knight & Lomas in Uriel’s machine argue for meaningful contact between neolithic NW Europe, particularly Ireland, and the Middle East, and they also discuss the evidence for early european contact with the Americas.
 From the mystery of birth the human female may well have been seen as the Goddess manifested, with menstrual blood as corollary to the rain which nourishes the earth.
 All symbolism shares a fundamental ambivalence such as this.
 As a link, 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 = 7 x 8 x 9 x 10 = 5040. As a chasm, 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 8 x 9 x 10 = 720. The Virgin because indivisible by any other number, and producing no other number within the decad (3 & 5, also indivisible Primes, produce by multiplication 6, 9 & 10).
 This from Gordon Strachan’s book Chartres: Sacred geometry, sacred space. Floris Books 2003
 see Valerie Hunt. Infinite mind: science of the human vibrations of consciousness. Malibu Publishing, 2nd ed. 1996
 22 direct and 22 retrograde in the cycle, which precesses about six days each 7 years. So at the same date each year Mercury is 2/7th further into the 7th reversal of the year, which is quite a good approximate model for the classical labyrinth. The implication of this and perhaps the sun motion spirals is a knowledge of heavenly bodies’ motions on the part of the ancients. Knight & Lomas Uriel’s Machine includes a study of precision in neolithic astronomy—the use of the machine of the title itself. We have no firm knowledge of the antiquity of such skills.
 The undeveloped, primitive aspects of ourselves, which we would like to disown.
 Christine Downing Gods in our midst
 The study of the effects of earth energies on human behaviour and health.
 It is salutary to note here that the electro-magnetic field generated by our heart is 50 times stronger than that generated by our head.
The most powerful meditation I have ever experienced was with two close friends, hands mutually on shoulders, in the centre of the Rollright Stones circle in Oxfordshire during an autumn equinoxial night of full moon: the illusion of being elevated above a sea of heads filling the circle was startlingly vivid, totally ‘real’, and almost unbreakable.
 C.G.Jung saw the rituals of the psychoanalytical process as most often a circumambulation around a central axis of the Self, focussed on the affect of present concern.
 The Chakra system of centres of energy in us and in built space, in sequence from the corporeal to the Divine
 The bear occupies the primary place in ancient hunting community lore that the bull occupies in agricultural.
 analogous with the Dorje of Tibetan Buddhism, which also represents the two worlds
 We should be clear that we are not concerned here with actual physical locations: the Keystone and either of the Solstitial Gates are symbolically identical depending on which gate the initiated being is to use as exit in that manifestation. The Keystone and the Gates both relate to orienting systems. Note that the Hopi ‘Gate of Man’ in actuality is a hole in the roof: the symbolic North is elsewhere.
 So we can see the identity of the two halves of the path, expressed as (ascending) EDCF—BAGC1, the disjunctive, identical in ‘shape’ in both halves, or EDCF—FBAG as conjunction, thus paralleling the tetrachords of Ancient Greek musical thought as basic musical units. We can only speculate on the relationship as perceived by the Greeks, and what they may themselves have chanted in labyrinth rites.
 or their equivalents, Ragas from the Indian tradition for example. Ragas not represented in the European tradition may be tried for fit and suitability, as could 7 note modes from elsewhere.
 Or, as “music tends towards the condition of silence” …
 Stupidity perhaps being a consequence of the condition of immateriality: we may imagine certain difficulties in successful negotiation with our material world.
 The stork arriving with the new baby remains a living image on greetings cards and in advertisements for nursery accoutrements.
 The detailed rhythm can be varied within the eight measure form, and indeed should be to maintain spontaneity in the melodic material.
 Note the association of the (hangman’s) rope, death, and the labyrinth
 From Old English cliewen, a ball, clue being a metaphor of the unravelling, as the ‘thread’ of narrative, or the lines on navigation charts. Clew is still in use as a nautical term.
 Again we have associations of thread, here as escape from death, on the one hand, reminding us of the hangman’s rope, and on the other, release into this world.
 Alan Bleakley. Fruits of the Moon Tree.
 Its tempting to imagine the trumpets signalling the turns.