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Here you find a selection of textes out of the exhibition-catalogue
The Art of Threading One's Way through Life the labyrinth Myth and Reality
made and written by ilse m. seifried
2. Labyrinthine Shapes
3. The Labyrinth Proper
4. Some Thoughts about the Labyrinth
5. The Origin of the Labyrinth
6. The Labyrinth and Its Turning Points in History
7. The Labyrinth Is Also a Symbol
8. The Thread of Ariadne
9. The Art of Threading One's Way through Life
10. Instructions on How to Walk a Labyrinth
The word labyrinth buzzes through space and time and yet many of those who use it mean a maze. Is a maze not a labyrinth? Is a labyrinth not a maze?
If we knew the world to be a labyrinth then we would know that there
is a centre. No matter whether it houses something terrible like the Minotaur
or something divine. But there would be a centre. If, on the other hand, we
assume the world to be chaos we would really be lost.
Jorge Luis Borges
The Art of Changing Direction refers both to the changes in the shape of the
original labyrinth in art and cultural history and to the art of walking through
a labyrinth; perhaps also to changing in the process or allowing ourselves to
The chapter on Myth and Reality queries our culture and cultural history. The labyrinth itself is a myth. It is closely related to the myth of Ariadne and Theseus. What is real?
In the concept of Western culture time is about to take a turn into the 3rd millennium. Structures of communication and relationships are undergoing change (Internet, virtual world). Everyday life involves many turning points. A new orientation is needed and called for. The way through the labyrinth involves many turns. The current interest in the labyrinth in Europe and the United States is probably an expression of this turn of an era.
We are waiting for miracles
the miracle is waiting for us.
There are many ways of approaching the labyrinth and dealing with it: archaeological
objects, myths, historical texts, the visual arts, literature, music, new technologies
and of course the sensual experience of walking through it.
The exhibition in conjunction with this publication does not only offer an overview and some answers. Old and new questions are asked and current results of research and hypotheses are discussed.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
In nature spiral shapes are found in snails, sea shells, ferns, eddies of water and air and in the nucleus of red blood corpuscles. Most of the galaxies also have a spiral structure.
The spiral is one of the oldest symbols of eternity. It is not a symbol of the absolute, for it is not a whole, since by its very nature it can never be completed.
The meander, another shape that is copied from nature, e.g. the course of rivers, is found as an endless ribbon on ceramics and the walls of rooms etc. Even the structure of our brain with its convolutions reminds us of a labyrinth, although its shape is merely similar.
All over the world circles, single, double, triple and quadruple spirals as well as the endless loop of the infinity symbol are found in prehistoric petroglyphs and on ceramics.
The labyrinth is a man-made cultural phenomenon that is specific only to certain cultures.
The Labyrinth Proper
A proper labyrinth is based on the following formal criteria:
...There is an outer delimiting line in which there is only one single opening.
...The figure between the lines can be walked (either mentally or bodily).
...The path does not have any intersections i.e. it does not offer any choice, but constantly changes direction back and forth.
...The interior is filled with the longest possible detour. The path repeatedly gets very close to the centre and eventually leads inescapably into the centre where it ends in cul-de-sac fashion.
...The only way to continue the path is by turning around. It is the only egress, the only way out.
...Walking back the same way it is experienced in a forward-looking fashion this time.
...The centre of the labyrinth is not the same as its geometric centre.
...The centre is an empty space.
Some Thoughts about the Labyrinth
The Greek word transcribed as wios (with the stress on the i) means life and has a Greek root. The word wios with the stress on the o means bow - a curved shape - and is from Sanskrit. For me there is a connection between life and bow, whether we are talking about a bow and arrow or the
curved shape of an archaic lyra. Sound as a synonym for life. Life is music. The labyrinth consists of turns that are curved like bows. They give the path its rhythmic structure; life involves constant turns.
The labyrinth corresponds to this character: Its path is not the shortest way from G to M. The delay in reaching the
centre results from the maximum detour within the given space which is composed of curves or turns.
In the earliest prophesies and divinations the symbol of the bow is concealed in its meaning of delay, a divine distance between impulse/cause and decoding/effect.
The detour is the opposite of the shortest distance, the straight line. The latter is associated with moving straight ahead, the right direction, correct, proper, rules, government, regime, judge, law and order.
All these words and thus the straight line are very closely connected with
domination. The straight path of the patriarchy has turned out to be a cul-de-sac
and wrong track not only for women.
The labyrinth and its history can thus serve to analyse and point out social and political changes.
Walking through a labyrinth means being led outside of one's usual course. The labyrinthine path involves irritations, turns, amazement, new forms of movement and new ways of life, a new awareness, a new quality.
Reaching the centre is tantamount to reaching the middle, a balanced state, harmony. It is necessary to abandon our usual rhythm, otherwise the balance would turn into paralysis. Movement without value judgments: entering and leaving again. Just like inhaling and exhaling. Each presupposes the other. Neither can exist without the other one.
Morality is judgmental, it judges any divergence as a mistake, as something bad. Morality arises from social structures and is a cultural process. We create the world with our consciousness. In the labyrinth no mistake is possible except not to continue along the path.
In the course of centuries a transition has occurred from an information structure relying on images to a conceptually oriented one. This can be demonstrated by the example of Alexander the Great. He did not solve the mystery of the Gordian knot, in which there was wisdom but reached for his sword to cut it.
The image and the metaphor of fighting have given way to the quality of the mystery. With this change the meaning of myth also began to change. More and more the human intellect became the decisive criterion in the struggle for wisdom. The struggle can only end fatally for the latter. Wise women and men still confront the mystery as the greatest of all challenges.
The transition from using runes in divination, intuitive processes and decision-making to using them as an alphabet marks a turning point in the use of the two halves of the brain, from the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere, from the intuitive to the analytical.
This fact is directly connected with the labyrinth, which many observers associate
with the human brain because of its shape. The path through the labyrinth swings
from left to right and back again. Walking through a labyrinth forces one to
turn many times.
So far there has been no scientific study as to which areas of the brain are activated by a labyrinth in which way, but certain connections are presumed to exist. The fact that walking through a labyrinth has an effect that is clearly different from that of walking along a straight path is reported by everyone who has ever had the experience.
At the dawn of history human knowledge was written into the sand or scratched into the soil.
This original link of the spiritual symbolism to matter, the inscribing
of the symbols into the earthly element, moves its significance into the distance,
into an unfamiliar structure of space and time.
There is nothing wrong with logic. Nor do I demand that philosophy criticise scientific proofs. However, it is wrong to apply logic and scientific thinking to human life.
Yin and Yang represent the complementation of opposites, the balance, the unity of opposites. An instant. In the form of an image. So does the labyrinth and in addition provides the experience of movement when walking through it.
There is something painful and frightening about reaching the limits of our understanding, and thus the limits of reason, because it demands complete abandon. Abandon requires radicality beyond any limit. It is the freedom that needs no support and whose consequence is the miracle and marvelling - based only on the faith of the One Force. Life cannot be understood, it has to be lived and loved.
The Origin of the Labyrinth
Many people have wondered about the origin and meaning of the labyrinth. There is a difference between wondering while sitting at your desk or while actually walking through a labyrinth. The questions recede into the background because the experience of walking through the labyrinth is foremost.
If your knowledge about the fire is only hearsay, then see to it that
you are boiled by the fire, there is no other certainty, until you burn.
Hermann Kern has postulated the thesis that the origin of the labyrinth is to be found in dance. The idea of the labyrinth as an architectural structure has been wide-spread for centuries, and yet there is no evidence of this.
I dance, because no part of my life should stay without the experience
Religious dances in which the dancers follow a spiral path are known in Great
Britain, the Netherlands, Germany,
Greece, India and some Pacific Islands. The labyrinth dates from pre-Greek times. The knowledge of dances at that time is shrouded in oblivion. The round dance is a symbol of a cyclical time. Labyrinthine paths and double spirals are symbols of the belief in a return of life that passes through death.
Human freedom, dance teaches us, is not absolute independence and willfulness,
but rather the fact of being embedded in timeless laws. In a certain way dancing
in the labyrinth magically awakens the latent forces in it. The body of the
mind, as John Layard has called the labyrinth, is awakened to life.
Movement is a way of developing oneself in the unity of body and soul. "Dance does not heal", the therapist Hannelore Eibach states, "but it is a beneficial vehicle to make the expression and life of the body understandable. The issue is always the integration of external and internal movement. Holistic activity may therefore mean dancing. Dancing is experiencing time and space. In dancing we are freed from an existence as spectators and become actively involved in our lives."
The Labyrinth and Its
is lost in darkness, in speechlessness, in undocumented space,
before that turn of time where our knowledge begins. So we have no insight into
it, no access to it. Space and time cannot be defined.
Although there is no documentation from earlier times we may nevertheless assume that the labyrinth existed before the earliest archaeological finds give evidence of it at about 1200 BCE.
Two fragments of a labyrinth were found on an earthenware vessel in Tell Rifa'at in Syria. They show 5 circuit labyrinths combined with representations of people and animals.
The so far oldest datable labyrinth survived by chance.
King Nestor was well-known for his wisdom and was much sought after as an advisor. He lived in his palace in Pylos, on the southwest coast of the Peloponnese. When it burned down in 1200 BCE, a clay tablet with a drawing of a labyrinth scratched in and a text in Linear B script on the obverse was preserved in a storeroom of the palace. So far the text had been interpreted by scholars as an enumeration of ten men with one or two goats attributed to each of them.
According to a new translation by Friedrich Dürr this Minoan text is an invocation in the form of a litany which was voiced by the captain and crew of a merchant ship in an emergency and reads as follows:
Hebe of Ionia, terrible is the storm. O save us!
Protect, o strong one, the ship's cargo
from the depth of the ocean! O save us!
Provide a thread for the narrow corridor! O save us!
Along the thread all the way to the door
I will close my eyes. O save us!
I am undaunted: you will come -
I will be jubilant. O save us!
It will not perchance remain hidden the
thread? Provide, send (and) the storm will abate! O save us!
Our undoing is the surging ocean.
It makes our hearts stop short. Show us
the way, leading us through the storm! O save us!
O, let the sign of salvation appear! O save us!
I will not be shipwrecked
in a foreign land? O save us!
Show us the thread!? O save us!
The perception of the labyrinth reduced to being led out of it is typically Greek (the thread of Ariadne shows the way - even though such a thread would not be necessary in a labyrinth).
If this tragedy had not happened we would not have this find. For this reason the fundamental question arises whether it was on purpose that there were no depictions of the labyrinth. These facts lead to further questions:
The age of the petroglyph of a labyrinth in a burial cave in Sardinia can only be estimated and it is presumed to date from 2500 BCE. A painted design on a cave ceiling in Sicily is estimated to be from around the same time. Who made it?
The origin of the labyrinth is often presumed to be in dancing and on the island of Crete. From there it might have spread to the rest of the world. The basis for this assumption is the Greek myth of Ariadne, which originated much later. However, there is no evidence for it and it is contradicted by a new theory on the origin of the word.
The earliest finds of labyrinths from Crete are coins dating from the 4th century BCE. At that time the Greeks already ruled Crete and had destroyed the ancient Cretan culture or integrated it into their own culture (often in a falsified form). The fall of the Cretan culture occurred already around 1400 BCE.
But the beginning may also have been quite different.
Is the labyrinth of Sumerian or Phoenician origin? Was it accessible only to a caste of priestesses? Was it created as a depiction of a religious view of the world or a symbol of human life? Was it designed to transmit mathematical knowledge in concentrated form? Is there a link to the constellations? Was it created by chance by someone meditatively and playfully drawing into the sand on the beach?
We do not know it. What is based on research and what on today's projections to that distant past? Herman Kern believes that the labyrinth is a complex cultural achievement and asks the question: What are the prerequisites that make the idea of the labyrinth even conceivable in a certain culture?
The History of the Word Labyrinth
The text found on a Mycenaean clay tablet dating from around 1400 BCE has so far been considered the first written occurrence of the word labyrinth. In a translation that is not certain but has been handed down through generations of scholars it reads as follows:
A honeypot for all the gods
a honeypot for the mistress of the labyrinth
Friedrich Dürr translates it as follows:
Aid the ships! so that there will be no breakage
He is partial to the maternal city.
Into the fight, speaking in Ionian arms!
Sometime I will heal the breakage.
This new translation which has obviously nothing to do with the labyrinth, challenges the link between Crete and the labyrinth and means another turn for the research into labyrinths.
The word labyrinthos is pre-Greek but not Cretan. inthos indicates a place name, labrys is a word from Asia Minor that has often been translated as double axe. What is certain, however, is that the word has not been used in Crete for the double axe (the latter probably representing the waning and waxing crescent of the moon).
The Greeks intentionally or unintentionally misunderstood the word "Labyrinthos", which was a foreign word for them, when they interpreted it as a "maze".
One possibility of approaching the mysterious word etymologically is to regard it as an entire northwestern Semitic sentence. Although there is no literary evidence for it, Friedrich Dürr suggests an interpretation which he has tentatively written in Old Phoenician script.
There is no literary evidence for the word labyrinth in
northwestern Semitic culture, but it may nevertheless be derived from it. According to Friedrich Dürr it means:
Point out the centre to him who has lost his way!
Grammatically it is an imperative addressed to a woman or goddess.
Centre means the heart or centre of the intellectual and spiritual life.
In terms of its content the text fits the shape of the labyrinth.
Since there is no real evidence that the origin of the labyrinth was in Crete it seems more correct to speak not of a Cretan labyrinth, but rather of the original or primal labyrinth. whose shape and the usage changed over time.
Rock carvings in Spain (Pontevedra) are dated to c. 900 BCE but these dates
are not certain.
The carvings on the rockface in Val Camonica in Italy appear to be about a hundred years younger.
The wine jar (Oinochoe) from Tragliatella comes from a local Etruscan production of c. 620 BCE. It shows a labyrinth, a word that has been translated as Troia, horsemen, women and a depiction of a sexual union.
The translation by Deecke 1881 presumes that the figures depicted are Helen
of Troy and Paris:
this jar has been made by Amnothis
this jar is given by Ateia
this is Helen
Arnold von Salis interpreted the scene as showing Ariadne with her nurse and
Theseus.So far the 4th sequence has been translated as Troia based on the fact
that the Etruscologists have been reading a P as an R in order to obtain the
In Friedrich Dürr's 1999 translation the brief alphabetically written Etruscan text reads as follows:
The Italic woman hands the apple of peace to the Etruscans in search of land
Who makes them become humble?
This is achieved by the strong one.
Who is he? The offshoot of the winding one.
Who guarantees the mixture of spices to the conceiving one?
The divine centre (the navel of the god/ the goddess)
Some notes on it:
The labyrinth depicted on the wine jar is probably meant to represent the uterus of the earth, which guarantees rebirth.
The Italics were the local population belonging to a variety of tribes that the Etruscans encountered when they conquered the country. What is interesting is that only Italic women are depicted on the wine jar, either as merchants (recognisable by their necklaces) or as peace-makers (recognisable by the ribbons wound around their bodies).
Around 300 BCE coins were minted in Crete which bear the inscription Knossos and a rectangular labyrinth running either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Plato (around 400 BCE) still used the metaphor of the labyrinth in its original sense, although he had no personal experience of it. He expected a result of thinking in the centre. There was never an actual labyrinth building; it is just a myth. In the Middle Ages Daedalus was the only ancient architect known by name. In German one can still refer to a good architect as a veritable Daedalus. However, there is no historical evidence that he ever existed.
From about 300 BCE onwards the original labyrinth was misunderstood as a maze. Natural caves with winding (or perhaps even branching) paths were used as places of initiation and are mistakenly called labyrinths to this day.
The Romans used depictions of labyrinths in funeral celebrations. The labyrinth marked the boundary between the world of the dead and that of the living; it drew a protective circle around the dead that protected the living against their return. At the same time the dead were thus introduced to their new form of existence.
Later on so-called Troy games or labyrinth games were carried out on horseback to introduce noble youth into society. At first these were played by two groups and later (under Emperor Augustus at about 27 BCE- 14 CE) by three groups.
When new cities were founded the labyrinth was also used to provide magical protection for them.
Around 50 CE Pliny the Elder referred to four buildings as labyrinths although there is evidence that they were not really labyrinths. He characterised them as sinister and dangerous and to this day these associations have been erroneously linked to the labyrinth.
In 79 a door jamb in Pompeii showed a graffito of a labyrinth and the inscription "Here lives the Minotaur".
Around 100 Plutarch gave a summary of all the contradictory reports and interpretations of the story of Theseus and Ariadne by Ovid, Vergil, Diodorus, Apollodorus, Homer and others. The different variants seem to have been influenced by domestic and foreign policy interests.
Between c. 150 BCE and 450 CE Roman floor mosaics of labyrinths were created which were, however, usually too small to be walked specifically.
Depictions of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur in connection with the labyrinth were found only in the area occupied by the Romans. The reason for this might have been to document the transition to the patriarchy and its values.
The connection of the labyrinth with the city was also emphasised by the Romans.
With the recognition of the Christian Church by the state the first depictions of labyrinths appeared in churches from 324 onwards.
The earliest known church labyrinth was in the Roman basilica in the Algerian city of El Asnam (today the Cathedral of Algiers). Earlier labyrinths were never found in sacred buildings but only in secular buildings. The labyrinth was now given a Christian meaning.
When the Normans lived in the area of present-day France they probably contributed to the spread of labyrinths there and after 1066 the introduced it to the area of present-day England.
From the mid 9th century onwards drawings of labyrinths began to appear in manuscripts. Labyrinths occurred also in religious writings and were appropriated by Christian ideas.
The Christian labyrinths followed a new design: concentric circles, often with a circular centre which is also the geometric centre. At that time different variants of the labyrinth were created:
The Otfried type
The number of coils was increased to 11 by placing a labyrinth inside a labyrinth, i.e. it is not a reinvention of the labyrinth. The labyrinth became the symbol of the sinful world and Christ became the Lord of the World.
The Chartres type
The point of intersection left blank became a Christian symbol and was Christianised in form and content. With this type the Christianisation of the labyrinth was historically completed. In the Western (i.e. Roman Catholic) Church the Chartres type was created to distinguish it from pagan Troy-towns. In the Greek Orthodox Church no change occurred and the original shape continued to be in use.
The entrance to the labyrinth was now in the West, the direction of the realm of the dead, where the sun sets.
In French churches ball games were carried out on the labyrinth at Easter. (The Chapter of the Cathedral at Sens introduced them in 1413, forbidding them again in 1538.)
Some features that distinguish the Chartres type from the original labyrinth are
...........a more strongly regulative character
...........the original cross is moved and instead a cross is placed into the labyrinth by dividing the entire area into quarters
...........The Chartres type labyrinth cannot be danced, since its shape is too complicated.
As Gundula Friedman has stated tersely, "The Cretan labyrinth was crucified".
If the path is life and the labyrinth the world, this means that life and the
world were crucified. Thus the original labyrinth was deprived of its life energy.
The labyrinth on the floor of the Cathedral of Chartres
probably dates from the first decade of the 13th century. It is the most beautiful and best preserved of its type.
The Jericho type
occurs from the late 13th century onward and is copied over and over again. Labyrinths of this type have 7 walls and 6 paths, representing the city.
In the Roman Catholic Church the labyrinths are usually round, while the Greek Orthodox Church labyrinths are often square. The expectation of salvation is expressed by the entrance in the east. Jericho was also called "Moon City" and associated with sinfulness and fickleness, with the moon being also a symbol of women.
In the Jewish religion Jericho has been placed into the centre of the labyrinth from the 13th century on.
In Syria both variants occur.
The Jericho labyrinth is probably due to the ancient Roman influence: the cities of Troia und Jericho were both conquered without violence.
In France we find only church labyrinths but no turf labyrinths. In England only turf labyrinths occur, but they are somewhat later and resemble church labyrinths in size and shape. From the 13th century onwards the Chartres type is also found there.
From the 14th century onwards frescoes of labyrinths occur in Danish and other scandinavic churches.
By the 13th century in the Scandinavian countries so-called Trojaburgen (11 or 7, or 15 coils classical type) were created of stones. This may have been due to the climate or the culture that adapted the labyrinth. If a Trojaburg or Troy-town is created of stones and stones are moved or lines in the sand erased the labyrinth becomes a maze. It is interesting, though, that there is no tradition of mazes in Scandinavia.
By the 16th century turf labyrinths were widespread, both with seven coils
and the Chartres type. Almost always it was the shape that was excavated. At
Saffron Walden (England), however, it is the path which was excavated.
It has been suggested that the Danish seven-coil labyrinth was introduced in England in the 9th century and its influence then spread to France. The Anglican Church was founded in the 16th century and since then the seven-coil labyrinth gained in importance but later became rarer again.
Mazes were drawn and planted from 1420 on, at a time when people were no longer
tied down by religious beliefs, but took full responsibility for their own lives.
Thus the maze became the symbol of a world where man could get lost and did
The oldest known depiction of a maze is in the diary of a Venetian physician named Giovanni Fontana.
Parallel to the theme of the maze many artists were intrigued by the possibilities of a single intricate line. For Dante, da Vinci, Dürer and others these decorative-abstract motifs had a concrete spiritual and religious meaning. In the era of Mannerist art the world was poetically perceived as the maze (that was erroneously called a labyrinth) of God, with man being inextricably caught in it.
From 1500 onwards most labyrinths were of a secular kind.
In Central India there is a rock painting with a labyrinth and a figure jumping over a bull which is dated to c. 250 BCE.
Stone labyrinths are dated to 1000 BCE but the dating is not certain.
From 300 BCE onwards the idea of the labyrinth occurs in India, where it was possibly brought by Alexander the Great. At that time the ancient Indian epic of the Mahabharata was written down and its final version was completed around 400 CE. In this epic the labyrinth appears as a battle array in the shape of a wheel which even the gods cannot penetrate. It is possible that this battle array had originally the shape of a hedgehog and the labyrinthine structure was projected into it much later.
The Cakra-vyuha from the 12th or 13th century CE is the earliest depiction of a labyrinth in Asia.
It as well as all later depictions show the structure of the original labyrinth.
The concept of "cakra vyuha" also appears from the 17th century onwards in connection with drawings on the threshold of houses and with magic rites in connection with facilitating women's labor.
In the 8th and 9th centuries CE the labyrinth reached Afghanistan, Java and Sumatra from India. The labyrinth played a role in narrations and is depicted on rings as well as on bark paper together with written incantations.
During the 18th century labyrinths were drawn in manuscripts in connection with Tantric texts.
The labyrinth does not occur in any of the indigenous African cultures, but only in the north, in the area bordering the Mediterranean where its occurrence is due to the Christian influence e.g. in the Roman basilica in the Algerian city of El Asnam (now the Cathedral of Algiers).
Labyrinths are found only in Arizona and New Mexico (Hopi and Navajo) and various other tribal groups, such as Pima and Tohono O'odham, and have been scratched into rocks and drawn for centuries.
In their labyrinthine shapes (baskets) the Pima add a figure. The same is true of the Batak on Sumatra. This figure is often interpreted as a kind of roguish figure like Owlglass.
Kern assumes that the labyrinth was introduced into America from India since the form used there is identical with the Indian birth labyrinths. Or perhaps the labyrinth found its way to the American Indians from Scandinavia across the Atlantic Ocean (just as the Vikings came to North America before Columbus)? This question is still awaiting a scholarly answer. In North America only the original labyrinth has occurred since the 16th century.
Since 1970 there has been a renewed interest in the labyrinth which has manifested
itself in newly established labyrinths of the original and the Chartres types
as well as in new creations of a labyrinthine character. Especially geomancers
are involved in building labyrinths. Workshops are carried out with the objective
of solving problems, providing spiritual experiences etc.
In 1998 The Labyrinth Society was founded in the U.S. at the 4th Labyrinth Conference.
The first maze was laid out in 1862 following English models, and today there are more than 200 mazes in Australia. In the aboriginal Australian culture the labyrinth is unknown.
In the second half of the 18th century many labyrinths in Europe were neglected or destroyed. Around 1900 Sir Evans stepped up his research and excavations in Crete, because he assumed that the labyrinth had originated there. However, there are no archaeological finds of labyrinths there to prove this fact.
Around 1970 there was an increased interest in the labyrinth and maze in terms
of their reception, research and artistic production. The potent effect of the
labyrinth exceeds the expressive power of most artists. What does this figure
of the labyrinth stand for?
In 1980 the Englishman Jeff Saward founded the journal Caerdroia, which is published annually with the goal of providing information, research and communication on labyrinths.
In 1981 the First Labyrinth Exhibition was conceived and organised in Milan by Hermann Kern. This was followed by the first comprehensive and scientifically sound publication on this topic which is still the standard work on labyrinths.
In 1989 a political and artistic women's project in Switzerland developed into a strong labyrinth movement that is active internationally and has realised more than 60 labyrinths to date. It calls itself Öffentliche Frauenplätze International and its goal is to work together for a new consciousness and a new balance. By non-violent means the recognition of the equality of all creatures is to be achieved.
In 1991 the International Year of the Labyrinth was proclaimed in Great Britain
and in July of the same year the 1st International Labyrinth Conference was
held in Saffron Walden.
In 1995 the 1st Labyrinth Conference in the U.S. was held.
In the U.S. the labyrinth is successfully used in therapy in schools, hospitals and prisons.
In the same year a labyrinth exhibition was presented in Stockholm.
In 1998 Jørgen Thordrup organised a labyrinth exhibition in Denmark, 1999 in Norway.
In 1998 The Labyrinth Society was founded in the U.S.
The Art of Threading One's Way through Life The Labyrinth Myth and Reality is the title of an exhibition in St.Pölten, Austria, in 1999/2000.
In November 1999 the 1st Labyrinth Society Conference takes place in Denver, Colorado.
Events planned for 2000: On June 1 and 2 the Celebration of the 2000 Women in Frankfurt with a Labyrinth Ceremony.
14 and 15 July 2000: Labyrinth Conference in Saffron Walden organised by Jeff Saward.
In September 2001 a major labyrinth project will be carried out by Voré in Ettlingen near Karlsruhe, Germany.
The Labyrinth is also a Symbol
life o death o rebirth o infinity o a link to the divine o a link to other people o procreation o the birth canal o the course of life o birth o a combination of female and male aspects o the unity of opposites o the cosmic union of heaven and earth o a defense against evil influences o protection o the city
The labyrinth has been used as
amulet o battle array o tatoo o depiction of heavenly bodies and their paths in the sky o depiction of the sinful world o symbol for Jericho o symbol for Solomon o logo for architects
In view of this increased interest we are faced with the sociopolitical and
What do we do with the labyrinth? What does the labyrinth do with us?
The Thread of Ariadne
For everything is woven into one
In many cultures, and thus also in our own, the symbol of the distaff or the
thread is linked to fate.
Spinning the thread is similar to the visible movement of the star-studded sky that circles the North Star. The spinner was therefore linked to the sky, the seasons and time.
Before Christianisation quite different constellations were known in Northern Europe (which referred to Greek and Islamic and other sources) than e.g. in Babylon. The present-day constellation of Orion was known as "Frigga's distaff" and the North star as "God's nail" or "distaff".
Spinning was an activity in which the passing of time was precisely correlated
with the amount of material produced. In this way the thread spun became the
symbol of the thread of time. The Greek goddesses of fate, Klotho, Lachesis
and Atropos (compare the three Norns Urd, Verdandi and Skuld), sit in the centre
of the world, spinning the threads of fate of human beings and cutting life
short by cutting the thread. The cutting of the umbilical cord is not only of
physical importance but also of a symbolic character. Linked to this is the
mediaeval thread magic. In mediaeval Italy women were punished for walking through
while spinning because they were presumed to possess dangerous powers.
Parapsychologists believe that in extracorporeal experiences the body is connected to the astral body by a thread.
Snakes resemble thread. The uraeus on the head-dress of the pharaos was worn in such a way that it touched the Third Eye.
By holding on to Ariadne's thread Theseus was able to return to the world from the labyrinth. If the thread had been cut, it would have meant certain death to him.
Once the thread has been spun, it is placed on a loom and woven into a grid. Various patterns may result.
The word weave is related to those Celtic expressions that refer to "serpent energies" in the earth (that can be discovered by rhabdomantists). As "wouivre" it refers to the energetic vibration on the material level.
Board games have a grid structure which is a representation of the woven thread. Some game boards show the spiral shape of a snake (references to these date from 2700 BCE in Egypt). Certain fields like 19, 44, 51, 65 and 81 are marked with crosses. In Indian board games the counters may not be eliminated while they are in these fields.
There are conflicting traditions about the myth and character of the Cretan goddess Ariadne. Changes in ancient Greece were also reflected in religious changes, and the adherents of Ariadne - loosers in one of these revolutions - were faced with the suppression of their ancient religion.
In her original Minoan form Ariadne was The Very Sacred One, a goddess who was venerated only by women, a goddess of the underworld and fertility and at the same time a goddess of vegetation similar to the Greek Persephone.
When the Greeks took over Crete they converted Ariadne's adherents and degraded
the former goddess to a mortal heroine of the well-known narration. Theseus'
victory with Ariadne's help and Jason's victory with the help of priests (the
Golden Fleece) may be interpreted as the triumph of the Apollonian sphere over
Ariadne The Most Sacred One or Very Fertile Mother is the younger form of the Cretan moon goddess.
The lowest common denominator of The Greek myth is as follows:
Every nine years Athens was obligated to send seven maidens and seven youths to Crete. Theseus was one of them. His objective was resistance and victory over Minos. The Minotaur, half bull and half man, was held captive in the labyrinth. Theseus wanted to return to Athens as a hero. Ariadne fell in love with him and helped him with her thread to find his way out of the labyrinth again. Together they left the island by boat.
In a variant Ariadne was deserted by Theseus on the island of Naxos. She married Dionysos, became the leader of the Dionysian women (the Maenads), gave birth to numerous children by the god and died in childbirth.
It is remarkable that the ancient Greeks did not credit mortal men with the paternity of gods or heroes. From that we can deduce the fact that the biological mother played an important role and that a divine father was more important than the biological one. (Larrington)
In another variant Ariadne was deserted and died of despair. Dionysos placed her crown into the sky. Today this constellation is called Corona borealis.
A further variant (reported by Ovid) says that Ariadne was deserted by Theseus at Bacchus' behest but was later also deserted by Bacchus himself.
The contents of this myth need to be analysed critically. Patriarchal influences and interpretations are obvious.
The Art of Threading One's Way
How can the labyrinthine path be recognised? Only by surveying it. Due to being disoriented the subjective feeling can nevertheless be one of being in a maze. The path leads you on. You place one step at a time. Questions of why and wherefore make no sense. Nevertheless an absolutely radical decision to be responsible for oneself is necessary with all the consequences of continuing to walk.
As far as God is concerned
it does not really matter, whether
he does or does not exist. What matters are the feelings which the guru or God
awakens in us. Both act as a stimulus and release dormant energies in us.
Obedience is death. Every moment, in which a person subjects him/herself to the will of another, is a moment that is taken away from his/her life.
Labyrinths obviously represent the symbolism of an ongoing development along the spiritual path.
Instructions on Walking
One can walk a labyrinth all by oneself. Attention can be focused on the walking itself, on the perception of what happens in the process. Or else our concentration can focus on a problem which will perhaps find a solution during our walking (as though by itself). Singing and dancing are other possibilities.
If several people walk through the labyrinth at the same time, there are the additional aspects of encounter, closeness and distance. This togetherness addresses the issue of community and individuality.
There are no limits to our creativity.
Jointly with Gundula Thormaehlen-Friedman I have developed a pattern of two people walking a labyrinth, which is here described in words and photographs:
............Both go to Square 1 (in the empty space below the centre), where
they stand back to back.
............This position is interpreted as Tao, the state in which there is only the One.
............Both take a step forwards, i.e. into the fourth coil of the labyrinth
............This position is interpreted as coming into the world, becoming immersed in the world of duality.
............At Point 2 (above in the middle of the fourth pathway) they meet face to face and walk past each other.
............While one person is now walking into the centre of the labyrinth, the other one is moving towards the outside.
.............There are repeated encounters, although on separate coils.
.............The turning points (W) are reached by both of them at the same time, with both walking at different speeds. This creates a further rhythm. At the turning . ..............points they also look at each other.
..............A brief pause at the centre for one person, a pause on the outside for the other, followed by a turn.
.............On the way back they meet and now one person is led into the centre from the outside and the one who was already in the centre goes to the outside.
..............Another turn and back to the fourth coil from where both step onto Square 1 again while looking at each other.
We have experienced this pattern as pleasant and harmonious. We are always connected with each other on the level of the ground. Physically and energetically we are sometimes closer to each other and sometimes more distant and sometimes have the feeling of being all on our own without referring to anybody else. With this rhythm we have reflected the rhythm of life. This harmony has meant peace.
"Die Kunst zu wandeln das labyrinth Mythos und Wirklichkeit", Shedhalle in St. Pölten (A) 13. Nov. 1999 - 31.1. 2000
Translation german into English by Maria E. Clay
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