spiraling into control
The Egyptians built an enormous labyrinth that Herodotus visited in the fifth century, B.C. (That’s right. Not B.C.E.) A quote from Herodotus’ Histories:
- “It has twelve covered courts – six in a row facing north, six south – the gates of the one range exactly fronting the gates of the other. Inside, the building is of two stories and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them. I was taken through the rooms in the upper storey, so what I shall say of them is from my own observation, but the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contain the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade.”
The most famous labyrinth, of course, contained the Minotaur in Crete. The myth tells us that the king of Athens had to send seven young men and seven young women to the king of Crete every nine years to feed the Minotaur. One year, his son Theseus volunteered to be among the victims, so he could slay the Minotaur and put an end to the custom.
Ariadne, the daughter of the king of Crete, gave Theseus a ball of red string to unroll and then follow back out of the labyrinth after he slayed the Minotaur.
As an aside…I googled myself silly looking for an ancient work of art depicting Ariadne and her red thread. Pretty much all I could find were artifacts dramatizing her abandonment by Theseus and her marriage to Dionysus. If anyone knows of a vase or mosaic showing Ariadne and her life-saving red thread, let me know. I’ll put it in the post.
Eventually, Christians adopted the labyrinth as a way to go on a pilgrimage when travel to shrines and relics was impractical.
There are hundreds of different labyrinth designs, but they can be broken into three categories:
Seven-circuit or Cretan……….
and Chartres, or Four-quadrant……….
Labyrinths are archetypes signifying the journey inward. Why has this symbol appealed to so many cultures?
Some think labyrinths mirror the structure of the human brain, making the labyrinth encoded in our DNA.
Yup, some think that.
It is believed that ancient labyrinths symbolized the womb, and walking the labyrinth could allow you to rebirth.
To walk a labyrinth is to let go of the ordinary. Step by step, a walker sheds the things that keep her from connecting with God. Once in the middle, she is often open to things that are hard to see in every day life. Then, the walker journeys back to the mundane, bringing the vision with her.
Don’t worry. You can’t get lost.