Category Archives: mind

spiraling into control

Labyrinths have come back into use in the last decade or two.  When you consider the history of labyrinths, it’s surprising that they ever fell out of use.


 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.    

Or him.

Find a labyrinth near you.

Don’t worry.  You can’t get lost.


book report # 4: off the road

The Road  by Cormac McCarthy.

One of those books that you finish reading and think, I KNEW I SHOULDN’T HAVE READ THIS.

Of course, the fact that I read the last third of it by booklight in the middle of a 12-hour blackout from a never-ending thunderstorm probably contributed to the aura of despair.


I remember the glowing reviews in the paper when this book came out.  A father and son’s journey to safety through an Armegeddonic landscape.  (That’s right.  Armegeddonic.  If Cormac can do without apostrophes, I can add a few letters to a word.)

282 pages of horror, indescribable fear, starvation, cannibalism, rape, desolation and death, death, death.

5 pages of semi-hope.

Mostly apostrophe free.

Here’s the thing.  The longer the book dragged on…the more grey ash, cracklin’ dead trees and sludgy creek water there was…


I hated this book.  I hated the fact that everyone on the road wanted to rape and eat the little boy.  I hated the stupid father dragging him through all that suffering.  I hated that the world was dead, with no explanation.  I hated that they were always dirty, cold, hungry and afraid.  A whole book’s worth.

Did I mention the cannibals?


But I fixated on the apostropheless contractions.  What kind of person thinks he can just discard apostrophes willy-nilly?  Who died and made him the King of Punctuation?  Why, he has no respect for the laws of nature nor the laws of man!


Then I realized: the whole book has no respect for the human psyche.

People want to spend several evenings of their life on a book that gives them something to cheer for, or something to think about, or even something to disagree with.

The Road  gives you nothing.  287 pages of People Ain’t No Damn Good.

I can read the newspaper for that.

Ah Yes, I Remember it Well

Jill Price remembers everything that ever happened to her.  She can relive any incident in her life as if she is watching a real-time video.

I can’t imagine a worse hell.

A faulty memory system is probably what has kept the human race humming along.  A  complete and literal memory would paralyze us.

The most obvious place where faulty memory works to preserve the human race is child birth.  Squirting that little sucker out really hurts, ya know?  But the universal truth is that seeing the result of all that pain–a beautiful baby–makes it all worth it.  The importance of the physical discomfort dims in the memory, and therefore, women go on to do it again.     

And then there’s forgiveness.  Suppose your little brother scratches your new bicycle.  With pliable memory, his remorse mixes with your thoughts about his sweet baby-smell when he came home from the hospital.  (Not his ugly, ruddy red face.)  There’s the way he looked at you when you ruffled his hair, like you’re some kind of god.  (Even though he had oatmeal hanging off his chin.)  Yeah, you forgive him.

But what if every time you looked at your bicycle you zoomed in on the scratch, just like you did on the day that you found it?  What if your heart beat harder and a growl rumbled in your chest, just like that day?  Forgiveness would be difficult, and you would have to re-forgive your little brother every time you looked at your bike.

It’s hard enough to live with embarrassing events.  The wind blowing your dress over your head in sixth grade, to reveal your Barbie underwear.  Singing off-key at the sorority talent show.  Farting during a kiss.  What if you remembered every detail of these mortifying experiences, sweaty palms and burning cheeks included?

Yeah, it sounds great to replay your first kiss, relive earning your first paycheck, be the homecoming queen again.  But I have a feeling that those things weren’t as great the first time around as you think.  It’s only in retrospect that you realize how special those things were, and they are enshrined in a special golden corner of your brain. 

Give me a semi-faulty memory.  It’s a lot easier when I have to remember tripping in my high school cafeteria and sending my tray hurtling through the air to land in that cute guy’s lap. 

Nah, he didn’t notice.

I remember.

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