There are times when art does so much more than imitate life. In these instances art becomes an integral element to the story of life. The labyrinth is an example of one such instance.
Most would likely be familiar with the labyrinth as it relates to the Greek myth of the Minotaur where doomed individuals were forced inside an inescapable maze, its inherent difficulty compounded by it being the abode of a man-eating minotaur. However, the history of mazes in general and labyrinths in particular goes well beyond this horror inflicted on the forsaken of Greek mythology.
What’s the difference between a maze and a labyrinth? The main difference is that a maze requires that one figures out the correct path that leads out of the maze. A labyrinth usually has one, albeit meandering, path that leads one to the center of the structure.
Historically, noble and royal grounds would feature labyrinths. The earliest documented labyrinth is that of the ruins of Pharaoh Amenemhet III‘s empire where it was the center of spiritual and administrative practice. The historian Herodotus who visited the ruins, which would have been about 1300 years old at the time of his visit in the 5th century BCE, had this to say of it: “I visited this building and found it to surpass description; for if all the great works of the Greeks could be put together in one, they would not equal this Labyrinth. The Pyramids likewise surpass description, but the Labyrinth surpasses the Pyramids.” (see links below for more)
In modern times, the labyrinth has become closely associated with the Christian church with the most famous example being Chartres Cathedral in France. Much speculation persists about the reason for labyrinths. Theories range from them being traps for malevolent spirits to being a way for those who could not make pilgrimages to have a pilgrimage-like experience.
My personal favorite is that the labyrinth symbolizes each individual’s path in physical, mental and spiritual life. We enter in through birth or renewed consciousness. We walk toward our goal. Often we are redirected one way or another far from or closer to our goal. The ebbs and flows of life somehow yield to us knowledge and wisdom that imbues us with a greater understanding of what it truly is that we set out after in the 1st place until finally we find it deep within and abide centered in the peace.
If you would like to experience walking a labyrinth for yourself, many metro areas have labyrinths. They are most often found at religious places of worship. For those in the Columbia, SC area, there is a secular labyrinth located at Maxcy Gregg Park near USC. It is the featured image of this post.
Want more. Here’s a labyrinth locator.
The following links offer a more in-depth account of the ancient Egyptian labyrinth