Variants of the Cretan Labyrinth

The Cretan is the most frequently encountered type of labyrinth, and so for this type we can find a broad range of individual variants. Here I want to show some examples that are of particular interest for various reasons. Unless stated otherwise, all figures are sourced from the book Through the Labyrinth by Hermann Kern. The details can be found here.

Figure 1. Pylos

Figure 1. Pylos

This graffito on a clay tablet from Pylos dates from 1200 BCE at the latest and is the oldest securely dated labyrinth. It shows the Cretan-type on a rectangular layout.

Figure 2. Silver  coin, Knossos

Figure 2. Silver coin, Knossos

This figure shows the labyrinth with a concentric layout on a silver coin from Knossos, ca. 190 100 BCE. The center of the labyrinth covers with the middle of its circuits. The axis, however, is somewhat eccentric, as the pathway reaching the center is aligned centrally.

Figure 3. Walahfrid

Figure 3. Walahfrid

On this drawing from a parchment manuscript by Walahfrid Strabo (808-849), the labyrinth is shown in full concentric form. The axial wall that connects the innermost with the outermost wall of the labyrinth is aligned centrally with the center.

The following examples show, that variants of the layout are not limited to standard forms, such as circles or rectangles.

Figure 4. Heart labyrinth

Figure 4. Heart labyrinth

This heart-labyrith by Mario Höhn is of the Cretan-type, although with an additional closed circuit at the inside. Not all circuits are in parallel course (as with a supposed 7-lane roundabout). Circuits 7 and 6 are limited to the right heart chamber. Circuit 5 leads to the left chamber, where it is connected with the closed 8th circuit.

Figure 5. Double labyrinth

Figure 5. Double labyrinth

An other method to generate a heart labyrinth was used by Marty Kermeen and Jeff Saward. They apply a double labyrinth (DL). This is made up of two identic labyrinths (L) that are mirrored horizonally and connected to each other. So the actual labyrinth is one of these two part-labyrinths. This is a Cretan-type projected on a half-hearted layout.

Figure 6. Abhuyumani Tantra

Figure 6. Abhuyumani Tantra

This tantric drawing from Rajasthan, India, 19th century, shows the labyrinth arranged on three quarters of a circle – most of it actually is unrolled to a semi circle. Only the turn from the first to the fourth circuit covers the whole third quadrant. The fourth quadrant is not covered by the figure.

Figure 7. Nîmes

Figure 7. Nîmes

This roman mosaic labyrinth from Nîmes, France, 1st century, has an inconspicious rectangular outline. But, like no other, it shows that the layout of a labyrinth is not only limited to its outline (circle, rectangle, heart, etc.). It is also important to consider how the course of the pathway is organized within this outline form. And this is really tricky. Just try to identify the seed pattern of this labyrinth. The course of the pathway is special in at least three points.

  • All circuits do not rotate by a full (360°) but only a 3/4 (270°) circle. This is the same as with the Indian labyrinth described above. It is a sort of a 3/4 labyrinth. However, the layout covers all four quadrants.
  • The inner circuits are completely embedded in quadrants 1 and 2. Normally all circuits cover all quadrants.
  • Only the outer 4 circuits cover all quadrants.

These shiftings and transformations vary the layout of the labyrinth so that it is barely recognizable.

But what makes me classify all these different examples as Cretan-type labyrinths? What do all these have in common? What defines a Cretan-type labyrinth has been repeatedly described on this blog and elsewhere:

  • One-arm labyrinth
  • alternating, i.e., the pathway does not traverse the axis
  • 7 circuits
  • level sequence: 3-2-1-4-7-6-5.

It is important to keep in mind that we are dealing with alternating labyrinths. There exist also non-alternating labyrinths. Only among the alternating labyrinths there is exactly one type of labyrinth for each level sequence. The other way round, this allows us to unequivocally describe each type of an alternating labyrinth by its level sequence.

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