Type or Style / 1

About the Order of Labyrinths

Sometimes it may occur that your attention is attracted by a new labyrinth, or that you create a labyrinth yourself. Of course in such cases one would like to know, whether such a labyrinth already exists, or if it is something original? To answer this question, a typology of labyrinths is needed. It would then be possible to compare the labyrinth in question with the typology. Therefore a typology should

  • group similar labyrinths into types
  • allocate different labyrinths to different types
  • make transparent how the types were defined
  • allocate the individual examples unambigously i.e. using consistently the same criteria
  • cover the range of the known labyrinths
  • be open so that up to now unknown labyrinth types can be added.

How then should the individual labyrinths be ordered, classified?


How to Classify?

There are various approaches to order the multitude of labyrinths. First of all, of course, the work of Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth°, has to be mentioned. Kern had collected and ordered the full available material about labyrinths and mazes. His objective, however, was not to elaborate a typology of labyrinths. He wanted to document the first rise and appearance of the labyrinth-figure and to reconstruct its further proliferations. Kern ordered the labyrinths primarily in chronological order. In the course of the historical development, he found various typical forms. Kern explicitly applied some types of labyrinths, particularly the Cretan type and the Chartres type.

The order of labyrinths by Kern has influenced many following attempts. For instance the compilation of 100 labyrinths in a chronological / geographical order by Eichfelder. Or, similarly, the overviews by Edkins or Jensen. These compilations, however, have not been conceived as typologies.

The Labyrinth Society, on its website, presents a dedicated typology. This typology, in part follows the order of labyrinths by Kern, but also substantially deviates from it. However, this typology is incomplete and in-transparent. The occupation with this typology has made me identify the classical style.

A comprehensive typology can be found on the website Begehbare Labyrinthe. This typology applies to the labyrinths compiled in the catalogue of walkable labyrinths of this website and in this respect is complete. Several original types of labyrinths can be found in this typology, however, this is not often made clear.

Erwin has repeatedly stated on this blog, that for him the sequence of the path is the criterion that determines the types of labyrinths. However, he does not apply this rule consistently.

For the distinction of types of labyrinths I exclusively use one criterion: the pattern. Thus it is also immediately clear how the individual examples are allocated to a particular type of labyrinth. Erwin and myself agree with each other to a great extent.

A great issue in the typology of labyrinths is that “type” and “style” are often confused. This said, I have to add that I am rather hazy about what I here just refer to as “style”. This still has to be elaborated more clearly. Therefore, in following posts I will try to distinguish between type and style and to clarify their relationship.

°Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth – Designs and Meanings over 5000 Years. Munich: Prestel 2000.

7 thoughts on “Type or Style / 1

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