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I have written quite in detail about the Babylonian labyrinths. For that I refer to the Related Posts below. Now here it should be a summary.

I have taken most information from the detailed and excellent article of Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014) to which I would also like to point here once again.

The findings are in the most different collections and museums worldwide. I use the catalogue number to describe the various clay tablets.

The oldest specimens in angular shape dates back to Old Babylonian times about 2000 – 1700 BC and are to find in the Norwegian Schøyen Collection.

The Rectangular Babylonian Labyrinth MS 3194

The Rectangular Babylonian Labyrinth MS 3194

The Square Babylonian Labyrinth MS 4515

The Square Babylonian Labyrinth MS 4515

Then follows the different more round visceral labyrinths from the Middle Babylonian to the Neo-Babylonian times about 1500 – 500 BC. They are to be found in the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin (VAN… and VAT… numbers), in the Louvre (AO 6033), in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden (Leiden labyrinth) or come from Tell Barri in Syria (E 3384).

I have numbered the tablets with more figures from the left on top to the right below and present the well visible ones (21 pieces) in a bigger tracing. Some figures are unrecognisable or destroyed. All together we have 48 illustrations.

Then there are another 6 single specimens. They follow here:

Visceral Labyrinths

Visceral Labyrinths

Here the 21 bigger tracings of the well recognisable specimens:

The Visceral Labyrinth on VAT 984

The Visceral Labyrinth on VAT 984

The Visceral Labyrinths on VAN 9447

The Visceral Labyrinths on VAN 9447

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 recto

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 recto

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 verso

The Visceral Labyrinths on E 3384 verso

So we have a total of 56 Babylonian labyrinths, 29 of which are clearly recognisable.

It is common to all 29 diagrams that they show an unequivocal way which is completely to cover. There are no forks or dead ends like it would be in a real maze.

All 29 specimens have a different layout or ground plan and therefore no common pattern.

Everyone (except VAT 9560_4) has two entrances. On the angular labyrinths they are lying in the middle of the opposite sides. On the remaining, mostly rounded specimens they are situated side by side or are displaced.

The Leiden Labyrinth is simply a double spiral. An other special feature is the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560_4. It has only one entrance and a spiral-shaped centre, just as we have that in the Indian labyrinth. It shows perfectly a labyrinth.

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth could also have a closed middle (and therefore only one entrance) and the loops run in simple serpentines.

The remaining 24 specimens have all a much more complicated alignment with intertwined bends and loops.

The 27 unreadable specimens are presumably structured alike. And maybe there are still more clay tablets awaiting discovery?

We know nothing about the meaning of the angular specimens. The remaining 27 more rounded specimens are visceral labyrinths.

The visceral labyrinths show the intestines of sacrificial animals as a pattern for diviners, describing how to interprete them for oracular purposes in the extispicy. From there it is also to be understood that they should look very different. This explains her big variety. And also again her resemblance. They represent rather an own style than an own type.

The Babylonian labyrinths come from an own time period, from another cultural sphere and follow a different paradigm than the usual Western notion of the labyrinth. They are above all walk-through labyrinths. However, in our tradition we also know walk-through labyrinths, especially the Wunderkreis.

A Wunderkreis in Babylonian style

A Wunderkreis in Babylonian style: The logo for the gathering of the Labyrinth Society TLS in 2017), design and © Lisa Moriarty

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An interesting labyrinth is reproduced in the book of Kern (fig. 200, p. 119)°. A drawing by Arabian geographer Al Qazvini in his cosmography completed in 1276 is meant to show the ground plan of the residence of the ruler of Byzantium, before the large city of Constantinople was built up.

This non-alternating labyrinth has 10 circuits and a unique course of the pathway. I will show this using the Ariadne’s Thread and the pattern. In my post “From the Ariadne’s Thread to the Pattern – Method 2” (see related posts, below), I have already described how the pattern can be obtained. When deriving the pattern I always start with a labyrinth that rotates clockwise and lies with the entrance from below. The labyrinth by Qazvini rotates in clockwise direction, however it lies with the entrance from above. Therefore I rotate the following images of the labyrinth by a semicircle so that the entrance comes to lie from below. So it is possible to follow the course of the pathway with the Ariadne’s Thread and in parallel see how this is represented in the pattern.

Four steps can be distinguished in the course of the pathway.

Phase 1

The path first leads to the 3rd circuit. The entrance is marked with an arrow pointing inwards. In the pattern, axial sections of the path are represented by vertical, circuits by horizontal lines. The way from the outside in is represented from above to below.

Phase 2

In a second step, the path now winds itself inwards in the shape of a serpentine until it reaches the 10th and innermost circuit. Up to this point the course is alternating.

Phase 3

Next follows the section where the pathway leads from the innermost to the outermost circuit whilst it traverses the axis. In order to derive the pattern, the labyrinth is split along the axis and then uncurled on both sides. As the pathway traverses the axis, the piece of it along the axis has to be split in two halves (see related posts below: “The Pattern in Non-alternating Labyrinths”). This is indicated with the dashed lines. These show one and the same piece of the pathway. In the pattern, as all other axial pieces, this is represented vertically, however with lines showing up on both sides of the rectangular form and a course similarly on both sides from bottom to top.

Phase 4

Finally the pathway continues on the outermost circuit in the same direction it had previously taken on the innermost circuit (anti clockwise), then turns to the second circuit, from where it reaches the center (highlighted with a bullet point).

Related Posts:

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

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The Babylons are surely related to the widespread Troy Towns of the European North. However, they look a little bit different.
Directly after the entrance there is a bifurcation and therefore it is possible to go on in two directions. And then often there is no real middle, but rather you are headed back in a double spiral.

The Troy Town of Visby (Gotland Island, Sweden)

The Troy Town of Visby (Gotland Island, Sweden), Source: Ernst Krause, Die Trojaburgen Nordeuropas, 1893, fig. 1, p. 4

However, how could they have developed?
Numerous stone labyrinths have survived down to the present day in Fennoscandia. The Babylons are to be found particularly in the eastern area, from Finland up to the Russian Kola Peninsula. Often they are situated near the coast and on islands. The natives of Northern Europe, the Sami, settled here. It is possible that the Babylons deal with the traditional Sami religion.
They have presumably originated from the 13th century on until our times. And they were built in the same way: With stones fist-sized to head-sized laid down on the ground.

However, why do the Babylons look different and do not follow the well-known seed pattern with cross, angles and four dots? Much Scandinavian Troy Towns have eleven circuits and have been laid after the enlarged seed pattern.

The 11-circuit Cretan (Classical) labyrinth with the seed pattern of the cross, the four double angles and the four dots

The 11-circuit Cretan (Classical) labyrinth with the seed pattern of the cross, the four double angles and the four dots, on the right in a round shape

Thereby divergences and variations appeared. This can happen quite easily through this construction method.
Thus there are Swedish Troy Towns with the open cross which enables to take two directions to reach the middle, and to organise a race, e.g. This is why these also often are called “Jungfrudans” or “Jungfruringen”.

9-circuit stone labyrinth (Jungfruringen) at Köpmanholm (Sweden)

9-circuit stone labyrinth (Jungfruringen) at Köpmanholm (Sweden), Source: © John Kraft, Die Göttin im Labyrinth (1997), fig. 7, p. 26 (German edition)

In the seed pattern for this labyrinth double angles only were used in the lower area. So we have 9 circuits.

Here the layout for a 11-circuit labyrinth:

The 11-circuit Cretan (Classical) labyrinth, on the right with open cross

The 11-circuit Cretan (Classical) labyrinth, on the right with open cross

In the report of Budovskiy I found a graphics (from 1973?) by Prof. Kuratov who has carried out a division of labyrinths and wanted probably show how the Babylon developed (see the sketched line in the graphics).

The table of Prof. Kuratov

The table of Prof. Kuratov

In the first column a sort of principle is to be seen. As first the whole Cretan labyrinth. In the second the left-handed spiral, in the third the right-handed spiral, then the double spiral and below circles.
In row Ia we see the Cretan type in different variations.
In row Ib the open cross and a decreasing middle.
In row II a right-handed spiral and the faulty stone setting discovered by Karl Ernst von Baer (1792 – 1876) in 1838 on the island of Wiehr.
In row III the Babylon with the double spiral.
In row IV some multiple-arm labyrinths which remind of the medieval labyrinths.

The open cross occurs several times under the Scandinavian labyrinths. Besides, the empty middle sometimes becomes smaller and then even slides under the two upper turning points. Finally, it is only indicated and then left out completely.

The drawing of John Kraft shows this:

The Troy Town of Nisseviken (Sweden)

The Troy Town of Nisseviken (Sweden), Source: graphic by © John Kraft in Gotländskt Arkiv 1983 on Gotlands trojeborgar, p. 87

I have found in a report about the Babylons on WeirdRussia, beside numerous photos, also this graphic :

Stone setting on the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island

Stone setting on the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island

The middle exists next to nothing. It is rather a niche or a widening of the way. In this area small stone heaps are sometimes stacked up. Should they show the gate to the underworld or the belly of the snake? The ends of the boundary lines are thickened. This is quite easy to make with some more stones.
The labyrinth has changed its meaning, with this its appearance and became the walk-through labyrinth.

Here the layout in geometrically correct form:

 

Babylon Solovki

Babylon Solovki

Presumably most of the Babylons correspond to this shape.

On this photo one can recognise very well the alignment.

There is a graphic with a little “rounder” double spiral in the table of Prof. Kuratov and in Vinogradov’s report which I have still shown in my last post (see below).

There are  obviously some among the Finnish stone settings which look rather so.

Graphics of a Babylon according to Vinogradov

Graphics of a Babylon according to Vinogradov

According to most of the photos the Babylons doesn’t look exactly like this. The entrance is narrower and has a short straight piece.

Actually, one must consider them as a Wunderkreis. Even if they don’t have such a perfect double spiral like the Zeiden Wunderkreis. The Wunderkreise of Kaufbeuren or Eberswalde matches more likely the Babylons.

How could one call this type? In the last post I had suggested: Babylonian Wunderkreis. However, now I tend rather to Sami Wunderkreis because it developed in the cultural area of the Sami and probably was used in the cult of the dead.

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A very beautiful labyrinth example (fig. 1) named Cakra-vyuh can be found in Kern’s Book° (fig. 631, p. 294).

Andere 5

Figure 1: Cakra-Vyuh Labyrinth from an Indian Book of Rituals

The figure originates from a contemporary Indian book of rituals. In this, a custom of unknown age, still in practice today, was described, in which the idea of a labyrinth is used to magically facilitate birth-giving. To Kern this is a modified Cretan type labyrinth. I attribute it to a type of it’s own and name it after Kern’s denomination type Cakra-Vyuh (see Related Posts: Type or Style / 14).

The seed pattern is clearly recognizable. One can well figure out that this labyrinth was constructed based on the seed pattern. Despite this, I hesitate to attribute it to the Classical style. For this, the calligraphic looking design deviates too much from the traditional Classical style. The walls delimiting the pathway all lie to a mayor extent, i.e. with about 3/4 of their circumference on a grid of concentric circles. Therefore it has also elements of the concentric style. The labyrinth even somewhat reminds me of the Knidos style with its seamlessly fitting segments of arcs where the walls delimiting the path deviate from the circles and connect to the seed pattern.

Therefore I have not attributed this labyrinth to any one of the known styles, but grouped it to other labyrinths (Type or Style /9). However, I had also drawn this labyrinth type in the Man-in-the-Maze style already (How to Draw a Man-in-the-Maze Labyrinth / 5).

SPCV

Figure 2: Composition of the Seed Pattern

Fig. 2 shows how the seed pattern is made-up. We begin with a central cross. Tho the arms of this cross are then attached half circles (2nd image). Next, four similar half circles are fitted into the remaining spaces in between. Thus the seed pattern includes now 8 half circles (3rd image). Finally, a bullet point is placed into the center of each half circle. We now have a seed pattern with 24 ends, that all lie on a circle.

In the pattern it can be clearly seen, that the labyrinth has an own course of the pathway. Therefore, to me it is a type of it’s own.

Typ Cakra Vyuh

Figure 3: Pattern

Furthermore it is a self-dual, even though, according to Tony Phillips, uninteresting labyrinth (Un- / interesting Labyrinths). This because it is made-up of a very interesting labyrinth with 9 circuits with one additional, trivial circuit on both, the inside and the outside.

Related posts:

 

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

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In the article by Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014)  there is the picture of a visceral drawing on a clay tablet which is older than those we have seen before (see related posts below).

Clay tablet with diagram

Clay tablet from Umma of Old Babylonian times, photo courtesy of the Louvre

The clay tablet with the visceral drawings was found in the old Sumerian city of Umma, the today’s Tell Jokha in Iraq. It dates from the time about 1900 – 1600 B.C. and you can now see it in the Louvre under the number AO 6033.
The photo can be found in the cuneiform digital library initiative of the University of California, Los Angeles, under the CDLI number P 386355.

Unfortunately, the tablet is damaged. Nevertheless, the missing lines can be reconstructed perfectly and then show the following plan:

The visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033

The visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033

The alignment reminds very strongly of the so-called Berlin labyrinth on the clay tablet VAT 744 at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin which is some hundred years younger.

The visceral drawing on tablet VAT 744

The visceral drawing on tablet VAT 744

Despite the resemblance the lines in the visceral drawing on tablet AO 6033 show a completely different labyrinth.
The path (Ariadne’s thread) inside the tablet ascertained from the boundary lines looks thus:

Ariadne's thread in the visceral drawing on AO 6033

Ariadne’s thread in the visceral drawing on AO 6033

Based on these lines I construct a geometrically exact figure consisting of arc elements. The midpoints of them can be arranged on a single line.

Ariadne's thread geometrically correct

Ariadne’s thread geometrically correct

After that I construct the boundary lines around the same midpoints and will obtain the complete labyrinth:

The labyrinth

The labyrinth

The alignment is completely different from the one of the Berlin labyrinth. In the middle there is a kind of a double spiral. Besides there are two turning points. The two sickle-shaped empty areas are remarkable.

Anyway we see an hitherto unknown walk-through labyrinth. Maybe even the oldest one proved so far? In any case, it is older than the example on the tablet of Pylos.

How should one name it? Referring to the proposals of Andreas maybe: The Babylonian Umma labyrinth.


Who would like to draw or build such a labyrinth as a walkable one? The following drawing offers the necessary information. The measurements are to be understood as units. So “1” can be: 1 cm, 10 cm, 60 cm, 1 metre, 1 yard, 1 foot, 2 feet, a step length, a stick and the like.

The layout drawing

The layout drawing

One best goes forward as follows: Fix a line, divide it into 16 parts, mark the mid points of the circles, then make the arcs with a string, wire, circle, tape or the like.  The radii are a multiple of the unity, so R2 means 2 times the unity etc.

The labyrinth can be drawn with compass and pencil on paper or can be scratched as a walkable labyrinth into the sand, strewn with sawdust or laid with stones or similar. The two accesses can be arranged by wish. It would make it easier to begin with the arcs above the line.

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At the 22nd Zeiden neighborhood get-together on June 6th 2015 in Dinkelsbühl marching through the Wunderkreis was one of the highlights.

In my first post from June 21st 2015 I wrote extensively about the Wunderkreis itself and the more “technical” aspects (see Related Post below).

For those who want to know something more about the historical background, I recommend reading the article by Richard Myers Shelton in Caerdroia 44 or to get informed by the articles mentioned in Related Links. The people of Zeiden themselves have written about their traditions and their customs.

In this post, it’s more about the march through the Wunderkreis itself.

Set on a beautiful day in a beautiful environment, i.e. in the heart of the well-preserved medieval Dinkelsbühl, this event was one of the highlights at the 22nd Zeiden neighborhood get-together on the old pavement in front of the “Schranne”.

The temporary Zeiden Wunderkreis in Dinkelsbühl

The temporary Zeiden Wunderkreis in Dinkelsbühl

The through traffic was blocked off the Weinmarkt this afternoon and so many astonished tourists were marvelling at the white lines on the pavement.
A local baker (picture 7) baked about 250 Kipfel specially for this day. The march itself took about 15 minutes. After that the Zeiden brass band offered another open-air concert, where some brave couple even danced.

On this day I had the opportunity to meet the current neighbor father Rainer Lehni (pictures 8, 11) and the old neighbor father  Udo Buhn (Figure 20), and spoke with the people of Zeiden themselves.

Photogallery:

Clicking on a picture will open the carousel, clicking × in the top left-hand corner of the carousel, or the “Esc”- key on your keyboard,  will close it.

Numerous participants walked along the lines of the Wunderkreis to the sound of the traditional Kipfelmarsch, performed by the Zeiden brass band and were each rewarded with a Kipfel (croissant).

Probably we will now have to wait some more years until the next march through the Wunderkreis?

Although the original Zeiden Wunderkreis still exists in today’s Codlea (now Romania), it would be fine if the Zeiden Transylvanian Saxons could continue their tradition here in their new homeland of Germany with a new permanent Wunderkreis.

Note for TLS members: Read the excellent article by Richard Myers Shelton in Caerdroia 44 (April 2015) about the Transylvanian Wunderkreis.

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The Zeiden Wunderkreis

The Zeiden Wunderkreis

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Types of Labyrinths in Kern’s Book

Kern basically distinguishes between the Cretan type and all other types of labyrinths. For him, the Cretan type is a one-arm alternating labyrinth with seven circuits and the exact level sequence of 3-2-1-4-7-6-5 (see Kern°, fig. 5, p. 34).

KretTyp

Level Sequence of the Cretan Type Labyrinth in Kern°, fig. 5, p. 34

Labyrinths with such a level sequence of the pathway, irrespective of whether these rotate clock- or anticlockwise, show classical or concentric or other forms of layout, appear as petroglyphs, built of stone, drawings in manuscripts or else, are referred to as Cretan type labyrinths.

In all other labyrinths Kern sees variations or re-interpretations of the Cretan type Kern°, p. 27 and table pp. 28, 29). This refers not only to one-arm labyrinths with other numbers of circuits or level sequences of the pathway (such as e.g. Jericho type, Otfrid type), but also includes all labyrinths with multiple arms (e.g. roman mosaic labyrinths, Chartres type, Reims type labyrinths etc.). To summarize, we can find the following types of labyrinths in Kern’s book (Kern°, pp. 107 – 109).

  • Cretan; Cretan modified; Cretan (Jericho); Cretan modified, 6 circuits (Jericho); Cretan, 6 circuits
  • Chartres; Chartres modified; Chartres (Jericho); Chartres modified, 6 Umgänge
  • Otfrid
  • Reims

So, he differentiates between pure and modified types of labyrinths.

However, Kern’s claim was not to elaborate a typology. But for him the meaning of type was defined by the level sequence of the pathway. This particularly applies to his pure types. All labyrinths Kern had identified as being of the Cretan type, e.g. in the legends to the images, had the same level sequence. The same applies for the Chartres type labyrinths too. However in the modified types it is less clear.

It is fascinating to read how Kern in the first chapters of his book investigates the various leads of a possible genesis of the labyrinth. How he tries to fix a first historically documented appearance of the labyrinth. He does not find it in the „Cretan Labyrinth“ handed down by Plutarch, that has never existed as a building (chap. II). Nor can he find it in the buildings that have been named labyrinths in ancient times (chap. 3: the Egyptian Labyrinth, the Labyrinth of Lemnos / Samos, the Italian Labyrinth, Didyma, the Labyrinth of Nauplion). However, Kern states that the fundament of the Tholos of Epidauros is the only one historical building that can be justifiably referred to as a labyrinth.

Kern identifies other leads in the dances (chap. 2). However, he has to let it open, whether these have been danced in any labyrinthine form at all or even in the precise form of the Cretan type labyrinth.

But why then Kern gives the name „Cretan Labyrinth“ to this type identified by himself as the basic type?

He calls this type „Cretan“ after its presumed origin (p. 24), despite this presumption is in clear contradiction with the results of his own thorough research of the historical evidence. There is little doubt that this was the first type of labyrinth that can be documented reliably in history. Therefore it is absolutely justified to refer to it as the basic labyrinth. The first known historical examples of this type are not from Crete but from Pylos (Greece) or Galicia (Spain).

Kern, thus, has correctly identified the original type of labyrinth, but gave a name to this type that is against the results of his own research. To me it is a complete mystery why he did this.

Related posts:

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

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