Pseudo Single Barrier

As was the case with double-barriers, we can also distinguish real from pseudo single-barriers (see: related posts, below). Here I want to show this first with the examples of two non-labyrinthine figures. I start with the figure „Luan“ (fig. 1).

Figure 1. Figure Luan
Figure 1. Figure “Luan” 

Source: Kern, fig 604, p. 285

This is a recent sand drawing of the Stone Age culture on Melanesian island Malekula (Vanatu). Kern writes, that this figure is not a labyrinth and cannot not even with any sound justification be considered misinterpreted labyrinth (Kern, p. 285). It is made-up of a uninterrupted line without entrance or center. However, it has 4 axes and 5 circuits. 

In fig. 2, left image, I show a simpler version of it with only 3 circuits. This better illustrates the principle of its design. This figure clearly can be read as an uninterrupted Ariadne’s Thread, and therefore I have drawn it in red. Of course, we can also add the representation with the walls delimiting the pathway (right image, blue). As can be seen, this figure has a certain similarity with a labyrinth. The axes are formed by the same turns of the pathway that typically appear in the labyrinth of Chartres and many other types of labyrinths. 

Figure 2. Figure Luan, Reduced to 3 Circuits
Figure 2. Figure “Luan”, Reduced to 3 Circuits

In figure 3, I have redrawn the figure from fig. 2 and reduced it to 2 axes. The left (red) image shows the representation with the Ariadne’s Thread, the right (blue) shows the representation with the walls delimiting the pathway. Still, the Ariadne’s Thread is a uninterrupted line without entrance or center. Here we can see the special course of the pathway at the side axis. The two turns of the path are shifted one circuit against each other. In between, an axial piece of the pathway is inserted where the path changes from the first to the third circuit without changing direction. Analogically with the double barriers we can term these courses single barriers. The course of the pathway in figure 2 is a real, the one in fig. 4 a pseudo single barrier (see related posts, below). 

Figure 3. Redrawing with 2 Axes and Pseudo Single Barriers
Figure 3. Redrawing with 2 Axes and Pseudo Single Barriers 

This figure can easily be transformed to a labyrinth with 2 axes and 3 circuits, as shown in fig. 4. The left (red) image shows the representation of the labyrinth with the Ariadne’s Thread, the right (blue) shows the representation with the walls delimiting the pathway. 

Figure 4. Labyrinth with 2 Axes and 3 Circuits
Figure 4. Labyrinth with 2 Axes and 3 Circuits

As far as I know, the pseudo single-barrier has appeared in two historical labyrinths (fig. 5). The left image shows the pavement labyrinth in Ely Cathedral with 5 axes and 5 circuits. The pseudo single-barrier is situated at the second axis where the path changes from the fourth to the second circuit without changing direction. The right image shows the third out of 8 labyrinth drafts by the clergyman Dom Nicolas Rély. This labyrinth, that I called Rély 3, has 9 axes and 5 circuits. The axes are designed as real (axes 1, 2, 4, 6, 8) and pseudo (axes 3, 5, 7) single-barriers.

Figure 5. Historical Labyrinths with Pseudo Single Barriers
Figure 5. Historical Labyrinths with Pseudo Single Barriers

Sources: Ely – Saward, p. 115; Rély 3 – Kern, fig. 457a, p. 241.


  • Kern H. Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5000 years. London: Prestel 2000. 
  • Saward J. Labyrinths & Mazes: The Definitive Guide to Ancient & Modern Traditions. London: Gaia 2003.

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How to repair the Mistakes in Historical Scandinavian Labyrinths, Part 4

Originally, I didn’t want to suggest any changes to this particular Icelandic labyrinth. But since I have learned more about the Dritvík Labyrinth through the article by Daniel C. Browing, Jr. (Ancient Dan) on his website, I dare to approach it.

I studied the labyrinth and its appearance intensively. In order to better understand how it could have come about, I tried to reconstruct it with my means, especially geometrically precise.

The oldest representation known to us is from 1900. It is particularly noticeable that the beginning and the end of the line are in the middle of the stone setting. The stones themselves then form an uninterrupted line, they are Ariadne’s thread. And not the way in between, as it should be in a “real” labyrinth. The twists and turns form dead ends and inaccessible sections. Whether this was intentional has already been discussed sufficiently in this blog. Mainly by Richard Myers Shelton in his guest post. But also through Ancient Dan.
The center is formed by a small pile of stones that looks like a molehill made of stones. But it could also be seen as the entrance to the underworld for the guardian spirit. And the stone settings as hints for his way on our upper world. Or do we see the whole thing as a monument to the protective spirit and its activity?

The Dritvík Labyrinth about 1900
The Dritvík Labyrinth about 1900

Between 1900 and up to our time, some of the original labyrinth was rebuilt, probably before 1997, when Jeff Saward (Caerdroia 29 from 1998) visited it. Above all, the lower right part has been changed a lot. The two loops with the two dead ends became only one. And the middle took on roughly the shape of a double spiral. So there was only one entrance with a branch. But it was still not a “real” labyrinth.
I still can’t imagine that the labyrinth was so intentional. Because all other known labyrinths from this time, this culture and this region are walkable. Mostly there are walk-through labyrinths that belong to the so-called classical Baltic type. The entry and exit can run separately from one another, but they can also be formed by a single entry with a branch. They usually do not have a pronounced and empty center. It is formed by a more or less distinct double spiral. For me this is a Wunderkreis.

How do we get there now? What changes would have to be made?

The entire upper part can remain unchanged. The number of circuits and the total outer circumference can also remain.

The center part is also partially correct. Only the lower left and lower right parts need to be rebuilt. The stones must be moved so that there are no more dead ends. This can be done towards the center or away from the center. So the double spiral is reduced or enlarged.

The Dritvík Labyrinth nowadays
The Dritvík Labyrinth nowadays

In the first suggestion for the Wunderkreis 1, I go inward on both sides, the center part gets one less circuit. The left lower turning point is then on the 4th line counted from the outside. The right lower turning point is on the 5th line.

The Dritvík Wunderkreis 1
The Dritvík Wunderkreis 1

In the second suggestion, I go to the outside. The middle part gets one more turn, so the double spiral becomes bigger. The left turning point is on the 3rd line, the right on the 5th line.

The Dritvík Wunderkreis 2
The Dritvík Wunderkreis 2

The middle part with the double spiral is thus more emphasized and the outer circuits are arranged like in the Classical labyrinth.

The overall dimensions have remained, as well as the total number of circuits.

With both variants, it makes sense to first turn to the left and follow the outer circuits.

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The Dritvík Labyrinth on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland

Just a few months ago (in June 2021) Daniel C. Browning, Jr. (alias Ancient Dan) visited the Dritvík Labyrinth on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland (see the first Further Link below)
I warmly recommend reading this article and the associated first part.

That gave me some new insights into this very special labyrinth. Daniel kindly allow me to show some of his photos and graphics here, for which I am very grateful.

First I show Brynjúlf Jónsson’s 1900 plan of the Dritvík labyrinth, which (for me) is clearer than the one I had from Richard Myers Shelton in his guest post from January 2021.

Brynjúlf Jónsson’s 1900 plan of the Dritvík labyrinth
Brynjúlf Jónsson’s 1900 plan of the Dritvík labyrinth

Jónsson calls it Völundarhús (Wayland‘s house). Hermann Kern also states the Islandic labyrinths as Wayland’s houses. Icelandic parchment manuscripts depicting Wayland’s houses were already in existence in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, they are a hybrid of Troy towns and Medieval labyrinths that look very different from the Dritvík Wayland’s house. The other Nordic stone settings are often referred to as Troy towns, Babylons, Jatulintarha, Jericho, Jerusalem and similar. But these often say something about their meaning.

What does the labyrinth look like today? This is shown by an impressive aerial photo of Daniel from June 2021:

Dritvík labyrinth, restored
Dritvík labyrinth, restored, as it appeared in June 2021 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021)

You can see the differences to Jónsson’s drawing very clearly. Especially in the lower right part there are considerable deviations, the two loops became one.

Restored Dritvík labyrinth plan
Restored Dritvík labyrinth plan, created from aerial image (© Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021)

Jeff Saward explored the Dritvík Labyrinth in 1997 (Caerdroia 29 from 1998) and shows a photo of it in his book “Labyrinths and Mazes of the World” and in the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (see the third Further Link below). Already there it shows the same layout as in 2021. A larger pile of stones in the middle is also noticeable. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Russian Babylons.

He calls it Volunderhus stone labyrinth and classifies it as Classical Baltic type with spiral at the center.

In order to understand the meaning of the Dritvík Labyrinth, it is very helpful to shed light on the cultural and historical background. And Daniel did that in great detail in the first part of his post. Again, I warmly recommend reading it.

At one point it says: Bárðr disappeared under the glacier and became the guardian spirit of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. The labyrinth could also be seen as the gateway to the underworld and as a monument or memory of Bárðr. Definitely as a place with magical meaning. Maybe we could even call it Bárðr’s house instead of Wayland’s house?

The special layout created by the stone setting are ideally suited to this. Because they alone represent an uninterrupted line, as we would expect from a labyrinth. It is shown in a “normal” labyrinth through the actually invisible part of the labyrinth, the path (or Ariadne’s thread). But here through the stones. And as a special feature, there is also the fact that these lines start and end in the middle, not on the outside as usual. As a result, this labyrinth is not as accessible as we are used to. With its dead ends, it could only serve as a trap.

Even the unfortunately failed restoration of 2000, in my opinion, does not change this finding. There is now an entrance with a branch like it is in a Wunderkreis, also a double spiral in the center. But you can’t go back to the entrance. You end up either on the right or on the left in a dead end.
The stone setting alone again forms an uninterrupted line that begins and ends in the center.

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Further Links

How to make a Labyrinth from a Looped Square

During my Sweden tour in 2007, I also noticed a special traffic sign that I really liked. It indicates points of interest and shows a looped square.

A Swedish traffic sign
A Swedish traffic sign

The looped square has been around for a long time, in different forms and in many cultures. It is an ornament, known as St. John’s Arms, in heraldry as a Bowen knot, it is used as a marker and as a keyboard symbol on (Apple) computers.

This picture stone from Stora Havor from around 400 – 600 AD shows a very nice example, which is now in the Fornsalen Museum in Visby (Gotland):

Picture stone from Stora Havor
Picture stone from Stora Havor, photo: Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0

Or this Cox mound gorget from the Mississippi culture, Tennessee (USA), from around 1250 – 1450:

A Cox style Mississippian culture shell gorget
A Cox style Mississippian culture shell gorget, author: Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Now another example from heraldry from an English book by Hugh Clark from 1827, where the looped square can be seen in the Bowen knot:

Nod_bowen-knot, author: Hugh Clark 1827, public domain

So we have an uninterrupted line in front of us as we find it in the labyrinth, but without a beginning and without an end. Could that be a suggestion for a labyrinth? There are also no branches, even if there are changes of direction. We just have to see or think in three dimensions. And we need a beginning and an end.

Here is the initial figure:

The looped square
The looped square

The looped square labyrinth could look like this:

The looped square labyrinth
The looped square labyrinth

The line arrangement is clear, because the intersections of the lines are not intersections where we could branch off. All we have to do is go forwards and forwards and follow the curves in the process. One could also think of overpasses or underpasses, as with motorways. In the example above, the underpasses and overpasses are easy to see. However, it can also be done without these precise delimitations.

The looped square labyrinth
The looped square labyrinth

The construction of such a labyrinth would also be a challenge? Who dares to do it? There is also a design drawing for a kind of prototype:

The looped square labyrinth
The looped square labyrinth

Here the layout drawing as a PDF file to print, save or to look at.

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