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Posts Tagged ‘Ernst Friedrich Weidner’

Via Facebook  I have found this modern walk through labyrinth:

Walk-through labyrinth with meanders

Drawing by kind permission of © Sergej Likhovid

The drawing is sketched for a labyrinth by Sergej Likhovid, that was structured in an abandoned swimming pool in Odessa (Ukraine). See more about the project in a news article in the Further Links at the bottom. Besides, it is a sector labyrinth and uses the meander. And with that we get onto the subject of the post:

In the history of the labyrinth the meander plays a big role. The meander can be traced back till the Neolithic Age. So the meander is much older than all up to now known labyrinth figures (on the tablet of Pylos in 1200 B.C.). When was the first combination meander – labyrinth? The connection with the labyrinth can be presumably proved now till the Babylonian time (about 1800 B.C.).

In the 1st part I have already introduced the labyrinth from fig. 5 of the Near East clay tablet VAT 9560 in Weidner’s article. The tablet is dated by him based on the attributed cuneiform inscriptions to the time about 1000 B.C.

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (Ariadne's thread)

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (Ariadne’s thread)

On this representation of the path’s structure (the so called Ariadne’s thread) one can recognize very nicely the meander in the middle.

Here the geometrically correct representation of the limitation lines:

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (the lines)

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 5 (the lines)

In this drawing the basic pattern can be read. It has an amazing resemblance with that for the Indian labyrinth, nevertheless, is a little bit differently constructed.

In Weidner’s script there is still fig. 4 of the tablet VAT 9560. Though the figure is incomplete, however, it shows clearly an access on the top left and the end in the middle:

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The both lines on the right side can be reconstructed unambiguously, and the completed figure shows a labyrinth:

Drawing of the complete visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Drawing of the complete visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Here the graphics in a geometrically correct manner:

Graphics of the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

Graphics of the visceral labyrinth VAT 9560, fig. 4

The comparison of the different labyrinths from fig. 5 and fig. 4 shows within the triangle in the geometrically correctly drawn representations an identical pattern. And this is identical again with a quite known basic pattern, namely of the Indian labyrinth (also called Chakra Vyuha). Read more about the Indian Labyrinth on Related Posts at the bottom.

The seed pattern for the Indian labyrinth

The seed pattern for the Indian labyrinth

Only the connection of the dots and lines is a little bit differently for the walk through labyrinth after fig. 5. For the Indian labyrinth (and the one of fig. 4) one begins in the triangular seed pattern on top and makes the first curve down to the next line end below on the right side. And then one connects all the further line ends and dots in usual manner as for the classical labyrinth in parallel arcs to the first curve. For the walk through labyrinth after fig. 4 one also begins on top, pulls the first curve, nevertheless, to the second line end. The rest is constructed again as usual.

The Indian labyrinth is still known in other variations. Here an illustration from Hermann Kern’s book:

The Indian labyrinth

The Indian labyrinth, source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinths (2000), fig. 607, p. 287

The Indian labyrinth is very old, but the origin is not so easily to prove. Who has discovered the basic pattern for it, to my knowledge is unknown, may presumably have occurred in newer time.

To my conviction one may consider the Babylonian labyrinths as genuine labyrinths, even if most of them are walk through labyrinths. They follow a different paradigm than our usual Western notion of a single path ending at the center. Nevertheless, we can count them to the real labyrinths, like we do it with the Baltic wheel and the Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren, as well as with many other contemporary creations.

In the meantime I could find about 50 different walk through and intestinal labyrinths from Babylonian time. Whether a mutual influence under these different cultural spheres existed, is uncertain, and which is now the oldest historically manifested labyrinth, is not yet proved.

However, another example of a divination labyrinth from Mesopotamia from about 1800 B.C. could outstrip the clay tablet of Pylos from 1200 B.C. On the website of Jeff Saward I found a picture of it (more on the Links below). Here a drawing of it:

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth from 1800 B.C.

The Mesopotamian divination labyrinth from 1800 B.C.

It is certainly not comparable directly with the classical labyrinth, nevertheless, a closer look at it is worthwhile and shows the relationship to the labyrinth figure.

Following graphics with the representation of the lines, the normally hidden path (Ariadne’s thread in Red) in a geometrically correct way:

Graphics of the Mesopotamian divination tablet from 1800 B.C.

Graphics of the Mesopotamian divination tablet from 1800 B.C.

It looks quite differently than we would have expected. However, it has only one entrance and an end in the middle. Though the middle is below, but here ends the way. The path spirals upwards in serpentines and turns down through a meander.

The way is unequivocal, fills the whole space, have no forks and dead ends, must be absolved completely, leads to a goal – and turns back to the outside. Even if the lines would be open in the middle below, the diagnosis “Labyrinth” would be kept up.

… To be continued

More information about the Babylonian clay tablets can be found in an excellent article from Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014).

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This fading artwork of Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon shows double spirals, knots and a walk through labyrinth with a meander in the middle.
Is this something new or are there some historical ancestors?

Dream-Field from Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Amber Shelley-Harris

Dream-Field from Denny Dyke on the beach of Bandon, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Amber Shelley-Harris

One of the first pictures in Hermann Kern’s book “Labyrinths” shows the so-called . It is on a clay tablet from presumably Middle- to Neo-Babylonian time (from 1100 to 600 B.C.) in the Near East Museum of Berlin (Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin) under the number VAT 744. It shows the intestines of a sacrificial animal with the drawing as a pattern for the ancient practice of extispicy.
For Hermann Kern this is not a labyrinth, but a double spiral with changing direction in the middle. Also spirals, meanders and knots are no labyrinths. These are not in the strict sense, but they are elements in labyrinths.

The Berlin Labyrinth

The Berlin Labyrinth

The Near East archeologist and Assyriologist Ernst Friedrich Weidner has 1917 written about that in an article under the title “Zur babylonischen Eingeweideschau, zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Labyrinths” (translated: “About the Babylonian extispicy; at same time a contribution to the history of the labyrinth”) in the “Orientalistische Studien” (see link below, on the pages 191-198).

Diagram tablet of intestines VAT 984

Diagram tablet of intestines VAT 984

He sees in these intestinal drawings an extraordinary close relationship to the labyrinth drawings of the Aegean culture (as on the jug of Tragliatella) and the Troy Towns of Northern Europe.

The jug of Tragliatella

The jug of Tragliatella

But he didn’t prove this relationship. However, thus is not done so easily. Therefore a closer look to the tablets in Weidner’s writ is worthwhile. Only an analysis of the alignment of the paths shows the resemblance.

First the double spiral:

A double spiral

A double spiral

There are two entrances / exits. Both paths (colourfully marked) meet in the center where the direction of the movement changes. The alignment corresponds to a meander.

The alignment of the >Berlin Labyrinth<:

The path in the Berlin Labyrinth

The path in the Berlin Labyrinth

Entrance and exit are placed side by side. There are three turning points where the path changes direction. But it is not a double spiral, because there would the direction change only once.

Following a drawing with the original, Ariadne’s thread and the walls in geometrical correct shape:

Drawing of the Berlin Labyrinth

Drawing of the Berlin Labyrinth

By the way, the labyrinth can be quite simply drawn, even if the description sounds complex. It refers to the right lower drawing.

  • I draw two straight inclined lines, meeting in a center point (in blue, dashed)
  • Inside the left half  I draw around this center point in steady distances eight semicircles (in black), the both outside only partially
  • Now the right side:
  • I connect the 3rd and 5th curve end (counted from above on the left) with the 4th curve end as a center with a semicircle (in cyan)
  • I connect the 1st and 3rd curve end (counted from the middle) with the 2nd curve end as a center with a semicircle (in green)
  • I continue with three other semicircles (in green) in parallel distance
  • The last three semicircles (in brown) have as center the first curve end below the intersection of the two blue auxiliary lines
  • Three semicircles have in common an already “occupied” curve end point: the 3rd and 5th from the left on top, the 3rd from the right below
  • Eight arcs on the left side of a common line and seven arcs on the right side of it generate the “Berlin Labyrinth”
  • The “fontanel” as an empty space is relatively big

The relationship to a classical labyrinth is yet not so good to recognize. But you may still guess that it could be a labyrinth.

Another figure from Weidner’s script fits better:

The Near East clay tablet VAT 9560

The Near East clay tablet VAT 9560

There are two entrances / exits and four turning points.

In the graphic we look at every way separately:

Graphics of the Near-East clay tablet VAT 9560

Graphics of the Near-East clay tablet VAT 9560

Though the alignment of the turning path is spiral-shaped, nevertheless, it is no double spiral. The circuits swing about two turning points. One time directly and another time embedded around the turning point of the other way. Two circuits of a path thereby also run side by side. In the middle the paths meet and are connected through a meander with each other. One path is leading in and one out.
Every path for itself looks like a labyrinth. Hence, we have two labyrinths intertwined together who are connected through a meander. The paths are unequivocal and purposeful, change commuting the direction and have no branchings or dead ends. They fill out the whole interior and must be followed entirely. All that what Hermann Kern demands for a labyrinth.

Following the path in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth in a geometrically correct shape:

Ariadne's thread in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth

Ariadne’s thread in a Babylonian visceral labyrinth

Following the “walls” in a geometrically correct drawing:

The Babylonian visceral labyrinth

The Babylonian visceral labyrinth

This labyrinth has even a seed pattern. Who finds it? (More about that in a later posting).

There is no end of the path in a clearly defined center as we now (in the Western world) are accustomed. It is a path not leading to a center, but through it. It shows a quite different meaning of the labyrinth. It comes from a quite different culture and served other purposes. It matches rather the motto: The way is the aim.
Even if we do not recognize that as a “full-value” labyrinth, one must see it as a precursor of the “true” labyrinth.
We have two paths in the Baltic Wheel. The Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren has even a branching and a meander in the middle. We accept, in the meantime, also other creations as walk-through or processional labyrinths.

However, I have found in Weidner’s script something else very interesting: A visceral labyrinth with only one way ending in a center. It can be drawn with a already known seed pattern. More about that in a later posting.

… To be continued

Further Links

More information about the Babylonian clay tablets can be found in an excellent article from Richard Myers Shelton in Jeff Sawards Caerdroia 42 (March 2014).

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