What is a Labyrinth?

or, freely adapted from a song by Herbert Grönemeyer (German musician):

When is a Labyrinth a Labyrinth?

My researches on Wikipedia about the labyrinth have inspired me once again to try an own definition of the labyrinth. This is my proposal:

The labyrinth is (at first sight) a confusing, nevertheless unique, purposeful, artful and meaningful system of lines. The labyrinth, strictly spoken, leads (as a rule) on an unbranched, winding path to the aim, mostly in the middle. The labyrinth, broadly defined, has a branched system of lines with more options, dead ends and loops and is called a maze. The labyrinth as a metaphor signifies confusing and mostly difficult facts and circumstances.

Classical 7-circuit labyrinth with a larger centre

Knidos Labyrinth

Ariadne's Thread (path) in a classical 7-circuit labyrinth

Ariadne’s Thread

Hedge Maze Schönbusch (Germany)

Maze

Classical 3-circuit labyrinth

Simple Labyrinth

Classical labyrinth with 4 circuits and an additional path

Type Baltic Wheel

Type Gossembrot with 5 axes and 7 circuits

Type Gossembrot

Schwanberg Labyrinth (4 divisions)

Type Schwanberg

Calligraphic Labyrinth by Ingeborg E. Müller

Calligraphic Labyrinth

Crossing Labyrinth by Alana Forest

Crossing Labyrinth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is probably too long, sounds to complex and looks, hence, quite labyrinthine. Maybe the first sentence would be enough, because it does not exclude the maze and admits the exceptions.

A labyrinth is not always unbranched and totally without every option. Otherwise, the type Baltic wheel (such as the Rad in der Eilenriede at Hannover) would not be a labyrinth. The aim also is not always the middle, especially the geometrical middle or the centre. The Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren with branching paths is without a real middle and is rather a passageway labyrinth, hence, very well suitable for pageants.

Also the change of course in the movement belongs not necessarily to the labyrinth, because, otherwise, a 3 circuit labyrinth or some modern forms would not be a labyrinth. One can even accept crossroads, like in the Crossing labyrinth of Alana Forest from Australia, because the alignment is unequivocal. One may neither turn left nor right, but always go straight ahead.

Labyrinths and mazes have a lot in common and are related. In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze. A maze is also a labyrinth (in the broader sense), but a labyrinth (strictly spoken) is not a maze. Since one cannot get lost in it. But it can be bewildering and irritating (at first sight).
I believe, the confusion also comes along that we speak of the labyrinth in the strict sense from a single path free of crossroads and branches and then we show the boundary lines of the labyrinth. Besides, the information refers to the path, Ariadne’s thread, which lies between the boundary lines and is not visible in this form of expression. Just this happened to me at the beginning of my acquaintance with the labyrinth. Only the second and more exact look makes clear the right correlations.

It is the fascination of the labyrinth that it is an ancient, archaic human symbol to be found in different cultures, religions and time epochs and that is open for many interpretations and approaches. This is why it is also qualified for our current time and world as a universal symbol. However, nobody should claim for himself the interpretational sovereignty.

How to Build a Troy Town

or:

How could the Troy Towns in the Scandinavian countries have been built ?

The oldest and most of walkable labyrinths throughout the world are found there. And nearly all are made of field stones in all sizes. So it can be assumed that the homeland of the labyrinths lies there.

In the meantime we know how to draw a classical 7-circuit labyrinth. Building one can be proceeded in the same way. One puts the basic pattern, that is arranged in a square, and goes on in curves. Instead of using stones one can make it with sawdust or bark mulch or logs or any other objects.

The best way is to begin inside and then going outwards. You can do it alone or together with others. Then you must agree on what to do and how to connect the lines.

If you want to make a permanent labyrinth, you should think about the overall size, the width of the path, the alignment and the exact position.

The example shown here is a labyrinth with 11 circuits, thus 4 more than usual. The 4 more results simply from the fact that in the 4 quadrants of the square still one further angle is inserted.
And you may guess it: Adding still 4 angles more results in a labyrinth with 15 circuits, and so on.

Thus the Swedish Troy Towns, that I could explore last year, could have been developed.

The seed pattern

The seed pattern

The first arch (=the center)

The first arch (=the center)

Four arches

Four arches

Five arches

Five arches

Nine arches

Nine arches

Ten arches

Ten arches

Eleven arches

Eleven arches

Twelve arches (=11 circuits)

Twelve arches (=11 circuits)

One must simply connect the last free stone on the one side (left of the center) with the last free stone on the other side (right of the center) in a curve parallel to the preceding one.

Here a small 7-paths labyrinth, put 2007 at the beach of Folhammar (Gotland, Sweden) by Lisa.

Stone labyrinth (8 walls, 7 circuits)

Stone labyrinth (8 walls, 7 circuits)

Related Posts

The Bypass Labyrinth

A year ago I have reported about the Swedish Troy Towns on mymaze and there also about the special design of a labyrinth in bypass mode.
You see, there are labyrinths for nearly all purposes. We still had a Heart Labyrinth.

How does the bypass look like?
Here the pattern from the book Gotländskt Arkiv 1983, in which John Kraft writes about the Swedish Troy Towns. The sketch is of Bo Stjernström, a further Swedish labyrinth specialist.

The Seed Pattern

The Seed Pattern

You see the probably well-known basic pattern with the variant to produce a bypass.

Here a design of the complete labyrinth, so that one can reconstruct the entire alignment.

Bypass Labyrinth with 10 Circuits

Bypass Labyrinth with 10 Circuits

Without the bypass that would result in a labyrinth with 11 circuits, so we have only 10 circuits.

And here Ariadne’s thread:

Ariadne's Thread

Ariadne's Thread

Now don’t ask me for which such a labyrinth was good.
Perhaps one for heart patients? Because one has to walk less? Because one goes nearer to the center? Because the center is larger? Because less is sometimes more?

The Troy Towns of Northern Europe

is the (translated) title of a book by Dr. Ernst Krause from the year 1893.
And because the complete title contains (nearly) the complete book, here the title page is shown:
Attention: This is all in German and the characters are old German too.

The title of the book

The title of the book

The book says essentially that all the legends concerning the Troy Towns are of Nordic origin. The original labyrinths are the Troy Towns, above all the oldest that can be walked. There are still about 300 of this old Troy Towns in Scandinavia. For me the homeland of the labyrinth is there.
If one speaks from the labyrinth, most are thinking at first of the maze with its complicated, devoured, unclear ways, which leads only, if at all, after many running and erring, into the center.
For “advanced learners” it is clear that in a labyrinth there is only one and a clear way to the center. And that this way inside is also the way outside.
Many others connect the labyrinth with the Greek mythology, where is spoken of King Minos, the hero Theseus, the king’s daughter Ariadne, the monster Minotaur, the architect Daedalus and their acts.

Ernst Krause tried to prove that the whole labyrinth idea is to be settled rather in the Nordic culture. His ideas are sometimes difficult to understand, above all if one is not so familiar with the many aforementioned shapes and events.
Thus we know in the long run still too few about the origin and the meaning of the labyrinth.
His theory, how the labyrinth could have developed from the circle figure, is today no longer recognized.
He was very pleased, when during or after the writing of his book the famous jug of Tragliatella was found, which underlines his ideas. Thus he wrote directly still another supplement to his book, which is attached as appendix in my second-hand acquired exemplar.

The appendix

The appendix

What remains after all that?

  • That it is probably not so important to know exactly where the labyrinth comes from, who invented it, or whether it was independently developed at different places. We can see the labyrinth however in larger and further connections, than so far assumed.
  • That the labyrinth can be still fascinating and it depends on us what we make out of it.

Further Link