Listening to the Labyrinths

Find our Typology Confirmed

In chapter 3 of his book, Herman Wind (see below: Literature 1) aims at introducing a new categorization of labyrinths. For this purpose he has used images of labyrinths primarily from Kern (Literature 2) and also from some other sources. Wind has abstracted the sequences of circuits from the ground plans of the individual labyrinths. In the labyrinth library, table 3.2.1 A-F on pages 73-78 of his book, entries of 235 labyrinths can be found. Each line represents one labyrinth with a reference to figure, location, date when recorded and sequence of circuits. Labyrinths with the same sequences of circuits were arranged subsequently. By this, Wind has attributed similar labyrinths to the same groups, divergent labyrinths to different groups and thus created a typology. However, he does not term his groups „types“ but „families“ instead. These families have not been given different names and are also not always clearly distinguished one from another. Therefore in the labyrinth library, the reader himself must draw parentheses around the lines with the same sequences of numbers in order to identify the families.

In the book, five examples of the use of the labyrinth library are presented. Let us have a look at the first example (p. 81). This shows examples of labyrinths that were attributed to the same family as the labyrinth of Ravenna.

Figure 1. Labyrinths Attributed to the Same Family as Ravenna

Examples A „Filarete“, C „Ravenna“, and F l(eft) „Watts 7 circuits“ all have the same sequence of circuits. Example B „Hill“ was equally attributed to this family, even though it is completely different. It can be seen at first sight, that this labyrinth does not belong to this family. This is a faulty drawing of a labyrinth of the Saffron Walden type. It seems, there has been some mistake in the attribution of the labyrinth in the labyrinth library. Interestingly, neither the author nor the editor have noticed this. Although they have noticed the difference in the much more resembling example F r(ight) „Watts 11 circuits“, but only stated a certain similarity with the family of Ravenna. This is just what can be seen in a direct comparison of both images F l and F r.

The way Wind uses the sequence of circuits causes two problems:

First: This sequence of circuits is unique only in alternating one-arm labyrinths. If we consider also non-alternating labyrinths, examples with different courses of the pathway may have the same sequence of circuits (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Labyrinths with the Sequence of Circuits 7 4 5 6 1 2 3 0

So, Wind attributes the two non-alternating labyrinths (a) St. Gallen and (b) Syrian Grammar to the same family. This is correct. Should he find an alternating labyrinth of the shape (c), however, he would have to attribute this to the same family, although it has a clearly different course of the pathway. This because it’s sequence of circuits is 7 4 5 6 1 2 3 0, just the same as in examples (a) and (b). (For other examples with ambiguous sequences of circuits see related posts 1, 2).

Second: Wind’s sequences of circuits for the labyrinths with multiple arms are incomplete. They only indicate which circuits are covered at all but provide no information on how long the respective pieces of the pathway are. Such sequences of circuits are not even unique in alternating labyrinths. As Jacques Hébert explains, the sequence of circuits in labyrinths with multiple arms must take into account the division into segments and the resulting variation in length of path segments (Literature 3). This can be done in different ways.

Figure 3. Sequences of Circuits of the Wayland’s House Labyrinth

Figure 3 shows one of the possibilities using a pure sequence of numbers with the example of the Wayland’s House 1 labyrinth. The sequence of circuits of this labyrinth according to Wind (lower row W:) has 21 numbers. If we consider also the length of the path segments following Hébert (upper row H:) the sequence has 30 numbers. From Wind’s sequence of circuits the labyrinth cannot be restored without an image of it or only after multiple attempts. From Hébert’s sequence of circuits it can be restored without difficulty.

That there may exist alternating labyrinths with different courses of the pathway for the same incomplete sequence of circuits is shown in fig. 4.

Figure 4. Labyrinths with Different Courses of the Path and the Same Incomplete Sequence of Circuits

The two labyrinths shown have different courses of the pathway. This is represented in the complete sequence of circuits (upper lines). In the incomplete sequence of circuits (lower lines), however, the difference has disappeared. It is the same for both labyrinths.


The categorization by Wind is not new. We have done this already (Literature 4). We have used about the same material, have attributed similar labyrinths to the same groups and divergent labyrinths to different groups and refer to this as a typology (related posts 3, 4, 5). We also obtain more or less the same results (further links). Thus, the categorization by Wind confirms our typology to a great extent. As the criterion for similar or divergent, we use the course of the pathway. However, we don’t describe this with the sequence of circuits but with the pattern. This allows us a unique and complete representation of the course of the pathway and an unambigous attribution of the labyrinth examples to types of labyrinths.


  1. Listening to the Labyrinths, by Herman G. Wind, editor Jeff Saward. F&N Eigen Beheer, Castricum, Netherlands, 2017.
  2. Kern H. Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5000 years. London: Prestel 2000.
  3. Hébert J. A Mathematical Notation for Medieval Labyrinths. Caerdroia 34 (2004), p. 37-43.
  4. Frei A. A Catalogue of Historical Labyrinth Patterns. Caerdroia 39 (2009), P. 37-47.

Related Posts

  1. Circuits and Segments
  2. The Level Sequence in One-arm Labyrinths
  3. Type or Style / 6
  4. Type or Style / 5
  5. Type or Style / 1

Further Links

Katalog der Muster historischer Labyrinthe

Type or Style / 4

The Typology at Begehbare Labyrinthe (BL)

In the meantime, this typology has been completely reworked and is not valid anymore. For the new valid typology see my post The New Typology of Begehbare Labyrinthe.

The website BL contains a list of types of labyrinths. Unfortunately it is not possible to directly link to it. Therefore the link to the typology has to be found on the homepage (right half lower area). From the types, the user is directed by links to the corresponding labyrinth examples. The typology refers to the labyrinths listed in the catalogue of the website and in this respect seems complete. I find it very useful, when the labyrinth types are illustrated with a full image. Unfortunately, this is not the case in every type.

It is not clear, what constitutes a type of a labyrinth. Some types may differ with respect to the layout. E.g there are separate types for the labyrinths of Chartres and Amiens. Both have the same course of the pathway, albeit on different layouts. And also, the well-known alternating one-arm labyrinths with the level sequence 3-2-1-4-7-6-5, referred to as the “Cretan type” by Kern, can be found here in five different types, a. o. in the „Labyrinth-Typ Otfrid 7, Umgänge“.

In other types, the layout plays no role. So the type „klassisches Labyrinth, drei Umgänge“ is illustrated with a rectangular and a circular variant of it. These have both the same course of the pathway. However, not all examples of this type are attributed correctly. The labyrinth of Köln-Bocklemünd clearly has another course of the pathway.

Some other types’ names or attributions of labyrinth examples are confusing. For instance, a four-arm and a one-arm labyrinth example are attributed to the „Labyrinth-Typ Chartres, 8 Umgänge“ (fig. 1).


Figure 1. Typ Chartres, 8 Umgänge

It is not understandable, what these, particularly the one-arm labyrinth, have to do with Chartres (pro memoria: Chartres has 4 arms, 11 circuits asf.).

Quite a lot of types and examples of labyrinths are assembled in the „Labyrinth-Typ Chartres 7 Umgänge“. Even though all types illustrated there have four arms, they have different courses of the pathway, that deviate strongly from the original Chartres type. None of them has a high quality and order comparable with Chartres.

All these labyrinths with four arms and 7 circuits have less in common with the labyrinth of Chartres than the labyrinth of Grey’s Court (fig. 2). If any four-arm labyrinth with 7 circuits could be justifiably be referred to as „Labyrinth-Typ Chartres, 7 Umgänge“, this would in first line apply to the Grey’s Court labyrinth.


Figure 2. Labyrinth Typ Grey’s Court (Chartres), 7 Umgänge

This, however, is treated as a labyrinth type of it’s own „Labyrinth-Typ Grey’s Court (Chartres), 7 Umgänge“. In my opinion this is correct. But, consequently, the other labyrinths listed under the type „Labyrinth-Typ Chartres, 7 Umgänge“ would then have to be treated as separate labyrinth types too.

It beats me, what the following labyrinth (fig. 3) has to do with Ravenna. There exists a labyrinth of the type Ravenna. However, this has 7 circuits and a clearly different course of the pathway.


Figure 3. Labyrinth Typ Ravenna, 5 Umgänge

This type, called „Labyrinth-Typ Ravenna, 5 Umgänge“ can be directly derived from the Chartres labyrinth. The course of the pathway is almost identic with the five innermost or the five outermost circuits of the Chartres type labyrinth. .It is therefore also known as „Inner Chartres“ oder „Outer Chartres“. So rather this type could be labelled as type Chartres, 5 circuits.

“Labyrinth Typ Chartres, 5 Umgänge”, however, is used here as a name for another type of labyrinth (fig. 4).


Figure 4. Labyrinth Typ Chartres, 5 Umgänge

Except for the four arms, this type of labyrinth has hardly anything in common with the original Chartres type.

The website BL draws the attention to contemporary walkable labyrinths. Among these, there are many examples of common historical labyrinth types, particularly of the Cretan and Chartres types. However, a surprising high number of new labyrinths with an original course of the pathway can be found there. The definitions of the types and the attributions of individual examples to the types seem to be quite arbitrary.

Related posts:

Type or Style / 3

The Typology of the Labyrinth Society (TLS)

TLS publishes on its website a list of labyrinth types with the aim of unifying the terminology and providing clarity for a working labyrinth typology. In addition to true unicursal labyrinths, also many labyrinth alike figures were included.

This page contains an overview of the typology. It displays a hierarchy with three levels.

TLS Ebenen

Figure 1. Levels of the TLS-Typology

The terminology is not consistent. The highest level (level 1) sometimes is labeled „family“ or sometimes  „group“. In between there is an intermediate level (level 2). The lowest level (level 3) seems to contain the types. To these types are then allocated the individual examples of labyrinths

It is unclear, which criteria were used to define the types (on level 3) and which rules were applied to allocate the individual examples. What does this mean? In the following I will illustrate this showing some issues of this typology.

Alternating labyrinths with the level sequence 3-2-1-4-7-6-5, i.e. Kern’s Cretan type, can be found here in three different types of labyrinths: „Classical 7 Circuit“, „Concentric Labyrinth“ and „Meander“. Thus, the course of the pathway seems not to be the criterion that was used to define these types. Rather it seems, the layout and number of circuits have been applied.

In the „Classical Family“, a difference is made a.o. between a „Classical“ and a „Concentric“ group (fig. 1). Classical labyrinths can be drawn starting from a seed pattern, as shown with this example. The „Concentric“ group contains the type „Concentric Labyrinth“. But what is the use of distinguishing this type, given the concentric labyrinths can also be drawn starting from a seed pattern? Exactly this is shown with the first example of this type, which is a concentric Cretan labyrinth.

In the „Medieval Group“ (fig. 1), the example from Chartres cathedral is presented in the type „Chartres Labyrinth“. In the „Medieval Group“ there exists also a type „Medieval 11 Circuit (also known as the Chartres labyrinth Examples: Chartres, Amiens, St. Quentin)“. At present, only one example is shown in this type, the labyrinth of Lucca, Italy.

The labyrinth of Lucca, as well as the labyrinths of St. Quentin and of Amiens have exactly the same course of the pathway as the example from Chartres cathedral. Thus, according to the level sequence of the pathway, all these examples are of the Chartres type as specified by Kern. So in these cases, the course of the pathway seems to be the criterion that was used for the definition of the types. But why then the TLS typology creates two types? One type for the example from Chartres cathedral and another type for other examples with the same course of the pathway?

In the „Medieval Group“ there is also a subgroup „Contemporary Medieval“ (fig. 1). This includes the types „Chalice Labyrinth“, „Contemporary Medieval“ and „Santa Rosa“. To the type „Contemporary Medieval“, the three examples shown in fig. 2 are attributed.


Figure 2. Examples of the Type “Contemporary Medieval”

The right image is meant to illustrate the Circle of Peace labyrinth. The labyrinth cannot be discerned on the image. I already had in memory the Circle of Peace Labyrinth. So I looked it up in the internet and found this image of it.


Figure 3. Circle of Peace Labyrinth

This is a four-arm labyrinth with 7 circuits. So we can find in the type „Contemporary Medieval“ three quite different four-arm labyrinths with 3, 8, and 7 circuits. Why were these labyrinths classified as examples of the same type? Which rules were used to attribute these three examples? What they have in common is that they have four arms.

But why then were the „Chalice“ und „Santa Rosa“ labyrinths qualifed as labyrinth types of their own? These also have four arms and do not differ greater than the three examples of the „Contemporary Medieval“ type do. So they could have just as well been attributed as examples to the „Contemporary Medieval“ type too.

So it is neither clear which criteria were used to define the types of labyrinths nor which rules were applied to attribute the individual examples to the types. Furthermore the typology is not complete. Important medieval labyrinths are missing such as, among others, the Reims and Auxerre labyrinths. We also miss other labyrinths with four arms, labyrinths with 2, 3 or more than four arms. Also many one arm labyrinths are neither included as types nor as examples.

Related Posts:

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.