Labyrinth Journey 3
The Symbolism of the Minotaur of Crete
What do stone age carvings on cave walls, the design of Egyptian tombs, and the children's game of hopscotch, have in common? If you said they are all "Labyrinth Journeys" you would be correct..
We can find spirals and rudimentary labyrinth-like forms on ancient megalithic sites around Ireland with Newgrange hosting the most famous. Also we can find them within ancient art on cave walls in Scotland; and the ancient Egyptian tomb passages were labyrinthic paths to the underworld.
The children's pavement game of hopscotch is believed to be a fragment of instinctive ancestral memories of ancient labyrinth walking.
Perhaps with most of us, when we think of or see the word "Labyrinth" we think about fragments of the myth story of the Minotaur, the half man half bull, within a Minoan labyrinth on the Mediterranean Greek island of Crete. Many people are aware that this famous epic myth recounts the battle between young Theseus and the Minotaur along with the assistance he had from Ariadne who provided Theseus with the sword and gold thread for his quest.
In each version of this myth story, often told through art, there is battle that is followed by victory due to a personal desire to re-emerge reborn.
Labyrinths, as symbols in stories or as physical paths to walk, have been used all through human history for re-igniting of our souls. I read somewhere that the labyrinth is the symbol of the "decensus ad inferos", descent into the bowels of death and then the return to life.
I tend to think of labyrinths as being a place where opposites such as life and death, light and dark, and male and female, transform towards breaking down fear barriers and then dance with each other.
Entering the labyrinth, if it is truly embraced, is like a journey to the underworld, even on a gorgeous bright sunny day. The exit , for many people, is like returning from the womb of the Earth as a personal new birth.
We can get the same effect from a good soak in a bathtub of course,
especially if the tub has a jacuzzi swirling action.
A labyrinth journey is not exclusive for finding illumination and inspiration for our deep concerns either. Using a labyrinth is very useful for pondering simple questions such as making a choice of menu for the evening supper coming up.
For this labyrinth journey I am going to tell a version of the well known story of Theseus entering the Labyrinth to slay the Minotaur. Then we will explore the symbolism from this story that you may use to aid your future labyrinth journeys. So here goes ...
a Story of Theseus and the Minotaur
The beginning of this story explains how and why Theseus arrived at the Labyrinth of the Minotaur. This part is told in many ways and there is no right or wrong way of telling this part of the tale. Also, there are also many different stories told about what happened to Theseus after he re-emerged from the labyrinth victorious, and most of these versions turn quite sorrowful unfortunately.
What does stay consistent in all versions of this complete story is featuring Theseus, the Labyrinth, the Minotaur in the centre of the labyrinth, Ariadne who became passionate about Theseus, and the gifts of Sword and ball of Gold Thread she gave him.
All of these are very important symbols.
Anyway, here is my own version of the whole story ...
It is said that in battle King Minos of Crete defeated King Aegeus of Athens and his gain was to be ruler of most of what is now the Balkans. To wield his power over this large expansion of his kingdom Minos bragged and warned the people that he had the power to order the Gods to do anything he commanded, so the people of Athens and beyond had better stay commanded to his will and bidding.
It appears that Minos was a very learned man and not just a warrior. It is said Minos was very learned and skilled in the sciences and mathematics and he had a special fascination for cross breeding animals. From these breeding skills he successfully caused the birth of a huge pure white bull.
Minos did not tell his people that the White Bull was born from his science. He told them the White Bull was delivered to him by the sea god Poseidon, because he had commanded him to do so. He told this to the people to prove to them that he truly had power over the gods. .
Minos, as king, was also commander of the annual sacrifice ritual to Poseidon. For the next sacrifice here was no way he was going to give up and sacrifice his new White Bull. He chose a lesser regular brown bull for the sacrifice to Poseidon instead.
Of course, Poseidon, like all gods was very attentive so he was very aware of the lies Minos was saying to the people. Poseidon decided to demonstrate that the gods still do have power over Minos.
To do this he placed a spell on Pasiphae, the queen wife of Minos, that made Pasiphae fall in love with the bull and lust for it.
Pasiphae knew that to get the attention of the bull and fulfill her lust she would have to take on the form of a cow. She approached the court artist, sculptor and leather craftsman, Daedalus, to create a leather cow that she could step into and still be able to expose an important part of herself for the bull's attention. The plan was a success. The bull did his bit and the story moved on.
There is another version of this story that speaks of Minos already having a leather cow made by Daedalus, but I will not speak more of that version of the story here ...
After the 9 months, Pasiphae sired a child, a human child with a white bull's head.
Minos, being very embarrassed by this strange version of a new son, asked for guidance from the Oracle, a person having the same role as a Celtic druid. Minos asked the Oracle for advice of what to do to hide his shame and hide this human creature from the people. The Oracle's advice was to enclose the half bull half human into a giant Labyrinth and then spread the word among the people that a giant flesh eating monster lived in the labyrinth.
Of course, it was Daedalus the court artist, sculptor and leather craftsman who also built the labyrinth for this Minotaur monster to dwell in.
Locked inside this labyrinth it is said the Minotaur was fed no food other than human sacrifices, which is quite strange considering the grazing pallette of bulls.
For the human sacrifice to the Minotaur, Minos demanded that the people of Athens send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every nine years, otherwise he would order the gods to smother them in plagues and wipe them out.
So now we have the Minotaur in the Labyrinth
and the important substance of the story begins.
The story now turns to Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, who had been chosen to be one of the seven male offerings for the sacrifice.
There are various versions of the story of how Theseus was chosen for the sacrifice.
One says that Minos journeyed to Athens and personally chose those for sacrifice and Theseus was chosen for his strength and courage.
Another story says sticks were drawn and Theseus had the shortest stick.
There's a story that says King Aengus, father of Theseus, married a sorceress called Medea who cast a spell on Theseus to volunteer for the sacrifice.
Another story speaks of Theseus volunteering to go and be sacrificed with the terms that if he slayed the Minotaur, Minos would forever relinquish Athens to his father.
With every story version of how Theseus was selected he did eventually board a boat bound from Athens to Crete and promised he would kill the Minotaur.
Theseus told his father that if he killed the Minotaur and was still alive he would sail back to Athens in a boat hoisted with white sails instead of the black sails they were sailing away with to Crete.
Now, this is when things get a bit tricky ...
Minos had a beautiful daughter named Ariadne, who is said to have automatically fallen in love with Theseus the moment he stepped ashore at Crete.
During his first night in Crete, Ariadne visited Theseus in his waiting cell. She brought him the, soon to be famous, long Golden Thread and a Sword. She also left the cell door undone.
Ariadne said something like this to Theseus, "Go into the labyrinth now as the Minotaur is asleep and you will be able to kill him easily". She gifted Theseus with a Sword for slaying the Minotaur and a long Gold Thread was for dropping on the way to the centre of the labyrinth and then for being pulled back out of the labyrinth again. Note the thread was Gold..
Before Ariadne handed over the Sword and Gold Thread to Theseus she demanded that he promised to take her back to Athens with him after the deed of killing the Minotaur was done. Of course, Theseus agreed.
At this point I could go into a descriptive story of the hunt for the Minotaur through the labyrinth and the eventual slaying of him. Instead, lets move forward to say that Theseus did slay the Minotaur, did find his way back out from the labyrinth, and was an instant hero with the other 6 men and the 7 women who had been saved from sacrifice.
When Theseus emerged from the Labyrinth alive, he, Ariadne and the other 13 hostages for the sacrifice raced back to the ship to sail back to Athens in safety, but something happened during the return.
In the darkness, on the sail back to Athens, Theseus and everyone else on the boat found themselves forced into a sea battle with the warriors of Minos who had caught up with them in their faster boats. Only one person was killed through this sea battle, Ariadne.
There are other stories of how Ariandne passed away on that voyage, but in most stories she never made it to Athens.
I will move on from this sorrow as the next part is very important.
Through his remorse from the loss of Ariandne, Theseus forgot to change the black sails to fly the white sails, like he told his father he would do if he was returning alive. As they approached Athens, King Aegeus saw the boat was still sailing with black sails. He interpreted this a saying his son was dead, so he took his own life by jumping into the sea with a stone tied to his ankles and drowned before the ship reached harbour.
This is why the sea is still called the Aegean Sea today.
The final part of this story is quite similar to the Arthurian and Camelot tales, but like the beginning of this story the ending is also told in many ways.
Theseus did take over as king of Athens, then what is now Greece, and eventually the island of Crete. Theseus continued to be revered as a true hero as slayer of the Minotaur.
He became very popular as a ruler with his people due to maintaining a kingdom with fair trade, compassion and generosity.
the symbolism of the Minotaur story
This is an incredible story of symbols and these same symbols could be taken with you in mind images or even through using crafted physical images.
Starting with the gathering of young people for sacrifice there are some interesting symbolic points that come up in all of the story variations.
The people from Athens being ordered to be sacrified to the Minotaur by King Minos clearly represents oppression. Oppression is a feeling that many of us feel and build up in our minds when we are in various situations. In this story it seems to be about following orders against values, instincts, faith, codes for living and sense of personal freedom. In short, to use a cliche, following orders against our will.
There is another way to view this, though. Sacrifices in this story could represent the sacrifices we all make in order to maintain peace and harmony with our environment and with all those within it. By doing so we surrender our "me time", as we call it. What we surrender to seems to make us who we are, despite being challenging and sometimes frustrating.
The people being chosen for the sacrifice to the Minotaur had to be young,
which may symbolize purity, but I am not sure why.
The people being chosen also had to be equally male and female
which i find symbolizes a duality and balance in some way.
The people chosen had to be seven people of each gender. The number seven adds to the purity symbol of them being young. Seven is also a symbol of completeness.
The labyrinth that Theseus ventures into could represent our subconscious,
but as I am not a psychologist I am hesitant to try and explain more about that.
One thing I can clearly say, though, is that the venture into the labyrinth is a venture into the unknown. The unknown is an arouser of the dark elements of our mind and spirit. Dark elements that we wish to cleanse and bring back out into the light.
Theseus becomes our hero, a vision of a freedom that we all seem to want to experience. The story vision of Theseus slaying the Minotaur, though violent and cold blooded, seems to awaken the power within us to no longer surrender to demanded personal sacrifices.
This is a darkness to light story. For some of us this maybe about our own quest to rise from darkness to light, or our quest to arise from oppression to expression, or our quest to rise from being an unknown in a group to being a hero. It can also be about discovering how to be released from the lonely darkness of being famous and back into the warming love of friends and community as an equal rather than their hero on a pedestal.
The support Theseus receives from Ariadne can be clearly recognized as support, often unrealized and unrecognized support, we receive when we are battling situations or are calling for guidance through situations.
The Sword handed by Ariadne connects with many ancient stories. There are myth stories telling of making the sword at the hearth by the woman to gift to her chosen mate.
The Gold Thread handed to Theseus by Ariadne to find his way out of the labyrinth represents the female support of love. The male needs to be balanced by the female guidance and inspiration in order to achieve success.
Finally, we come to the symbol of the half man and half bull, The Minotaur, in the centre.
Bulls have been a symbol of intimidation in many ancient cultures, In this myth the bull imagery may represents our inner concerns and fears we suppress but have to face and overcome if we are to see the light again.
Through killing the Minotaur, despite the story being told in a murderous way, there is a symbolism of overcoming obstacles, which I hope does not inspire killing as a solution.
The Death in this story, and in other myths, is not about an end. Death is symbolic of transition, even allowing the strength of the beast to enter into us to boost positive creative energy rather than enrage a negative destructive one.
It must also be recognized that Theseus is not the sole hero in this story.
Let us not forget Ariadne who is not merely a servant but also putting her own life at risk by aiding Theseus. Without her aid Theseus would not have salyed the Minotaur.
This story is more about duality than hero, and that may so easily be misunderstood as we quickly rise to the visible hero. Duality is essential to teach us that we need to unify the male and female to create oneness as well as true greatness.
killing our Minotaur
Symbolically and metaphorically speaking, I believe all of us have to meet at least one Minotaur lurking in a labyrinth that we need to enter, some day.
What is the symbolic meaning of the Minotaur?
I think the Minotaur symbol could have multiple meanings.
First, the Minotaur in story does seem to lure us to our own primal fears awakening from the "un-conscious". This was originally conceived by Freud, maybe Jung too, who believed we humans are born with an instinctive fear of the unknown, of death, and of the unconscious.
Again, I'm not a psychotherapist and never attended a clinic of one, but it does seem their work is guiding their clients to encounter some of their unconscious, a lonely labyrinth of darkness, the meeting place with our personal Minotaur,.
Being the simple country lad that I think I am, it seems the Minotaur represents our fear of the unknown. A fear that is deeply rooted into our emotions and soul. Some holistic therapists describe the baggage of karma we carry with us and say that it is our life's job to "deal with it". Some holistic therapists say this is something we carry with us through re-incarnation. Others say its a generic signature that we inherit from our parents, grandparents and ancestors.
When we do meet our Minotaur, either through a psychologist, a guide, strong drug or a bottle of booze, its become that cliched, "fight or flight" moment.
Freud taught that we are all born with fear. We can observe this through watching young children who usually have a "stranger anxiety," and "fear of the dark". As we get older do we outgrow this or bury it within our psyche?
I believe overcoming fears has to be balanced with a learning to trust.
Anxiety, concerns and stress are natural adult expressions of their primal fear. There's nothing wrong with that, its perfectly healthy. Being thirsty is perfectly healthy and when we are thirsty we enter into a quest to find water to quench our thirst.
What is our quest when we have anxiety, concerns and stress?
Do we reach for some booze, drugs, cigarettes or chocolate?
Are there other ways?
The Minotaur may be seen as a metaphor for our concerns and anxiety
but when we are confronted by it we usually interpret much more.
we can become overcome with visions of death, failure and nothingness.
Do we fight this or surrender?
I feel the Minotaur image is a balancing relationship between fate and destiny.
So why do we find the Minotaur is a dark and even frightening image?
When we confront our own Minotaur in our own dark labyrinth,
we are confronting ourselves,
our mirror image of our fears,
our rage, our lust, our beastliness,
We are the Minotaur.
Though its vision may shows us what we find ugly
we can fight that ugliness and discover beauty from it.
Strangely, though Theseus facing the Minotaur is and ugly and murderously violent part of the story I feel it is very symbolic of us losing our Minotaur heads and allowing our pure human head to be free to see the light again. As Robin Williamson sings in his Minotaur song, "I can't dream well because of my horns"
If you ever need to loose your own Minotaur head I suggest this can be done through wonderful guided peace making labyrinth walks. There are many other ways to loose your Minotaur head, of course, but I am suggesting this as I am a labyrinth guide. Its a way I know.
following the Golden Thread
It takes courage to hold on to and follow our own Ariadnean Gold Thread. It seems a lot of people are lost because they have lost touch with holding their precious Gold Thread.
They need guidance to find their thread again as well as the trust and confidence to follow wherever it may lead.
There's a story I tell, Ogma's Tale of The Trees, that includes Luis The Rowan, after the second symbol in the Ogham alphabet.
Within this I speak ...
"As a dragon's fire ignites in every heart
and every dragon's tale
is always umbilically connected
to the heart of this one beautiful woman
in the gathering fire
the same beautiful woman
that resides, courts and judges
at the point where our two worlds meet"
My reference in this poem is to how we men, are always connected to the spirit of women who guide, inspire and recharge our bravery, focus and purpose.
This is a male reference due to the flow of the Theseus and Minotaur story and its symbolism.
For women I suggest visualizing holding the Golden Thread that protects and guides the return of the male, the Theseus. I feel the Gold Thread.symbolizes the essential partnership with equality, support and purpose.
So how do we know when we are holding our Ariadnean Golden Thread?
Anxiety, doubt, and other dark symptoms may still cloud us, that's how life flows.
If there is a strong sense of moving in a direction that is always good for us,
even if movement seems to be a mere step at a time.
This one step at a time does not have to be a physical step or an outer change
but maybe a small shift in attitude and vision.
Other indicators that show our thread is being held and followed is when relationships run smoothly, career improves, plans fall into place, and luck seems to come our way.
All together it seems as if life is a sequence of meaningful coincidences,
the world is more meaningful, and our personal creativity flourishes.
Add to this, working with our dreams, and trusting them,
as these are our connection to the unconscious
and are actually the engine that creates our sequence of meaningful co-incidences.
I feel the Golden Thread is symbolic of our invisible threads,
threads that are unique for each of us,
threads that can never be broken or taken away from us
but sometimes we have to be guided to find them when we loose them.
from Crete to Chartres
The second most most well known Labyrinth in the world must be the one found in the cathedral of Chartres.
How did the tradition move from Crete to Chartres and how did it change?
The legend of Theseus slaying the Minotaur in the Crete labyrinth
became a favourite story to express in church pavements.
It appears that Christians interpreted labyrinths, and the Minotaur, as metaphors for sin and the powers of Hell. This was once identified by an inscribed stone, now long gone, some say to be used as cannon fodder, that was originally in the center of the Chartres church labyrinth: That stone represented the Cretan Labyrinth of the Minotaur. It explained that those who enter the Chartres Labyrinth cannot leave unless they witness the Theseus slaying the Devil and are guided by the divinity of Ariadne's thread
Going back to the Cretan labyrinth, this was not the original in the world. The labyrinth symbol and design used in the story of the Cretan Labyrinth can be traced at least 5000 years ago.
Labyrinth designs of that age have been found in diverse locations including Arizona, Iceland, Scandinavia, Egypt, and India
These ancient labyrinth designs have appeared on many mediums ranging from carvings on rocks, woven into the designs of pottery, and marked out on the ground with rocks.
In many cultures labyrinths had become built and used for a game of men dancing around the outside and young women would be in the centre. At a moment this dance would stop and suitors would chase through the winding labyrinth path to claim a potential bride.
Now this chase was not as simple as it sounds, and I will reveal this in the next Labyrinth Journey lens where i will cover Games To Play In The Labyrinth.
The Christian churches eventually included the labyrinth symbol as an aid to attract people of the old ways to their churches but presented labyrinths as pathways to salvation.
Christians also adapted the symbolism of "Ariadne's Golden Thread" with a story of how we can use the thread, offered to us by the Virgin Mary, to lead us from the pits of Hell to her Divine, and embracing her hand that holds the thread for us.
Through these changing traditions we travel from Crete to the Chartres Labyrinth.
Interestingly, this Chartres labyrinth is situated at the Western end of the nave. It has the same dimensions as the rose window high up on the facade. The height of this rose window from the floor is the same as the distance that the labyrinth is away from the West wall. If the Cathedral could be folded down to allow the west facade to meet the floor the rose window, that also depicting the Virgin Mary, Our Lady, in the middle, would line up perfectly with the centre of the labyrinth on the floor.
This relationship of the two images in Chartres became the Christian replacement of Ariadne and the Minotaur. Mary replaced Ariadne and Sin replaced the Minotaur. This Chartres cathedral labyrinth became the metaphors for the dark powers of Hell and our need to rely on Our Lady to guide us out with her Gold Thread, which is not a thread but an image of her baby son Jesus.
So, over time, with this Christian and Chartres influence, labyrinths were interpreted very differently to the Theseus, Ariadne, Minotaur imagery .
Christians who could not visit the Holy Land created a substitute "pilgrimage" using Christian created labyrinths as a substitute to a pilgrimage visit to Jerusalem. .
It is said these Christians did not walk the labyrinth but crawled around it on their knees in the cause of penance on the Passion of Christ. With the Chartres labyrinth, that's a crawling journey of 858 feet, the length of three soccer pitches, each way on a cold, hard marble floor with no knee pads.
Eventually, the centre of the Christian Labyrinth transformed again from its dark Devil to sin image to an image of light, a symbol of Jerusalem.
The labyrinth centre became a place to be illuminated in rather than be a place of conquests of demons. During this pilgrimage era of labyrinth walking the word Labyrinth also vanished for awhile. It was replaced by "Chemin de Jerusalem" or "Rue de Jerusalem." the way or road to Jerusalem.
Note that one thing that did not change between the Crete to Chartres labyrinth traditions, and to the present labyrinth traditions, is that Labyrinths never became designed as dead ends or as places of trickery. Labyrinths have always been designed and built with one path with only one way in to the centre and one way out from the centre to the entrance.
In the Christian labyrinths this became known as Following The Way.
Today, Labyrinths are enjoying a huge surge in popularity. This new surge of interest is mainly among people who identify themselves as pagans and people who may claim that labyrinths are paths connecting with "earth energies" that enter into the "earth's womb", which is the labyrinth centre..
I feel there is sometimes a problem in interpretation when walkers perceive labyrinths as being something magical and possessing special powers due to their alignments, and maybe even special energies arising from the earth itself in the centre.
Indeed I do build labyrinths with location and positioning considered with incredible detail but hope that people do not visualize my labyrinths as possessing special powers..
The magic they feel is themselves, not the labyrinth.
remains of the Labyrinth in Crete?
It seems the myth legend of Minos, Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur dates back to around 1700 BC.
In 1628 BC, yes an exact recording scribed by the Chinese no less, there was a catastrophic volcanic explosion on the Minoan island of Thera, which is now the Greek Island of Santorini. This volcano eruption was about 75,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The explosion of the eruption is said to have been heard as far away as Norway, but I do not know how that was recorded.
The great volumes of volcanic ash from this massive volcano eruption is said to have plunged the entire globe into a "nuclear winter" for many years; according to Chinese scribes at the time. 30 square miles of land at the center of Thera collapsed into a hollow and sank one thousand feet beneath the ocean. Some believe it was this event was that was told in Plato's legend of the lost continent of Atlantis.
One of the myths of the arrival of the Firbolgs to Erin are also linked to this event, people who escaped in boats from their lost land and currents leading them to Erin. We do not know if these ancient Minoans were blonde haired blue eyed people.
Crete was almost completely covered and almost destroyed by a 200 miles per hour and 50ft high tidal wave, though I am not sure where these statistics came from. Added to that, Knossos, the home of the Minotaur's Labyrinth, was shattered by a series of earthquakes.
After the massive volcano eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes the Minoans remarkably re-built Crete but the island was mysteriously almost all burned down again in 1450 BC though its capital Knossos survived until 1375 BC when it was evacuated for no known reason. This final evacuation did lead to one of the myths of the Tuatha De Dannan arriving in Erin, though compared to other De Dannan myths this is a thin one. However, it would give weight to the myth that the Tuatha De Dannan recognized the Firbolgs as being of their same race as themselves.
In 1894, English archaeologist Arthur Evans bought a plot of land on Crete at Knossos. He suspected this land would reveal very ancient ruins. During his excavations he soon uncovered foundations of what was identified as a very complex bronze age palace. It was Arthur Evans that came up with the name of Minoans for this lost civilization due to the Crete legend stories of King Minos, The word Minos in Crete did mean king at the time, anyway.
Later research has identified these Minoans were quite advanced people of trade, commerce, affluent farming, mining, stone building, carpentry, tool making and extreme seafaring skills.
It is the ruins of the Knossos palace unearthed by Arthur Evans that is most fascinating. It has over 1300 rooms and corridors. It is believed that it was this palace that first inspired the Minotaur in the Labyrinth legend. One consideration is that the myth tells of King Minos himself being a very pompous and angry bull headed ruler.
Daedalus the craftsman and labyrinth builder is also told of as being the architect of this vast palace. There is a legend that tells of Daedalus being imprisoned within this vast palace when it was built to ensure he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone.
Was Daedalus the inspiration for the Minotaur?
Did King Minos spread the word he was locked up due to a serious affliction of Bullheaditus?
Did Daedalus develop a passion for the cannibal diet?
If we think of poor Daedalus, the angry greedy bull headed Minos and the complexity of the palace we can start to imagine how the bards put the famous legend together.
Some good news. As Dedalos was a great inventor he found a way to escape his imprisonment in the Knossos palace, but that's another story.
Within these palace ruins a very large regal room was discovered, later named the Throne Room. Within this room was the first sight of the double axe symbols that became known as the Labrys, which formed into the Labyrinth word we use today.
Somehow the Theseus, Minotaur and Labyrinth legends formed well between about 1300 and 300 BC because by 300 BC the built again Knossos, now under the Greeks who named it, minted and distributed coins featuring the Minotaur and Labyrinth. Rome started minting similar coins during the first century AD. It is intriguing how this imagery was chosen for tokens of trade.
The Roman took this imagery further and started using the Cretan labyrinth design to create mosaic pavements that have been found in remains all over the former Roman empire. These Roman mosaics were far too small for walking so were either for decor, fashion or visual contemplation.
In Pompeii, Italy, a town destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, there is an inscription on a pillar of one the ruined houses that reads LABYRINTHUS HIC HABITAT MINOTAURUS, that translates as "the labyrinth, here lives the Minotaur" . Some wonder if it was graffiti inscribed to describe an angry former resident of the house. Whatever the reason for the inscription this was the first, and maybe only, ancient written reference made between the labyrinth symbol and the Minotaur.
Also in Pompeii, a mosaic floor was excavated that illustrated the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur at its centre of the labyrinth. These finding at Pompeii sealed the existence of the legend over time and the importance the symbols of the legend to the people of Pompeii.
Labyrinth walking into a new life
Through the Middle and Medieval Ages the Christian Church increased their interest in incorporating the popular folk symbol of the labyrinth into their ecclesiastical architecture as part of their wooing and converting. Labyrinths were built in churches and cathedrals as part of the sacred space to worship within. I have already described the ultimate Chartres Labyrinth example, built 1200 AD, the "Chemin De Jerusalem", Way to Jerusalem.
It is easy to understand how the labyrinths in churches could have increased the "flock" to attend. Without a labyrinth present a medieval church mass would have been an experience of being present while the priest spoke and sung in Latin with his back towards everyone. Having a labyrinth present gave opportunity for those in the church to do something they could understand, a "walking prayer" or meditation in the Labyrinth, though I gather the Labyrinth word could never be spoken as it was the Chemin De Jerusalem.
Interestingly, it seems that the presence of a Labyrinth in a church aided the recovery of some of the the divine feminine in the Church, expressed mainly through devotion to and veneration of the Blessed Mary. Some labyrinth walkers in churches speak of illumination from a divine feminine, a female angel and even the embrace of Mary, after walking through a "glorious web"
A labyrinth in a church, I feel, is a very symbolic balance, calling for the feminine wisdom within the circular path of the labyrinth balanced with the main church architecture of thrusting steeples and spires.
Since medieval times the inclusion of labyrinths within churches has been repressed, until recent times when more churches are building and including labyrinths within their church grounds. Their choice is usually the simple classic Cretan labyrinth rather than reproduction of the Chartres design.
Today it seems many people live in state of spiritual hunger, people of all ages, and races, and classes, who are looking for spiritual nurturing that is no longer found within the churches they attend. Their searches for something more spiritually nourishing lead them to rituals and traditions that are easily dismissed as "New Age", especially by the clergy and clerics.
What people find is actually very "Old Age" dusted down to fit in our environments today.
Today people regard spiritual experience as being more precious than beliefs and they distrust institutions and leaders more and more.
To fulfill this need I find more and more spiritual seekers are finding themselves at the entrances of labyrinths, and a true sense of the wisdom that will unfold for them within.
Like with the labyrinth in Chartres, and all of the churches around that time, more and more people can symbolize the labyrinth as their walk to meet with their feminine divine, who ever she may be in your own personal image. She can be Mary, Brighid, Brideog, Bride, your mother, grandmother, Freya, a special angel, that special imaginary friend like your old teddy or cuddly stuffed cat.
I feel symbols are important for for human beings as they confirm our need for sacred space, a special place for personal transformation whether it is a moment of silence or prayer for a major change. :
Often I see and experience how a Labyrinth offers the "centre" people seek, a place to trust, and be illuminated by their own interpretation of the divine.
A sacred space, a holy place, a place of: heart, a place of womb, a place to restore our courage, a place where our shadow dances with our soul and then exchanges partners with the divine we invite to be present with us.
With the symbols we see with our eyes we also open the eyes of the soul invisible to our physical eyes. That is, if feel, why walking the labyrinth is a metaphor for our spiritual journeys, even the metaphors of the imagery of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur.
Whether it is a spiral dance of nature, mosaic, stone, trees, hedging, turf, painted circles, or the joined hands of children, the labyrinth continues to be a symbol of grace, inviting us into its mystery and be part of it.
The centre the labyrinth calls upon us to pause and truly let go of all that weighs us down,
releasing our old skins, so we can again walk with our guide and great spirit
You will rarely read or hear me quoting from the Bible
but I think this verse is so precious
for rounding up this Labyrinth Journey lens .
From Isaiah 30:21
Your Teacher will not hide anymore,
but your eyes shall see your teacher.
And when you turn to the right
or when you turn to the left
Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying,
This is the way, walk in it.