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Labyrinth Symbols and Meaning

Updated on November 25, 2013

Labyrinth Symbolism

From rock carvings throughout Europe to friezes in India, from ancient Greek coins to Hopi woven baskets, labyrinth symbols have been a part of our global culture for thousands of years.

The labyrinth has served as a metaphor for our path through life, been used to trap evil spirits, to mark the path of sacred dances, used as a form of calendar and as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

This page is dedicated to uncovering the symbolism of the labyrinth. As the labyrinth occurs throughout many countries and is a part of many religions and spiritual practices, the symbolism and meaning behind the labyrinth is great and diverse. For this reason I will always consider this page to be a work in progress. I will be continually adding to this page as I uncover the mysteries.

Photo used from Public Domain by SiGarb

The Labyrinth as a Symbol of Unity

The circle has been observed in nature since the beginning of time, the most obvious examples being the sun, moon and planets. Traditionally the circle was associated with completion, wholeness, the universe, feminine energy and as a symbol for Mother Earth.

Medieval scholars saw the circle as perfection and believed there to be a connection between the circle and the Divine. It is no accident then that labyrinths were designed with the circle in mind.

The beauty of the labyrinth is that no matter which religion you belong to or if you are Atheist or Agnostic, we can all be united within the labyrinth.

"The labyrinth is the perfect example of a symbol. The more we work with it, the more profoundly meaningful it becomes, and our perspectives of it and the world around us keep broadening."

-Sylvia Senensky, author of Healing and Empowering the Feminine, a Labyrinth Journey, p.28

Labyrinth Origins

The word 'labyrinth' is of pre-Greek, perhaps Minoan origin. The Greek word 'labyrinthos' can literally be translated as 'place of the double axe' with 'labrys' meaning 'double axe' and 'inthos' meaning 'place of'. The double axe can best seen in the geometrical Medieval labyrinth. The center of the axe, where the two halves meet, bisects the labyrinth.






Image of Minoan labrys used under Creative Commons from Xenophon.

Image of Medieval labyrinth used from the Public Domain by Den fjättrade ankan.

Labyrinth Symbols: The Cretan Labyrinth

The seven circuit Cretan labyrinth, sometimes called the Classical labyrinth, is the oldest known labyrinth design and is associated with the famous Greek legend of King Minos of Knossos in Crete. King Minos orchestrated for a labyrinth to be built as a hiding place for the Minotaur, his wife's illegitimate half-human half-bull offspring.

As legend is told, every nine years King Minos required fourteen tributes from Athens: seven boys and seven girls destined to become food for the Minotaur.

Theseus, son of Athenian King Aegeus, sailed to Crete to destroy the Minotaur. King Minos' daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and provided him the means to return from his mission - a ball of string which he unwound so he could find his way home.

The labyrinth represents our journey through life, which is never in a straight line and can often be fraught with hardship. The thread represents our connection with God, Spirit or our own inner wisdom. The Minotaur is our Shadow Self which we all must confront at one time or another in our lives.

Photo, silver coin from Knossos circa 400BC, used under Creative Commons by AlMare

The Classical or Cretan labyrinth is one of the oldest labyrinth designs. The seven circuits represent the seven chakras, the energy centers of the body connecting the physical with the spiritual. The term 'chakra' is derived from the Sanskrit word for 'vortex'.

The Chakras

First Chakra - Root Chakra, associated with the colour red and the fire element. This chakra is our root, our ability to be grounded and to survive in the world, our primal instincts. The root chakra is located at the base of the spine.

Second Chakra - Sacral Plexus Chakra, associated with orange and the water element. This chakra represents our sexuality and creativity, our ability to connect with others and houses our emotions. The sacral plexus chakra is located approximately two inches below the navel.

Third Chakra - Solar Plexus Chakra, associated with yellow and the fire element. This chakra relates to self-confidence and our ability to value ourselves. The solar plexus chakra is located in the belly near the lowest rib.

Fourth Chakra - Heart Chakra, represented by green and the air element. This chakra is connected with our ability to express love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. The heart chakra, located at the heart, has a special role connecting the personal chakras (1-3) with the collective chakras (5-7).

Fifth Chakra - Throat Chakra, associated with the colour blue and the earth and ether elements. This chakra, located at the throat, is responsible for self-expression and communication.

Sixth Chakra - Third Eye Chakra, associated with indigo and the water element. This chakra is responsible for intuition and clairvoyance. The third eye chakra is located at the brow between the two physical eyes.

Seventh Chakra - Crown Chakra, represented by the colour purple and the fire element. This chakra, located at the crown of the head, is responsible for our connection with God / Spirit (depending on how you define it). The balance of the other six chakras highly influence our connection to Spirit.

Our ability to walk through life as balanced individuals is greatly influenced by our chakras. If one chakra is out of balance then this affects the balance of all the chakras. Walking the Classical labyrinth is a tool for connecting with ourselves and balancing the chakras.

Chakra Subtle Anatomy Poster

The path of the labyrinth does not run a linear progression from first to seventh chakra. Rather, when you walk the labyrinth you are immediately guided to the third circuit representing the solar plexus chakra. We immediately face the issues pertaining to our own self-worth. The third circuit leads us too the second circuit, which represents how we relate to others. It is only after experiencing this that we continue through to the first circuit to become grounded and in touch with our primal instincts. Then we are led to the fourth circuit, the heart chakra, to get in touch with the heart of the matter, our emotions pertaining to love and forgiveness. After delving into these issues we continue through to the seventh circuit, our connection with God or Spirit. Notice at this point we are almost at our goal, the center. We are then led away from the center into the sixth circuit, our intuition and clairvoyance. We proceed through the fifth circuit, self-expression, and then arrive at the center.

Image used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

The Hopi Labyrinth

The Hopi natives of Arizona recognized the power of the labyrinth and wove the seven circuit labyrinth into their baskets. Their version is a variety of Classical labyrinth that is radial in nature and has the entry path originating from the top rather than the bottom.

The 'Man in the Maze' is a Hopi version of the labyrinth symbolizing life, the choices we make and the twists and turns of our life journey towards unity - the center. A variation on this without the man represents the Mother and Child, a symbol of rebirth.

Man in the Maze Gold Print by SpiritEnergyToGo

Hopi Mother Child Symbol T-Shirt by theredsun


Labyrinth Symbols: The Medieval Labyrinth

Chartres Labyrinth Design
Chartres Labyrinth Design

Symbolism of the Medieval Labyrinth

The Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth is Rich with Symbolism

During the 13th century labyrinths grew in popularity. They were redesigned to be more complex and symmetrical incorporating Christian symbolism including the cross and the rose. The result was the Medieval labyrinth.

The most famous Medieval labyrinth is the eleven circuit Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

In aerial view the cross can be seen dividing the labyrinth into four quadrants. These quadrants represent the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), the Four Directions (North, South, East and West) and the four Gospels. They also represent the four seasons as the labyrinth may have been a form of Medieval calendar.

As a nod to the origins of the labyrinth, the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth originally had a bronze plaque in the center depicting the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. However, the plaque was ultimately removed and melted down during the French Revolution.

The exterior of the Chartres labyrinth is adorned with lunations, partial circles separated by cusps. There are 114 lunations in total but one has been removed to make way for the entrance. The remaining 113 lunations are separated by 112 cusps. If you divide the number of cusps by the number of quadrants you get 28. This fact has created speculation that the labyrinth was once used as a sort of lunar calendar.

Another interesting symbol for the lunations exists in the Qur'an. There are 114 suras (chapters) and the first sura is called 'The Entry'.

An interesting thing to note: According to Australian Architect John James, the length of the path is is exactly 365 1/4 feet based on the foot length of the mason who constructed the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth. This represents the Earth's path around the sun, a calendar year.

Photo used under Creative Commons from Dupuis pierre

Celtic Labyrinth Mousepad by Find Joy

The Rose, Aphrodite's Flower, The Flower of Life, Seven Circles

The flower at the center of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

There are several options and opinions for the symbolism of the six-petalled flower at the center of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

The Rose represents love, beauty, purity, spiritual awakening and enlightenment. In nature roses have five petals and it is hypothesized the rose in the labyrinth center has six petals to represent Mary, the Holy Spirit and Divine perfection.


Aphrodite's Flower is a six petalled flower representing the Goddess and Divine sexual energy. The number six is associated with femininity and is considered a perfect and Divine number.






The Flower of Life is an example of Sacred Geometry as it is formed exclusively from overlapping circles. The six petals are said to symbolize the six days of creation or the six kingdoms: Animal, Human, Plant, Mineral, Angelic and Unknown. The Flower of Life has the same shape as a snowflake symbolizing water which is essential to all life.

Another possibility is that the center is based on seven circles - six for the petals and one in the center. Seven is a mystical prime number associated with the Virgin. As Chartres Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this is fitting.

Images: Aphrodite's Flower and Flower of Life used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

Labyrinth Symbols: Sacred Geometry

Throughout time specific numbers have been deemed sacred. Sacred geometry refers to utilizing these numbers and ratios when building structures that have religious, spiritual or archaeological importance. In doing this, whoever visits the structure has the potential to have a powerful spiritual experience and be closer to God, Spirit and the Divine.

The numbers seven and twelve are considered sacred and play heavily in the make-up of the Medieval labyrinth as do the numbers three and four.

Three - Represents Heaven, the soul, Spirit, the Holy Trinity. There are three 'almost' ninety degree turns in the first and fourth quadrants.

Four - The four quadrants. Represents the physical body and the Earth.

The quadrants are separated by either three or four labryses (junction of two 180 degree u-turns) except for the first and fourth quadrants which are separated by the entry pathway.

Seven - Seven 180 degree turns per quadrant, seven circles in the center. Seven is referred to as the number of initiation when pertaining to an inner journey. Seven represents the uniting of our spiritual and physical selves as three plus four equal seven.

Twelve - Eleven circuits plus the center. Three multiplied by four equal twelve, symbolizing the integration of the body and soul.


The Labyrinth as a Symbol of the Divine Feminine - Embracing the Dark Feminine

Sylvia Senensky is a Jungian analyst trained in Zurich, Switzerland. She has lectured world-wide about the labyrinth, its connections with Feminine Archetypes and has hosted labyrinth workshops and retreats. *Full Disclosure: the author is my stepmother.


Healing and Empowering the Feminine: A Labyrinth Journey
Healing and Empowering the Feminine: A Labyrinth Journey

Sylvia Senensky explores the labyrinth with respect to the symbolism of Feminine Archetypes and as a metaphor for our spiritual awakening and ongoing spiritual journey. She also explores the labyrinth in relation to mythology and fairy tales including Theseus and the Minotaur, Demeter and Persephone, Inanna, and Vassilisa the Beautiful.

 

The path of the labyrinth is very instructive when viewed as a metaphor for life. The path into the labyrinth runs parallel to the path into the center. This way we get a look at our goal right from the start. Rarely in life do we set our sights on a goal and immediately achieve it. It takes planning, hard work, patience and persistence. Our efforts are rewarded when we achieve our goal.

The labyrinth is a good example of the concept of 'delayed gratification'. We would like to arrive at the center of the labyrinth, but it won't be the same and won't be as meaningful if we cross over lines and just walk straight in. Completing the labyrinth path in its entirety will yield the greatest reward. The journey is as important as the destination.

Within the first ten 180 degree turns we will walk past the center twice approaching it from both sides. The path of the labyrinth takes us through each quadrant several times. It is interesting to note that the path only leads to the nearest quadrant before doubling back. For example, the outermost circuit beginning in the first quadrant leads through to the edge of the second quadrant, completes two more turns through the second quadrant before continuing on to the third quadrant.

When you are getting close to the center, it looks and feels like you are the furthest away. The labyrinth path takes you along the outermost circuit through the third and fourth quadrants before turning inward and arriving at the center.

I don't know about you but I find that when I'm closest to achieving my goals it sometimes feels like everything is going wrong and all is lost. Then I turn a corner, everything slips into place and there is my goal. I have learned to apply the lessons learned from the labyrinth to life. Those times when you feel hopeless and that nothing is working out, often you just need to hold on a little longer, and then your resolution appears.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Evercat

Labyrinth Symbols: Other Labyrinth Designs

Symbolism of the Goddess Labyrinth - Also Called the Baltic Labyrinth

The Goddess labyrinth, also called the Baltic Wheel, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. This labyrinth is different from the other labyrinths because it has two entrances. One path leads you through the usual twists and turns expected of a labyrinth, the other takes you directly to the center. You can choose any combination of paths to walk.

The Goddess labyrinth is based on the double spiral. Sometimes a tree is incorporated in the center, and sometimes the center can be elongated to visually represent the Goddess. The Goddess Labyrinth represents a return to the womb to be nurtured, healed and reborn.

The most famous Goddess labyrinth is 'Das Rad' in Hanover, Germany.

I'm working to acquire an image of the Goddess labyrinth for this lens, but for now here is a link to an image:

The earliest labyrinth in India, dating as far back as 2500BC, was the Classical or Cretan labyrinth design. But in the last few hundred years BC, another labyrinth arose. Based on a battle formation described in the Indian poem Mahabharata, the Chakravhura labyrinth has a spiral leading to the center.

This labyrinth is also referred to as the Hecate labyrinth. Hecate is the mystical Greek goddess of witchcraft, crossroads and entrance ways and is associated with the moon. She is described as having the triple nature of the Maiden, Mother and Crone. She is often linked with the labyrinth due to her associations with knowledge and life.


Image used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

Search for More Books about the Labyrinth from Amazon

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Labyrinth Symbols Guestbook & Comments

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    • profile image

      DebMartin 4 years ago

      Thanks for the information on the Chakras. Very interesting lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I've been planning on making one for the last few months with growing vines, but the undertaking has been too much for me. I've always been fascinated by the link with nature and the Divine. As an oblete I always felt more spiritual praying there then in the church...the labyrinth seemed like, a sanctuary in nature.

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 4 years ago

      Lovely! My brother builds labyrinths - something I never thought he had in him! But they are lovely. I'm glad to see a lens on this topic!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I enjoyed this so much. It was full of detail and explained everything so thoroughly. I loved the way the products were tied in so they just seemed to flow with the narrative.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      I did not know that i would find this lens very interesting, once i started reading it i could not stop reading! Great lens :)

    • BrandonCase profile image

      BrandonCase 4 years ago

      Very cool lens! The origin story with the Minotaur was quite interesting, and I'm happy to see a mention of the Hopi.

      I was born in Northern Arizona, and grew up with an archeologist, so we went on digs to the Anasazi ruins and found a number of bowls with designs very much akin to the ones depicted here :).

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 4 years ago

      @Aunt-Mollie: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it : )

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      This is a fascinating topic. I really enjoyed reading this.

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 4 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Beautiful and informative lens! I'm a lifelong fan of labyrinths-- my wife and I even have one we built in our back yard; they really are great meditative and healing tools.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I first walked the labyrinth when I visited my friends in San Francisco. I was impressed and I am now a believer.

    • Thetoothfaerie profile image

      Thetoothfaerie 4 years ago

      Incredible how cultures can converge like that.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Fascinating lens. The only labyrinth I have experienced, years ago, is the one in Saffron Walden. Although I have been up Glastonbury Tor several times, I have never made the labyrinth ascent. Apparently, it takes about 6 hours or more!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting lens with a lot of information. Thanks for sharing. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      There's a park nearby that has a labrrinth you can walk. The kids thought it was silly at first, but thought it was a blast. It was very relaxing actually.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 4 years ago

      @SilmarwenLinwelin: Thank you! I enjoyed your Spiral Symbolism lens and have added it to this lens as well.

    • Tennyhawk profile image

      Tennyhawk 4 years ago

      I must admit, whenever I see the word "Labyrinth," I think of the Jim Henson movie. I knew the word was Greek, but never knew about the double-ax aspect. The information about the chakras and the life-symbolism of the labyrinth were fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile image

      SilmarwenLinwelin 4 years ago

      Very informative lens, I'm adding this as related to my spiral symbolism lens. Well done!

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's amazing that despite our differences, people around the world really have so much in common. The labyrinth proves that : )

    • sunlightseer profile image

      sunlightseer 4 years ago

      Labyrinths are amazing and life changing. Who ever gets the chance to walk one of any kind will feel the power and changes within. GREAT information, thanks.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 4 years ago

      It's amazing that so many diverse cultures came up with the labryinth.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Fascinating! I'll bet you're not surprised that labyrinths are global - an aspect that can be found in cultures around the world. Sometimes I wonder if it's because we're all confused and uncertain about many things in our life OR if we all want assurance that there's a way to escape evil spirits who seek to torment us. It's a thought.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 4 years ago

      This was most interesting. Thanks for sharing your research!

    • sunny saib profile image

      sunny saib 4 years ago

      Great idea nicely done..

    • profile image

      Thamisgith 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I really enjoyed reading that - thanks much.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Great lens, I love all history facts.

      It is so well presented... Blessings!

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @awakeningwellness: It's really great to have a labyrinth close by so you can walk whenever you want. Thanks for stopping by ; )

    • awakeningwellness profile image

      awakeningwellness 5 years ago

      There is a medieval labyrinth at Unity Village which is close to me that I love walking, it was very interesting reading the history of the labyrinth!

    • Joeyyip profile image

      Joeyyip 5 years ago

      Thank you for the enlightenment lens! Never knew about these existence before! :0

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 5 years ago

      A really interesting lens. I didn't really know anything about labrynths before.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @RichLeighHD: That sounds very interesting. Thanks for stopping by.

    • RichLeighHD profile image

      RichLeighHD 5 years ago

      Really interesting. I studied a little bit about the use of labyrinth's in horror films on my degree course last year.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @Ardyn25: I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Ardyn25 profile image

      Ardyn25 5 years ago

      What an awesome lens...I'm really into the history of things and this was perfect. Thanks.

    • Tonto Murray profile image

      Tonto Murray 5 years ago

      Very cool information and history about Labyrinths. Enjoyed the read. Blessings to you.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      This is truly a remarkably fascinating lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      informative lens on labyrinth symbols. thanks for sharing an interesting subject.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @Melissa Miotke: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed reading about labyrinth symbols.

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 5 years ago from Arizona

      I had no idea that Labyrinths had so much meaning. This was really interesting and you included so much information!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Great resource.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @Diva2Mom: Thanks so much.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @Rosetta Slone: Thanks so much. Your labyrinth sounds very beautiful.

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 5 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I learnt a lot from this great lens. Thankyou for sharing your passion. Here on Reunion Island we have a labyrinth made out of old tea and coffee plantations that's incredible.

    • Diva2Mom profile image

      Diva2Mom 5 years ago

      I love Labyrinth! You covered a lot of great info on this lens, with nice photos. Great lens! God bless you!

    • pinkrenegade lm profile image

      pinkrenegade lm 5 years ago

      Very informative lens. Well written with nice photographs.

    • TaraWojt profile image
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      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @MarcStorm LM: Definitely, I was surprised too when I first learned about the definition of 'labyrinth'.

    • TaraWojt profile image
      Author

      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @MarcStorm LM: Thanks so much for stopping by. I really enjoy labyrinths too and love learning about labyrinth symbols.

    • MarcStorm LM profile image

      MarcStorm LM 5 years ago

      @TaraWojt: It was very interesting to read that the word labyrinth breaks down to "the place of the double axe". Would've thought it meant something else. Another wrinkle in my brain lol

    • MarcStorm LM profile image

      MarcStorm LM 5 years ago

      Very cool & insightful. Labyrinths are rather fascinating. I like the movie with Jennifer Connelly. People, in general, love traversing labyrinths in the fall, corn mazes. I love a good mystery. I've even played video games that had labyrinths in them, those were fun! Great article!

    • TaraWojt profile image
      Author

      Tara Wojtaszek 5 years ago

      @BarbaraCasey: I'm glad you enjoyed reading about labyrinth symbols. Thanks for the blessing!

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 5 years ago

      I didn't realize there were so many variations of the labyrinth. This is such a well-documented and interesting lens.

    • tweeky lm profile image

      tweeky lm 5 years ago

      very nice lens, bless

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      These is very well put together and informative. :)

    • Zebedee32 profile image

      Zebedee32 5 years ago

      A well ordered and good looking lens.

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 5 years ago

      As a child, one of my favorite past-times was to take a book of puzzles, mostly labyrinths and follow them through. The more complicated, the better.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      I find the patterns fascinating. Imaging planning one of these. Thank you for publishing this lens.