Labyrinth Symbols and Meaning
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
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.
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'.
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
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
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.
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
Books on the Labyrinth and Symbols
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
- Labyrinthos - Labyrinths of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka
A history of labyrinths in Asia by Jeff Saward.
- Labyrinthos - The Center of the Labyrinth
An essay about the history and symbolism of the labyrinth by labyrinth consultant Jeff Saward.
Myth and history of labyrinths including Hopi labyrinths, the Classical labyrinth and Chakras, and how to draw a Classical labyrinth.
Information about labyrinths around the world and throughout time.
- Wikipedia - Labyrinth
Myth, history and culture of the labyrinth.
- Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth Numerology
Description of the numerology of the Chartres Cathedral Medieval labyrinth by Australian architect John James.
Search for More Books about the Labyrinth from Amazon
More Labyrinth Information - If you enjoyed this page you may also like my other labyrinth pages
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