LABYRINTHS ARE NOT MAZES
People seem to confuse “labyrinth” and “maze.” They are both constructed paths you have to walk and they both have beginnings and ends, but their purposes are very different. I am coming to the conclusion that I am living my life in a labyrinth…or at least I want to be.
So what’s the differences between them? Let me list the ways….
- A LABYRINTH is a spiral walking path. A MAZE is loaded with compartmentalized confusing paths, most of which lead to dead ends.
- The goal when you walk a LABYRINTH is to follow the path to the center, stop, turn around and walk back out. The objective when you enter a MAZE is to escape as soon as possible.
- A LABYRINTH is actually a form of moving meditation. A MAZE is an analytical puzzle to be solved.
- A LABYRINTH is a form of moving meditation. A MAZE is meant to be disorienting.
- You can lose yourself in a LABYRINTH; you can get lost in a MAZE.
- A LABYRINTH can shift consciousness from linear to non-linear thinking. Usually a MAZE engenders the I-hope-I-make-it feeling.
- A LABYRINTH is about journey and is a metaphor for walking through the Void. The purpose of a MAZE is to get through to the other side.
It’s a funny thing. When you lay it out like that, you can actually suss out that doing the MAZE thing as a way of life is probably toxic. I mean, they use mazes to test and play head-games with rats.
Through the ages, for more than 4,000 years, people have been fascinated with labyrinths.
This rock carving at Meis, Pontevedra, Galicia in Spain could date from as early as the Atlantic Bronze Age. (Rock carvings are notorious difficult to date.)
Here is the reverse of a clay tablet from Pylos with the motif of the Labyrinth. The terracotta tablet is the earliest datable representation of the 7-course classical labyrinth. It was recovered from the remains of the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, destroyed by fire ca 1200 BCE. “There is no evidence for a connection between the labyrinth design and the legend of Theseus at this early date,” it says here. The tablet is currently in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The story that’s associated most closely with the labyrinth is the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate structure at the palace of King Minos of Crete at Knossos. It was designed and built by Daedalus, the king’s legendary architect and artificer.
It is said that Daedulus had a hard time figuring out how to get out of the labyrinth once he had built it, which tends to make me think that the thing was actually an elaborate maze. Whatever.
In the story, the labyrinth was built to contain a monster-man that was reputed to be the son of the king’s nymphomaniac wife by the Sacred Bull. (No, I am not going there….)
Minos, a classic tyrant, used to exact tribute from the neighbors, hauling off their young men and women who were pushed into the labyrinth, probably as food for the Minotaur. The Minotaur was killed by the hero Theseus.
This Roman mosaic shows Theseus at his moment of triumph. The picture’s apparently the work of an anonymous U.S. government employee. The mosaic is in Rhaetia, Switzerland.
Labyrinth designs have been found in many different cultures. This intricate carving depicts a scene from a legend from the Mahabharata, where the warrior Abhimanyu enters the chakra-vuyha-Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu, India.
The following map of Jericho was photographed from a page in the 14th century Fahri Bible written by Elisha ben Avraham Cresca. Another labyrinth….
Here’s a small “turf maze” that looks very much like a labyrinth. It was photographed by Simon Garbutt in the 1970’s and later uploaded into Wikimedia Commons. He says about it, “City of Troy. The only surviving example in the North Riding of this type of grass maze. It is located by a roadside in the Howardian Hills of Yorkshire, England, near the villages of Dalby and Skewsby, close to Sheriff Hutton, a few miles north of York.”
And here’s a surprise: a labyrinth stone in America…. In the Reinhardt Canyon on the easterly side of the Lakeview Mountains in Southern Calfornia, there’s a prehistoric petroglyph near Hemet, Riverside County, California. It’s a California Historical Landmark and is called the Hemet Maze Stone.
Many cathedrals have labyrinths incorporated in their design. One of the most famous is the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.
In modern times there has been a revival of the interest in labyrinths. Much of this began with the work of Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest at Grace Chapel in San Francisco. She’s written three books on the subject. Her first, WALKING A SACRED PATH: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, sparked the beginnings of a world-wide cultural phenomenon that is called “The Labyrinth Movement.”
Now there are non-profit groups and websites that focus on the labyrinth as a tool for getting back to your own center.
Public spaces have been built that incorporate the labyrinth in their design and a slew of books have been written telling folks how they can use the ancient design to walk around in their own minds.
Labyrinth jewelry and paraphernalia proliferate.
I do not know whether Artress or any of the other good people in the Labyrinth Movement have actually uncovered any ancient esoteric secrets. (Mages are notorious for being secretive folks who just do not share their hard-won mystical lore with the uninitiated.)
However, using the curving pathways of a labyrinth to help you visualize an inward journey that leads to the center of your being and then out into the world again is a powerful metaphor that apparently works for many people.
My take on all this is that people are hungry to find peace of mind. The Labyrinth Movement and all things labyrinth is a direct outgrowth of that hunger.
On to the poem….
THERE HAS TO BE A WAY
There has to be a way to understand the Tao
That’s not unmoving unattachment,
Untouching and untouched:
A way that doesn’t mean apart
Like the monk who sits in a cave
Staring at a blank and rocky wall,
Exploring inner labyrinths,
Breaking through into the Real
By deciphering quadruple entendres and
Constructing metaphors that solidify
Into a hammer which breaks down the Self
Until there’s nothing there.
There has to be a way to reach the Oneness
That lets you swim in it and revel in its joys;
That lets you hold all its sorrows
And build a wondrous web that
Encloses, cradles and connects you in
The Beauty and the sadnesses of Real;
A way that lets you stretch between
The Heaven and Earth within you and
Lets you grow – yet another bamboo stalk –
Always bending, ever steadfast, never still;
A way that lets you dance within its circle
And reverence the truths, the love you feel.
I guess that this is what I search for:
A way to walk and dance into the Real
That keeps world-wonders fully in my heart
And celebrates the goodness that I feel
Inside the ordinary simple and the small.
For me, these things are as important
As the magic in the silence of the stars.
I don’t want to lose the butterflies and tadpoles
And papas cradling babies tenderly.
The pregnant silences of sheer cliffs,
The songs of birds and gentle rustling grasses,
The many songs that water sings…all call to me.
I love this world with its many faces,
Its many moods and modes and ways of being.
I cannot turn away, no matter what the wise ones say.
For me, the world holds everything that’s dear.
I am sure they are right in what they tell me;
I do not doubt they reached magic and the Real.
They flew up high above all the tangles.
The confusions that plague me, I know they did not feel.
And yet….I have to think that, maybe,
Those wise ones had inner spaces that were
Way more interesting than the ones in me.
(It’s pretty boring in there….)
by Netta Kanoho
Photo credit: Labyrinth by Hans Splinter via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
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20 thoughts on “LABYRINTHS ARE NOT MAZES”
Wow I never realized the difference betweena labyrinth and a maze until you explained it to me. That is actually very interesting! So this whole time I thought that the terms were interchangeable when in fact they were not! Very good to know.
I think that it is very interesting that labyrinths are used for this purpose. I am a believer in meditation and was wondering if there are any locations in North American that you know of that have this sort of thing set up.
Google “The Labyrinth Movement” and “Lauren Artress.” There are hundreds of the things set up, it seems. It blew me away!
Thanks for your visit Alec. Please come again!
Well you learn something new every day, huh? I have always used these two terms interchangeably. It’s really interesting to see how popular labyrinths have been throughout history. They say we’ve ‘come so far’ in terms of civilization, but based on the idea that the purpose of the labyrinth, and how earlier civilizations knew to embrace them, I would say in modern times we’ve really just moved very far away from where we need to be! Beautiful poem, and lots of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing!
Hey Deedee…thanks for your visit and your comments. Please come again…
This posting is very interesting. Had no idea that there was a difference between labyrinths and mazes. Reading this has opened my eyes.
I also like the poem that you placed here. It is also very interesting and enlightening.
Thank you so much for posting this. I am sure that anyone reading this will be inspired to learn more about both labyrinths and mazes.
Thanks for the visit and your comments, Frank. I do appreciate it. Please do come again.
Ha! What an interesting article. You had me hooked from the get go. Immediately I was like HUHN?? A maze isn’t a labyrinth? What the heck is the difference!?! I NEED TO KNOW!!! lol good captivation. I particularly like the statement “A LABYRINTH can shift consciousness from linear to non-linear thinking. Usually a MAZE engenders the I-hope-I-make-it feeling.” How true. I was able to understand your post as soon as I read that as it clicked for me.
What a post! I can honestly say this one’s made me take a step back for a minute and really made me think about the true nature of reality. lol I like ponder those kind of things, and a post like this just makes you change perspective a little bit. Maybe I can start living life like a labyrinth and less like a maze. I mean, I do love puzzles after all ; )
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Koda. You GOT it! All of us would do well to live life more like a labyrinth rather than a maze, I think.
Please do come again!
I am a highly claustrophobic person and the thought of being lost in a maze can be worse that the thought of death itself.
I fear enclosed places so much that I don’t even entertain the thought of being left in a hopeless situation such as being lost in a maze.
I’d prefer labyrinths because they come with an intelligent pattern that just has to be followed meticulously.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story, Peace. I heartily agree that labyrinths are a heck of a lot more fun than mazes. I have a touch of claustrophobia my own self.
Please do come again….
I would have been stuck if someone asked me the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. But after reading your post I am sure I can answer this now.
I can never imagine myself writing an article on such a topic and that too with such a a beautiful poem and that’s what I found really amazing.
Thanks and keep up the great work
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Nick. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
Please do come again….
Thank you for increasing my knowledge about labyrinths and mazes. I never know that those words are actually two different words. After reading your explanation, I can quite understand how labyrinths are used for mediation and improving mind. Do you know real place recommendation that incorporate labyrinths design for meditation purpose? I find it… oddly relaxing to stare at labyrinths.
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Alblue. The Labyrinth Movement has many places all over the world where the devotees have made labyrinths to help with their mediations. Google “labyrinth.” All kinds of neat stuff will present themselves.
Please do come again….
My time to think that labyrinths and mazes are the same is up! And I have been taught the difference in the best way possible. Thank you Netta for the clarity you have in presentation. In defining a labyrinth, one thing I cannot forget is to relate it to life, where you can lose yourself in the moment but not get lost!
Though life can be a maze at times, with confusing paths that lead to dead ends, I am reminded of the poem, “There has to be a way”.
This is a beautiful post to reflect on.
Edgar, I do thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad you enjoyed the post.
Please do come again….
Hmmm…interesting…I never heard of the word, “Labyrinths” but I have heard of the word maze. I never knew or thought about mazes being used for rats. That is interesting.
I also never thought of if I’m living a maze life or a labyrinths life. At the moment I’m thinking that I am living a Maze life. But when reading the The Labyrinth Movement I find that I might be living a Labyrinth life. Very interesting. Can one be living both a Labyrinth and Maze life? Or is it one path…Just curious…
Lakisha, thanks for the visit and for your question. It is my understanding that mazes and labyrinths are basically different. Mazes have an entrance and an exit in different places and lots of tricksy ways to get stuck before you can get out of there.
Labyrinths are actually built around one continuous line, with the entrance and the exit at the same spot.
You don’t get stuck in a labyrinth. Instead you walk the path and you know where you will begin and end. (In life, for which the labyrinth is a metaphor, the beginning and the end is always only your own self.)
As you walk the labyrinth you may have different experiences, you may have obstacles and challenges to overcome and insights may come to you while you walk along, but eventually, if you keep on following the path you end up with yourself again.
You don’t get lost when you walk a labyrinth. Mazes tend to get you confused and lost a lot.
It really is a trippy concept.
Thanks for the question.
Please do come again.
The final core difference between mazes and labyrinths comes in relation to the way they are used. Mazes are used primarily as a test of intellect. This could be as part of a science experiment or for fun and challenge. Labyrinths have a much more spiritual and cultural heritage. They are often used as tools of prayer or meditation.
Thanks for the visit and for adding your thoughts Emmanuel. I do appreciate it.