Go this way and that way

Everything you always wanted to know about labyrinths:

The labyrinth talk was interesting. It was mainly about how they are becoming increasingly used in the US, both as a spiritual exercise (lots of churches, especially, it seems, Episcopal churches, have them) and as a relaxation technique (some hospitals have them available both for staff and patients/relatives of patients). But he also touched on the history a bit and made the assertion that the general form of the labyrinth, like the famous one at Chartres, is more or less common across cultures, even cultures that might not have had contact for thousands of years at the time they were building them. So either it’s an idea far, far older than the 4000 years or so (his claim, I don’t know that for sure) that the oldest ones known date back to, or else it’s a common idea “in the air” that multiple cultures came up with. (Or, I suppose: there was a lot more cultural contact than what we know about. There are legends, for example, of the “lost years” of Jesus (between age 12 and age 30 or so) including time spent in what is now India.)

He also noted that in some Hopi and Navajo art, a similar form shows up and sometimes it is called “maze” or something similar.

He also noted that they were set up so that there was no “wrong” way to do them. Heh. That struck me because I am always excessively worried, I think, about doing things the “correct” way. (Of course, labyrinth design is simple enough that you don’t have to think to follow it — that’s kind of the point). But he observes there’s no set speed you’re “supposed” to go (though the idea is to do it slowly) and no set time you’re supposed to spend at the center.

I have added a couple of links to the original.

As I understand things, if it’s one continuous, albeit torturous-looking, path, it’s properly a labyrinth; if there are several dead ends scattered within, it’s a maze. (The convoluted structure outside Canterlot Castle is a maze.) There is, therefore, no “wrong” way to navigate a labyrinth; there are several wrong ways to navigate a maze.

And the popular Labyrinth game turns out, on closer inspection, to be more of a maze.



  1. Nicole »

    9 November 2013 · 7:06 pm

    Maybe that’s my problem. I don’t find the idea of being lost very relaxing. Corn mazes and haunted house mazes send me into near-panics. But if being lost = maze and not labyrinth, maybe I’d find the latter a better experience… Or I can not do all the walking and just have a massage to relax. :)

  2. fillyjonk »

    10 November 2013 · 4:58 pm

    Yeah, the idea is (and the speaker noted this) is that “maze” is to confound and confuse, “labyrinth” is to make clear because there’s one path.

    Though I’m not sure where Ariadne and the minotaur fit in- that was always called a labyrinth in my grade-school books covering Greek myth but really, I think it was more of a maze.

  3. CGHill »

    10 November 2013 · 5:08 pm

    Although the labyrinth in one’s ear is properly a labyrinth, which is a good thing, because you don’t want a maze in your ear.

    I have suffered occasional vertigo from inflammation within said labyrinth. Not at all fun.

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