Walking the Labyrinth

Petroglyphic Labyrinth, Rocky Valley, Cornwall, England

Evidence for the phenomenon of the labyrinth dates as far back as the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, some two thousand years BCE.  Discovered first as petroglyphs (drawings on rock), they were later found on artefacts unearthed in particular on the various shores of the Mediterranean.  This petroglyph is of one of the Rocky Valley labyrinths uncovered in Cornwall,  South West England, by a local man, S J Madge, in 1948.

Drawing of labyrinth image decorating a gemstone

The drawing is of a labyrinth decorating a 16th century gem.  The creature at the centre of the labyrinth is a Minotaur, depicted here as a man with the body of a bull, though the Minotaur is also portrayed as a man with the head of a bull *- the Minotaur, of Ancient Greek legend. In the tale, Daedalus, a skilled artisan  (the name means ‘cunning worker’)  constructed a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete, at Knossos, in which to hold the Minotaur.

Tattoo in form of Labyrinth

The labyrinth tattoo is based on ancient patterns of the Tonoho O’odham – meaning ‘Desert People’ –  a group of First Nation American Indians based in Southeastern Arizona and northwest Mexico. Tattoo patterns record the labyrinth in southern India.  There is a substantial essay by Jeff Saward about labyrinths in India, Pakistan and Nepal at  http://www.labyrinthos.net  and the labyrinth is known to serve a purpose in Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic contexts.  The labyrinth therefore, has served some sort of cultural purpose worldwide and across the ages.

 While labyrinth and ‘maze’ are often used synonymously, a maze offers a choice of destination and is often complex and confusing; a labyrinth however, is characterised by a single path which winds to a centre.  The significance and purpose of the labyrinth varies from people to people. It is used today as a protective device in the south-east of India, in the region of Tamil Nadu. Known as a ‘kolam’ the labyrinth is marked out on a doorstep or porch with powdered rice, as an offering to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of rice, earth and wealth, to prevent evil entering the house and to ensure the good fortune of the householders.

In medieval times, over 500 labyrinths were constructed in Scandinavia. Generally along the coasts, these are made up of stones and are thought to have been put together by fishing communities to entrap trolls (in legend, gigantic unhelpful and sometimes man-eating creatures, dwelling characteristically in isolated mountains, rocks and caves). The concept of protection by entrapment rather than prevention is at the root of the Cretan Minotaur labyrinth.

The purpose is not known for the medieval Christian pavement labyrinths of the 13th and 14th centuries, constructed in the great gothic cathedrals such as Chartres, Reims and Amiens in northern France and Siena, Italy.  It has been suggested that they represented the Holy City; that they were affordable substitutes for real Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land; or were tools for contemplation – walking the labyrinth symbolised the Christian path to God. There has been an upsurge of the labyrinth in modern times, especially perhaps with the birth of  ‘New Age’ spirituality.  The purpose of ‘Walking the labyrinth’ is to bring on spiritual awakenings and growth. 

For walkers, the challenges of walking the labyrinth are not so much physical, but spiritual. Its use varies from religion to religion.  There are a number of ‘virtual’ labyrinths on the Internet.  I like the one at  http://www.labyrinth.org.uk described as: “… an interactive installation for spiritual journeys. It’s for anyone who wants a break from surfing the surface of culture to contemplate the deeper things of life.” Its purpose, according to the web site, is to take you on a symbolic journey, creating a virtual space in which to unwind, to think about one’s relationship with ourselves, one another, the planet and God.

In my ‘Walkers Store’ on my web site at  www.annisik.com I’ve dedicated several ‘shelves’ to ‘contemplative’ walking, including one on ‘Walking the Labyrinth’ where I’ve made available a selection of books on the theme.

‘Walking the labyrinth’ could also form the basis of  themed walks around the British Isles and further afield.   The Labyrinth Society http://www.labyrinthsociety.org  includes a zone for locating labyrinths around the world at:  http://labyrinthlocator.com and for locations of Irish labyrinths in Ireland visit http://labyrinthireland.com Check out http://www.labyrinthuk.org, which is about labyrinth activities in UK and Eire.

* See Picasso’s ‘Minotauromachia‘ at the Art Institute of Chicago

‘Mazes and Labyrinths in Great Britain’ by John Southcliffe Martineau
‘Labyrinths and Mazes of the World’ by Jeff Saward

‘World Labyrinth Day’ is celebrated round the world on the first Saturday in May.  Details can be found at:  http://www.labyrinthsociety.org

Keep a lookout here for some ‘labyrinth’ art!

Acknowledgements and links:


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
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11 Responses to Walking the Labyrinth

  1. Thank you for this very kind offer. It’s not my site but rather where I’m donating all profits from my book to, Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center, the first and only no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County, CA, where I live. If you would like to donate to them that would be wonderful and here’s their link, just click on “contact.”( http://www.santapaulaarc.org/) I will also forward the info to them on “Just Giving.” My husband and I have been in dog rescue for 28 years. We have never collected donations or been on that line of it, usually the other end, and helping to get dogs out of kill shelters to their forever homes. We’ve also fostered and adopted quite a few ourselves through the years. When my dog Tazzie of 15+ years died, last year, I had just finished my book which was also around the time the shelter opened which was a really big deal as VC is a huge county, near to a million residents. We decided to put the profits from my book to helping them and spreading the word on hopefully setting up more no-kill shelters. Again, thank you Ann for your kind offer and trying to hook me up where it may do some good. At my site is also an article that ran on the front page of the Life Section of the Ventura County Star (largest circulating press in the area) on our animal rescue efforts with the center. If you’d ever like to see it please let me know. Paulette


    • annisik51 says:

      Hello Paulette. Well I’ve just donated 10 dollars to the dog rescue centre. I like it when my blog connects in meaningful ways that can result in something good happening. It’s the most important purpose of the Internet I think. Kind regards. Ann


      • I am reaching through this computer with every cell in my body and giving you a big cyber hug. You just made my day! Here’s what I just posted to their facebook site and if you’re on facebook please by all means please feel free to connect with them: ” Paulette Mahurin posted toSanta Paula Animal Rescue Center Just had a blogger connect with me at my site and see that my profits are going to you. She then went and donated and sent me this message: “Hello Paulette. Well I’ve just donated 10 dollars to the dog rescue centre. I like it when my blog connects in meaningful ways that can result in something good happening. It’s the most important purpose of the Internet I think. Kind regards. Ann” Happy Dance and wag wag!”
        Not only are you helping them but you’ve helped me in this endless struggle to get dogs (& cats) out of kill shelters, it is acts of kindness, like yours, that sustain me and keep me going, and of course the dogs. Let’s hope this creates a ripple effect that gets tons of sad faces out of their cages and into forever homes. Paulette


      • annisik51 says:

        And have a cyberhug back in return! Thanks. I’ve just downloaded your book. It will join a large pile awaiting reading, but when I do I’ll review it on my blog and on Amazon. I like to use the ripple analogy myself. Otherwise I’d feel very ineffectual. I can be a drop though and every drop creates a ripple. Blessing to you. Ann


      • Just when my cups is overflowing and flooding the house, I get this from you. I’m extremely humbled by your kindness. I would have happily gifted you a kindle book for your donation but didn’t want to be tacky by bringing my book into the equation with your generosity. Whenever you get to the read, I hope you enjoy. Blessing back to you friend. Paulette


      • annisik51 says:

        Not tacky, businesslike! At the risk of being tacky, it occurred to me that as an editor/proofreader, I ought to be offering my services for your next book or publication! And for non-profit publications like yours, the work would be free in exchange for a testimonial. Ann


      • You are a woman after my own heart. I’m not a great business person and honestly were it not for profits going to animal rescue, I’d feel way to self-conscious coming on sites or meeting cyber strangers through a book’s blog. That’s a wonderful offer to proof my next. Do you have a website or way I could contact you in the event of? And of course, I would support you back with a testimonial and mention in the book. Thank you for your generosity of heart and again, I’m really feeling very fortunate for this connection with you. Paulette


      • annisik51 says:

        There’s a contact address on my web site: http://www.annisikarts.com.

        I know what you mean about self-promotion. Makes me squirm! Have to bite the bullet though or starve!

        Good luck. Ann


  2. Very interesting, thank you. And, thank you for coming by my site. Lovely to connect with you.


    • annisik51 says:

      Welcome. Nice to connect with you too. Seasons greetings to you. Ann


    • annisik51 says:

      Have you heard of the site ‘Just Giving’? It lists a lot of charities and you can donate by a click of a button. Your dog rescue centre could set up there and if it did, I’d donate a small amount. If it’s already there, could you send me a link? Thanks. Ann


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