I have been trying out several different labyrinths for a photo overlay on a large work. This will have many tiny photos overlaid on a painted background.
Labyrinths are ancient. Written evidence goes back at least to Greek mythology – with the legend of the Minotaur, half man, half bull, confined in a labyrinth, until he was eventually killed by Theseus. The ancient Greeks knew of at least four labyrinths in their antiquity – in Crete, Egypt, Lemnos and what is now modern Italy. Labyrinths are part of many cultures – from the Americas to the Indian sub-continent and central Europe.
Labyrinths differ from mazes in that there is only one pathway to the centre, not branching pathways and dead ends as in a maze. (John Algeo considers the maze a subset of a labyrinth with the single path variety termed a meander.)
Labyrinths have several uses or purposes. In ancient times, they were considered traps for evil spirits (or a cage for the Minotaur). They may be decorative, like in the patterns of native American baskets and in gardens of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They may have a deeply spiritual meaning. Labyrinthine floors in cathedrals of the Middle Ages could be walked as a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Cretan labyrinth which housed the Minotaur had seven sacred circles. According to John Algeo these represented ‘the seven spheres of the sacred planets, the seven principles of the human being and the cosmos, the seven days of the week, and other such sevenfold meanings. Passing to the center of the labyrinth and returning to its circumference represents the involution and evolution of the universe, the coming into birth and the passing out of earthly life of an individual, and–most important–a journey into the center of our own being, the achievement there of a quest for wholeness, and the subsequent return to our divine source.’
John Algeo also gives other deep meanings to walking a labyrinth.
According to Meme McDonald, Artistic Directory of Mountain to Mouth, a labyrinth may be metaphor for the life’s journey – a seeking for the core – a yearning for spiritual meaning. As one walks a labyrinth one is sometimes near the centre, sometimes further away, in a similar way to the quests the human being faces on life’s path. In this, the Labyrinth becomes also a symbol of death – when life’s journey is complete and the quest is over.
The labyrinths on the Mountain to Mouth walk were rest stops for the walkers, and a chance for them to experience ‘extreme art’. The circular labyrinth was a common symbol on which all the participating artists constructed diverse art installations.
This labyrinth (based on the seed pattern Labyrinth) is an ancient pattern – the path I have made (in Illustrator) is that of the walker walking into and out of the labyrinth.
My labyrinth (for a photo overlay) will be followed by the viewer’s eyes. Thus, the simpler labyrinths at the top will be easier to follow that even the simplest seed labyrinth.
Algeo, John. “The Labyrinth: A Brief Introduction to its History, Meaning and Use.” Quest 89.1 (JANUARY – FEBRUARY 2001):24-25.
McDonald, Meme, Interview with Helen Lyth, 28th May, 2014.
Header image – Mountain to Mouth: Limeburner’s Lagoon labyrinth – Photo Helen Lyth 11/5/14 (the day after M~M).