Labyrinths, Mazes, and the Creative Life
Today, we're going to explore the sacred geometry of mazes and labyrinths, discovering what they can tell us about our wild and cosmic creativity.
So, what is a labyrinth? A labyrinth is a sacred ancient symbol, and many of us may be familiar with the classical image of a circular, spiralling pathway with one route to the centre, such as at the famous Chartres Cathedral.
The word 'labyrinth' comes from the ancient Greek, and though its history is somewhat mysterious, it may mean 'double-bladed axe', which is believed to have been a symbol of the goddess Artemis - a goddess of the moon and the wilderness.
So the labyrinth may be seen to have a distinctly feminine and creative energy, linked to nature and the inherent creativity that is woven into the universe and planet earth.
There is a Greek myth, too, in which Daedalus is summoned by King Minos and tasked with building a labyrinth to trap the Minotaur - a monster with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man, which may symbolise how we shut away the things we don't want to look at in the depths of our subconscious mind. This is a place that we can often access through our creative pursuits and in free writing, where we write quickly and freely without self-editing.
We may, too, sometimes describe things as 'labyrinthine', meaning complex and complicated, or tangled, intricate, and maze-like.
However, in practice, a maze is very different from a labyrinth. Though they may look similar, a maze is a place where we go to lose ourselves, to puzzle our way to the centre, and to successfully navigate our way back out again. A maze has multiple pathways, dead ends, and the ability to choose the direction that we take.
In myth and legend, a maze is a trap for the trickster and the monster - and in ancient Scandinavia, Troy Town mazes were often built in coastal areas to trap storm-winds and protect seafarers.
A maze involves, in folklore, the mitigating of a risk by trapping what might trip us up, and the taking of a risk in order to reach our destiny.
In a maze, we are responsible for making a choice or a wrong turn, and we are also capable of turning around and finding the path that will lead us to the centre and home. Indeed, in a maze, we have to puzzle it out or we will remain in the maze forever!
Contemplating the nature of a maze can raise interesting questions for us to ponder. How do we lose ourselves creatively? What are the monsters that we try to trap because we fear to face them? When have we had to make a decision, taken a wrong turning, or had to navigate our way back to our starting point?
The maze is a great metaphor for life and for our creativity. In life, we sometimes cannot see the way ahead clearly, we may doubt the path we have taken, and we often take 'wrong' turns that sets us off our desired path.
However, much like our experience within a maze, we ultimately realise that we are more than capable of sticking it out, puzzling it out, and finding our way out.
A labyrinth, though, is very different. In a labyrinth, we simply cannot get lost. They are often unicursal, meaning that they have only one path, or multicursal, meaning that they have more than one path - but in a labyrinth, each path leads us straight to the centre, with no puzzling out required.
This is a metaphor not for the twists and turns of our everyday journey through life, but for the life of our soul.
However confusing and maze-like our life and creative path may sometimes feel, we are all ultimately on a sacred pilgrimage of the spirit. We are all seeking a pathway back to our self, back to wholeness, back to source - and this pathway is deceptively simple to find. All we have to do is slow down and turn inward.
But, just like a maze, the simplicity of this path can be tricky to find as we navigate through and past the thickets and brambles of our multi-layered and meandering mind.
However, as we mindfully walk the simple spiralling path of the labyrinth, our state shifts, becoming more and more meditative - and with each and every step, we come closer and closer to finding our self and to finding enlightenment and clarity.
I invite you now to take a moment to step out of time, to place your hand on your heart and to take a breath and turn your gaze inward. Can you get a sense of yourself, of your timeless true nature, of your connection to something divine that is both within you and beyond you? Can you see yourself as something separate from the decisions of your life? Can you see what makes you 'you', even if everything else was taken away from you? Can you gain a glimpse of the 'star stuff', as Carl Sagan once said, that runs in your blood?
The universe is both chaotic and mysterious like a maze, and orderly and simple like a labyrinth - and it is only in considering both types of sacred geometry that we may uncover a clearer sense of the true nature of life, of ourselves, and of the source from which our creativity comes. In the ultimate paradox, we may discover that we are both living in, and creating from, the maze and the labyrinth.