Ancient Myths and Modern Uses
Revised and updated fourth edition
The Seed Pattern
Most mazes are just games. Like the Hampton Court maze, or the hedge maze at Longleat, both in Britain, mazes have many paths and are meant to confuse or baffle. They offer too many choices, and the walker is never sure which way to go since there are purposely no clues at points where the path diverges. These mazes are meant to be exercises for the analytical left brain."Have I been at this point on the maze before? Yes? Then I must take the other path this time." They are artificial mysteries, little puzzles. Games.
A labyrinth is a unicursal (single-path) magical tool. It is magical in that through the conscious use of the labyrinth, answers to questions can come, spiritual awareness can be enhanced, the path ahead, in the confusion of the labyrinth's convoluted path, can somehow (magically?) become clear. It's your choice to enter the labyrinth, but once you have, there is only one way to go – back and forth, back and forth – until you reach your goal, the treasure at the center.
At Pontevedra, Spain, labyrinths pecked out of rock have been dated to around 2000 BCE, and in Pylos in southern Greece, a tablet with a labyrinth has been dated to 1200 BCE. Coins from Crete, decorated with labyrinths, date from around 300 to 70 BCE.We'll focus on this particular classical labyrinth and consider some of the many variations created since those early labyrinths.
DRAWING A LABYRINTH
Drawing a labyrinth is really quite simple. Get a sheet of paper. Start with a cross with dots in the center of each of the four quadrants. That's the seed pattern (See Step 1 below).
Now start at the top of the cross, and with your pencil draw a loop either up and to the left to the dot on the upper left-hand quadrant, or up and to the right to the dot in the upper righthand quadrant. For the sake of this exercise, we'll go up and to the right (Step 2).
Then from the corresponding dot in the upper left quadrant to the right-hand end of the horizontal line (Step 3).
And from the end of that horizontal line around to the dot in the lower right-hand quadrant (Step 4).
And finally, from the dot in the bottom lefthand quadrant all the way around to the bottom of the vertical line (Step 5). This is called a lefthand labyrinth because the first turn as you walk in is to the left (See the drawing below). If your first move in drawing it had been up and to the left you would have created a right-hand labyrinth.
Please make three of these left-hand classical three circuit labyrinths. Draw the simple forms on a clean sheet of paper. Please get a pencil and paper now.
It's really important for you to make the labyrinth with your hand as well as with your mind. You'll "gnow" – know both rationally and intuitively – why later. Suddenly you'll just feel it. Please make three left-hand labyrinths now (first line, starting from the top of the cross, goes up and to the right).
Congratulations! Now you know how to draw a labyrinth. There's something very special about making a labyrinth yourself. It happens the fifth or sixth time you make one. It's really quite easy to understand how to make one intellectually once you know the secret, but after you draw it half a dozen times, your hand stops knowing how to draw one and starts gnowing how to do it.
That's why throughout the book you'll find opportunities to draw many more of them.Please take these opportunities because they will help you to understand this magical tool in ways that will not be open to you if all you do is read or just think about it. Drawing the labyrinth offers another way of knowing.
BACK TO BASICS: SOME TERMS
There are some basic labyrinth terms that you need to know. The entrance is called the mouth. You walk on the path (also called a circuit). The path is delineated and contained by the walls. The labyrinths you've drawn so far have three paths that finally lead to the goal. These paths are numbered starting with the outside path as number one and ascending toward the goal.
It's dry down there on the San José pampa, near the town of Nazca in southwestern Peru. It's one of the driest places on the face of this Earth. It rains only half an inch (1.25cm) every 2 years.
Around 500 CE, before the Incas, at the time when the Mayan civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula of southern Mexico was nearing its zenith, in this parched corner of Peru, the amazing and industrious Nascan civilization was at its peak. The Nascans had constructed marvelous aqueducts that brought water from high in the Andes Mountains many miles to the East. These aqueducts are still in use today, and the water turns some of what otherwise is a parched desert into lush, intensely cultivated farms.
The Nascan people made the most colorful pottery in all of Peru. Their clay bowls and dishes were decorated with all kinds of designs and animals. While the animals on their pottery are well worth the journey, it is the enormous animals and other forms carved out on the floor of the pampa that have created the most interest.
It's flat. Real flat. While there are mountains or even higher plateaus going up on all sides, at 500 feet (150m) above sea level the Pampa San José is a perfect sacred Earth artist's canvas. The surface is pure white gypsum, but because of the paucity of rain, the conditions are ideal for desert varnish – manganese, concentrated by various microbial life forms, covering the entire surface of the chalk-white pampa with a reddish-brown varnish. In order to paint on this canvas, the Nascans merely had to remove the top layer of varnish. This can be done easily with a broom.
And that's just what they did. There are lines all over the place that come together, like spokes of different widths on a wheel, at hubs called ray centers.So, if you can imagine, the entire pampa is dotted with these slightly raised ray centers with their straight lines going out and coming in. Some go out to other ray centers, and other lines go out into the desert and just peter out – some at smaller mounds.
One of the first writers to popularize Nazca and the San Jose pampa was Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods. He felt that Earth had been visited by superior life forms from other solar systems, and that the rectangular patches that are also on the pampa along with the lines and ray centers were landing strips for their alien spacecraft.
In addition to the straight lines and the rectangular "landing fields" for von Daniken's flying saucers, there are a series of animal and other shapes that are each made with just a single line. I was in Peru with Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer from Colgate University, noted for his books and articles on pre-Columbian astronomy.
Also with me were Gary Burton, a gifted anthropologist from Colgate, and Tom Zuidema, an anthropologist from the University of Illinois who had rediscovered the ceque system in Cuzco. Ceques (pronounced "Se-kayz"), a Spanish word from Peru, are leys: straight lines, paths, or alignments of huacas, or holy sites.
At Cuzco, forty-one of these lines come together at a place called the Coricancha, the Temple of the Sun. It was the major Incan temple in the Incas' capital city. In Britain the preferred term is leys, because they follow exactly the definition of leys given to us by Alfred Watkins in the 1920s in his book The Old Straight Track. "Ley lines are alignments of holy sites."
While it was the lines and their potential astronomical significance that brought me to Peru, it was the single-line animals and other odd shapes that ultimately captured my imagination. One of the figures on the pampa is a mirror image of the classical three circuit labyrinth!
Compared to most figures and shapes on the waterless pampa, the Nazca classical three circuit labyrinth is quite small, only 15 yards (13.5m) or so across. It's a mirror. The line marks the path rather than the walls, so you walk the line. Also, there is an escape route directly out from the goal. We will see more of this escape-route modification later.
All kinds of animals are depicted in the desert canvas: a hummingbird, a thunderbird, a lizard that is over 700 feet (210m) long (unfortunately split by the Pan-American Highway), a pelican, a shark, a dog, to name just a few. Tom Zuidema calls them "labyrinthine figures" – magical unicursal figures. They are totems or power animals. Many so-called primitive societies use totemic animals. For example, one might take the eagle as a power animal able to soar to great heights and see great distances. Someone else might take the bear as a totem to gain ferociousness. The labyrinthine totemic animals at Nazca were walked in a ritual way to gain or assume the power of the particular animal.
Two totemic animals, the spider and the monkey, have particular significance to me. The spider has the usual complement of eight legs, four on each side.The line that makes the 45 yard (40.5m) arachnid comes in or begins (analogous to the classical labyrinth's mouth) at the next-to-last leg on the right-hand side of the spider and then goes around, outlining this arachnid with its round abdomen eight legs, head, and 8 foot (2.4m) jaws. It goes back along the two front legs on the right-hand side and out the other side of the same leg you walk in on. This labyrinthine spider has been identified with a variety of spider that lives beyond Nazca on the other side of the Andes Mountains. This particular female spider carries her eggs only on a certain leg, a fact which was only verified in the 1950s with a microscope.Would you care to guess which leg it was? You guessed it: the next to last on the right-hand side.
By walking this labyrinth with intent, you can pick up the energy of the spider – a strong power animal all over the Americas. You enter and exit the labyrinth spider at a point which focuses on fertility, reproduction, and continuation of the species.
The monkey labyrinth is also interesting. It is over 80 yards (72m) long, just a bit less than the length of a football field. You begin your labyrinthine walk of the monkey along one of two parallel lines entering the monkey at its rectum, or root chakra. For the sake of this discussion, let's take the left-hand path.
This leads up and back from the end of the monkey's spine to form a spiraling tail of just over four turns to the center and then turns around and goes outward to form its back. The line continues up to the head and arms (one hand has five fingers and the other has four), down the belly to the two feet (each with three toes) and out the root chakra of the animal, on a line parallel to the incoming one. Like the spider, this monkey is not indigenous to Nazca. It comes from the opposite end of the country, up in the mountains of northeastern Peru.
Spirals like the monkey's tail are found in many parts of the desert that encroach on the town of Nazca. One such place is Cantalloc, just south of town. On a small pampa are four figures that Maria Reiche, the grand old lady (wise woman) of the Nazca lines, called "Needle and Thread".
Maria Reiche was born in Germany and has been working on the Nazca figures since just after World War II. She has done more to save these fragile figures and lines from destruction than anyone. She has devoted most of her life to re-sweeping the lines and researching them. I had the honor of going with her to the Needle and Thread at Cantalloc. It has a long isosceles triangle, cleared out like von Daniken's landing strips out on the Pampa San José. At the tip of this 1,000 yard (900m) needle, a path zigzags its way thirteen times along the shank of the needle. Each of the four needles and thread at Cantalloc is located on long narrow mesa-like fingers coming out from a hand. The turns on the zigzags are at the edge of the narrow mesas, bouncing back and forth, from side to side.
As a dowser, I found crossing underground veins of water at each of the V-shaped corners of the zigzag path. Like the 180 degree turns on the labyrinth, these water-marked turns on the path symbolize turning points, places to drop burdens. The inside of these crossings were often marked with small piles of stone.
Roughly at the needle's eye, the zigzag path turns into a spiral with slightly more than five turns. Like its monkey-tail counterpart, it then turns on itself and goes out again, only to be lost somewhere under the needle.
There are some who claim that this zigzag path and spiral form a kind of ceremonial race path. By running that specific path, the runner came to gnow something on the spiritual level. Other cultures run labyrinths. (Kids naturally run them.)
This needle-and-thread pattern is also found in the United States in Adams County, Ohio, at the Adena Indians' celebrated Serpent Mound. Like the ones in Cantalloc, Peru, it was constructed around 500 CE, sticks out on a promontory, and is basically a serpent with (perhaps) an egg in its mouth.More important, like the thread it zigzags (seven times) back toward its tail, coming close each time to the edge of the narrow promontory. Once again, my dowsing indicates water under each turn of the serpent's body. At its tail, it goes into a tight spiral, like the eye of the needle in Peru.
The Cantalloc Needle and Thread and the Serpent Mound in Ohio were built at about the same time. Both are zigzags and have spiralshaped figures. Both conform closely to the promontories on which they are found. The zigzags, in both cases, are over underground veins of water. Both figures terminate in spirals and are found out at the pointed end of the particular promontory.
While these coincidences suggest that these two distant sites might be related, it's not my intent to convince you one way or the other. The thing to see here is, while they don't look like the classical ones, all these figures are examples of labyrinths – magical unicursal paths.
CLASSICAL SEVEN CIRCUIT LABYRINTH
The classical seven circuit labyrinth is the form of a single-path magical tool used most widely around the world. It is based on the cross and four dots of the classical three circuit labyrinth. However, there is one difference. In the classical seven circuit labyrinth – four right angles ("Ls") have been inserted, one between each right angle of the cross and its corresponding dot.
Just as you did with the cross and dots, begin at the top of the cross, go up and to the right; only, this time, the line ends at the top of the "F" in the upper right-hand quadrant. Let your hand flow to the left to pick up the next starting point, in this case the top of the backwards "L" in the upper left-hand quadrant; then draw on around to the dot in the upper right-hand quadrant, and so on.
On a sheet of paper, please draw it yourself three times, beginning with the seed pattern on the right.
Allow yourself lots of room on the paper. How many paths (not counting the goal) does it have?
Labyrinths are found all over the world. While they don't all follow the classical labyrinth form, they are all magical unicursal mazes.The O'odham (Papago) Indians of the American Southwest have weavings and pottery painted with drawings of what they call the Man in the Maze. While the turns initially angle inward toward the center, it is essentially identical in basic construction to the classical seven circuit labyrinth.
Frank Waters in Book of the Hopi describes the labyrinths of the Hopi: "The whole myth and meaning of the Emergence is expressed by one symbol known to the Hopi as the Mother Earth symbol. There are two forms, the square and the circular.
"There are one circular and five square symbols ranging from 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15cm) in diameter carved on a rock just south of Oraibi (a Hopi village in northern Arizona), and one circular form about 9 inches (22.5cm) in diameter carved on a rock south of Shipaulovi. A combination of the two forms is also carved on a wooden stick, which is planted in front of the One Horn altar in the Kwani kiva at Walpi during the Wuwuchim ceremony.
"The symbol is commonly known as Tapu'at (Mother and Child). The square type represents spiritual rebirth from one world to the succeeding one, as symbolized by the Emergence itself. In this drawing the straight line emerging from the entrance is not connected with the maze. Its two ends symbolize the two stages of life – the unborn child within the womb of Mother Earth, and the child after it is born, the line symbolizing the umbilical cord and the path of Emergence.
Turning the drawing so that the line stands vertically, at the top of the page you will see that the lower end is embraced by the U-shaped arms of the maze. The inside lines represent the fetal membranes which enfold the child within the womb, and the outside lines the mother's arms which hold it later.
"The circular type differs slightly in design and meaning. (It is the classical seven circuit labyrinth.) The center line at the entrance is directly connected with the maze, and the center of the cross it forms symbolizes the Sun Father, the giver of life. Within the maze, lines end at four points. All the lines and passages within the maze form the universal plan of the Creator which man must follow on his road of life; and the four points represent the cardinal or directional points embraced within this universal plan of life. ‘Double security' or rebirth to one who follows the plan is guaranteed, as shown by the same enfoldment of the child by the mother.
The additional meaning that this circular type offers is that it also symbolizes the concentric boundaries of the land traditionally claimed by the Hopis, who have secret shrines planted along them. During Wuwuchim and other ceremonies, the priests make four circuits around the village to reclaim this earth ceremonially in accordance with the universal plan.
"A structural parallel to this mother and child symbol is the kiva (the circular underground Hopi sacred space), itself the Earth Mother. The sipapuni, the small hole in the floor, represents the womb, the place of Emergence from the preceding world, and the ladder leading out through the roof for another Emergence to the succeeding world is the umbilical cord. Enactment of the Emergence is given during Wuwuchim, when initiates undergo spiritual rebirth." (Waters, pp.23 - 24)
BRITISH TURF MAZES
In Britain, they are called turf mazes,or Troy towns. Like the chalk-hill figures of England's south, turf mazes need ongoing maintenance to keep them from disappearing. At the Uffington Horse, a chalk-hill figure cut into the side of a hill in Oxfordshire, they held a celebration every 7 years to recut the horse. I have a turf maze in my front lawn in Vermont, and I can assure you that it needs constant attention.Without maintenance, sooner or later the grass just takes over. As a result, there are only a few turf mazes left.
While labyrinths are found all over the world, by far the greatest concentration of them is on the Scandinavian coast of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. Between Sweden and Finland, there are literally hundreds of stone labyrinths. All the ones that I have seen are based on the classical labyrinth pattern.
There are many examples of the seven circuit type in Scandinavia. One of the most used ones is the Lindbacke Labyrinth on the edge of the small city of Nyköping, which means "new shopping". Sweden is still rising from the pressure of the last ice age. Since the time of the Vikings, quite a bit of new land has literally risen out of the Baltic Sea.
The Lindbacke Labyrinth was built on the edge of the Baltic. Now the entire new shopping town of Nyköping is between the labyrinth and the sea! I visited this particular classical seven circuit labyrinth on several occasions with Dan Mattsson, a Swedish dowser, and his son Manfred. It was quite easy to see where the shore had been when it was built, only 25 feet from the mouth of the labyrinth. Today, Swedes use it all the time – lovers, picnickers, kids on school outings, and many others.
The walls of Lindbacke are made of boulders a bit smaller than the average head. The overall shape is much like an acorn: rectangular at the end where the mouth is, and circular at the opposite end.
The Scandinavians have taken the classical seven circuit labyrinth several steps further.Visby is a 13th century walled city on Gotland, an island off the southeast coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea. During its heyday,Visby was a center of trade for all of northern Europe. Just north of the city is Galgberget, or Gallows Hill, which is honeycombed with tunnels. (Actually much of Gotland is honeycombed with natural tunnels.) At the base of the hill, within sight of the Baltic, is one of the best preserved of Sweden's labyrinths, called Galgberget.
It is an expanded form of the classical seven circuit labyrinth. Instead of one "L" in each of the quadrants, there are two. The result is called a classical eleven circuit labyrinth.
Make a few of these yourself. The process is the same. Start at the top of the cross, and this time, go up and to the left (counterclockwise) to the top of the first backwards "L" (in the top left-hand quadrant). Then lift your pencil and go over to the top of the innermost ‘L' in the upper right-hand quadrant. Loop over your first line to the top of the second "L" in the upper left-hand quadrant And so on… (See seed pattern on the right.)
Perhaps the most exciting stone complex that I saw in Sweden was centered around a tall, truncated human-made hill west of Stockholm at a place called Anundshög, near Västerås in Västmanland. At the base of this impressive hill are two large ship settings (stenskeppen). They look similar to the stone rings of Britain, but instead of being circular, they are shaped like the Viking ships, vesica shaped. A vesica is formed when two circles (usually of the same size) intersect. The vesica is only that part of the circles which intersect. In addition at Anundshög, there is a long stone row, various smaller burial mounds, and an impressively tall rune stone.
When a glacier retreats, at times it leaves long piles of gravel. These glacial moraines point in the direction of the retreat (usually in a northerly direction). For labyrinth seekers at Anundshög, the feast is at the southern end of a nearby glacial moraine. (Most of the earlier Swedish labyrinths are found at the southern end of similar moraines.) This one, called Tibble, is certainly part of the Anundshög complex and is the most complicated classical labyrinth I've seen. It has three "Ls" in each quadrant! The turf has grown up since it was built, and some of the stones are under the surface. John Kraft worked out the plan by probing the stones with a thin iron rod. It is a classical fifteen circuit labyrinth.
The Knights Templar, members of a military religious Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, was formed during the aftermath of the first Crusade. Established by Hugues de Payns in 1118 for the protection of pilgrims, initially the Templars were a band of nine knights who were quartered beside Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.Much of their history is surrounded in myth and intrigue, but one thing is certain. Upon their return to Europe, they instigated one of the most innovative and massive architectural campaigns in modern European history with the Gothic cathedrals.
Many Gothic cathedrals initially had labyrinths in them. Unfortunately, for various reasons many of these labyrinths have been removed. Fortunately, there is one in particular that has remained relatively unscathed. It is found in Chartres Cathedral, southwest of Paris, in France. Chartres, built on an earlier pagan site, dominates the countryside around it. The result of massive dedication of the people of that area, Chartres Cathedral and the labyrinth were built in only 29 years.
The magnificent labyrinth is found in the nave of that majestic cathedral.
Most cathedrals are laid out like a cross. If you imagine the rather grisly image of someone hanging on that shape, the nave is the long bottom part of the vertical line, the bottom of the body. As you walk down the nave toward the high altar at the other end of the cathedral, the labyrinth is at the thighs, and when you come to the outstretched arms, this vertical line is the transept. Where the head would be is the choir and the high altar.
In astrology, each sign of the zodiac rules a portion of the body. Aries rules the head, Taurus the neck, Gemini the lungs and hands, and so on down the body The thighs are ruled by Sagittarius, which corresponds to the long journeys and pilgrimages we take in our lives. The Chartres Labyrinth is for pilgrims, many of whom did that labyrinthine journey on their knees.Try walking the white path of the labyrinth with your eyes.
Perhaps you're familiar with the magnificent stained-glass rose window that is directly above the main door of the nave at Chartres. It is almost the same distance above the floor as the labyrinth is down the nave from the front door. This circular rose window and the Chartres Labyrinth are almost the same size. If you could imagine there being a hinge at the end of the nave where the main doors are, and if you could fold the front facade down toward the altar, the rose window would almost lie directly on top of, and would be congruent with, the labyrinth. The light of that famous window and the darkness of the pilgrimage are one.
As with the classical seven circuit labyrinth, we will talk more about the potential uses of the Chartres Labyrinth later on. For the moment, please notice that it is divided up into four obvious quarters, and that each of these quarters has seven 180-degree turns. If you count them correctly, there are also seven paths on the classical seven circuit labyrinth.
In this book, I use only illustrations of labyrinths I have personally seen. Obviously, many more are dotted all over the Earth. In China, as early as 1000 CE, rectangular labyrinths made of incense were used to measure time. Each straight length of incense took a known amount of time to burn, so in a ceremony, for example, as the incense came to a corner, the celebrant knew it was time to get on to the next part of the ritual.
Egypt has the oldest known maze, built around 1800 BCE by the pharaoh Amenemhat III of the XII dynasty. First identified by that great antiquarian and Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1888, it is located near the town of Hawara, south of Lake Moeris, near the modern town of El Fayûm.
This nightmare labyrinth was 1,000 feet (300m) from east to west by 800 feet (240m) from north to south. It was enormous with many,many rooms. According to tradition, it had between 1,500 rooms above ground and 1,500 rooms below ground, but it wasn't a labyrinth. One had to make literally hundreds of choices while working one's way through this early maze.
There are many other places where labyrinths can be found, from the walls of Pompeii in Italy to the Hollywood Stone in Ireland; from a Roman type of labyrinth in Turkey to Zulu mazes in Africa.
In this book we cannot possibly cover the whereabouts, geography, and age of all the labyrinths in the world. Rather, we will work with ancient myths and modern uses.The point is that labyrinths, magical unicursal paths, are found pretty much all over the world. There are several good books dealing with where they are, their history, and who might have built them.
I want to explore the earliest stories about them, which might give us a hint as to how we can use labyrinths, these magical tools of sacred space, today.
In this chapter we have talked about various magical unicursal paths, focusing on the classical labyrinth and how to make it. In the process we have looked at labyrinths in various parts of the world with specific examples in North and South America, and in Europe and Scandinavia. The classical labyrinth in its various forms is found in all of these places but in different forms. It is these diverse forms that are fascinating to me. They lead the seeker into mirror after mirror. The left-hand labyrinth mirrors the right-hand one.
Draw one on a plain piece of paper with a dark pen. Determine whether it is a left-hand or right-hand labyrinth.Now turn the paper over and hold it up to the light. Voilà! You see the mirror! The Nascan classical three circuit labyrinth mirrors most other labyrinths. On the classical three circuit labyrinth, the path is in between the lines or walls.At Nazca the path becomes the line, and the walls disappear. It acts as another mirror.
This shifting back and forth, positive and negative, light and dark, is part of what labyrinths are all about. Psychics and others who travel in other nonphysical realms like the astral world report that polarities are switched. Left becomes right. Future becomes past. In dowsing the chakras, I find that their polarities shift alternately as I move up the spine from the root chakra to the crown. Mirrors represent these shifts. Labyrinths help the individual make them.
LESSONS IN GNOWING
At the end of each chapter are exercises designed to help you "gnow" more about these ancient spiritual tools. Remember, gnowing uses both intuitive and rational faculties. At this time, the most important exercise is to keep on drawing classical seven circuit labyrinths – the ones with one "L" in each quadrant.
Please use the seed patterns here to make three left-hand (up from the top of the cross and to the right) classical seven circuit labyrinths. You can copy the seed patterns from this book by hand, using pencil and paper, or with a photocopier; then draw your labyrinths.