Labyrinths and Mazes

How many of us remember those ancient stories of the dreaded Minotaur, that legendary beast with a bull’s head and human body, who fed on human flesh and was kept in a labyrinth on Crete? Theseus slew it and used a thread to find his way out of this place of dark caves and passages, with innumerable twists and turns, which, to many of us, was an apt description of a labyrinth.

Labyrinths go far back into antiquity, one of the most famous being that created in Egypt, which had three thousand different sections, half of them underground and those above filled with art treasures.

Through the centuries, they were laid out in many countries, and during the thirteenth century were created in many cathedrals as a representation of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the crusades. The accurately geometric design of that at Chartres Cathedral is used today throughout the world, to foster a renewed interest in labyrinths, which started in the nineteen nineties.

The labyrinth has deep significance for many people, and is regarded as healer of past sadness and the bringer of a sense of release. These people talk of a sensation of deep peace, of meditation, as they walk the winding path. A labyrinth has no dead ends, but has just one path which leads, after complex meandering, to the centre, where a pause for meditation is taken before taking the same path back and out. It can take an hour or more to walk a labyrinth. A labyrinth may be drawn out on a level surface, to a specific design and may be planted, usually with low growing plants such as succulents. Or even painted stones.

This renaissance of labyrinths is world-wide, and can often be seen in public places, where people go to find peace and healing.

In Africa, labyrinths have been part of traditional ceremonies and in South Africa, they are now scattered throughout the country – one school encourages pupils to walk their labyrinth prior to taking exams.

There is no doubt that the labyrinth has come to possess great significance for a large number of people who come to walk what is known as the sacred path.

Apart from full sized labyrinths, the laying out of which involves great mathematical precision, some people take
pleasure in creating finger labyrinths, meticulously carved in wood.

At one time, and according to older reference books, a labyrinth and maze were classed together but now there is a strong dividing line between the two. A maze is regarded as a puzzle to be solved in a lighthearted way, as barriers are met, forcing one to turn back.

A labyrinth has no such barriers, with only sharp turns to slow down the walker. England has many mazes, meticulously laid out and planted with high clipped hedges to enclose the paths. Frustrating indeed to feel one is close to the centre, only to be met with a living barrier to turn one back, but certainly diverting. The Hampton Court maze is centuries old, and many country houses have an accompanying maze.

It is wise, if you are entering one of these, to make sure there is someone close at hand to rescue you.

nbsp;he labyrinth depicted above is in the midlands of KZN, and is based on that of Chartres Cathedral, a design which was used in many European cathedrals, and is the most widely used today. Dawn and Deborah Carter removed the grass to demarcate the path meticulously.

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