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Labyrinth Symbols and Meaning


Labyrinth Symbolism

From rock carvings throughout Europe to friezes in India, from ancient Greek coins to Hopi woven baskets, labyrinth symbols have been a part of our global culture for thousands of years.

The labyrinth has served as a metaphor for our path through life, been used to trap evil spirits, to mark the path of sacred dances, used as a form of calendar and as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

This page is dedicated to uncovering the symbolism of the labyrinth. As the labyrinth occurs throughout many countries and is a part of many religions and spiritual practices, the symbolism and meaning behind the labyrinth is great and diverse. For this reason I will always consider this page to be a work in progress. I will be continually adding to this page as I uncover the mysteries.

Photo used from Public Domain by SiGarb

The Labyrinth as a Symbol of Unity

The circle has been observed in nature since the beginning of time, the most obvious examples being the sun, moon and planets. Traditionally the circle was associated with completion, wholeness, the universe, feminine energy and as a symbol for Mother Earth.

Medieval scholars saw the circle as perfection and believed there to be a connection between the circle and the Divine. It is no accident then that labyrinths were designed with the circle in mind.

The beauty of the labyrinth is that no matter which religion you belong to or if you are Atheist or Agnostic, we can all be united within the labyrinth.

Labyrinth Origins

The word 'labyrinth' is of pre-Greek, perhaps Minoan origin. The Greek word 'labyrinthos' can literally be translated as 'place of the double axe' with 'labrys' meaning 'double axe' and 'inthos' meaning 'place of'. The double axe can best seen in the geometrical Medieval labyrinth. The center of the axe, where the two halves meet, bisects the labyrinth.

Image of Minoan labrys used under Creative Commons from Xenophon.

Image of Medieval labyrinth used from the Public Domain by Den fjättrade ankan.

The seven circuit Cretan labyrinth, sometimes called the Classical labyrinth, is the oldest known labyrinth design and is associated with the famous Greek legend of King Minos of Knossos in Crete. King Minos orchestrated for a labyrinth to be built as a hiding place for the Minotaur, his wife's illegitimate half-human half-bull offspring.

As legend is told, every nine years King Minos required fourteen tributes from Athens: seven boys and seven girls destined to become food for the Minotaur.

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Theseus, son of Athenian King Aegeus, sailed to Crete to destroy the Minotaur. King Minos' daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and provided him the means to return from his mission - a ball of string which he unwound so he could find his way home.

The labyrinth represents our journey through life, which is never in a straight line and can often be fraught with hardship. The thread represents our connection with God, Spirit or our own inner wisdom. The Minotaur is our Shadow Self which we all must confront at one time or another in our lives.

Photo, silver coin from Knossos circa 400BC, used under Creative Commons by AlMare

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The Classical or Cretan labyrinth is one of the oldest labyrinth designs. The seven circuits represent the seven chakras, the energy centers of the body connecting the physical with the spiritual. The term 'chakra' is derived from the Sanskrit word for 'vortex'.

The Chakras

First Chakra - Root Chakra, associated with the colour red and the fire element. This chakra is our root, our ability to be grounded and to survive in the world, our primal instincts. The root chakra is located at the base of the spine.

Second Chakra - Sacral Plexus Chakra, associated with orange and the water element. This chakra represents our sexuality and creativity, our ability to connect with others and houses our emotions. The sacral plexus chakra is located approximately two inches below the navel.

Third Chakra - Solar Plexus Chakra, associated with yellow and the fire element. This chakra relates to self-confidence and our ability to value ourselves. The solar plexus chakra is located in the belly near the lowest rib.

Fourth Chakra - Heart Chakra, represented by green and the air element. This chakra is connected with our ability to express love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. The heart chakra, located at the heart, has a special role connecting the personal chakras (1-3) with the collective chakras (5-7).

Fifth Chakra - Throat Chakra, associated with the colour blue and the earth and ether elements. This chakra, located at the throat, is responsible for self-expression and communication.

Sixth Chakra - Third Eye Chakra, associated with indigo and the water element. This chakra is responsible for intuition and clairvoyance. The third eye chakra is located at the brow between the two physical eyes.

Seventh Chakra - Crown Chakra, represented by the colour purple and the fire element. This chakra, located at the crown of the head, is responsible for our connection with God / Spirit (depending on how you define it). The balance of the other six chakras highly influence our connection to Spirit.

Our ability to walk through life as balanced individuals is greatly influenced by our chakras. If one chakra is out of balance then this affects the balance of all the chakras. Walking the Classical labyrinth is a tool for connecting with ourselves and balancing the chakras.

Chakra Subtle Anatomy Poster

The path of the labyrinth does not run a linear progression from first to seventh chakra. Rather, when you walk the labyrinth you are immediately guided to the third circuit representing the solar plexus chakra. We immediately face the issues pertaining to our own self-worth. The third circuit leads us too the second circuit, which represents how we relate to others. It is only after experiencing this that we continue through to the first circuit to become grounded and in touch with our primal instincts. Then we are led to the fourth circuit, the heart chakra, to get in touch with the heart of the matter, our emotions pertaining to love and forgiveness. After delving into these issues we continue through to the seventh circuit, our connection with God or Spirit. Notice at this point we are almost at our goal, the center. We are then led away from the center into the sixth circuit, our intuition and clairvoyance. We proceed through the fifth circuit, self-expression, and then arrive at the center.

Image used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

The Hopi Labyrinth

The Hopi natives of Arizona recognized the power of the labyrinth and wove the seven circuit labyrinth into their baskets. Their version is a variety of Classical labyrinth that is radial in nature and has the entry path originating from the top rather than the bottom.

The 'Man in the Maze' is a Hopi version of the labyrinth symbolizing life, the choices we make and the twists and turns of our life journey towards unity - the center. A variation on this without the man represents the Mother and Child, a symbol of rebirth.

Man in the Maze Gold Print by SpiritEnergyToGo

Hopi Mother Child Symbol T-Shirt by theredsun

Chartres Labyrinth Design

Chartres Labyrinth Design

Symbolism of the Medieval Labyrinth

The Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth is Rich with Symbolism

During the 13th century labyrinths grew in popularity. They were redesigned to be more complex and symmetrical incorporating Christian symbolism including the cross and the rose. The result was the Medieval labyrinth.

The most famous Medieval labyrinth is the eleven circuit Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

In aerial view the cross can be seen dividing the labyrinth into four quadrants. These quadrants represent the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), the Four Directions (North, South, East and West) and the four Gospels. They also represent the four seasons as the labyrinth may have been a form of Medieval calendar.

As a nod to the origins of the labyrinth, the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth originally had a bronze plaque in the center depicting the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. However, the plaque was ultimately removed and melted down during the French Revolution.

The exterior of the Chartres labyrinth is adorned with lunations, partial circles separated by cusps. There are 114 lunations in total but one has been removed to make way for the entrance. The remaining 113 lunations are separated by 112 cusps. If you divide the number of cusps by the number of quadrants you get 28. This fact has created speculation that the labyrinth was once used as a sort of lunar calendar.

Another interesting symbol for the lunations exists in the Qur'an. There are 114 suras (chapters) and the first sura is called 'The Entry'.

An interesting thing to note: According to Australian Architect John James, the length of the path is is exactly 365 1/4 feet based on the foot length of the mason who constructed the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth. This represents the Earth's path around the sun, a calendar year.

Photo used under Creative Commons from Dupuis pierre

Celtic Labyrinth Mousepad by Find Joy

The Rose, Aphrodite's Flower, The Flower of Life, Seven Circles

The flower at the center of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth

There are several options and opinions for the symbolism of the six-petalled flower at the center of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

The Rose represents love, beauty, purity, spiritual awakening and enlightenment. In nature roses have five petals and it is hypothesized the rose in the labyrinth center has six petals to represent Mary, the Holy Spirit and Divine perfection.

Aphrodite's Flower is a six petalled flower representing the Goddess and Divine sexual energy. The number six is associated with femininity and is considered a perfect and Divine number.

The Flower of Life is an example of Sacred Geometry as it is formed exclusively from overlapping circles. The six petals are said to symbolize the six days of creation or the six kingdoms: Animal, Human, Plant, Mineral, Angelic and Unknown. The Flower of Life has the same shape as a snowflake symbolizing water which is essential to all life.

Another possibility is that the center is based on seven circles - six for the petals and one in the center. Seven is a mystical prime number associated with the Virgin. As Chartres Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this is fitting.

Images: Aphrodite's Flower and Flower of Life used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

Labyrinth Symbols: Sacred Geometry

Throughout time specific numbers have been deemed sacred. Sacred geometry refers to utilizing these numbers and ratios when building structures that have religious, spiritual or archaeological importance. In doing this, whoever visits the structure has the potential to have a powerful spiritual experience and be closer to God, Spirit and the Divine.

The numbers seven and twelve are considered sacred and play heavily in the make-up of the Medieval labyrinth as do the numbers three and four.

Three - Represents Heaven, the soul, Spirit, the Holy Trinity. There are three 'almost' ninety degree turns in the first and fourth quadrants.

Four - The four quadrants. Represents the physical body and the Earth.

The quadrants are separated by either three or four labryses (junction of two 180 degree u-turns) except for the first and fourth quadrants which are separated by the entry pathway.

Seven - Seven 180 degree turns per quadrant, seven circles in the center. Seven is referred to as the number of initiation when pertaining to an inner journey. Seven represents the uniting of our spiritual and physical selves as three plus four equal seven.

Twelve - Eleven circuits plus the center. Three multiplied by four equal twelve, symbolizing the integration of the body and soul.

The Labyrinth as a Symbol of the Divine Feminine - Embracing the Dark Feminine

Sylvia Senensky is a Jungian analyst trained in Zurich, Switzerland. She has lectured world-wide about the labyrinth, its connections with Feminine Archetypes and has hosted labyrinth workshops and retreats. *Full Disclosure: the author is my stepmother.

The path of the labyrinth is very instructive when viewed as a metaphor for life. The path into the labyrinth runs parallel to the path into the center. This way we get a look at our goal right from the start. Rarely in life do we set our sights on a goal and immediately achieve it. It takes planning, hard work, patience and persistence. Our efforts are rewarded when we achieve our goal.

The labyrinth is a good example of the concept of 'delayed gratification'. We would like to arrive at the center of the labyrinth, but it won't be the same and won't be as meaningful if we cross over lines and just walk straight in. Completing the labyrinth path in its entirety will yield the greatest reward. The journey is as important as the destination.

Within the first ten 180 degree turns we will walk past the center twice approaching it from both sides. The path of the labyrinth takes us through each quadrant several times. It is interesting to note that the path only leads to the nearest quadrant before doubling back. For example, the outermost circuit beginning in the first quadrant leads through to the edge of the second quadrant, completes two more turns through the second quadrant before continuing on to the third quadrant.

When you are getting close to the center, it looks and feels like you are the furthest away. The labyrinth path takes you along the outermost circuit through the third and fourth quadrants before turning inward and arriving at the center.

I don't know about you but I find that when I'm closest to achieving my goals it sometimes feels like everything is going wrong and all is lost. Then I turn a corner, everything slips into place and there is my goal. I have learned to apply the lessons learned from the labyrinth to life. Those times when you feel hopeless and that nothing is working out, often you just need to hold on a little longer, and then your resolution appears.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Evercat

Labyrinth Canvas Print from Amazon

Books on the Labyrinth and Symbols

Symbolism of the Goddess Labyrinth - Also Called the Baltic Labyrinth

The Goddess labyrinth, also called the Baltic Wheel, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. This labyrinth is different from the other labyrinths because it has two entrances. One path leads you through the usual twists and turns expected of a labyrinth, the other takes you directly to the center. You can choose any combination of paths to walk.

The Goddess labyrinth is based on the double spiral. Sometimes a tree is incorporated in the center, and sometimes the center can be elongated to visually represent the Goddess. The Goddess Labyrinth represents a return to the womb to be nurtured, healed and reborn.

The most famous Goddess labyrinth is 'Das Rad' in Hanover, Germany.

I'm working to acquire an image of the Goddess labyrinth for this lens, but for now here is a link to an image:

The earliest labyrinth in India, dating as far back as 2500BC, was the Classical or Cretan labyrinth design. But in the last few hundred years BC, another labyrinth arose. Based on a battle formation described in the Indian poem Mahabharata, the Chakravhura labyrinth has a spiral leading to the center.

This labyrinth is also referred to as the Hecate labyrinth. Hecate is the mystical Greek goddess of witchcraft, crossroads and entrance ways and is associated with the moon. She is described as having the triple nature of the Maiden, Mother and Crone. She is often linked with the labyrinth due to her associations with knowledge and life.

Image used from Public Domain by AnonMoos

Grace Cathedral Labyrinth Canvas Print from Amazon

Search for More Books about the Labyrinth from Amazon

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Labyrinth Symbols Guestbook & Comments

DebMartin on June 03, 2013:

Thanks for the information on the Chakras. Very interesting lens.

anonymous on June 01, 2013:

I've been planning on making one for the last few months with growing vines, but the undertaking has been too much for me. I've always been fascinated by the link with nature and the Divine. As an oblete I always felt more spiritual praying there then in the church...the labyrinth seemed like, a sanctuary in nature.

writerkath on May 31, 2013:

Lovely! My brother builds labyrinths - something I never thought he had in him! But they are lovely. I'm glad to see a lens on this topic!

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on May 30, 2013:

I enjoyed this so much. It was full of detail and explained everything so thoroughly. I loved the way the products were tied in so they just seemed to flow with the narrative.

Takkhis on April 21, 2013:

I did not know that i would find this lens very interesting, once i started reading it i could not stop reading! Great lens :)

BrandonCase on March 28, 2013:

Very cool lens! The origin story with the Minotaur was quite interesting, and I'm happy to see a mention of the Hopi.

I was born in Northern Arizona, and grew up with an archeologist, so we went on digs to the Anasazi ruins and found a number of bowls with designs very much akin to the ones depicted here :).

Tara Wojtaszek (author) on March 09, 2013:

@Aunt-Mollie: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it : )

Aunt-Mollie on March 06, 2013: