Labyrinth

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labyrinth

(lăb`ərĭnth), intricate building of chambers and passages, often constructed so as to perplex and confuse a person inside. In Egypt, Amenemhet III of the XII dynasty built himself a funeral temple in the form of a great labyrinth near Lake Moeris. More celebrated was a labyrinth in Crete built, according to Greek myth, by DaedalusDaedalus
, in Greek mythology, craftsman and inventor. After killing his apprentice Talos in envy, he fled from Greece to Crete. There, he arranged the liaison between Pasiphaë and the Cretan Bull that resulted in the Minotaur.
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 to house the Minotaur (see MinosMinos
, in Greek mythology, king of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. He was the husband of Pasiphaë, who bore him Androgeus, Glaucus, Ariadne, and Phaedra. Because Minos failed to sacrifice a beautiful white bull to Poseidon, the god caused Pasiphaë to conceive a lustful
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).

Labyrinth

A maze of twisting passageways; a garden feature of convoluted paths outlined by hedges, often with a garden house at the center; in medieval cathedrals, the representation of a maze inlaid in the floor.
Enlarge picture
Similar to mazes, except they only have one path to the center and out again, labyrinths serve as religious symbols for holy pilgrimages. Fortean Picture Library.

Labyrinth

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A labyrinth is an intricate structure that may include chambers and passageways and is often constructed to perplex and confuse anyone within it. The classical labyrinth is circular, with an entrance and passageways that carry the person along paths parallel to the circumference but ever closer to the center. The idea of a labyrinth as a maze comes from the fact that throughout the maze, the person will find a number of blind alleys. In the modern world, labyrinth-like mazes have been adapted as games, with many shapes and many levels of complexity.

In adapting the labyrinth as a religious tool, most modern exponents draw a distinction between the labyrinth and the maze. While the two are similar at first glance, the maze is seen as a puzzle to be solved with numerous twists and turns, and most importantly, choices between junctions, the wrong choice being a blind alley. Mazes are multicursal; there are many paths. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are unicursal. While possessing a more or less elaborate pattern, they have only one path that leads to the center and bring one out again. As such, the labyrinth becomes a metaphor for pilgrimage. In walking the labyrinth’s path, one is making a spiritual journey to the deepest levels of the self or a spiritual reality. The return path brings one back to mundane reality with a new understanding of the self in the world.

Modern proponents look to the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral as a particularly important example of a religious labyrinth. The builders of Chartres integrated a labyrinth in the blue and white stones used for the Cathedral’s floor, near the entrance at the west end of the nave and adjacent to the baptismal font. This labyrinth (like similar labyrinths in other gothic church buildings) was created in the context of a medieval emphasis on pilgrimage. Many who might want to go on pilgrimage were prevented by various reasons. The labyrinth could be walked, sometimes the path being covered on one’s knees, as a substitute for an actual pilgrimage. The labyrinth at Chartres was used as a substitute for a trip to Jerusalem, a most dangerous pilgrimage site at various times during the centuries of and following the Crusades. The Chartres labyrinth consists of twelve rings. The path slowly takes the pilgrim to a rosette in the middle. Along the path one makes twenty-eight loops, taking on along a complex pattern that moves back and forth across the labyrinth from close to the center and back toward the outside and finally to the center.

Use of labyrinths fell to a low point in the eighteenth century, but they have been revived in the last half of the twentieth century by both Christians and students of the Esoteric realms who share an interest in inner spiritual explorations. For example, Esoteric believers frequently look to what is known as the classical Cretan labyrinth, associated with the ancient Greek story of the Minotaur. According to the stories, King Minos of Crete had a labyrinth constructed to house the half-bull, half-human offspring of his wife Pasiphae and a bull. He then confined Daedalus (who designed the labyrinth) and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth. The two made wings of feathers and wax and flew to freedom, but Icarus then flew too close to the sun and died when the sun melted the wax that held his wings together. At a later date, Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, joined the human tribute paid by Athens to Crete. Put in the labyrinth, he killed the Minotaur and used a ball of string to find his way out.

The labyrinth described in the Minotaur stories is obviously a maze. What is put forth today as the classical Cretan labyrinth is a unicursal labyrinth that takes one around the center seven times before midpoint is reached. It is a mathematically abstract representation of the labyrinth from the myth that was displayed embossed on Cretan pottery and coins. The seven circuits thus become easily associated with a variety of esoteric realities: the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven chakras, and numerous magical correspondences.

Christian proponents of the labyrinth see it primarily as a tool for meditating on one’s presence with God. The most notable contemporary labyrinths are to be found in Anglican churches such as the Cathedral of Saint Philip in Atlanta, Georgia, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Grace Cathedral has two full-size replicas of the Charters labyrinth, one outside and one inside the cathedral, and is home to Veriditas, an association of people who actively use the labyrinth and train people to facilitate it as a spiritual tool.

Sources:

Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
Geoffrion, Jill Kimberly Hartwell. Praying the Labyrinth: A Journal for Spiritual Exploration. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1999.
West, Melissa Gayle. Exploring the Labyrinth: A Guide for Healing and Spiritual Growth. New York: Broadway, 2000.
Westbury, Virginia. Labyrinths: Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Labyrinth

 

in anatomy, refers to (1) the membranous labyrinth, a basic part of the auditory and statokinetic organs in vertebrates and man, or the inner ear; and (2) the skeletal labyrinth, the cartilaginous or bony capsule in which the membranous labyrinth is located.


Labyrinth

 

a term used by ancient authors, including Herodotus, Diodorus, and Strabo, to designate a structure with a complicated and intricate plan. The writers of antiquity tell of several labyrinths. The Cretan labyrinth, according to legend, was constructed by Daedalus for the Minotaur; the famous palace in Knossos is identified with it. The Egyptian labyrinth near al-Fayyum (in North Egypt), which possibly was built during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhet III (19th century B.C.), contained about 3,000 rooms. The construction of the Samoan labyrinth was decreed by the tyrant Polycrates (sixth century B.C.).The Italian labyrinth, which is in the city of Clusium (now Chiusi), was probably the tomb of the Etruscan king Porsena (sixth century B.C.).

In 17th- and 18th-century formal parks a labyrinth was a section with an intricate maze of narrow paths between high walls of clipped hedges.

Figuratively the term “labyrinth” means a complicated arrangement (for example, a labyrinth of streets) or an intricate situation that it is difficult to get out of (for example, a labyrinth of contradictions).


Labyrinth

 

an air-breathing organ in bony fishes of the suborder Anabantoidei. It comprises several narrow bony plates (proliferations of the branchial arch). The labyrinth is located in an outgrowth of the upper section of the gill cavity and covered by a mucous membrane full of blood capillaries. Air taken in through the mouth hits the labyrinth. Venous blood enters the labyrinth by means of an afferent branchial vessel; after it is oxygenated the blood flows into the dorsal aorta and is spread throughout the body. The labyrinth enables the fish to remain out of the water for long periods of time.

labyrinth

[′lab·ə‚rinth]
(anatomy)
Any body structure full of intricate cavities and canals.
The inner ear.
(engineering acoustics)
A loudspeaker enclosure having air chambers at the rear that absorb rearward-radiated acoustic energy, to prevent it from interfering with the desired forward-radiated energy.

labyrinth

labyrinth, 2
1. A maze of twisting passageways.
2. In medieval cathedrals, the representation of such a maze inlaid in the floor.
3. A garden feature of convoluted paths outlined by hedges, usually above eye level; also called a maze.

Labyrinth

maze at Knossos where Minotaur lived. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 185]

labyrinth

1. 
a. any system of interconnecting cavities, esp those comprising the internal ear
b. another name for internal ear
2. Electronics an enclosure behind a high-performance loudspeaker, consisting of a series of air chambers designed to absorb unwanted sound waves
References in periodicals archive ?
The Cretan Labyrinth is a prison without locks or doors, and without guards, and yet it is inescapable.
Of the labyrinths noted by Pliny and others the prime examples are the Egyptian and the Cretan Labyrinth.
The Cretan Labyrinth at Knossos remains the best known, largely as the setting for the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, as well as for the associated characters and events surrounding the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne.
A Critical Study and Translation of Antonio Jose Da Silva's Cretan Labyrinth.