Having penetrated the cave whose small opening was barely visible on the mountain's innocent-looking flanks, he found himself in a deepening cavern whose corridors disappeared into a further more interior gloom. Without thought he gravitated towards one on the right side and began to explore its uneven trench extended in a hollowed curve away from the entrance cavity. The walls grew dimmer but he perceived that they had been marked and hewn with a chisel from the living rock. A few faint pictograms momentarily obtruded themselves in the gloom, to be swallowed up. They nudged his consciousness as he moved along, drawn by an irrepressible sense of curiosity. He accepted the inevitability of his progression without thought or plan and was barely aware of what he was doing until he came to the first branching in the tunnel. Here he devised a simple scheme, deciding to choose the right-hand corridor each time he came to a branch. This served him well until he began to be confronted with multiple branchings and the suspicion that some he had pursued were loops that led back to junctions from a different direction. It was not long before he was lost.
The darkness was complete and corridor walls suddenly gaped beneath his touch where branches ushered in their musty, echoing air. The horror of his dilemma overcame the futility of effort and he groped on in desperation, believing in his ultimate delivery into the entrance chamber and out of the cave. But muffled sounds troubled his ear and the inner sighing of the mountain's breath reminded him that the labyrinthine tunnels must lead to a goal of some kind, a centre not easily found. Even in his despair he wondered what it might be and what might be in it. A distant melancholic moan dampened the small spark of his renewed curiosity and the prospect of a cruel and unwitnessed death delivered by some terrifying monster flooded his brain and caused his body to convulse in fear. Far cry was this from the maze games he had played at fairs as a youth. The ironic comparison briefly interrupted his terror and he remembered the sign that used to be posted at the entrances to the hastily constructed labyrinths. He saw the words very clearly:
Like a children's jingle, the lines recalled the horror that had been met, for at the end of the tortured course was placed a full-length mirror. Perspicacious though it had been, the joke mocked him now and he was forced by the abyss of sheer terror that yawned before him to take stock, calm himself and begin to think just what it was that he had gotten himself into.
Suiting his dilemma, a classic definition of the labyrinth asserts that it is the structure of a pattern so complex that once inside it is difficult to escape. It can be a series of caverns, a complex building, a design, a closed or open path, a dance, a game or a walk. It is often underground and shrouded in darkness, but the outside and the inside of the labyrinth are sharply distinguished and it must fulfil certain criteria to be worthy of the name. To be properly called a labyrinth, such a patterned structure must entail the work of artifice. Natural caverns may be labyrinthine but a labyrinth is planned. There is a purposefulness of design involving a journey which is really a puzzle, necessitating a certain degree of complexity. The path in the labyrinth must be continuous and there must be an entrance communicating the interior with the exterior.
Basically there are two types of labyrinths: the unicursal or non-puzzle pattern and the multicursal or puzzle pattern. The unicursal type is used by mathematicians to describe a class of problems dealing with the shortest route between two given points involving a method of tracing a figure without covering any part of it more or less than once. It is 'once run' or a 'single course'. Its single route leads into a centre and out again with no choice or puzzle arising. It takes one over the maximum ground, doubling back on itself continually but never crossing itself or branching. In a unicursal labyrinth one is closest to the centre just after entering but then it veers away, and one is forced to journey afar through a tortuous pattern to get back to the centre. In fact, the traveller may be very close to the centre repeatedly but has no way of knowing it. It is always a question of sticking it out to the end.
The multicursal labyrinth is designed with the intention of confusing and puzzling and it contains blind pathways. Its branches may be simple or subdivided and they may or may not rejoin the main path. The goal may be situated at the final extension of what seems to be the main path or it may be located within such a branching loop. To tread this type of labyrinth requires knowledge of a key to solve the problem. Of the most famous labyrinths of the ancient world, the one located at Lake Moeris in Egypt seemed to have combined elements of both types. Herodotus visited it in the fifth century before the Christian era after Egypt had been divided into twelve nomes, whose kings agreed to leave a combined labyrinthine memorial of themselves. "I found it", Herodotus wrote, "greater than words could tell, for, although the temple at Ephesus and that at Samos are celebrated works, yet all the works and buildings of the Greeks put together would certainly be inferior to this labyrinth." He claimed that it surpassed even the pyramids. "It has twelve covered courts, with opposite doors ... all communicating with one another and with one wall surrounding them all. There are two sorts of rooms, one sort above, the other sort below ground, fifteen hundred of each sort, or three thousand in all."
Herodotus was allowed to pass with a guide through the upper rooms only, the lower being strictly prohibited to visitors. Thought to have been built over four thousand years ago, in the time of Herodotus the stone roof and walls were yet beautifully carved and the intricately bewildering pattern of rooms and courts majestically adorned with elegant white columns. Five hundred years later Pliny referred to this same structural wonder as "the most stupendous work on which mankind has expended his labours". He dated its construction at thirty-six hundred years before his time and marvelled that the lapse of centuries had been unable to destroy it. He went on to describe the colossal statues of the gods therein and the great halls reached by steep flights of ninety steps. He stated that some of the enormous doors opened with a terrifying sound "as of thunder" and that most of the halls were shrouded in total darkness.
Beside the careful description of this architectural wonder, the more famous labyrinth at Knossos in which the Minotaur is said to have dwelt appears very sketchy in its outlines. Tradition suggests that it was built by Daedalus, the renowned and clever artificer and engineer at the court of Minos, the Minoan king. It was designed so as to be impossible to discover the exit once inside it, and at its centre was housed the monstrous offspring of Queen Pasiphae, to whom the youth of Attica were supposed to have been regularly sacrificed. Within the framework of this ancient story the myth of Theseus flourished, placing him, the son of the Greek king Aegeus, amongst the youths sent to Crete as sacrificial tribute. Many know the story of Ariadne giving him the sword and thread with which he slew the Minotaur and made his escape out of the labyrinth. But no ones knows the shape of that maze of corridors or where it is actually to be found. The rooms of the elegant palace of Minos at Knossos were so numerous and labyrinthine in design that some came to believe the palace itself to have been the labyrinth. Others have contended that it is to be found in the convoluted passages within the side of Mount Ida at Gortyna. There, in 1770, an intrepid French explorer described how the dangerous part was near the entrance where, if a man stumbled upon the wrong path, he would soon become so "bewildered among a thousand twistings, twinings, sinuosities, crinkle-crankles and turn-again lanes, that he could scarce ever get out again without the utmost danger of being lost".
As far back as Neolithic times, ground plans, pictographs and various emblematic renditions of the labyrinth appeared predominantly in Europe and Asia. It came to be a popular design on the coins of many Mediterranean people and even appeared as border motifs around temples, houses and at the edges of garments. The famous Greek meander pattern is very like the elements of the swastika labyrinth pattern at Knossos. A rounded version of this simple unicursal pattern became conventionalized and was often portrayed on coins bearing a portrait of the Minotaur. Earlier, Egyptian amulets sported labyrinthine designs with up to five false turns in them, whilst some, like the Minoan swastika, contained a star or moon at their centre, which may have symbolized Paradise regained or death at the end of an illusory journey.
Great mystery and dread surround the centre. Death there may lead to immortal life, or it may be delivered by the hands of the lurking murderer as in an ancient Chinese mystery novel, or by a mindless freak of Nature. The centre may be the springboard into another world of enlightenment, and the path leading to it may be likened to the world which is easy to enter but very difficult to leave. The labyrinth is a knot to be untied rather than cut through, and it is surrounded by an aura of difficulty and danger which, nonetheless, lures as surely as life lures the soul into birth and towards the unknown. One recalls the midnight passage of Damodar Mavalankar who, awakened by his Master, followed him unhesitatingly along a lengthy oceanside pathway which suddenly turned into the sea. There, on a small island, a twisting path and thick bushes concealed the entrance to a hidden building which no one could have found unless the occupant wished it. Damodar's description of the vaulted nature of his instructors and of the secrets imparted to him in that labyrinthine sanctuary offer inspiration to anyone who ardently desires to solve the great puzzle of life, but no one can succeed in this until the power at the centre of the puzzle permits it.
The confusion that one experiences in life's labyrinth is much like that undergone in a mirror maze, where hundreds of distorted reflections compound the difficulty of discovering the passageway that may lead to the goal. The maddening glitter of fragmented thoughts and endlessly changing glimpses of one's own nature coexist like a modern gloss painted over the "tragic gardens, with dark avenues of intertwisted ilexes immeasurably old" that form the buried labyrinths of our collective karma and our unconscious self. The tangled web woven long ago runs like an underground maze beneath the convoluted movements of our busy lives. But if one understood the pattern of the pathway, perhaps one would then possess a key to understanding not only individual or collective twists and turns but what the whole broader pattern is about in the first place. Some have thought that labyrinths were symbolic of the sun's annual or sidereal course in the heavens. The spring maze dances and sacrificial rites may well have originated with man's effort to greet the sun back on its course to the centre of the sky. Or, as H.P. Blavatsky asserts, the progression of Races, sub-races, family-races and various sidereal and sub-sidereal cycles was recorded by the labyrinths, pyramids and zodiacs of old. Thus, the individual as a microcosm treads the pathway of a labyrinth which is both unique to his own perception and reflective of a broad universal pattern to which all levels of life address themselves.
Plato used the term 'labyrinth' to depict an elaborate argument, whereas Theocritus used it to designate a fish trap. Lytton Strachey compounded meanings by once writing that the prince consort "attempted to thread his way through the complicated labyrinth of European diplomacy, and was eventually lost in the maze". 'Maze', a word of Scandinavian origin, simply means confusion, bewilderment or dreamy aimlessness and could never be given as a name to a gigantic amphibian of the Carboniferous age like the labyrinthodont, though one may concur that it was an apt term to use in connection with the prince consort. 'Labyrinth' is a very old term which takes its root, la, from a proto-Indo-European source meaning 'stone' (as in) labyrinthos, which means 'place of stone'. The term describes a stone axe and, married to inthos (a pre-Hellenic word for 'place1), means literally 'the place (or house) of the Stone (double) axe', the emblem of Minoan culture.
The oldest labyrinths in the world are probably hidden or forgotten, but pictograms of them amongst American Indians as well as ancient stone and pebble constructions in Scandinavia or ground mazes built by the Zulu indicate that the idea is extremely old and very widespread. A fascinating diffusion of ideas in the Old World resulted in the common use of the name Troy to describe earth or turf mazes and labyrinths. In Britain they were (are) called Troy Towns because of the difficulty to be overcome before reaching the centre. The Welsh called them caerdroia ('the walls of Troy'), which is related to Caer y Troiau ('the City of Windings or Turnings'). Troy Towns were also known in Scandinavia as 'Giant's Street', 'Troll's Castle' or the 'Ruins of Jerusalem'. In medieval Greece they were often referred to as 'Solomon's Prison', which preserves the central idea that runs through all of these examples, which is the puzzling barrier that must be followed until an entrance leading to the central interior can be found.
In medieval Europe, the labyrinth took on peculiarly Christian meanings. It was sometimes seen as representing the path of ignorance leading to the devil (represented by the Minotaur) in the centre. Its convolutions became, thus, the entanglements of a sinful life. Some church labyrinths, however, may have been designed as symbolic pilgrimages for those who could not (or would not) go to Jerusalem. Most of these labyrinths were mosaic patterns worked into the forecourts of twelfth century cathedrals and were often called chemin de Jérusalem. Others were constructed earlier and sometimes included the motif of Theseus slaying the Minotaur at the centre. Not all were constructed on the ground, and where people wished to avoid the arduous trip to Jerusalem or even the penitential act of walking along the mosaic pattern, they might turn to wall labyrinths wherein their symbolic pilgrimage could be made less arduous still - being performed by the rapid tracing of the index finger. At the cathedral of Poitiers there is a wonderful tree-like labyrinth wherein one exits by the same door one entered and, while encountering no stops on the way to the centre, one may have looped the loop many times before getting there. The intention behind the design is nowhere divulged, but it easily reminds one of the repeated incarnations that seem to be required of the human soul before enlightenment can be achieved.
As the intellectual dreariness of the Middle Ages was replaced gradually by more refreshing and tolerant ideas, imaginative notions intimating the ancient Mysteries resulted in the design of remarkable labyrinthine gardens and hedge mazes. Those fashioned 'after the ancient manner' were of very complex patterns planned to bewilder and confuse. A fantastic labyrinth at the palace garden of the prince of Anhalt, Germany, allegorically typified the course of human life. It was composed of hedges, rocks, trees, streams, caverns and tortuous deep-cut paths that were very dark and often covered over. At each turn the visitor was met by some puzzling or terrifying allegory or inscription or, sometimes, by a beautiful statue or flowery dell. Some constructions, like the marvellous Labyrinths de Versailles erected for Louis XIV (destroyed in 1775), exemplified grand flights into the realm of engineering fantasy. There were in this garden thirty-nine groups of hydraulic statuary representing Aesop's fables, each speaking character in the groups emitting a jet-stream of water. Others, like that at Hampton Court, were genuine puzzles which some tried to thread with the help of a formula. These were often called 'wildernesses' in which one could manage to lose one's way, a slip of the memory or imperfect transmission of the formula resulting in much confusion. One is reminded of the delightful episodes depicted in "Three Men in a Boat", where the over-confident Harris volunteered to conduct a party through the Hampton Court maze. "Well just go in here", he said, "so that you can say you've been, but it's very simple. It's absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first turn to the right. Well just walk around for ten minutes and then go and get some lunch." Poor Harris!
In 1886 an elderly English gentleman recalled the lively pleasures sixty years earlier of running the turf maze called Julian's Bower, forty feet in diameter. He described how the villagers of Alkborough played May-eve games around it "under an indefinite of something unseen and unknown cooperating with them". Some of the English Troy Towns are indeed associated with ancient earth-works and scenes of magical lore. This, coupled with their similarity to the mosaic pavement labyrinths of early Christendom and the patterns of the most ancient designs, lends to the lowly turf maze the wonder of antiquity and of hoary practices which, though occult in nature, have always been known to humankind. Like the city of Troy itself, they are shrouded in myth and mystery which is scarcely dispersed by an etymological investigation of the name. Many say that the word 'Troy' comes from the Celtic tro, which means 'to turn in rapid revolution' or to 'dance through a maze', but others push it back further and claim it may come ultimately from the Sanskrit dru, meaning 'to run'. It is significant that the name was not used by the inhabitants of fabled Ilium itself but was popular amongst others in the Mediterranean world at that time. In Northern Europe Troy Town' was used over five hundred years ago as a title for the Cretan labyrinth, and much earlier the Etruscans and Romans made the same connection between Troy, Knossos and labyrinths or mazes of other sorts.
This description could equally suit the complicated steps of the dance celebrated by Ariadne and Theseus on the island of Delos, where they went through the motions of threading the labyrinth. They were also the motions of the ancient Roman funeral ceremonies and of the myriad Troy Dances and Games that tradition preserved through the centuries. There is much to ponder in Carl Jung's observation that many of his mental patients who were not able to draw a maze were more than happy to dance one for him! An ancient tradition it must be which could well up like deeply etched memories from previous lives. The labyrinthine pattern is more than just fascinating to people; it is familiar. We have at some time been there before: in the spring meadow, the corridor of initiation and the fortified city. The labyrinth permits and prohibits at the same time, and it is a double action we know by heart. We also intuitively understand why the labyrinthine design on temples, houses and clothing borders could keep out evil and permit entrance of that which is in sympathy with the interior. Even the simple villager of an older England or a more timeless India makes tangle-thread chalk designs for such apotropaic reasons, never knowing, perhaps, that he is doing what was done by ancient hierophants long ago.
Just so was Troy surrounded by walls and blinds through which even the persistent Greeks could scarcely penetrate. Tactical labyrinths have comprised walls, moats, trenches, ramparts and blinds of all sorts since the earliest cities. The walls of Jericho were not merely walls but part of a system of blinds constructed to protect the sacred centre of a labyrinthine city. Homer, in referring to Ilium, frequently mentioned the 'sacred veil' of the city. Troy was called Troy* by many because it was labyrinthine, which is what the term 'Ilium' means as well. It is certainly significant that in his siege upon the city, Achilles bore a shield on which Oceanus encircled the "dancing floor of Ariadne". It is also meaningful to recall that the walls of Troy were often referred to as Cyclopean, which literally means 'Ring Wall'. The Ring Wall pierced by the Greeks seems to have been echoed in the piercing of the Cyclop's single eye by Odysseus, thus inviting the intuitive to unravel the occult symbolism veiled in these shifting legends. The Secret Doctrine suggests that the latter act was linked with the loss of the sacred Third Eye, and with the sack of Troy there was surely an analogous loss. For in the crumbled debris of Ilium's walls lay all that was left of the tradition of Mystery Religions and priestly Kings that marked an earlier Eastern era.
Thus was the chapter on a more antique race closed. A circling was made in the labyrinth marking cycles, and a movement towards the West was effected which heralded a less spiritual yet more cerebral phase in human evolution. In the ancient story, Aeneas, son of Ilium (Priam), left the ruined city of the Mysteries to seek a new polis of the gods. His adventures took him finally to the Land of Death (the West) and Rebirth called Cumae. In considering this journey one cannot but think of how the motherland of the East (India) has looked to the West and experienced Death (loss of spirituality) before Rebirth in our own cycle. In the Aeneid the story seems to be referring to a subcyclical reflection of the events affecting a much earlier transition from the Third to the Atlantean Race - events which laid down the pattern for many circlings to come in later races. At Cumae, Aeneas goes to the temple of Apollo (the Sun) on whose gate is depicted the emblem of the Cretan labyrinth and the Minotaur. There he is met by Diana (the Moon) and escorted within the temple labyrinth down into Tartarus, where he learns about the origin of men at their birth and whither they go at death.
The travels of Aeneas to the 'death' of the West are almost identical with those of Gilgamesh and even King Arthur's journey to mythical Avalon. In fact, the plot has been told over and again in cultures around the globe and clearly depicts the initiation through death of the mutable into the immortality of spiritual enlightenment. The labyrinth often plays a major role in these stories, for it provides an apprenticeship for the neophyte who must learn to distinguish the correct path. Such practices were intimated by H.P. Blavatsky, who revealed in the last century that "it is a fact, known to the Initiated Brahmins of India and especially to Yogis, that there is not a cave-temple in the country but has its subterranean passages running in every direction, and that those underground caves and endless corridors have in their turn their caves and corridors". This was true also at Epidaurus, where labyrinthine walls concentrically encircled the tholos temple of Aesclepius, and it was probably true at Eleusis where a 'blind march' was preliminiary to full initiation. Shakespeare shows the court party in The Tempest as coming through "forth-rights and meanders", and in the Gospels, Christ went through trials and temptations in the 'wilderness' (maze) before fully taking on the mantle of enlightenment.
La means 'stone' and the journey into the labyrinth is a descent into Mother Earth. A solar guide shows the entrance place, but a lunar guide or sibyl leads the traveller into the labyrinth itself, just as Ariadne showed Theseus the way. The labyrinth is presided over by a goddess, governed by a god and walked by a man. It is the god who is the Judge of the Dead, whilst the goddess provides the means of reaching judgement. The thread-soul partakes of her very substance and must be followed by man to its solar source. He makes a journey much like that depicted in the Egyptian Book of Gates, wherein the solar barque penetrates the first gate in the underworld by magic and so on to the eleventh gate, where the barque is drawn "through the body of the Boat of the Earth". Like Initiates of many other traditions, Aeneas descends into the earth in submission to the sun god (Apollo) and the moon goddess (Diana) in order to realize a true marriage of heaven and earth within himself. Only then can he be fit to establish a new sacred city of the gods and of man. He must fulfil this initiation in the West in order to establish therein the ancient Mysteries of the labyrinth and set the stage for a new mode of consciousness and collective order.
Alone, huddled against the stone fastness of the twisting corridors into which he had stumbled, the lost man sat thinking of all these things. He had calmed himself and taken stock of his situation as well as he could. Thinking about the age-old puzzle of labyrinths and the sacred symbolism attached to them had given him a much needed objectivity and convinced him that nothing ever happened except under karma, and it was therefore significant that he found himself in this predicament. It began to dawn upon him that he had entered into the first stages of initiation and that it was up to him what he made of it and whether he would succeed in passing its trials at all. Having thus decided, he set about trying to think out an actual method of progress that might enable him to locate the goal of this particular labyrinth as well as retrace his steps back to its entrance. He recalled the rather pedantic guidebook he had once casually read which advised visitors to hedge mazes that they should rely upon marks made at nodes (where paths branch off at a juncture). On arrival at a node, the reader was told, you should mark that path by which you just arrived with three marks. If you see, by marks on other paths, that you have already been to that node, mark the arrival path with one mark only. If each path at this node is already marked, you must retrace your steps. If, however, there are one or more unmarked paths leading from the node, select one of them and mark it with two marks as you enter it. You can now make it a rule that on arrival at a node, one should never take a path with three marks unless there are no paths unmarked or with one mark only. When one enters a one-mark path, one adds the two marks always made on leaving a node - making it a three-mark path at that node.
The details of this approach swam in his head for a moment until he realized that in the complete darkness surrounding him he would not be able to see many marks at all. He thought of carving them so that he might trace them with his fingertips but realized that he could not be sure of marking entrances to new pathways correctly across a node. Stretching out in the darkness, he might put the wrong mark on the wrong entrance and confuse himself further if he looped around and approached it coming from another direction. He realized that those who chiselled out these corridors long ago may well have had a formula outlining successions of turns to the right and left, but it was not available to him and he would have to rely upon something much more fundamental to find his way. Even in the extremity of his situation he was aware that the possible methods that might enable him to thread the labyrinth successfully were strikingly analogous to the mental process he was rapidly having to adopt. In the end he decided that the only solid approach would be the long and painstaking one. He would have to rely on endurance in traversing the long course more than he could upon knowledge of the way. Thus he began inching his way, one hand over the other, feeling every bump and scar in the wall as he went. There was no way he could know whether the overall pattern was a unicursal or multicursal one, and so he could not really know if his persistence would, in fact, take him on a single course to the goal, or if he would endlessly double back through deadends and blinds. He realized the risk but simply decided that there was everything to lose and nothing to gain by not attempting the journey, and he chose to place his faith on the route itself.
It was very important to place his hands closely together, for sudden crannies provided good landmarks if needed, and it was hard to rely upon tiny drafts to signal the nearness of a branch. At certain points the air made itself felt but it was not always constant, and he came more and more to rely upon touch as the means by which to gain some knowledge of the terrain. He consoled himself, recalling that he had once been taught that ninety percent of the thoughts and winds of emotion that pass through us are irrelevant. They merely clutter up our minds and senses to the point where it is almost impossible to become single-pointed enough to hit the mark or find the goal. He resolved that, deprived of sight and a formula providing a key, he would block out all irrelevancies and focus all his intelligence and Buddhic perception through his fingertips. He would rely upon them to give him intimations of the broader plan. Through them the sense of equilibrium maintained in the labyrinths of his inner ears would be expanded, and he would begin to feel the balance of the complex corridors in his aura. As his sense of touch increased, he moved along more rapidly, almost unconscious of fatigue. He did not know how long he had been moving nor did he contemplate how much further he would have to go. Nor was there any way of knowing how many of the possible corridors he had felt his way so painstakingly along when he heard a humming sound and became aware that he was approaching some sort of powerful presence there within the bowels of the earth.
He knew he was approaching the central goal of the labyrinth, and it occurred to him that he might indeed be approaching his death. Rapidly, like shards of previous fears, pictures of the monster, the sinister murderer, the faceless devouring agent, rushed through his consciousness. But he had come too far, schooling his thoughts and nurturing a faith stronger than the chiselled stone around him. The tortured fears were banished and he advanced towards what now appeared to be a dim light reflected off the tunnel wall. Whatever waited for him, even death itself, he would meet it squarely. For he had given over his whole life to this sacred quest, focussing everything in him upon the threading of the labyrinthine path until he had become it. He accepted it completely as himself and with it, whatever the goal had in store.
Slowly he rounded the corner from whence the light emanated and beheld before him a threshold leading through a doorway into a lighted chamber. He stepped forward blindly, unable at first to see clearly in the new-found light and thus stumbled slightly over the threshold and into the room. There, before him with kaleidoscopic effect, a rapid succession of sounds and images accosted his senses. Crashing towards him, a gigantic bull-headed man raised his terrible club, only to break into a million wrinkled fragments which fell limply onto the floor. Immediately behind where he had stood, a mirror reflected back the image of a startled-looking, freckled boy who was quickly whisked aside by the hands of one whose physical beauty was surpassed only by the divine radiance of pure spirituality that shone from his face. The man stared at him and then prostrated before his radiance. He could not see, for his eyes were swimming with tears. He could not tell how long he remained there, but he heard the deep melodious voice that swept over him and said: "I have waited for you a long time,"