The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

On a visit to Clivedon in Buckinghamshire, scene of some notoriety in the 1960’s, Rod noticed that a new maze had just been opened. The original had been done in 1874 from a design by Lord Astor. It had fallen into desuetude and this one, in the general shape of a bat’s wings, was formed by 1000 yew trees. It is a great tourist attraction and can be walked with some little difficulty.

The word Labyrinth, meaning in the Greek a ‘Double-Headed Axe’, is celebrated as the myth of the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull, who was kept within and who devoured youth and maidens from the court of King Minos. The hero Theseus entered and slew the Minotaur. He was aided by Ariadne who supplied a thread enabling him to find his way out safely.

The words Maze and Labyrinth are often used interchangeably, being pathways, openings and dead-ends of a meandering nature. Purists make a distinction between the Labyrinth - with one entrance and one end-place (usually the centre) and only a single successful route. This path sometimes has spiritual associations, it being regarded as a metaphor for life’s journey. A maze, by contrast, may have many entrances and many exits and is often prepared and used for fun, entertainment and merriment - perhaps in the form of a puzzle. It is noted that the word equivalent to maze does not occur in foreign languages - labyrinth being invariably used for both kinds.

Mazes and labyrinths can be made of many different substances. Locally, for some years, a maze has been constructed from pathways in a maize field. Some are laid on the floor of a building whilst others are carved in turf or done as a mosaic. Indeed, recently in St Cyprien, in southern France, Rod saw advertised a group of fun mazes made out of wood, metal, bamboo and vegetation. It was called “Labyrinthes aux 1000 Fleurs”.

In the cathedral at Chartres Rod has walked barefoot around the labyrinth laid onto the floor. This is intended to be a contemplative journey known as the Chemin de Jerusalem and did have deeply spiritual implications and relief when eventually meditating in the centre (made in the form of a flower).

There is the occasional deception practised by those who have control over labyrinths. The innocent is met outside and invited to enter. When eventually he gets to the goal - often called the ‘holy of holies’ he finds the master calmly waiting for him inside. The secret lies in a concealed passage which is a short-cut to the centre. This arrangement can be seen at the maze in Leeds Castle.

Whatever the reason for making them, mazes and labyrinths are a continued source of fascination, fun and intrigue.

Rod Dawson

Christmas Edition 2011

Mazes and Labyrinths