The labyrinth, elaborating the spiral, defines a path into and out from center. It maps a journey from the world at large to the secret core of existence, to the divine source within our center. It charts a path from complexity and chaos to the single point, to the World Navel, the point at which all planes of existence converge, the point through which life force flows ceaselessly to replenish the world.
From ancient times, cultures throughout the worldfrom the Arctic to Africahave delineated the labyrinth. Labyrinthian designs, taking a variety of forms and drawn to a variety of scales, appear on cave walls, stone monuments, grave markers, pottery, coins, and the bellies of clay figurines.When laid out with pebbles or standing stones on the ground, or embedded into sanctuary floors, the labyrinth becomes more than a visual symbol: it becomes the pattern for sacred dance.
The labyrinth establishes the center and protects it; the design structures how we approach the center and how we leave it. As we travel, the circuitous route invites us to shed our own outer layershusks of falsehood, deception, illusion, arrogance. Moving through the labyrinth requires courage, faith, tenacity: at times the path takes you further away from the center, not closer to it.
The journey outward asks that you bring the center with you, bring your renewal with you into the world. It asks that you return to the world with eyes washed clean, blazing, willing to see in a new way, willing to see into to the sacred center which every manifestation of this world harbors within.
In some depictions, the labyrinth displays the coiling of the intestines; it is a "Palace of Intestines" holding secrets, omens, and portents at its core. In ancient times, sensing the belly to be oracular, diviners would consult the entrails of sacrificial animals for guidance. A woman who read such omens was, in Latin terms, a haruspica, literally "one who gazes into the belly."
Some traditions clearly link the labyrinth to woman's belly and to the belly of Mother Earth. In this sense, the design configures the soul's return to the womb for renewal and its emergence from the womb in rebirth.
As a word, "labyrinth" means "House of the Labrys." The labrys is the double-bladed axe invoking the presence of the Goddess and signifying her power of regeneration.
The labrys represents the Goddess' capacity to turn death into life. With its convex blades, the axe reiterates the shape of the butterfly and recalls its transformation from caterpillar through cocoon to winged creature. The open crescent of the axe's upper edge recalls the arc of the uterine tubes curving from the uterus to the ovaries.
In its origin, labyrinth refers to the Palace of Knossos in Crete, an edifice richly decorated with signs of the labrys. In this and other settings, a patterned floor may have structured sacred dance, women dancing on a path leading to the center and out again.
In the Greek telling, what the Cretan labyrinth holds at center is the Minotaur, a monster with human body and bull's head. The Greek hero Theseus succeeds in slaying this monster with the help of Ariadne, daughter of the Cretan king. As he journeys through the labyrinth, Theseus unwinds the ball of thread which Ariadne has given him to mark his route. He finds and kills the Minotaur with the labrys, the double-bladed axe. Then, following the path he has traced on his journey inward, he safely threads his way out of the labyrinth. Having promised to marry her, Theseus takes Ariadne with him as he leaves Crete, then abandons her on the island of Naxos.
With its manipulation of ancient symbols, this story encodes the patriarchal culture's appropriation and despoilation of women's sacred power. For eons the bull, like the labrys, symbolized the Goddess's capacity for regeneration. The bull's crescent horns recall the cycling of the moon through its phases and the cycle of women's monthly bleeding. Its horn-crowned skull reiterates the shape of women's generative organs.
The Minotaur, literally the Moon-Bull, is the sacred symbol corrupted, the power of the Sacred Feminine made monstrous. When Theseus, wielding the labrys, slays the Moon-Bull, he is taking the Goddess's power into his own hands and turning it against her, destroying the Sacred Feminine. When Ariadne, enamored of Theseus, gives him the key to slaughtering the Moon-Bull with impunity, she becomes accessory to her own disempowerment. Her allegiance shifts from the Sacred Feminine to the conquering hero.
Like the story of the pestilence contained within Pandora's box, this story of the monster at the center of the labyrinth vilifies and demonizes the generative potency contained within women's bellies. As does the story of Pandora's box, this myth likely builds upon and revises older stories and traditions.
We can imagine, for example, the original Ariadneher name means "all holy"as a priestess of the Goddess. We can imagine her leading a line of women dancing through the labyrinth, a length of scarves tied end-to-end threading through their hands. The women's purpose is not death but life. They are dancing through the labyrinth to meet the Moon-Bull not in struggle but in ecstatic celebration. They move to meet not a monster but the Goddess and her life-renewing power.