How walking a labyrinth can trace a route to self-knowledge


EXCERPT: [...] This is not merely a personal preoccupation. Culturally, mazes are now massively resurgent. Practically every country park has its hedge maze, mirror maze or maize maze – and so do a growing number of churches and cathedrals. In virtual reality, notably, the maze forms the basic substructure of innumerable videogames. So why do mazes draw us in? And what do they do to us while we are there?

Instinctively, we sense that mazes and labyrinths are essentially metaphorical – even if it is not always clear what they represent – which explains why it’s so common to seek the meaning of the maze in myth. According to the ancient Greek story, as retold by the Roman writers Plutarch and Ovid, Minos of Crete demanded a tribute from the city of Athens in the form of seven young men and seven women. They would be imprisoned inside the Labyrinth created by Minos’ brilliant architect Daedalus, and there sacrificed to the Minotaur, a monstrous creature born of the unnatural union between Minos’ wife and a white bull.

[...] Through all these [historical] transformations, the maze remains inherently metaphorical and paradoxical. It insists on being read, and read symbolically. This is also true in modern labyrinths, but something crucial shifts. The symbol at its centre – in labyrinth terminology, the home, goal, sanctuary or temenos – is no longer the Minotaur or Cupid. It is an empty space waiting to be inhabited by the self.

At the hedge maze at Longleat in Wiltshire, you encounter close, intense silences as you run the maze, but they are frequently punctured by sudden, loud shrieks....


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