• Illustrated with labyrinths from around the world and throughout history.
• Demonstrates how the labyrinth differs from a maze and how it is a tool for interpreting ancient myths and religious beliefs.
• Draws parallels between the labyrinth and quantum physics, showing how through the secrets of the labyrinth we can unlock the mystery of life itself.
The powerful symbol of the labyrinth exists in countless cultures spanning the globe from Africa and ancient Greece to India, China, and pre-Colombian North and South America. For centuries they have been used for religious rituals, meditation, and spiritual and physical healing. In the labyrinth humanity finds a model of the quintessential sacred space that depicts the most profound levels of consciousness. Its center is regarded in many cultures as a door between two worlds, thus providing individuals with the ideal place for self questioning and meditation.
In a comprehensive exploration of this time-honored symbol, Patrick Conty shows how the geometrical construction of the ancient labyrinth corresponds exactly with today's modern geometry, illustrating that recent developments in math and physics parallel the science of ancient civilizations. By looking at the way the two systems complement each other, Conty draws new conclusions about the ancient world and how that world can benefit us right now. Conty explores not only physical labyrinths but also reveals how the same transcendent principles are at work in Celtic knot work; the designs of ancient Chinese cauldrons; the tattoos and tracings of primitive art; the textiles of Africa, Peru, and Central America; and the geometric patterns in Islamic art.
The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth
Architecture, Hidden Language, Myths, and Rituals
The Labyrinth Is Not a Maze
If I were untied, it would be easy. How to undo this knot, how not to want any more,
or to want to be, or else to want to be the water that can be placed in all vases . . .
. . . Me, I am nothing but knotted knots, I am made of nothing but knots that
resist, that want to be knots. I cannot, I do not want, I cannot, I do not want . . .
--EUGENE IONESCO, JOURNAL EN MIETTES
If the key to understanding the problem of the meaning of the labyrinth is the link between metaphysics and geometry, we should pay particular attention to the geometrical drawings of the labyrinth. Just as there exist many myths and interpretations of the labyrinth, there are a great variety of labyrinths as well as numerous more ambiguous diagrams such as interlacings related to the labyrinth. To avoid getting lost in a field that remains undefined because its contours are indistinct, we must first delimit a smaller territory. If there is no original maze that can be identified in Crete, there is nonetheless a diagram specifically representing the Cretan labyrinth (fig. 3.1). We shall try to establish that this labyrinth is a classic and universal pattern that can be considered a prototype.
The Cretan labyrinth in figure 3.2A, C, and E was engraved on coins and Cretan seals and incorporated into Greek paintings whose inscriptions identify it as precisely the maze described by the myth. It can be found in Roman mosaics and was later integrated into medieval architecture. Although many of these mosaics were destroyed, it is likely that most Western basilicas and cathedrals had this type of labyrinth, or one similar to it, built into their ornamental tiling or pavement. The most famous is the one at Chartres (fig. 3.3).
But the labyrinth is also a Celtic and Scandinavian motif. We find it intact as well among Native Americans, primarily in their basketwork, representing the point of emergence (see fig. 3.4). Among the Hopi, it represents the house of the sun, and among the Pima it is the house of Siuhii, a mythic hero who lived far away in the mountains and whose tracks were so confusing that no one could follow them. Finally, all the important myths that explicitly describe a labyrinth associate it with this same diagram. In India, it is this model that is used as the tantric yantra representing citta, the mind considered as the source of images that we project and by which we perceive the world. This same diagram of the labyrinth is sculpted on a wall of the Halebib temple in Mysore. It illustrates the lethal strategic formation used by the magician Drona in the Kurukshetra battle described in the Mahabharata (see fig. 3.5).
Abhimanyu, the youngest of the Pandava warriors and the most virtuous, is chosen to break this formation at the head of his warriors. He is confident, as he has learned the secret of how to penetrate the formation from his father, Arjuna: "I will penetrate this array like an insect filled with rage entering a blazing fire. . . . Before I was born while in my mother's womb I heard my father describe how to penetrate this array." But he had learned only how to enter the war machine, not how to find his way back out. The formation works like a slipknot, and once trapped in the middle, isolated from his men, he is killed by the surrounding Kauravas. In this story, a principle of exclusion and selection is clearly developed. It seems that Abhimanyu's perfection leads to his downfall because he is but a sum, an accumulation of qualities that have not been integrated into a synthesis. Compared to Abhimanyu, Theseus seems closer to the hero described by Robert Musil in The Man Without Qualities.
Part 1: The Enigma
1. The Götland Labyrinth
2. The Enigma
3. The Labyrinth Is Not a Maze
4. The Trace of the Ritual
5. The Equation and Its Solution
6. The Bound Universe and the Eternal Return
7. The Woven Myth
Part 2: The Solution
8. The Malekula Ritual and the Story of Aneas
9. The Living and the Dead
10. A Puzzle of Myths
11. The Malekula Nahals
12. The Temple as a Knot
13. About Knots
14. The Origin of Language in Dogon Myth
15. The Hidden Language of Nature
Part 3: The Geometry of the Labyrinth
16. The Ball of Thread and Ariadne's Technique
17. The Geometric Crossing
19. Axis and Center
20. The Hopi Labyrinths
Part 4: The Maze
21. The Concept of the Maze
22. Why a Four-Dimensional Knot?
23. The Equivalence of Samsara and Nirvana
24. Different Aspects of Reality
25. The Cord
26. Labyrinths within Labyrinths
Part 5: Images of the Labyrinth
27. The Image, the Whole, and the Changing Aspect
29. The Tennis Ball and the Path of the Grandmother
30. The Book of Durrow: the Reversal
31. The Labyrinth in Painting
32. A Labyrinth Practice
33. Structuralism and Contemplation
34. Now What?
Part 6: Myth and Meaning
35. Meaning and the Mythic Path
36. The Crossing of Codes Evokes Space
37. Physics, Anthropology and the Continuous Whole
38. Circumambulation and Revelation
39. Cretan Seals and the Art of the Whole.
David Appelbaum, editor, Parabola