Reprinted from Newsletter 115, dated 2005 May

Labyrinth goes back to the starting point

Jim Nagel

A compact and winding route. An entrance at the bottom edge leads to a winding path which loops in an arc back and forth, sometimes getting tighter and sometimes looser, and eventually ends up near the centre. There are no branches, and can be traced start to finish easily.

The labyrinth pattern is found all over the world. It is a meditative exercise, whereas a “maze” is a puzzle.

It’s back to the drawing board for a labyrinth that was to be built as a Tercentennial project. Mendip council had given the green light for it in the recreation ground at the top of Fishers Hill, where Bere Lane, Hill Head and Butleigh Road meet. But at a meeting called on April 4, some neighbourhood residents objected, some quite vituperatively. The committee is now seeking a different site.

The labyrinth pattern is universal, said Sig Lonegren, the author of a number of books on the subject; he lives in Bovetown.

“It is found in Indonesia, India, Scandinavia (more than anywhere in the world, especially Sweden), the Hopi lands in Arizona, Peru and Crete. There are ‘turf mazes’ all over England. The earliest examples are on coins from Crete dating from 500BC.”

Chartres Cathedral in France has a famous labyrinth; other examples are in Ely and Norwich Cathedrals in this country. They are thought to stimulate right-brain activity (intuition rather than left-brain intellect).

In modern usage, the word maze means high walls (like at Longleat) and multiple choices, whereas a labyrinth has low walls and leads in only one direction: inwards.

As for a Tercentennial labyrinth somewhere in Glastonbury, he said: “There is still an iron or two in the fire, but nothing is certain.”

The construction envisaged for the Fishers Hill site was two-inch-wide blue lias sunk just below grass level so as not to impede a lawnmower — like the stones placed to outline the ancient foundations in the Abbey.

The cover of a book. The title is “Labyrinths”, the subtitle “ancient myths and modern uses”, and the author Sig Lonegren, all stylized in lowercase. The text is all white on a bright enhanced-colour photograph of Glastonbury Tor as seen from the sky. The plateaus as the ground level rises on the hill are highlighted by the false colour, looking a little like contour lines, and this is reminiscent of the labyrinth pattern.

Sig’s book Labyrinths: ancient myths and modern uses, first published in the 1990s, is now in its fourth edition (Gothic Image Publications, ISBN 978-0-906362-69-3).