They tell that the Minotaur was a monster, half man, half bull, who dwelt in the labyrinth. They tell that Theseus was a brave youth who determined to kill the Minotaur. They tell that Ariadne was a princess who fell in love with Theseus and gave him a thread to guide him. They tell that Theseus marched unfearingly into the labyrinth, braving the bellowing monster at its heart, and that he met the Minotaur and slew it. They tell that he emerged a great man who in later years won the love of many women and gloriously conquered many lands.
They do not tell us that Theseus was afraid, but refused to acknowledge his fear. They do not tell us that as Theseus heard the Minotaur’s bellows, he realised that they were songs, sometimes so sad that he wanted to weep, sometimes so joyful that he wanted to dance, but that he suppressed these feelings and marched on. They do not tell us that when he met the Minotaur he saw that the beast-man had his own features. They do not tell us that he was so enraged by this that he instantly killed the Minotaur. They do not tell us that, confident that nothing of the animal remained in him, he went on to rape many women, calling it love, and to kill many people, calling it glory.
This is how it was and still is and should not be.
This is how it was in the deeper past and how it could be again.
Theseus knew it was time for him to enter the labyrinth and confront the Minotaur. He was afraid and so he asked the Goddess Ariadne for a token, as it was in her service and for love of her that he was going. She gave him a thread from her web, which is the world, to remind him that the dark labyrinth too was her realm, and that She who he loved could be found in darkness as in light. He entered the labyrinth, afraid of the Minotaur’s bellowing but hopeful that he could do what was needed. As he moved in deeper he realised that the bellows were songs, sometimes so sad that he wept, sometimes so joyful that he danced. At the heart of the labyrinth he confronted the Minotaur and discovered that it had his own features. Joyfully he embraced his brother and they danced and sang, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Finally the handsome youth began his journey out of the labyrinth leaving the beast-man at its heart. He returned the thread to the Lady Ariadne who wove it once more into her web as a connection now between the ordinary world and the mysteries of the deep labyrinth. In the heart of the labyrinth Theseus remained until the time came round for the Minotaur to seek him once more.
Wood and Water
volume 2, number 8, Lammas 1983
The first part is how they tell the story.
According to the myth, Ariadne gave Theseus the thread so that he would not get lost in the labyrinth. But the traditional shape of the Cretan labyrinth is not a puzzle maze with dead-ends. It is a single path which twists and turns back on itself in a manner which is confusing but in which one can’t get lost.
This pattern is known worldwide. It appears on coins from Crete (approximately a millennium later than the time of the major Cretan culture, though), in India, and is a sacred symbol among the Hopi of North America. More complicated versions appear on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. In England, there are several ancient labyrinths cut as brick paths in the turf, the most accessible of which is in Saffron Walden, Essex. In the United States, labyrinths have recently been created on canvas, which can be moved from place to place, the first of which was made for Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. For more information about labyrinths, look at www.labyrinthos.net
The labyrinth is a powerful meditative tool. The twists of its paths can shake up the relationship between the outer world and one’s inner self. I have walked, run, danced, and even crawled labyrinths, and always found it a profound experience. Small ones on a page can be followed with the eye or finger.
There is a labyrinth carved on a stone, which may have been a marker on a path for pilgrims, now in the National Museum of Ireland. This story, the first I wrote, developed after meditating on that labyrinth.
The Great Goddess of Crete probably had ‘mistress of the labyrinth’ as one of her titles. The name Ariadne means ‘utterly pure’, which seems to be a name of the Goddess, perhaps in her Moon aspect or even in her Sun aspect — the name may have been used later for priestesses. Janet McCrickard points out in Eclipse of the Sun that the solar aspects of the Goddess have been much neglected. The word Minotaur just means ‘Bull of Minos’; his name was Asterion, ‘starry one’. (Reference: Dionysus by Kerenyi).