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"From right to left, and to and fro,
Caught in a labyrinth, you go,
And turn, and turn, and turn again,
To solve the myst'ry, but in vain.
Stand still, and breathe, and take from me
A clew, that soon shall set you free!
Not Ariadne, if you met her,
Herself could serve you with a better.
You enter'd easily—find where—
And make with ease your exit there!"
~ The Maze, William Cowper (1731-1800)
Although both mazes and labyrinths can be constructed to form complex and confusing pathways, one is not like the other. A maze is a complex, branching puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, while a labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. Prehistoric labyrinths may have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as paths for ritual dances and now are common garden features for walks and meditations. Hedge mazes, in contrast, became fashionable in the 16th century, built by European royalty both to entertain, as well as to provide private places for secret meetings. Traquair Maze, near Innerleithen, Scottish Borders, is the largest hedge maze in Scotland, covering over half an acre formed with beech trees! Longleat Hedge Maze (shown below) in Wiltshire, England, is the longest maze in the world. The maze is constructed of more than 16,000 English yews, covering 1.48 acres and nearly 2 miles of pathway. Maze masters can make it through this hedge maze (which has several dead ends and multiple paths containing six raised bridges surrounding a central tower) in less than 2 minutes! Beginners, however, can take from 25 minutes to an hour and half to solve the maze. Amazing! 🧩
In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was an elaborate palatial structure designed and built by the legendary Daedalus and his son Icarus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man, who devoured humans for sustenance. The minotaur was the unnatural offspring of King Minos' wife and the Cretan Bull, a punishment contrived against Minos by the sea god Poseidon. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it (even though logic and literary descriptions make it clear that the Minotaur was trapped in a complex branching maze). Seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, were sent every seventh or ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. Theseus, one of the great heroes of mythology, volunteered to slay the monster.
The princess of Knossos , Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread so he could find his way through the Labyrinth and kill the monster Minotaur. Theseus slew the Minotaur led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth.
After the killing, Ariadne departed Crete together with Theseus to escape her angry father. However, along the way Theseus deserted her.
This unusual "a-mazing" purple tartan was created by Carol A.L. Martin.
Celtic mazes are straight-line spiral patterns that have been drawn all over the world since prehistoric times. The patterns originate in early Celtic developments in stone and metal-work, and later in medieval Insular art. Celtic labyrinths are found among carvings at Camonica Valley in the Italian Alps, occupied by the Celts early in the first millennium, most older than the one in Knossos.
For labyrinth day to find some of the most spectacular garden labyrinths and mazes, click the picture of Longleat Maze!