Today I’d like to look at the myths and symbols surrounding the image of the labyrinth. I’ve been reading a lovely book about the tradition in Christian circles to walk the labyrinth as a meditative act, and it’s gotten me thinking about the more ancient labyrinth at Knossos, designed by Daedalus and containing the Minotaur.
In Theseus’ myth, the Athenian hero travels to Crete to the palace of King Minos, intended as a sacrificial victim to the Minotaur. He meets Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who falls in love with him and promises to help him. In exchange for marrying her and taking her away from Crete, Ariadne gives Theseus a spool of red thread to help him find his way out of the labyrinth. He goes to the center, kills the Minotaur, and escapes, with the ball of thread unrolling itself before him and leading him out. This is only possible with Ariadne’s help, but once they’ve left Crete Theseus abandons Ariadne on the beach of the island of Naxos. Her story has a happy ending, as she’s found on the beach by the god Dionysus, who falls in love with her and makes her his wife.
What do Theseus and Ariadne’s experiences with the labyrinth have to teach us now? In the Christian tradition, the journey both into and out of the labyrinth is seen as a path toward God, toward spiritual enlightenment earned through the circuitous traverse of the labyrinth’s steps.
What sort of enlightenment might the Minotaur represent with his defeat? According to Edward F. Edinger in The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology, the bull “stands for something that must be challenged and shown to be inferior to human power.”
He goes on: “In psychological terms, the bull is the primordial unregenerate energy of the masculine archetype that is destructive to consciousness and to the ego when it identifies with it. Therefore, it must be sacrificed, and the sacrifice brings about a transformation, so that the energy symbolized by the bull serves another level of meaning.” (p. 75)
So, what can this mean for us, as we walk the symbolic path of the labyrinth in our journeys of spiritual transformation? What can this myth teach us about this process?
I believe that by symbolically defeating both the mystery of the labyrinth and the Minotaur itself, we transform ourselves through sacrifice, and by confronting the creature at the center of our deepest selves, we earn the right to move toward individuation by taking the path back out of the labyrinth.
The path back out is fraught with it’s own difficulties, but by mastering the Minotaur inside of ourselves we create the tools to walk our way out.