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Mazes and Labyriths, by W. H. Matthews, [1922], at

p. 147



IN Chapter XII we noticed some of the principal suggestions which had been made up to a few years ago as to the origin of our turf mazes, and saw that the question was one which could not be settled by the study of remains found in this country alone. Several interesting fans have been brought to light in other lands since Dr. Trollope wrote the memoir which has for so many years been accepted as the standard authority on the subject, and we shall find that a little consideration of them will enable us to view the question in a new light.

As long ago as 1838, Dr. E. von Baer, whilst held up by bad weather on the uninhabited island of Wier, south of Hochland in the Gulf of Finland, observed a curious pattern (Fig. 124) formed in the ground by means of large pebbles. He also noticed several very similar arrangements on the southern coast of the peninsula of Lappland and presented a paper on the subject to the Academy of St. Petersburg.

In some of these figures the stones employed were small pebbles, in other instances they were as large as a child's head, and in one case they were so large that they required several strong men to lift them. Some of the figures had nearly disappeared through the action of moss, earthworms, etc.

In 1877, Dr. J. R. Aspelin, of Helsingfors, drew attention to the existence of similar figures in Finland

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and on the east coast of Sweden. Fig. 125 shows a form found by him on an island not far from Borgo, Finland.

FIG. 124—Stone Labyrinth on Wier Island, Gulf of Finland.<br> (von Baer.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 124—Stone Labyrinth on Wier Island, Gulf of Finland.
(von Baer.)

FIG. 125.—Stone Labyrinth on Coast of Finland. (After Aspelin.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 125.—Stone Labyrinth on Coast of Finland. (After Aspelin.)

[paragraph continues] He describes some of the figures as having one "centre," others two, and others again none at all. They are usually from ten to fifteen yards in diameter. One large specimen, nearly twenty yards across (Fig. 126), at Wisby, on

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the Island of Gothland, is of a design very similar to the circular labyrinth which appears on certain coins of Knossos. They were generally found on islands or close to the sea-coast, and were known by various names in different localities (see p. 150).

The fishermen and peasants said that they were used for children's games, a girl standing at the centre whilst the boys raced for her along the winding paths; but

FIG. 126.—Stone Labyrinth at Wisby, Gothland. (Aspelin.)
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FIG. 126.—Stone Labyrinth at Wisby, Gothland. (Aspelin.)

[paragraph continues] Dr. Aspelin pointed out that they were in any case ancient remains, and thought that the idea might have originated in the Bronze Age.

Corresponding figures have been found in Iceland, and a somewhat similar arrangement, consisting of concentric circles of pebbles, with sometimes a cross at the centre, has long been known in the province of Brandenburg, Germany.

It seems to have escaped the notice of most writers on the subject that long before the nineteenth century these objects were described by the Swedish antiquarian

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[paragraph continues] Rudbeck, from whose "Atlantica" (1695) we reproduce the sketch shown in Fig. 127.

The names given to these devices in the various localities in which they occur are of some interest. Around the Finnish coasts the names Jatulintarha (Giant's Fence) and Pietarinleikki (St. Peter's Game) predominate. Around Helsingfors the figures are more frequently spoken of as "Ruins of Jerusalem," "City of Nineveh," or "Walls of

FIG. 127.—Scandinavian Stone Labyrinth. (O. Rudbeck, 1695.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 127.—Scandinavian Stone Labyrinth. (O. Rudbeck, 1695.)

[paragraph continues] Jericho." In the neighbourhood of Viborg they are known as Jätinkatu (Giant's Street), Kivitarha (Stone-fence), or Lissabon.

In Lappland a common term is Babylon; in Iceland, where the mazes are sometimes formed of earth, the name applied is Völundarhus (Wieland's, or Weyland's, House).

In Norway and Sweden they are sometimes called Nunnentarha (Nun's Fence), Jungfrudans (Maiden's Dance), or Rundborg (Round Castle), and on an island in the Kattegat the name Trelleborg (The Troll's, or Giant's, Castle) is found; but more frequently they are known by

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some name akin to our "Troy-town," such as Trojin, Trojeburg, Trojenborg, or Tröborg. Another name sometimes associated with them was Steintanz (Stone Dance). The Wisby labyrinth is named Tröjeborg.

FIG. 128.—Danish Runic Stone Cross, with Labyrinth Figure.<br> (O. Worm, 1651.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 128.—Danish Runic Stone Cross, with Labyrinth Figure.
(O. Worm, 1651.)

That labyrinths of some kind were also known in olden Denmark appears from the works of the seventeenth-century Danish antiquary Olaf Worm, one of whose woodcuts (Fig. 128) shows the symbol engraved on an ancient cross.

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We see then that John Aubrey (see p. 136) was not altogether speaking at random when he stated his belief that "we received these Mazes from our Danish ancestors." In fact, he based his observations on the works of the Danish and Swedish writers just referred to.

If, as the above considerations lead us to guess, the use of labyrinthine figures was a common feature of the northern peoples before the Norse invasion of Britain, we may wonder whether there is any evidence of the use of the symbol by earlier inhabitants of the same parts; are there any indications of this nature to be found among the relics of prehistoric man in the northern countries?

Well, there are certain remains which have been held to afford an affirmative reply to this question. The remarkable prehistoric rock engravings in Northumberland and the Borders, first noticed about a hundred years ago and described in detail by Mr. G. Tate in 1864, are very suggestive in this connection. They include many figures of a character closely approaching that of a circular labyrinth, but no actual design of the conventional Cretan type has been discovered. In Figs. 129 and 130 are seen examples found on rocks at Routing Linn and Old Bewick respectively. The engravings are as much as three or four feet in diameter, and in many cases are interconnected by grooves which terminate at their cup-like centres. They often coalesce and interconnect to form mazy patterns of great complexity. The greater number consist merely of a series of concentric circles around a central cup, the circles in some cases being interrupted along a radial line which is generally occupied by a straight groove. Their origin and purpose are very obscure.

Very similar rock engravings have been found, though not in such profusion, in other parts of Great Britain, as far north as the Orkneys, and as far south as Devonshire, and also in the south of Ireland. In other parts of Ireland the engravings have chiefly the shape of a simple spiral.

There is strong suggestion of the labyrinth idea in the


Fig. 129. Rock Engravings, Routing Linn, Northumberland.<br> (G. Tate in Proc. Berwick Naturalists' Club, 1864)
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Fig. 129. Rock Engravings, Routing Linn, Northumberland.
(G. Tate in Proc. Berwick Naturalists' Club, 1864)

Fig. 130. Rock Engravings, Old Bewick, Northumberland.<br> (G. Tate in Proc. Berwick Naturalists' Club, 1864)
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Fig. 130. Rock Engravings, Old Bewick, Northumberland.
(G. Tate in Proc. Berwick Naturalists' Club, 1864)


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elaborate series of engravings which adorn the stones of a cromlech on the island of Gav’r Innis, off the coast of Brittany. Here the surface of the stones is entirely covered with engraved concentric grooves, which never cross one another, but form systems of whorls very much like those on the skin of human finger-tips. There is, however, nothing that can be fairly compared with the designs of the turf mazes, the stone labyrinths or the coins of Knossos.

Amongst the remarkable assemblage of prehistoric engravings on the rocky surfaces of the Italian Maritime Alps is one which exhibits a spiral of five turns, with interruptions and blind branches, but the resemblance between this isolated figure and the conventional labyrinth form is rather too slender to support any useful deduction as to the ancestry of the latter.

The reader may perhaps wonder whether any traces of the labyrinths have been found in other continents, and, if so, whether any connection can be established between them and the labyrinth cult in Europe. An interesting discovery in this reference was made some years ago in the shape of a figure of the Cretan Labyrinth, of circular type, roughly engraved amid other pictographs on the wall of the ruined Casa Grande, an old Indian erection in Pinal County, Arizona, U.S.A.

An exactly similar figure, with the addition of some unknown symbol opposite its "entrance" (Fig. 131), was also found in a manuscript entitled "Rudo Ensayo" (Rough Essay), written by a Spaniard who visited the country—the home of the Pima Indians—in 1761 or 1762. According to this manuscript the diagram was scratched in the sand by an Indian and represented the plan of a building.

Dr. J. W. Fewkes, the Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology, who investigated the matter about fifteen years ago, states that an old Indian living in the neighbourhood was asked whether he knew of any

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building, or remains of one, built on such a plan. He replied in the negative, but said the figure was commonly employed in a children's game called Tcuhiki, i.e. the House of Tcuhu. (Tcuhu is a mythical hero, probably identical with Gopher, who is supposed to have made the spiral hole through which the Pima Indians came up from the underworld.) A writer on this tribe of Indians has described another game played by them which seems to have much in common with that mentioned above. It
FIG. 131.—Indian Labyrinth Figure from Eighteenth-century Spanish Manuscript. (After Cotton.)
FIG. 131.—Indian Labyrinth Figure from Eighteenth-century Spanish Manuscript. (After Cotton.)
is called Tculikwikut, and is played with rings and darts, count being kept by means of little stones which are moved along a series of small holes arranged in the sand in the form of a whorl, starting from a centre called Tcunni Ki, "the Council House."

If it could be shown that these games were associated with the labyrinth figure in those regions before the date of the Spanish invasion of Mexico we should be forced to conclude either that, by an extraordinary coincidence, the figure became evolved independently in the Old World and the New, or that in both it had a common origin of astounding antiquity. However, there is a probability that it was introduced to the Indians by the early Spaniards, with whom it would have been a familiar symbol. The only other ancient Indian pictograph of labyrinthine type so far discovered appears to be that on a pebble found by Dr. Fewkes in 1919 in a ruin known as "Square Tower House," in Mesa Verde National

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[paragraph continues] Park. This, it will be seen (Fig. 132), bears no likeness to the conventional design, but is merely an asymmetrical meandering groove somewhat similar in appearance to the braided designs often seen on modish feminine apparel at the present day. Its significance is unknown.

According to a short review in Folk Lore in 1913, a book entitled "Some Zulu Customs and Folk Lore," by L. H. Samuelson ("Nomleti"), 1912, contained a description of mazes made on the ground by Zulus. Unfortunately this book is out of print, and no copy,

FIG. 132.—Labyrinthine Pictograph from Mesa Verde. (After Fewkes.)
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FIG. 132.—Labyrinthine Pictograph from Mesa Verde. (After Fewkes.)

strange to say, is to be found in the library of either the British Museum or the Folk Lore Society. It would be extremely interesting to know whether the mazes in question bear any similarity to the traditional Cretan figure.

So far, then, evidence of a definite labyrinth cult is confined to certain parts of Europe and the Mediterranean borders. It has, in fact, been shown that it corresponds roughly with the areas formerly occupied by the people that built the cromlechs. With regard to its origin and significance, many interesting speculations have been made, some of which we will now briefly review.

Next: Chapter XVIII. The Dance or Game of Troy