A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, may have multiple entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth is unicursal i.e. has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point.
These two structures have different, although related, meanings. Yet they are incorrectly used interchangeably all of the time
A labyrinth, while sometimes having very convoluted-seeming pathways, really only has one way in and one way out. Walking a labyrinth invites patience, focus, care, introspection. The goal is not to find your way out or in. That’s all laid out for you. You can’t get lost.
There is no set ritual for walking a labyrinth, but there are books and lectures to assist you in performing a labyrinth walk. The basic advice is to enter the labyrinth slowly, calming and clearing your mind. This may be done by repeating a prayer or chant.
A maze, on the other hand, invites you on a challenging journey to find your way in and your way out. Its pathways are meant to be disorienting and its goal is to confuse you. According to Wikipedia:
A maze is a path or collection of paths, typically from an entrance to a goal. The word is used to refer both to branching tour puzzles through which the solver must find a route, and to simpler non-branching (“unicursal”) patterns that lead unambiguously through a convoluted layout to a goal. (The term “labyrinth” is generally synonymous with “maze”, but can also connote specifically a unicursal pattern.) The pathways and walls in a maze are typically fixed, but puzzles in which the walls and paths can change during the game are also categorized as mazes or tour puzzles.
The Minator lived in the middle of a MAZE – a maze with such complex pathways that Theseus, sent to kill the monster, might not have been able to find his way out after he completed his task. So he tied a ball of string to the entrance to the maze and unwound the string as he went in so that he could follow it back and be able to get out.
So, while a labyrinth can be classified as a “maze,” a maze is not the same as a labyrinth.
This is what I was thinking about the other night, waiting for sleep. (Sleep doesn’t come easily or me).
I am thinking that some folks seem able to walk the safe, set pathway of the labyrinth life-model. Some by choice, like cloistered nuns and monks, who are relieved of the kinds of personal choices that are constantly confronted by those who find themselves navigating various stressful life mazes. Others, because of personality traits or very careful controlled planning, find their lives moving within the ease of the Labyrinth. There are still others who allow themselves to be absorbed into a cult mentality that provides the boundaries and makes their choices for them, making hard life choices simply by giving them a labyrinthian framework to follow. If they don’t deviate, they will make it to the goal (however the cult defines it). Organized religion also provides that clear pathway, so much easier to navigate than that messy maze.
Most of us, however, can’t avoid the stresses from the constant choices with which we are confronted along the maze-like journey of our lives. We constantly bump into dead ends, go around in circles, sometimes just sit down wherever we are, too tired to go on. I also think that if you are a creative person who engages with life to find inspiration, motivation, questions and answers, you have no choice but to take your chances in those messy mazes.
Like a Stone Labyrinth
Life leads you.
You set your alarm,
choose your shoes,
gather friends for tea,
count your changes.
Until one day a corner comes,
slipping you a glimpse
of that line of stones
shaping your shadow’s edge.
And then a perfect black cat,
with eyes like glowing stones,
races across your path
and waits in the early ferns
for you to cross hers.