The age-old symbolism of the Maze involves the closed pathways and open roads we traverse in order to find our deepest desired goals. As such, we witness the trip through the Maze as the journey into self-understanding. The overall conceptualization of the maze illustrates a layout which is predetermined by some greater force who in turn, observes the choices made by the traveler within the elaborate puzzle.
We may view the ‘greater force’ as God, but the symbolic force of the maze lies in the lone traveler within the labyrinth, who begins dimly aware, but over time, through negative and positive (associations), begins to understand the distinct sequential paths necessary to arrive at his or her desired goal. The goal is primarily God, or Spiritual Enlightenment. Accordingly, we need to ascertain our own forward progress (or lack of it) in the dream, determining precisely, what pushes us, or conversely, hold us back, in the day to day experience of our waking life.
We must also be well aware of the final obstacle within the maze, often represented as the half man/half bull creature called the minotaur. This figure symbolizes our ability to come to terms with our own worthiness to find a form of ‘ultimate peace’ in our life.
Basically a maze comprises a criss-cross pattern of paths, some of which prove to be dead-ends, through which a way must be found to lead to the middle of this strange spider's web. However, it is inaccurate to compare a maze with a spider’s web. The latter is regular and symmetrical, while the very essence of the maze is to crowd into the smallest possible space the most complicated system of paths and thus delay for as long as possible the traveller’s arrival at the centre which is his goal.
The mazes carved into the floors of cathedrals were at one and the same time the monograms of their builders and substitutes for pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This is why either the architect himself or the Temple at Jerusalem is sometimes depicted in the middle, either as the chosen one who has reached the centre of the world or the symbol of that centre. The faithful who were unable to take part in the actual pilgrimage could journey in imagination through the maze until they reached the Holy Places. This was the stationary pilgrimage. At Chartres the pathway through the maze was over 200 yards long and the journey was made upon the knees.
Mazes were used as defences at the gates of fortified towns (see castle); they are also to be found in ancient clay models of Greek houses and, in both cases, we have a town or house protected as if it were the centre of the world. Such defences are to ward off not merely human enemies, but evil influences as well. The identical part played by screens set in the middle of temple naves in areas under Chinese influence should also be observed, since here evil influences were believed always to make themselves felt along straight lines.
Theseus’ dance, known as the Crane Dance, is clearly related to his journey through the Cretan labyrinth; similarly, labyrinthine bird dances, such as the Yu Dance, existed in China and their role belonged equally to the supernatural order.
When Marcel Brion writes about Leonardo da Vinci’s maze, he conjures up ‘that brotherhood of men of all ages and all lands, filling the magic circle which Leonardo left blank, for it was never his intention to describe in detailed terms the shrine in the middle of his maze’.
The maze combines the motifs of spiral and plait and might express the patent intention of representing infinity under both the guises in which it appears in human imaginations. The first is the spiral, or the infinity of non-fulfilment, since, in theory at least, it can be conceived of as never coming to an end; the other is the infinity of the eternal homecoming embodied in the plait.