What's up with the Labyrinth?

I have a tattoo of a spiral on my left shoulder. It is sort of dinky now, but my plans are to expand it into multiple spirals and then have those weave into a labyrinth, or at least have them link up next to a labyrinth. This is not the first sign of my obsession, which also shows up in the site's logo and, in more complete form on the opening page. The site's background used to be composed of a labyrinth of the style that Catholic Churches used to use as an aid to prayer (you can view the old background here.)

The labyrinth is meant to be a strong piece of symbolism here in this website. The original, long scrapped design, even made plays on the use of a "hyper-text" labyrinth that you had to click on certain pages in certain orders to get to others. I felt that pissing off casual readers was a bad idea and that is only a memory, now.

I am not sure the precise reason why I am obsessed with the maze structure, though I have theories. One of the important parts of the theory is the fact that the labyrinth/maze, the mask, and the spiral are all parts of the same obsession. They each, in different ways, appeal to some core part of my conscious. I am essentially going to brainstorm out some ideas in what I hope is a coherent order (since honestly, this ideal has been with me for years in varying degrees, and might really have to do with me solving a maze at age 3 and I have forgotten it).

Bigger being inside smaller

I feel the key components of this obsession is the concepts of misdirection, the hidden, and the related notion of the misunderstanding of space-time. I am not saying that I am a huge fan of subterfuge and that I love to lie all the time. My fascination is the concept of things having a depth to them far greater than outside appearance. I mean, how cool is Dr. Who's Taras (I'm not sure to spell that, but its "Time and Relative Space, so probably Tares), huh? I also think of House of Leaves and the works of Borges, where the internal somehow overcomes and is greater than the external.

A labyrinth tends to mean a large, confusing maze (and traditionally, the word first meant this, as well, I think). Yet, one of the primary concepts of the labyrinth in Christendom is in conjunction with the path you take as a believer. Catholics used to walk upon (or crawl upon) the labyrinths (such as the one behind the text on my webpage) while praying. They would only travel a short period of space, but their path would take hours. In this way, it was an allusion to traveling the greatness of infinity by moving only a few true steps forward. Notice that this style labyrinth did not have branching paths. It had a single solution only.

The mask is another ideal for me. A mask can be taken as a form of protection, or as an act of hiding, but at its core masks are used in generally culturally accepted ways. We wear them for masquerades, and for costumes, and we wear them (or did wear them) for religious ceremony. It enabled us to expand the concept of our identity to something greater. Even the concept of a thug with a mask on to commit a crime builds upon this to some degree, they remove their identity out of the situation to try and be part of an archetype as well as merely hiding their identity.

The spiral is sort of the last piece of the trinity of symbols, and it again fits into the idea of something occupying more space and having more depth than it appears. The coils of a spiral do not approximate "infinity" as a circle's circumference might, but it enables a far greater length than a straight line does. And a spiral is a duality, both receding and expanding at the same time.

In all three, there is this concept of a depth beyond the mere appearance, a concept of something being underneath. The unexpected becomes expected. The hidden is greater than the seen. Brings a little bit of Moby Dick to mind1.

Simply about the visuals

I also face the idea that I may just be a big fan of the visual aspects that mazes, spirals and masks create. I like a controlled confusion in my art and in my life. All of these things give the impression of borderline chaos. Much like sitting in a car during a rain storm, where the splatter effects give an extra fecundity to the imagination, the life and times of your average labyrinth implies almost more than the eye can see. It is a visual construct unable to be easily summed up. Though I am sure there those that can do it, it is not something you remember in detail, but something you remember in the sense of a whole. Everytime you come back to it, you have to somewhat relearn it.

But this is not true, necessarily, of spirals and masks. Perhaps the latter far more than the former, and complexity in masks is an aesthetic addition. Though a labyrinth is pointless if it is not somewhat complex, masquerades can be attended with more or less blank half-face. Spirals can be sloppily drown, ragged and fractalized; but are at their core a mathematicl, algorithmic being. They are all much the same, each time you witness one, you have seen it before. A deja vu sort of thing.

That feeling that I get when I see the labyrinth or mask or spiral, a shared feeling I remind you, cannot be completely visual it seems, since all three appeal to a different sort of visual ideal. With that being said, all three ARE neato to look at.

The dreams

I have a series of a dreams about labyrinths, and have had them since an early age. I describe on in my Livejournal:

Somehow the labyrinth was composed, this time, from cars that linked together but was also a series of buildings.

There was the notion that the world outside of the labyrinth flooding (this is a recurring idea, that water washes the outside world regularly). I remember watching a street from a "food court" area before I realized that I was sitting in a truck and it was just linked up to tons of other vehicles. It is actually possible that its structure cellularized in order to not break the rules (as discussed below), but the transition was unbelieveably smooth.

Prior to this, there was this strange unfinished house part. Somehow, friends and myself were told to stay in this house that was most exposed floor beams and wall braces. And I can't remember much, besides there was some source of sound which played music through the hallways.

After leaving the foodcourt amalgamation between motion and stillness, the dream thrust me (and one other person, who herself was actually a composite of females from earlier parts in the dream) into a road trip, which fits the rules since the labyrinth must keep its people forever inside, this time by breaking away from the structure and becoming the vehicle itself...

Another set of headlights is coming down the road, and seemingly fast, so my companion is at a stop trying not to pull over. and apparently you are not supposed to stop in the labyrinth. I looked back, and there was this sound that was some strange echo of a radio entering into my head. The "headlights" behind us was spilling out and overflowing the road, like it wasn't a vehicle at all, but a creeping prescence. And suddenly, based on the logic of my previous "maze" dreams, this was the beast and by us letting go of the natural movement of the dream, we were pretty much its vicitim. I remember shouting you have to start moving again, and then that strange voice/radio station in my head got way lound and way painful...and I woke up.

This dream was a great example in that it played by all the rules: the return of the "biblical" level of flood, the huge winding corridors that are so big that it almost seems like you are outside, the essentialy solitary nature of travel created by the shifting in and out of other people from the rest of the dream, and the beast.

Up until I read House of Leaves, I had never put two and two together and realized that dreams about being trapped in a giant maze like structure (often made up of buildings, rivers, roads and illogical paths) and being chased by something horrific might be related to the ancient myth of the labyrinth and the minotaur. Now, if one takes a Jungian or Campbellian approach, the myth of the maze + beast was powerful because it was related, at its heart, to a basic drive of the human psyche. I think it would be an oversimplification, but not necessarily an untruth, to hold that these labyrinthine dreams are somewhat a manifestation of me trying to overcome my more baser instincts.

There have even been dreams in which the wearing of masks was directly related to the experience of hiding some great evil. Occasionally, having masks removed has triggered horrific events in my dreams. But though this links up masks and labyrinths, again, it still fails to explain why the spiral triggers the same sort of gateway experience.

One important way in which spirals play a part in my dreams is that they map out the shapes of my dreams. My dreams can be patternistic, and the major pattern is often a series of repetitions with slight alteration towards the end of the dream. In other words, my dreams almost always follow a map of a spiral. But this is actually quite obscure, I would say, and is a poor explanation.

The conclusion for now

I am going to hold that the basic principle factors are a combination of a visual appeal and an idea of these three things being all representative of indirect truth. This is something that I have only become completely aware of (as far as the three thing being really linked in my head and the fact that they definitely spark ideas in my head) over the past couple years, so I haven't had a long time to think about it. I used to have these odd little "deja vu" moments where I would get sort of weak at the knees and a common thread of them would be they would often involve things unweaving into spiral shapes.

I am kind of curious to start doing research on the pscyhoanalysis side of the thing.

1: I am too lazy to look up Melville's exact way of wording it, but he makes the claim through Ahab or Ishmael (or both) that Moby Dick has a pasteboard face and questions what might lie beneath the mask.

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This article was originally written on 30 Apr 2006. There are no revisions at this time.

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"The hidden is greater than the seen."