The Unending Mystery is a charming, offbeat, generously illustrated exploration of a form that has had a place in the culture of almost every civilization since the beginning of human history—and is now experiencing a modern revival. Labyrinths appear on Neolithic rock outcroppings and in some of the oldest legends from the Greek Isles and the American Southwest. They have been created to represent everything from the birth of a child to the descent into hell, and legions of claims—from facilitating pregnancy to freeing souls from Purgatory—have been made for their power. In them we see perhaps the first human effort to create a form not found in nature, and we experience a mystery that has survived the millennia in countless manifestations. From the Mediterranean to Tuscany and Scandinavia, from English villages to French cathedrals and Italian palace gardens, David Willis McCullough takes us on a grand tour of the great labyrinths and mazes. Using a distinctive blend of history and research, he tells the story of their interpretations and uses, from the exalted to the ridiculous. He visits with today's labyrinth enthusiasts, including a Scotswoman who creates them in the South Bronx, the canon of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral who wants to pepper the world with them, and the showman who conceived the first cornfield maze—a phenomenon that is staving off bankruptcy for many American farmers. McCullough's infectious enthusiasm and wit make him the ideal guide to the age-old, ever-alluring world of labyrinths and mazes.
"From the Hardcover edition.
According to legend, anyone who wandered into the labyrinth in Ancient Crete never came out again. Some labyrinths may have offered patterns for an erotic spring dance. Those on the floors of Medieval cathedrals represent mathematical perfection-and walking their paths was a symbolic approach to the divine. From ancient Mediterranean coin patterns to the great French cathedral labyrinths to contemporary cornfield mazes, labyrinths and mazes have appeared all over the world, but never have so many been created as in today's revival, on farms, and in parks, churches, hospitals, and spas across the country. In his charmingly quirky investigation of an image that has inspired countless beautiful patterns and mysterious practices, David Willis McCullough offers an irresistible way to enjoy their enduring appeal.
David Willis McCullough's previous books include Brooklyn . . . and How It Got That Way, several
mysteries, and, as editor, a number of anthologies, most recently Wars of the Irish Kings. For many years he was
a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club Editorial Board. He lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
"From the Hardcover edition."
"Engaging history. . . . As David McCullough reveals . . . labyrinths and mazes are puzzles that engage our minds as well as apt physical embodiments of the journeys we all face."--Discover "There are a few books on the history of labyrinths and mazes, but none as complete and entertaining as this one. . . . A delightful read."-Martin Gardner, author of The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions.
"An engrossing look at the mythologies and symbolism inherent in mazes and labyrinths-Psychology Today
"In the cheerful voice of one smitten by both subjects, McCullough takes readers on a tour of some fascinating labyrinths and mazes. . . . Captivating." --Kirkus Reviews Engaging history. . . . As David McCullough reveals . . . labyrinths and mazes are puzzles that engage our minds as well as apt physical embodiments of the journeys we all face. --Discover There are a few books on the history of labyrinths and mazes, but none as complete and entertaining as this one. . . . A delightful read. Martin Gardner, author of The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. An engrossing look at the mythologies and symbolism inherent in mazes and labyrinths Psychology Today In the cheerful voice of one smitten by both subjects, McCullough takes readers on a tour of some fascinating labyrinths and mazes. . . . Captivating. Kirkus Reviews"
"Engaging history. . . . As David McCullough reveals . . . labyrinths and mazes are puzzles that engage our minds as well as apt physical embodiments of the journeys we all face."--Discover "There are a few books on the history of labyrinths and mazes, but none as complete and entertaining as this one. . . . A delightful read."Martin Gardner, author ofThe ScientificAmerican Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. "An engrossing look at the mythologies and symbolism inherent in mazes and labyrinthsPsychology Today "In the cheerful voice of one smitten by both subjects, McCullough takes readers on a tour of some fascinating labyrinths and mazes. . . . Captivating." -Kirkus Reviews From the Trade Paperback edition.
Chapter One The Image the design may look complicated, but with a little practice a child could scratch it on a wall in seconds: the long arcs to the left and right, the sudden reversals in direction, a path that leads back and forth, inward and outward, until it finally reaches the center. It seems complex, with each side mirroring the other, but you can trace it freehand in the bare earth or on a sandy beach in just the time it takes to drag a stick across the ground. Or you could use a trick, a mnemonic device. Draw a plus sign, and put a dot in each of the four corners. Different people might see this image differently, as basic geometry or a magical device or an emblematic representation of the cross of Christ defended by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Or perhaps it is a compass rose, indicating north, south, east and west as well as the four corners of the earth. Now, starting at the top of the upright arm of the plus sign, draw a curving line to the dot on the left. Then, from the dot on the upper right, draw a curving line to the end of the arm on the left. Continue on around the image--connecting arm to dot, dot to arm--until it is complete, the simplest possible labyrinth.* The labyrinth design is far older than most of the myths and stories about it that we now remember. An image cut into the wall of a tomb in Sardinia may date back to 2500 b.c. Another, in the Val Camonica, near Brescia on the Italian mainland, may date to 1800 b.c. Some think a labyrinth painted in red on the roof of a small cave near Trapani in Sicily may even have been made in 3000 b.c. And although all these dates can be challenged (as indeed they have been), similar designs are found on Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Spain, Ireland and North Africa and on ancient rock faces in the American Southwest. Sometimes square or rectangular, sometimes round, oval or simply lopsided, the image is always basically the same. Never a simple, elegant spiral sweeping steadily inward, it is always a single meandering path with no branches or dead ends that weaves and circles--usually seven times--before reaching the center. Now usually called the classic, or Cretan, design (from the labyrinth''s later association with the Minotaur legend and with coins imprinted with a similar labyrinth design minted in fourth- and fifth-century b.c. Crete), it is self-contained, complex and built around an undeniable center. Its meaning is one of our oldest mysteries, but clues to the origins of the labyrinth design can be seen in Neolithic and Bronze Age rock carvings on rugged hillsides throughout Europe. One of the best examples is in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, at a place called Achnabreck ("Rock of the Host" in Gaelic). It is a cluster of three large, curved outcroppings covered with man-made Stone Age markings. As with the sites of similar markings in northern England and Spain, the setting is spectacular, a high, wooded ridge between the Sound of Jura and Loch Fyne, with the glint of light reflecting off water far in the distance and a steep hillside dropping through stands of trees and open fields to the valley far below. Although visible in full daylight, the carvings are best seen during the hour or so before sunset as the receding light catches the grooves and incisions to cast deepening patterns of shadows. Observers over the centuries have suspected the carving to be a map either of the landscape below or the heavens overhead. The gray rocks are marked with round, hollowed-out depressions the size of halved golf and tennis balls. Archaeologists call them "cups" and most--but not all--are surrounded by concentric circles, or "rings," often as many as seven of them, just as there are seven circuits to the Cretan labyrinth. There are also targetlike clusters of concentric rings without cups, and many of the cup-and-rings are joined together by straight lines that resemble gutters. Also carved into the rocks are spirals, even double and triple spirals that resemble smaller versions of the much-photographed spirals at Newgrange, the fourth-millennium b.c. passage grave in the Boyne Valley of Ireland. Four or five millennia after the fact, it is impossible for us to know what those seemingly random designs may have meant to their carvers. But this--luckily--has not stopped anyone from trying to guess. Over the years the map theories have been the most popular, partially because the same images appear on outcroppings hundreds, even thousands of miles apart, as though Neolithic travelers had common symbols to guide them from place to place or to orient them under the stars. One of the earliest nineteenth-century theories was that the cup-and-rings were models of the circular hill forts that stood close by many of the carvings. Other suggestions have been that they were molds for making weapons and artifacts, or that they were grooves in which sticks were placed to ground tents or larger structures, or that they were primitive artistic expressions or "Kilroy Was Here" signatures. A particularly melodramatic theory--and one that reflects the popular notion that our ancestors were very gory folk indeed--was that the outcroppings marked sacrificial sites and that the cups, rings and spirals were to catch and display blood, even though most sites slope far too much to hold blood--or support tents--for long. Alexander Thom has contributed much to modern understanding of Stone Age archaeology, astronomy and architecture with his contention that the builders of Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments used a basic unit of measure called the megalithic yard (2.72 feet). His calculations show that straight lines in many of these carvings can be sighted along to make astronomical observations. In fact, he suggested that the carved spirals might encode information on the proper astronomic use of standing stones and circles. But, then, Professor Thom''s critics have noted his uncanny ability to line up just about any megalithic site with something in the night sky. Whatever their purpose or meaning, circles and spirals were clearly the basic elements of these early inscriptions. Throughout history (and before), circles and spirals have been attributed considerable power, be it in geometry, theology or magic. The circle, without beginning or end, has symbolized infinity or perfection in many cultures, and the spiral--a coiled serpent that renews itself by shedding its skin--has been a common and reoccurring sign of rebirth and regeneration. A vivid representation of the link between spiral and snake can be seen in a petroglyph at Gila Bend, Arizona. Much of the carving would not look out of place at Achnabreck. A ring-and-cup-like target of concentric circles is linked by a straight line to a tightly wound spiral. Next to the spiral is carved a fairly realistic snake. Separated by thousands of years, two different sacred sanctuaries in the British Isles, for surely very different reasons, saw fit to honor the spiral. In the megalithic circle called Temple Wood, just a few miles north of Achnabreck, a carved spiral unwinds on one side of a standing stone, turns the corner to the broader front and rewinds there. The stone may have been carved where it stands or may have been brought from an even older monument. Having endured millennia of foul Scottish weather, the double spiral is difficult to see, but it survives. Hundreds of miles south in Llanbedr, a small seacoast town in Wales, is another ancient rock spiral. The village, once famous for its seashells, contains two ancient dolmens and several standing stones, and in a place of honor in the local church is a granite stone with spiral ornamentation that someone found years ago up in the hills and, recognizing it as something sacred, brought it into the church. A coiling spiral venerated in a Christian sanctuary, in spite of God''s curse on Eden''s serpent? Clearly it evokes a faith older than the current creed. A labyrinth, of course, is not made of concentric circles with a cup at its heart, and it is not a graceful spiral. But if those two basic petroglyphic images--the circles and the spiral--are placed one on top of the other, the result is something that with very little modification looks a lot like a labyrinth, a complex, self-contained image that is not found in nature. That the labyrinth is a created and not a natural shape is important. The circles, spiral, lines and dots that cover the outcroppings at Achnabreck are all shapes observable in the world around the stone outcropping, either in the landscape or the sky or the bones and entrails of slaughtered animals. At times the line between what was man-made and what was natural on the carved stones is downright confusing. One of the memorable flaps in modern paleontology came when geologists pointed out that some of the markings being studied and interpreted (sometimes quite fancifully) were in fact natural pockmarks. A particularly memorable case was when what had been interpreted as scenes of a battle between two warring tribes chipped onto a boulder at Clonfinlough in Ireland turned out to be a matter of ordinary weathering. A turning point in the evolution of culture came at the moment when somewhere an anonymous rock carver or wall painter combined and elaborated on the simple images he--or maybe it was a she--saw in nature to create a new, unique and utterly human-made image, a labyrinth. Part of the appeal of the cathedral at Chartres, home of one of the oldest church labyrinths in Europe, is the tension--amidst the beauty of the medieval stained-glass windows--in the sometimes bizarre jumble of rounded Romanesque and pointed Gothic arches. The Gothic spirit prevails, but there is the excitement of observing the moment in history when the rounded arch reaches up to become an arrow pointed