Mazes in Myth
I've been working with the labyrinth myths and stories myself. And there
is another version or way of viewing the Maiden at the center of the
labyrinth that I thought you might be interested in. The maze/labyrinth
theme is central not only to the Celtic legends, but the Norse and
others besides European. In some of the turf/snow games still played
with the 'classical' unicursal labyrinth the Maiden at the center is
guarded or held by a troll.
In the symbolic analysis of the hero rescuing the maiden from the
labyrinth there is the concept of the hero going through a rebirth
process and recapturing the feminine, intuitive side of his nature
(according to folks who like to do this sort of thing). In many of the
later Grail stories, the hero soon abandons the feminine, rejecting it.
Those that don't are the ones who remained with the old faith, with the
"abandoning" ones the ones who rejected the feminine and went with the
male dominant religion of Christianity.
The maze can be interchangeable with a dragon or serpent in the same
sort of stories as meaning basically the same thing, since the labyrinth
is a symbol of a descent and ascent of death and rebirth through the
Earth Mother. Old Anglo-Saxon castles were guarded by mounds of earth
with basically the same name as dragon. At the center of the Underworld
maze is also found the castle and the Cauldron of Regeneration or
Women undergoing the traditional challenge and initiation comprable to
the Underground journey, were "given" to the trolls. The trolls, being
the underground guardians (and not the nasty demons Tolkein and other
Christians made them out to be...just ask any Swede) taught the girl
secrets as she "served" in the Underworld, in many legends for Frau
Holle, who has many well-known counterparts, including Hel, Annwyn,
Hecate and others. This is a fairly well known theme in fairy tales
also, but not as well recognized as being an initiatory story as the
Heroic journeys are.
In many Northern folktales, a girl is "given" to the trolls, or
abandoned in the woods. In some stories she with her brother, in others
she is alone, and the hunter is told to kill her. This journey into the
wilderness is the beginning of her wandering through the maze. Or in
some of the stories she is taken to a castle and beset with tasks that
she must accomplish in order to "marry" the king or prince. She spins
straw into gold with the help of the trolls, dwarfs or gnomes, all names
for the Underworld beings who guard the fertility of the Upperworld.
The spinning of straw into gold is the power of insuring the crops come
to fruitful harvest as the grass winds through the season to gold. She
is usually set three tasks by either the King who will marry her, or the
Queen Mother of the Prince.
When she accomplishes the tasks set for her, she "claims" the masculine
side of herself and "marries" or becomes united with her masculine side.
The story is told in different ways, but the journey to the center of
the labyrinth/maze is form of the Spiral Dance of life and death. One
of the themes that is found in conjunction with these stories are the
ones that have the "poison" apple in them. The apple was a symbol of
life and rebirth for many ancient cultures. Apples were associated with
the Roman/Etruscan goddess Pomona, the Greek Hera, Demeter, Morgan in
her Crone form in Celtic legends, and Holle or Hel in Norse and Germanic
legends. Idunn was the Maiden form of Holle or Hel, who kept the apples
of immortality in a basket. In the Volsung Saga it tells of the belief
that a man could be perserved in death by the apples given to him by his
wife. In other legends children are conceived after eating a magical
apple. When the Bible was translated, the apple of life and death was
found in the Garden of Idunn.
The Apple, Rose and Hawthorn are all members of the same family. The
Hawthorne, especially as a hedge or protective enclosure is found with
the maze, either protecting it, or actually forming the walls. They are
sacred trees/plants, the first to begin blooming in the spring. The
Hawthorn is especially sacred because it can have blossoms, ripe fruit
and ripening fruit on it at all times, as well as protective thorns.
I'm posting from the Seattle, Washington area of the United States.
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