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Caerdroia - the Journal of Mazes & Labyrinths
Labyrinths in Pagan Sweden
Stone labyrinth, Landsort, Sweden
Photo: Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
The labyrinth at Enkoping, Uppland, Sweden, destroyed in 1883.
This drawing of the labyrinth by Hans Hildebrand was published 1872
Reprinted from Caerdroia 21 - 1987 - pp.12-24
Catalogue of Labyrinths which were probably in Cult Use in the Pagan Community of
Close to the church of Horn were two labyrinths, one with 12 and the other with 8
walls. Both were destroyed in the latter part of the 19th century, The entrances
were probably orientated toward the south. The labyrinths were situated on a small
hill, together with a grave-field with about 70 graves from the pre-Roman Iron Age
(c.500-0 BCE). The grave field has been excavated by archaeologists, and the hill
was later destroyed when its gravel was exploited.
Four preserved labyrinths and two partly destroyed are situated on an island in the
large Lake Vänern. In a description from the early 18th century only two labyrinths
are mentioned, one with 12 walls and the other with 8 walls. It is very difficult
to guess how old these labyrinths are, some are probably of later origin, but it
is possible that one or two are of prehistoric origin because the island lies close
to the old central farmland of this province with a concentration of place-names
indicating pagan cult places. It is also obvious that islands were used in pagan
cults in the neighbourhood. Another island, 2.5 km north of Axelön, is called Onsön
Östra Torsås, Småland
In 1925 the archaeologist Johan Alin mentioned a large grave-field with stone settings
and erected stones “in the neighbourhood of the parish of Östra Torsås”. He says
that “among the stone settings is also a labyrinth”. A labyrinth at Östra Torsås
is also mentioned by the author Mårten Sjöbeck (1953). But it has not been possible
for me to find it, Neither the local population nor the archaeologists seem to know
anything about this labyrinth.
The little town of Skånninge was once an important market place in the province of
Östergotland. A ‘Troienborg’ made of stones on a hill at Skånninge was mentioned
on two reports from the late 17th century by Johan Hadorph, who was a pioneer of
‘modern’ antiquarian research in Sweden. Hadorph says that the labyrinth was still
(1678) used by the children of the town to run in during the summer. He also presumes(?)
that this was a place where the ancestors practiced their games and worship in pagan
times. The labyrinth must have been destroyed shortly afterwards. Only place names
have survived and they indicate that the labyrinth was situated west of the town,
in my opinion probably at Vädervarnsbacken (Wind Mill Hill),
A labyrinth in the centre of the town of Linköping is shown on a couple of maps from
the 18th century (1734 and 1750). It was situated at a high level less than 50 metres
west of the main entrance of the cathedral, in the garden of the bishop's castle.
The map from 1734 shows that it had a classical design with 8 walls and the entrance
orientated to the west. According to the map of 1750 it was called ‘Trojaeborg’ .
No later sources have revealed any information about this labyrinth, and no traces
are visible on the site. It has been suggested that this was a garden labyrinth,
but I find it more probable that a labyrinth with this design would be of the stone-built
At Himmelstalund, just outside the old town of Norrköping, is a hill called ‘Trojenborg’
and ‘Trojenborgs Berg’ (berg=hill). On a map from 1691 it is called ‘Troiienborgs
Bergh’. It is reasonable to assume that this is the site of an ancient labyrinth,
although no other traces of the name have been recorded. Himmelstalund (known earlier
as ‘Lunden’ = the Grove) is well known for its spring, which might have been a sacred
place in pagan times. In the 18th century a famous spa was built at this spring.
In the 19th century it was a custom among people in the town to celebrate midsummer
at the spa. Himmelstalund is also famous for its numerous rock carvings from the
Ekebo Smedby, Hammarby parish, Uppland
On top of an esker at Ekebo Smedby was a labyrinth (type and orientation unknown).
The labyrinth was probably destroyed about 1912/14 and its stones were used to build
a boundary cairn. The probable site of the labyrinth (a flat area, of a size comparable
to a football ground) was surrounded by three impressive grave-fields. The esker
has been totally exploited and the only thing that remains today is a large, ugly
pit, close to the big motorway north from Stockholm. But before this vandalism was
completed, all the graves were carefully excavated in several campaigns during 1935-1961.
As a matter of fact, this is one of the few places in Sweden where such a large complex
of grave-fields has been completely excavated by archaeologists. Altogether about
150 graves were excavated. One grave-field with about 25 graves belonged to the Bronze
Age. The other two contained graves from different periods of the early Iron Age.
With one single exception there are no graves at all from the time after the Migration
period (c.400-550 CE).
Gamla Uppsala, Uppland
No labyrinth has been recorded in the area around Uppsala, but there is reason to
suspect that this well-known centre of the province of Tiundaland (and of pagan Sweden)
also had its own labyrinth. One clue which should not be totally neglected are the
absurd ideas of the Swedish professor Olof Rudbeck in the 17th century. Rudbeck thought
that Sweden and particularly the area around Uppsala and Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala)
was the home of the Trojans. In my opinion, Rudbeck might have been inspired by a
local place-name of the Trojeborg type in the area around Uppsala. On Rudbeck's two
maps we find the name ‘Troja’ west of the town of Uppsala and north of Uppsala on
the way to Gamla Uppsala, with its three large famous mounds, large grave-fields
and a ting-mound. The big esker which stretches between Uppsala and Gamla Uppsala
would be the logical place for a labyrinth in this area, and the esker actually fits
fairly well together with the Troja names on Rudbeck's maps. The most impressive
part of the esker is ‘Tunåsen’ at Gamla Uppsala. No traces of a labyrinth can be
found there today, but a source from the 17th century mentions Tunåsen as the place
for a ‘rännarbana’ (tilt-yard) which was still in use at the time of King Karl IX
(1600-1611). If this place had once been chosen for a labyrinth it might explain
why Gamla Uppsala became the centre of this province.
Close to the parish church of the old town of Enköping there was once a labyrinth
with 8 walls (a drawing still survives). The orientation is unknown. The labyrinth
was situated immediately north of the old churchyard on top of an esker, which meets
the large Lake Mälaren at the place where Enköping was founded. The esker is well
preserved but the labyrinth was covered with a one-foot layer of soil when the churchyard
was enlarged in 1883. It has not since been possible to find any traces of it or
its exact position. This church was probably the centre of an early Christian mission.
It had a dean who was the religious leader of the province of Fjärdrundaland, an
area corresponding to one of the presumed ancient pagan communities of the early
At Rösaring, on top of an impressive, perfectly preserved esker (60m high) with a
beautiful view of Lake Mälaren, is a labyrinth with 16 walls. Its entrance is orientated
towards the west. The labyrinth is overgrown by grass and very difficult to trace.
Nearby stand five large and two small cairns and one big mound. Recently a kind of
ceremonial (?) road, 3.3-3.6 metres wide, was found leading from the base of the
mound straight north to a cairn or possibly a ‘death house,’ 540 metres away. On
the east side of the road is a string of small pits 3-3.3m from each other. on the
west side of the road is a ditch, 2-3 metres wide. Recent excavations reveal that
the road was probably built during the early Viking Age (c.800-1070 CE).
The mounds and the cairns have not been excavated, but at least one of the cairns
seems to be of Bronze Age type. One possible interpretation is that this was in ancient
times a pagan cult place, which was later used as a funerary complex in the Viking
Age. At the base of the esker are traces of a Bronze Age settlement and four later
grave-fields with more than 200 visible graves, most of them mounds, some of which
are quite large (23-28 metres across).
At Johanneshus in the parish of Vittaryd is a labyrinth called Trelleborg. It has
8 walls and the entrance is oriented to the west. It is situated at the southern
edge of a grave-field with 7 cairns and 47 small mounds, probably dating from the
late Iron Age. Only a few decades ago it was still possible to find old people who
remembered how they used to walk in the ‘Trelleborg’ when they were young.
Lindbacke, Nyköping, Södermanland
At Lindbacke, close to the old town of Nyköping, is a labyrinth of the classical
type with 8 walls. Its entrance is orientated towards the east. It is situated at
the base of a hill, about 150 metres east of a round stone setting and about 400
metres east of a grave field with 45 graves. This labyrinth has not been built on
high ground; it lies only about 9 metres above sea level, which means that it must
have been close to the seashore 2000 years ago. Close to the labyrinth is a spring,
belonging to the god Frej. In the neighbourhood was also a grove called ‘Freylunden’
(Frej's grove). The name Lindbacke is obviously a modernization of an older name
‘Lundbacke’ (lund = grove, backe = hill). The field near the labyrinth was called
‘Freyangen’ (Frej's meadow) or ‘Fruängen.’
Before the esker was destroyed, there was a grave-field on top of it, around the
labyrinth or very close to it. The antiquarian Richard Dybeck writes in 1874 that
the labyrinth was situated together with innumerable grave-mounds of the smallest
kind. Most of them had been ‘excavated’ 50-60 years earlier. One of these graves
was excavated by Dybeck in 1843 but his descriptions of the artefacts does not allow
us to draw any conclusions about its age. When the gravel of the esker later was
exploited, several graves were probably destroyed. a ceramic vessel containing burned
bones was salvaged in 1940, immediately east of the labyrinth. It is from a grave
(probably in a destroyed gravefield) dating to the pre-Roman Iron Age (c.500-0 BCE).
About 800 metres north of the labyrinth is a complex of large gravefields, a few
large stone settings in the shape of ships and ‘Anundshög’ which is probably the
largest man-made mound in Sweden (12 m. high, 60 m. diameter). The labyrinth at Tibble
is shown on the local map of 1764 where it is called ‘Trojienborg’.
Storeberg, Gothenburg, Västergötland
The labyrinth has 8 walls and the entrance is orientated to SW. It lies together
with 5 stone settings, probably in a small grave-field, on top of a large forest-covered
hill in Gothenburg. The partly damaged labyrinth was mentioned in a report of 1916-18
but could not be found again until 1982 when I discovered and excavated it together
with staff from the archaeological museum in Gothenburg. The museum later restored
the labyrinth and cleared the vegetation around it (editor’s note: it has recently
(2007) become obscured again beneath fallen trees).
Tibble, Badelunde parish, Västmansland
At Tibble in Badelunda parish, close to the old town of Västerås, is a labyrinth
with 16 walls. The entrance is orientated to the west. The stones of the labyrinth
are relatively small and almost completely overgrown with turf. The labyrinth is
situated on top of an esker which is now badly damaged. The landowners who have exploited
the gravel have only left a ‘pillar’ of gravel just large enough to spare the labyrinth.
This labyrinth was first recorded in a report from 1672 where it is described as
a ‘Troyenborgh’. The antiquarian Johan Hadorph writes (probably in 1684) about the
‘Troijenborg’ and presumes(?) that at this place there “has been much sacrifice to
the gods in bygone days.” Johannes Arenius, the son of the parish minister tells
us in 1717 that that youths still used to gather at this place for games (or dances)
in the summer.
The labyrinth at Rösaring. Photo: Jeff Saward, 2007
At the church of Fröjel there is a labyrinth in the church yard. It has 8 walls and
the entrance is orientated to the south. The labyrinth is situated 13 metres east
of the choir of the church, touching the entrance road to the church. The labyrinth
was partly damaged and difficult to discover, but was beautifully restored in 1974.
In the church description of 1942 it is presumed that the church yard long ago was
smaller, and that the labyrinth was originally situated outside the church yard.
The name Fröjel indicates that this must have been a heathen cultplace. The 14th
century spellings ‘Fröale’ and ‘Fröyiale’ combines the fertility goddess ‘Freja’
and ‘al’ (sanctuary).
Labyrinth at Fröjel. Photo: Jeff Saward, 2007
Sweden's best-known labyrinth is situated immediately north of the old town of Visby.
It has 12 walls and the entrance is orientated to the NW. There is no grave-field
in the neighbourhood, but old sources mention a cairn about 25 metres south of the
labyrinth, which was destroyed in the 19th century. The entrance of the labyrinth
is also flanked by two small cairns, but they are probably not graves. The oldest
written record of this labyrinth is on a map of 1740-41.
Labyrinth at Visby. Photo: Jeff Saward, 1998
The astronomer Curt Roslund has pointed out that the entrance is orientated straight
toward the part of the horizon where the sun sets into the sea about 1st of May according
to the old Julian calendar, which was used in Sweden until 1753. According to local
tradition May 1st was also, together with midsummer, one of the most important occasions
when people used to play in the labyrinth. On April 30th the population of the town
used to celebrate with fires on top of the Galgberget (Gallows Hill) overlooking
the labyrinth. Visby has long been a pagan cult place, as mentioned in the oldest
sources and the name Visby comes from ‘Vi’ (sanctuary) and ‘by’ (village).
At the village of Viby, 15kmt west of Linköping, is an old farm-name which indicates
that this is the place of a disappeared labyrinth. A piece of land called ‘Tröiaborg’
is mentioned in a document of 1421. Two farms in the same village are called ‘Tröghiaborgh’
in 1447 and ‘Tröyaborgh’ in 1500. It is probable that these place-names remind us
of a long-sine destroyed labyrinth in Viby. The village was unusually large and its
name gives us a hint that here was once a pagan cult-place (‘Vi’ = sanctuary). The
district (härad) is named ‘Vifolka härad’ which might come from a former cult place
at Viby. This was simply the district of the people who worshipped their gods at
‘Vi’ or Viby.
Väsby, Kräcklinge parish, Närke
A labyrinth at Vasby was destroyed in about 1910-12 when the stones were used to
build a cellar. Neither type or orientation are known. The labyrinth was situated
about 600 metres west of Vasby farm, on top of a dominating esker. No name or lore
has been preserved. There are no prehistoric graves or grave-fields in the immediate
These labyrinths have many characteristics in common. A particularly homogenous group
consists of those on the northern side of Lake Mälaren: Tibble, Enköping, Rösaring
and Ekebo Smedby.
The last three examples, Visby, Viby and Väsby, are situated close to the suggested
borders between old communities, probably dating from the early Iron Age. Their positions,
on old borders between communities which were later united, give us a hint that these
labyrinths may be slightly later than others.
John Kraft, Västerås, Sweden; April 1987.
The labyrinth at Tibble, Badelunda parish
Drawing by John Kraft, 1980
Labyrinth at Lindbacke. Drawing by Ivar Schnell, 1934
The Trelleborg labyrinth at Vittaryd
Drawing by John Kraft, 1980
The labyrinth at Storeberg. Drawing by John Kraft, 1982