Labyrinths & Mazes Resource Centre, Photo Library & Archive
The Classical Labyrinth
(also known as Cretan, seven-path/circuit or angle-type)
The archetypal classical labyrinth design consists of a single pathway that loops
back and forth to form seven circuits, bounded by eight walls, surrounding the central
goal. It is found in both circular and square forms. Practically all labyrinths prior
to the first few centuries BCE are of this type. Found in historical contexts throughout
Europe, North Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Indonesia, this is also the design
that occurs in the American Southwest and occasionally in South America. During the
current revival of labyrinths it has once again found popularity for its simplicity
of construction and archetypal symbolism.
Wherever it is found, the same method of constructing the design is commonly encountered
- the so-called ‘seed-pattern,’ shown below. This simple technique for remembering
the process of drawing the classical labyrinth has undoubtedly been instrumental
in its widespread occurrence and popularity...
Circular and square varieties of the classical labyrinth design. Mirror image forms,
with the first pathway turning either left or right, are both common
This form is also (inappropriately) known as the "Cretan" labyrinth, a term that
implies an origin on the island of Crete. Although its subsequent association with
the legendary Labyrinth at Knossos is well documented, the design certainly predates
the legend and has not been found on Crete prior to the fourth century BCE. It is
also known as the "seven-circuit labyrinth," but this too is confusing, for other
labyrinth types can have seven paths and classical labyrinths may have more, or less,
than seven circuits. The term "Classical" has gained widespread acceptance in recent
years and is to be preferred, as it correctly implies the original form and is free
from association with any particular location or region - appropriate for a design
that is found worldwide.
The simplicity of its construction from an easily remembered seed pattern has clearly
been instrumental in the wide cultural dissemination of the classical labyrinth.
It is by far the world's most common form, and remains popular to this day. Simple
amendments to the seed pattern allow different versions of this form to be created
quickly and easily and such varieties, often with eleven or fifteen circuits, are
common in historical contexts in northern Europe and especially in Scandinavia. Several
important variants used in historical contexts are distinctive enough to deserve
sub-categories of their own.
A classical labyrinth with 15 paths (16 walls), painted on the wall of Roerslev Church,
Labyrinth petroglyph (Classical-type), Rocky Valley, England