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Difference Between a Labyrinth and a Maze


  1. Unicursal vs. Multicursal

The largest and most widely cited difference between a labyrinth and maze is that one unicursal and one is multicursal. This refers to the amount of options in the paths you can take. A labyrinth is a maze with no branches; the participant is required to follow the only path available. This is reason a labyrinth is considered unicursal. A true maze, on the other hand, has multiple paths created by branches that start from the initial path into the maze. Since the participant can follow along any number of different paths, a maze is considered to be multicursal.[i]

  1. History

Labyrinths pre-date mazes. The first known labyrinth is Herodotus’ Egyptian labyrinth. He wrote that the structure was near the City of Crocodiles and its construction surpassed even the pyramids. The labyrinth site was discovered in the 19th century, with the names of many pharaohs inscribed on it-the oldest of which is Amenemhat III, likely making the labyrinth nearly 4,000 years old. Aside from the oldest labyrinth, perhaps the most well-known is the Cretan labyrinth. Though archeological evidence of this labyrinth has not yet been discovered, most people are familiar with it from the Greek myth featuring King Minos and the Minotaur. In fact, the word labyrinth is Greek in origin.[ii]

The construction of multicursal mazes happened later in history and were often constructed in fields for the entertainment of children. While the true origin is unclear, they became popular in England in the 17th and 18th century.[iii] Many of the mazes that are currently open to the public are still found in England, including the most famous maze-Hampton Court-in which the hedges used for walls are much taller than any participants who might enter it.

  1. Types

There are many different types of both labyrinths and mazes. A labyrinth may also be referred to as a circuit. A list of the identified types of labyrinths include: classical 11 circuit, classical 15 circuit, classical 3 circuit, classical 7 circuit, concentric, and Roman. There is also another group of labyrinths called the classical seed patterns, of which there are: the proposed Nasca labyrinth seed pattern, the seed pattern to labyrinth to path alone, the Baltic labyrinth, the Chakra-Vyuha labyrinth and the Penti seed pattern. Of the medieval group of labyrinths, there is the: Chartres, medieval 10 circuit, medieval 11 circuit, medieval 17 circuit, medieval 7 circuit, medieval 9 circuit and the St. Omar type. There is also a contemporary medieval group which includes the chalice labyrinth, the contemporary medieval design and the Santa Rose. Labyrinths outside of the medieval group include the contemporary designs-composite, miscellaneous, Vesica Pisces motif-the meander, the meander pattern based design and the three-dimensional labyrinth.[iv]

Some of the different types of mazes have been developed to be used in psychological experiments. These would include the Barnes maze, Morris water maze, Oasis maze, radial arm maze, elevated plus maze, and T-maze. Other types of mazes include: ball-in-a-maze puzzle, block maze, labrymaze (mix between labyrinth and maze), linear or railroad maze, logic mazes, loops and traps maze, number maze, picture maze, turf maze and mizmazes.[v] There is also a theta maze which is composed of concentric circles, a delta maze is composed solely of interlocking triangles and a perfect maze which has no islands or isolated sections, but has only one solution. A braid maze has branches with no dead ends-all paths connect back to other paths. And finally, there is a plainair maze, which exists on something other than a flat surface, such as a cube or a sphere.[vi]

  1. Method of participating

There is also typically a difference in the entry and exit of mazes and labyrinths. A labyrinth usually has only one entrance and since it is unicursal, the objective is to reach the center and then return to the same point you entered. A maze, on the other hand, will usually have a defined entry and exit that are distinct from each other and will feature a complex path between the two. Aside from this, mazes will typically have varying levels of difficulty and complexity since they can be constructed with many different paths. Since a labyrinth only has one path, there is no difficulty in completing it. The participant must follow the only option available.[vii]

  1. Features

Since the nature of the labyrinth is unicursal and the nature of a maze is multicursal, mazes feature other elements that are not found in labyriths. These are unique features that are created by the different ways the path can branch. If a path results in a dead end, it is referred to as a blind alley. An island references a portion of the maze that has no walls and is not connected to the external wall of the maze; this feature is also sometimes referred to as a detached wall.

  1. Spiritual significance

When referencing mazes and labyrinths, the spiritual is often mentioned as both seem to have very different symbolism and meaning attached to them. A labyrinth is often seen as a gateway to the spiritual realm. They offer symbolism of the unseen and the pathway that celebrates life, rebirth, success and the triumph of good over evil. They exist as representations of the path that is inside of us. Mazes are puzzles that exist outside of self. They exist to challenge and puzzle individuals. They test the limits of our capacity and determination. They represent the choices one makes, and the subsequent effects of that choise.[viii]

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References :

[0][i] Amazing Mazes. (n.d.). In The UnMuseum online. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from http://www.unmuseum.org/maze.htm

[1][ii] Labyrinth. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth

[2][iii] Maze. (n.d.). In Encyclopedia of Science online. Retrieved from http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/M/maze.html

[3][iv] Types of labyrinths. (n.d.). The labyrinth society. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from https://labyrinthsociety.org/labyrinth-types

[4][v] Maze. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maze

[5][vi] Amazing Mazes. (n.d.). In The UnMuseum online. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from http://www.unmuseum.org/maze.ht

[6][vii] Labyrinth vs. Maze. (n.d.). In Diffen. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from

[7][viii] Whats the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. On The Embellished Life. Retrieved October 13, 2016 from http://embellishedheart.com/articles/whats-the-difference-between-a-labyrinth-and-a-maze/


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