The Ritual of the Labyrinth
Ta Hiera Laburinthou
Note: I suggest that first-time readers begin with the
before returning to the more practical topics.
I call on Thee, kind Muse, to grant a gift,
to loose a stream of swiftly flowing words,
a spring of inspiration, crystal clear,
to nourish fruit from which to feed the soul,
a rushing stream to cleanse my inner eyes
so I may see the ageless mythic truth.
I ask assistance by these very words.
As I have prayed, so may it be!
This ritual is an initiation and celebration of new
beginnings structured around the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and
the Minotaur and associated Greek midautumn celebrations,
which take place when Apollo yields Delphi to Dionysos for the
winter months. The High Priestess takes the part of Ariadne
and the High Priest takes the parts of Dionysos and the
Minotaur. The Acolyte (Akólouthos) takes the
part of Theseus, and undergoes an initiation into a higher level
of responsibility by a confrontation with his Shadow and by a
rebirthing ritual. In the course of this he leads a number of
Paides ("youths," spiritually speaking), who undergo a lesser
initiation and experience of renewal. Thus the ritual is intended
for a High Priestess (HPs), High Priest (HP), Acolyte and a dozen
or so Paides, but variations are given for as few as two and
even for solitary execution.
The Ritual of the Labyrinth draws from a number of
connected or parallel sources. First, of course, we have the
myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur, in the various
forms in which it has come down to us. Second is a series of
ancient Greek festivals connected with this myth, which occur
around November 1 at the time of the Moon's first quarter (the
Puanepsia, Oskhophoria and Theseia), when Apollo yields to
Dionysos at Delphi. Third is a connection of the myth with the
Epic of Gilgamesh. Of course they are both
representatives of the Hero's Quest (as in Campbell's Hero
with a Thousand Faces), but there is a more specific
connection. Humbaba (or Humwawa or Kombabos), the monster
defeated by Gilgamesh and his comrade Enkidu, is traditionally
shown with a grotesque "furrowed face," taken to represent the
small intestines. The entrails are "unicursal" like the Cretan
Labyrinth (that is, there is a single path), and indeed the
number and arrangement of the coils is essentially that of the
(see Minotaur Mask).
Likewise, the Cretan Labyrinth is compared to entrails.
Furthermore, the Face of Humbaba was used for divination,
and the shape and divisions of divinatory livers from Babylonia
correspond closely to the Cretan Labyrinth
Humbaba is the guardian of a Sacred Tree, and it does not
seem coincidental that we find similar "furrowed face" masks in
the shrine of Ortheia (the Upright Tree), where there were
labyrinthine dances involving a defeated monster, a Sacred
Tree, and a Sacred Marriage between a Hero and a Goddess (cf.
Gilgamesh and Ishtar/Inanna). The Goddess Ortheia was most
closely associated with Artemis and Aphrodite, who have
important roles in the Ariadne story. The fourth source is the
Mistress of the Beasts and Her Consort from Minoan Religion.
The final (principal) source is medieval labyrinth dancing and
other labyrinthine lore that has come down to us. Other
themes come from the identification of Ariadne with
Persephone as Queen of the Underworld (reinforced by Minos'
role as judge in the Underworld). (More specific sources are
given in the notes.)
This ritual is performed at night in the Midautumn
(Samhain) season, ideally at the first quarter of the moon
around the beginning of November.
- A. Ariadne (A), Lady of the Labyrinth
- B. The Worthy Bull = Dionysos (D) & the Minotaur (M)
- C. Theseus (T)
- D. Athena
- E. Paides (P)
- F. Modifications for Small Group
- G. Modifications for Solitary Ritual
A. Ariadne (A), Lady of the Labyrinth
The High Priestess takes the role of Ariadne. She has the
principal magical responsibility for the ritual, although much of
it can be shifted to the Worthy Bull (see next).
B. The Worthy Bull = Dionysos (D) & the
The parts of Dionysos and the Minotaur are played by the
same person, who is, ideally, a young man, virile but not
excessively macho. He functions as the High Priest for the Rite
and has the secondary magical responsibility. (If desired, the
parts can be taken by two people.)
C. Theseus (T)
Ideally, a young man. He has a moderate amount of
speaking to do, and must be able to lead the Crane Dance. He
undergoes the primary initiation in the ritual.
A simple role with little speaking. Ariadne could double
as Athena, by taking on Her attributes (e.g. helmet, spear,
shield). Alternately, Theseus can speak Athena's part, with
appropriate introductory lines ("And then bright-eyed Athena
said to me").
E. Paides (P)
The Paides (lit. Youths) are the (spiritually) young people
who are undergoing a lesser initiation. Ideally, an equal
number of males and females (most ideally, seven of each).
F. Modifications for Small Group
If there are only two individuals, then they take the
parts of Theseus and Ariadne (who executes the High Priest
function as well as the High Priestess function), although the
parts for D can be taken by the Acolyte on behalf of D. The
Minotaur is represented by his Mask hung on the Tree under
the Starry Robe. His words are spoken by Theseus, with an
introduction such as, "Hear the Monster say..."
G. Modifications for Solitary Ritual
For a solitary execution of the ritual, go through the
actions of Theseus, but read and meditate on the spoken parts
of Ariadne and the others. In effect the ritual becomes a
This ritual is ©1997, John Opsopaus,
but may be used for any nonprofit purpose provided
the source is credited.
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Mon Feb 21 11:31:24 EST 2000