Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Labyrinth

Among theories used to explain the non-Indo-European influence on northern European languages is that the people known in archaeological circles as the Battle Axe Culture were the primary source.

The battle axe is an important symbol in early Europe. The double axe or double hammer is the stone weapon of Thor known as Mjolnir. As in Southeast Asia, the crash of the stone axe causes lightning and thunder.

In earlier times, the double stone axe appears as the weapon of Pelasgian and Etruscan deities. In Crete and Lydia, the double axe is known as the labrys and again is associated with lightning and possibly with the maze known as the labyrinth. The latter link is surmised mainly through the similar looking words, labrys and labyrinth.

The double axe in Aegean art is often connected with animal sacrifice and it may be that the labyrinth link is related to the divinatory sacrifice.

The labyrinth is often compared to entrails, which were used for divination in Mesopotamia. The mask of the Minotaur in the Ritual of the Labyrinth appears covered with intestines. A similar feature is found in representations of the Sumerian god Humbaba, who we linked earlier with volcanic eruptions.

Humbaba with furrowed face thought to represent intestines

Face of Humbaba

The face of Humbaba was itself used for divination purposes in Mesopotamia. The pattern on both the Minotaur mask and the face of Humbaba has been described as "unicursal" (having one path) in a manner similar to that of the Cretan Labyrinth.

The appearance also resembles that of the divinatory livers portrayed in Mesopotamian art.

In Sumerian texts, the seventh Sumerian king Enmeduranki learned the art of liver divination from the seventh sage or abgal/apkallu (fish-man) named Utu'abzu. As you may remember, the abgal were said to have come from Dilmun across the Indian Ocean in Greek texts.

The Book of Enoch states that the art of signs and other mystic arts were taught to humanity by the "fallen angels" led by Azâzêl"

Enoch 8

"1 And Azâzêl taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all

2 colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they

3 were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjâzâ taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, 'Armârôs the resolving of enchantments, Barâqîjâl (taught) astrology, Kôkabêl the constellations, Êzêqêêl the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiêl the signs of the earth, Shamsiêl the signs of the sun, and Sariêl the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven..."

Azazel was eventually chained in the wilderness for causing the "fall" of humanity. In the book of Leviticus, there are instructions to send a scapegoat carrying the sins of Israel into the wilderness for "Azazel." This has been interpreted by some as the same Azazel of Enoch although others think that it refers to a description of the place where the goat is sent.

The goat is none other than the scapegoat carrying the sins of the world and transferring them to Azazel.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus steals the fire of the forge of Hephaestus, which was believed to have been located under one or all of the volcanoes known to the Greeks. He gives the gift of fire to humanity which again causes the latter's downfall. As punishment, Prometheus is chained to a mountain where every day an eagle comes to devour his regenerating liver.

The appearance of the liver here in the punishment of Prometheus is interesting. The liver is considered in many cultures as the center of the body and the source of desire and "fire."

For stealing the fire of the forge of Hephaestus, whose own name might be derived from hepar "liver," Prometheus receives the reciprocal punishment of having his own liver, the internal source of fire, devoured daily.

The divinatory sacrifice can thus be seen as the opening of the body, which is the earth in microcosm, with the double axe. The liver, intestines and other entrails are the source of the fire. They represent the ultimate source in microcosm, or the answer revealed by that ultimate source.

And this source is, of course, the volcano deity who provides the fire for Hephaestus's underworld forge.

The battle axe also has another association of interest. The Roman fasces used by the lictors of the Etruscan kings of Rome and later by the imperial lictors consisted of a model battle axe bound to a bundle of reeds or sticks. This reminds us of the nation concept as related to the bamboo as found in the word "bansa" and its cognates.

The Roman fasces, used as a symbol of power by the Etruscans and thousands of years later by the Italian nationalists known as the Fascists

Reed bundles with ring and bandlet at top symbolizing Ishtar (Venus) and the Uruk city-state

In Sumer, a bundle of reeds was the symbol of Innana/Ishtar and also the heraldic emblem of the city-state of Uruk, the home of Gilgamesh.

Returning to the imagery of the labyrinth, if we look at the liver as representing the fiery center of the earth, then the intestines would stand for part of the path to the surface. The opening at the surface is represented by the mouth -- the symbol of the volcano and the entrance to the Underworld. Escaping the labyrinth may be looked at as escaping the clutches of fate symbolized by the Minotaur's mask and the face of Humbaba.

In the New Hebrides (Malekula), the mystic initiate must draw half of a labyrinth belonging to the female ghost Lehevhev before admission into the order. We also find survivals of the labyrinth design in Austronesia for which the meaning is apparently lost, at least to the vast majority of the people.

Paul Kekai Manansala


For more information on the labyrinth, see The Ritual of the Labyrinth,
Ta Hiera Laburinthou
by John Opsopaus.