The Ritual of the Labyrinth
Ta Hiera Laburinthou

©1997, John Opsopaus


Note: I suggest that first-time readers begin with the Ritual Text 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!

I. Purpose

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.

II. Background

[Theseus and Minotaur image] The Ritual of the Labyrinth draws from a number of connected or parallel sources.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] Third is a connection of the myth with the Epic of Gilgamesh.[5] 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.[6] 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 Labyrinth (see Minotaur Mask). Likewise, the Cretan Labyrinth is compared to entrails.[7] Furthermore, the Face of Humbaba was used for divination,[8] and the shape and divisions of divinatory livers from Babylonia correspond closely to the Cretan Labyrinth (see Labyrinths).[9] 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).[10] The Goddess Ortheia was most closely associated with Artemis and Aphrodite, who have important roles in the Ariadne story.[11] The fourth source is the Mistress of the Beasts and Her Consort from Minoan Religion.[12] The final (principal) source is medieval labyrinth dancing and other labyrinthine lore that has come down to us.[13] Other themes come from the identification of Ariadne with Persephone as Queen of the Underworld (reinforced by Minos' role as judge in the Underworld).[14] (More specific sources are given in the notes.)

III. Timing

This ritual is performed at night in the Midautumn (Samhain) season, ideally at the first quarter of the moon around the beginning of November.

IV. Officials

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 Minotaur (M)

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.

D. Athena

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.[16] 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 self-initiation.

This ritual is ©1997, John Opsopaus, but may be used for any nonprofit purpose provided the source is credited.

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Last updated: Mon Feb 21 11:31:24 EST 2000