The Unending Mystery is a charming, offbeat, generously illustrated exploration of a form that has had a place in the culture of almost every civilization since the beginning of human history—and is now experiencing a modern revival.
Labyrinths appear on Neolithic rock outcroppings and in some of the oldest legends from the Greek Isles and the American Southwest. They have ...
The Unending Mystery is a charming, offbeat, generously illustrated exploration of a form that has had
a place in the culture of almost every civilization since the beginning of human history—and is now experiencing a
Labyrinths appear on Neolithic rock outcroppings and in some of the oldest legends from the Greek Isles and the American Southwest. They have been created to represent everything from the birth of a child to the descent into hell, and legions of claims—from facilitating pregnancy to freeing souls from Purgatory—have been made for their power. In them we see perhaps the first human effort to create a form not found in nature, and we experience a mystery that has survived the millennia in countless manifestations.
From the Mediterranean to Tuscany and Scandinavia, from English villages to French cathedrals and Italian palace gardens, David Willis McCullough takes us on a grand tour of the great labyrinths and mazes. Using a distinctive blend of history and research, he tells the story of their interpretations and uses, from the exalted to the ridiculous. He visits with today's labyrinth enthusiasts, including a Scotswoman who creates them in the South Bronx, the canon of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral who wants to pepper the world with them, and the showman who conceived the first cornfield maze—a phenomenon that is staving off bankruptcy for many American farmers.
McCullough's infectious enthusiasm and wit make him the ideal guide to the age-old, ever-alluring world of labyrinths and mazes.
In his brief and rather sketchy guide to the history and enduring attraction of labyrinths and mazes, McCullough (Brooklyn and How It Got That Way) shows how the labyrinth "a single uninterrupted circuitous path leading to a center" differs from the maze, a puzzle made up of numerous forks that demands choices for its successful navigation. McCullough traces the evolution of the labyrinth form from its obvious starting place the Cretan myth of the Minotaur to its Christianized appearance in European cathedrals such as Chartres. Citing various interpreters of the Minotaur myth, from Homer to Robert Graves, McCullough suggests the original Cretan labyrinth may have owed its design to a whirling erotic dance performed on a specially marked floor. He races on to describe the crude outdoor labyrinths made of earth and stone that appear across northern Europe, outlining some of their folkloric associations. Turning his attention to the origins of the maze, McCullough evokes the 16th-century fashion for landscape gardening, with its craze for so-called "knot gardens" and hedged mazes. He ends with a rambling series of glimpses into the contemporary "maze craze," profiling New Age enthusiasts who use labyrinths in prayer and some of the foremost commercial maze designers. Although he packs his story full of information, McCullough's historical and anthropological accounts can feel slight and simplistic. Illus. (Oct. 26) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
McCullough (Wars of the Irish Kings, 2000, etc.) takes a thoroughly good-humored look at the history and layout of labyrinths and mazes. Let's get a couple of things straight first, he writes. A labyrinth is not a maze. A labyrinth is a single circuitous path to a center, nonjudgmental and solemn. A maze is a puzzle path that demands choices; it's raffish, tricky, and often enough designed with one end in mind: fun. Labyrinths go back-even pre-Stone Age-with a typical design of 7- or 11-fold circuits; mazes are a rather newer invention. In the cheerful voice of one smitten by both subjects, McCullough takes readers on a tour of some fascinating labyrinths and mazes: Etruscan, Cretan, Roman, medieval, Native American, English (as in country houses), made of corn, glass, and mirrors. With each site he visits or examines, he tenders speculations on the role of labyrinths, being mostly taken with their contemplative role, to reflect and inspire and offer peace, to serve as a surrogate pilgrim's way. Mazes have an equally fascinating, if less hoary, background; McCullough notes the suggestions that they evolved out of Gaelic knots, or the designs of Persian rugs, and that by the 16th century they had become both "social events and elaborate garden ornaments," as well as, perhaps, a chance for vice. Although he tries to keep his head square on his shoulders, he also entertains theories involving divine doodles and quantum physics, displaying dry humor when it comes to the purported string theory parallel. "The chapter on string theories in Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time," he notes, "being the point where most of his readers realized that they hadn't the slightest idea what Hawkingwas writing about." Also captivating is the material on sacred geometry and symbolic numbers, including the rare appearance, as related to McCullough, of angels and stardust on a labyrinthine walk. Proffers this sound advice: Get lost or, better yet, take a walk. (Illustrations throughout)
David Willis McCullough's previous books include Brooklyn . . . and How It Got That Way, several
mysteries, and, as editor, a number of anthologies, most recently Wars of the Irish Kings. For many years he was
a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club Editorial Board. He lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.