Into the Labyrinth
There is a Minotaur at the center of these stories.
Life is a kind of Labyrinth, with all its twists and turns, its straight paths and its occasional dead ends.
― Jim Henson
I meet Muriel’s ghost in my dreams, in the Labyrinth. We’re both dressed like Sarah. I know that there’s only thirteen hours to get to the center of the Labyrinth, or one of us will disappear. I hold in my hands a golden spool of memory. It is my job to unwind the thread, to outwit the Goblin King, to bring back my friend who was stolen. All this responsibility, held in the palm of my hand.
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol linked to wholeness, a journey to our own center and back out into the world again. In a unicursal labyrinth, there is only one path. Though it may be circuitous and complex, there are no blind alleys on the way to the center. The way in is the way out.
I meet Muriel’s ghost in my dreams, in the labyrinth of Crete. She is Theseus, the hero of the story, and I’m Ariadne. At the center is the Minotaur. It demands a sacrifice, but no one can remember why the gods are punishing us. I hold a glittering clew of golden thread in my hand. It is my job to unwind it, to evade the Minotaur, to lead us out safely. All this responsibility, held in the palm of my hand.
I’ll tell the story, Muriel says. Like Theseus.
You’ll abandon me, I answer. Like Theseus.
At the center of the labyrinth is a Minotaur, and they, too, I meet in dreams. I ask them what their true name is, what they’ve chosen to call themselves in a place where no one calls them anything. Grief, they answer. That explains the hunger, the rage, the violent need. It explains the confusion and desire found in liminal spaces and the terrifying thrill of realizing you’ve been abandoned – a sacrifice or a scapegoat – in the twists and turns of love gone wrong. Yes, they tell me, that’s exactly it. I wish I didn’t have to stay hidden down here. I wish I had other things I could eat, but all they ever give me is blood. I’m so hungry.
There is a Minotaur at the center of these stories.
What I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts.
— David Bowie
Seven is a number of power. There are seven wonders, seven seas, seven heavens, seven deadly sins, seven colors in the rainbow, seven days in a week, seven chakras of the body. In tarot, the sevens of the four suits and the seventh card of the Major Arcana, The Chariot, all deal in overcoming challenges, removing obstacles, and discovering your true purpose. The Sevens deal in sympathetic magic. Sometimes, in doing so, the magic creates what you fear most.
Cretan labyrinths were unicursal, constructed from seven coils signifying the seven spheres of heaven, the planets that made up the known Universe. Originally connected to numerology and sacred geometries, this design set the Christian pattern for the seven-coil labyrinth.
The dance of seven veils teases while it tells a bigger story, veil by veil revealing what’s hidden. Journeying to the center of the labyrinth then back to the outer perimeter represents the cyclical, reliable unfolding and refolding of the Universe. Traveling the labyrinth is a metaphor for our earthly journey. We get lost in the labyrinth looking for meaning and completion, to find the center of our soul, the settle point of our divine source.
To seek meaning in the mazes of mythology, whether these myths come from books or our personal quests for wholeness, requires a blood sacrifice to the Minotaur at the center of the coils. Unicursal labyrinths are constructed from just one path. No matter how twisted and complicated it might seem when you’re inside one, there will never be a dead end or a blank wall impeding your path to the center. Take nothing for granted. The way in is always the way out.
You must only travel seven coils to arrive at the center. Over the course of seven years, Muriel and I found all seven scenes in Labyrinth where Jareth’s face is hidden in plain sight. Before I met Muriel, I had only known about the hidden Jareth that everyone knows, where the two stones form his face. One of the first Saturday nights Muriel and I spent hanging out, we stayed up late into the night talking about David Bowie and smoking cigarettes. Let’s watch Labyrinth tomorrow after breakfast, she said. I’ll show you all the hidden Jareths. We never went to sleep. We just stayed up all night, waiting for the cafeteria to open so we could get breakfast. I know that these are shit waffles from a mix, she said, turning the waffle iron over with a sizzle. But my mom didn’t let me have refined sugar growing up. It tastes fake, but I don’t care. Your turn. She plopped her waffle into a Styrofoam box. My mom didn’t let me have refined sugar, either, I told her. The next Sunday, we did it all over again. Labyrinth became our Ariadne Thread, as we plunged forth into our darkness, searching for the center.
You Remind Me of the Babe
It’s further than you think. Time is short.
A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Nearly every Sunday afternoon for seven years, Muriel and I watched Labyrinth, even when we were mad at each other, which was a lot. We watched it when we were sad, happy, drunk, or hungover, which was also a lot. No matter how late we’d been up the night before, I always made sure to wake up in time to run down to the school cafeteria before it closed for the afternoon and make us shitty waffles from a box. We drank coffee from her tiny moka pot, chain smoked Parliament Lights, and ate waffles, reciting every line along with the movie. We had both seen it in the movie theater when we were younger than Sarah. Once, I told her that I’d been old enough to want to be Sarah. Muriel laughed. She crumpled her napkin into a ball, taking aim before she tossed it at the trashcan. I never wanted to be Sarah, she said. The napkin skimmed the edge of the can, then fell in. She turned back to face me. I wanted to be Jareth.
In my dreams, the Goblin King holds out a crystal ball. It’s a crystal, he says. Nothing more. Curious, I look closer. In it, I see a figure emerging from a dark grotto onto the beach, watching a ship sailing away towards the horizon. What is that? I ask him, as it brightens, his face a setting sun. A dream, he says. Where she ends and you begin. The ball dims, then goes dark.
Even though my mom was a Latin teacher, it was really Muriel who taught me about the labyrinth, and the story of Ariadne, unspooling a thread around every treacherous corner. It’s weird, she told me, there’s like, seven versions of the myth. A couple say that Theseus just left her there on the island. She parted her hair, the pulled it up into two buns. Then there’s some that say Dionysus fell in love with her. She secured each bun with a few bobby pins. There’s one where she’s so devastated by Theseus leaving her that she hangs herself, she said, And one where Artemis kills her, & another that says she became immortal & went to Olympus. She shielded her eyes. Which version do you believe? she asked, coughing a little on a haze of hairspray. You missed one, I said, picking up a wayward strand and wrapping it under her bun. I think she killed herself, I answered. Can you imagine doing all that for someone you love, & then they just leave you anyway?
In Jungian theory, Ariadne represents the anima, the soul energy. The anima is whatconnects us as humans, what connects all of us to the sacred divine and to our soul’s purpose. Her thread, then, is the way that our souls intuitively understand the people we become before we become them. You only understand yourself and see your purpose as you unwind the thread. Only then can you see all your life’s events, all the corners you’ve already turned. There’s no way to leave the labyrinth without first passing through the center. The way in is still the way out, but first you must face down the Minotaur.
Her Minotaur moved swift and decisively. Before she even had time to cry out – into the dark. Just like that, she was gone.
I Move the Stars for No One
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
― Carl Gustav Jung
In the film Labyrinth, it required two people to shoot the scenes where Jareth twirls his crystal balls. To create the illusion, professional juggler Michael Moschen had to hide behind David Bowie and move the crystals without being able to see them. Sympathetic magic, if you will. A trust fall, but with glass orbs. To do the trick correctly, something critical is hidden, but you have to move like it isn’t. At the same time, your partner has to pretend they’re moving something that they’re not and trust you’re twirling the ball. That’s the point of magic: you have to trust something that you can’t see and accept the illusion of it as both magic and truth.
Spiritualists recommend entering the labyrinth with your thoughts focused on a question or concern, much like you’d enter a tarot reading. This frees your mind to notice the pattern of the labyrinth, to find wonder in its twists and turns. You could focus on the rich symbolism of the labyrinth, speak to God, or communicate with those beyond the veil. You get lost in the labyrinth to find yourself. There is no wrong way to walk the path: the way in is the way out.
If two people walk a labyrinth at the same time, their paths are bound to cross. They might find themselves walking in either the same direction or opposite of one another. They might find themselves walking in synchronicity – or at odds – more than once on their way to the center. Meeting others in the maze is part of the journey.
Even on the Sundays that we were fighting, I remembered to set my alarm clock. I walked to the cafeteria angry. Sometimes I took Muriel’s student ID and made her pay for our shitty waffles. I spitefully poured the batter in the waffle iron, seething while it completed its cycle. Then I did the whole thing again for my waffle. I set our Styrofoam containers on the floor and popped the VHS into her tiny TV/VCR combo. I sat down on the edge of her bed and pinched her big toe. Wake up, Mu, I said, we got a date with the Goblin King. I brought waffles.
In logical philosophy, Ariadne’s Thread is solving a problem with many solutions that can all be correct at the same time. Which is to say: many things can be true at once. In mathematics, the key to applying Ariadne’s Thread to a particular problem is the creation and maintenance of a record of all the available solutions, as well as every attempt and its outcome. In other words: document every failure, every wrong turn, because they’re all part of the thread that unravels the answer, the soul’s true purpose. The reason for this requirement is it’s the only way that allows you to backtrack, to see your mistakes and try something new. Learning from your mistakes is part of solving the labyrinth.
In my dreams, Jareth and I stand on top of a hill in a glittering, orange haze. In the distance, beyond the twists and turns of his Labyrinth, is the Goblin City, and inside its walls, his castle. As the wind whips around him, he says, Turn around, before it’s too late. I’ve seen the movie so many times that I take for granted that I know how the story ends. I can’t, I tell him. Don’t you understand I can’t? As I turn my back to him, confident that I know a secret that he doesn’t, I can’t see the compassion when he replies, What a pity.
Losing the Ariadne Thread
Threads snap. You would lose your way in the labyrinth.
― Oscar Wilde
There’s a part in Labyrinth where Sarah finds herself in front of two doors, each protected by a strange, two-headed guard. The doors look a lot like playing cards, because when you’re looking at them, there’s no way to tell which side should face up. You have to assume that whichever side is upright is the right one. The two-headed guards present Sarah with the Knights & Knaves logic puzzle: one door leads directly to the castle, and the other door leads to certain death. Sarah can only ask one question to one guard. The catch is that one of the guards tells the truth, and the other one always lies. To solve the puzzle, you have to ask same question: Which door would the other guard tell you leads out? Both honest guard and the liar will tell you the same door, so whichever one you ask, you’ll get the same answer. To stay alive, you have to choose the opposite door of the one they tell you. When Sarah chooses a door and walks through, confident that she’s solved the riddle, she springs a trap door and starts falling. The mistake is assuming that whoever sets up the rules also follows them. Or that the castle you’re so desperate to get to is anything but an elaborately distorted maze of platforms and staircases to nowhere.
Labyrinths are like palindromes, because you can walk them in either direction and you’ll still end up in the same place. The way in is always the way out. The journey is symbolic of your own inner battle of your shadow self vs. your ideal self. You can send sacrifices into the labyrinth to feed the Minotaur. Or you might use every twist and corner of the labyrinth to become the Minotaur. Or you can keep unspooling your coil of thread, hoping what you’ll find in the center is no monster at all, but instead a bull so beloved that the king couldn’t dream of making it a sacrifice. Archaeologists excavating for the original Cretan labyrinths noted in their journals that the caves were a dark and dangerous place, where it would be easy to get lost.
After choosing the right door, Sarah discovers that despite solving the puzzle correctly, the Goblin King lied. Whichever door she chose would’ve been the wrong one. She falls down a shaft of Helping Hands, who stop her fall for a moment, and ask her which way she wants to go. Realizing she no longer knows which way is up, she asks the Helping Hands to let go of her, so she can keep falling in the direction she’s already pointed. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s just chosen to drop into the oubliette: a place where you put people you want to forget forever. She chose down.
There’s one point all the versions of the myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur agree on. Despite the risks she’d taken and the life she’d left behind, Theseus left Ariadne behind on Naxos. Whatever happened to her next isn’t the point. None of them cared enough to make a record of it, but every single one of them forgives Theseus for his treacherous heart.
According to Jung, a person who is lost in life has dropped their Ariadne Thread. The unicursal design of a labyrinth becomes a maze that’s impossible to escape from. The thread is transformational not only because it leads back out to safety, but also because it leads you to the center, the Minotaur, the shadow self that’s been hidden. There is no version of this myth that the thread isn’t the most important part of the story. Without Ariadne and her thread, Theseus is just another sacrifice.
The year of her Minotaur, I hadn’t seen Muriel since she’d moved back to Buenos Aires. Every time she’d come home, I’d tried to see her, and she hadn’t called me back until after she was gone again, down another corridor in her own labyrinth. I called her on New Year’s Eve, from the parking lot of a tiki bar. I was drunk and sad and lonely, and I knew that this was the thread that bound us tightest. I was actually startled when she answered the phone. Come on, I told her, I’ll drive down and we can watch Labyrinth. It’s dead in the shop after New Year’s. I’ll even make you shitty waffles from a box. The line went quiet, then she said, Okay, that actually sounds nice. Pull hard enough, and even the sturdiest thread can snap without you even knowing until there is nothing surrounding you except darkness, and the Minotaur’s breath.
I brought you to the center, but now I’m not certain
I can lead either of us back out. I dropped the thread a while ago.
I think the Minotaur has it now.
There is no need to build a labyrinth when the entire universe is one.
― Jorge Luis Borges
Take nothing for granted: even in a unicursal maze, the Minotaur can still defeat you. That’s because to beat the Minotaur, you must first see them and know their true name, the name they’ve named themselves when no one cared enough to give them a name. The real battle, the deepest descent into the underworld is to the beating core of the labyrinth you make of your heart. Grief is not a being that can be conquered. You must befriend them or surrender to being consumed by them.
Once, when we were twenty, Muriel told me that she wouldn’t get to forty. Is that a threat, or a promise? I asked. We both laughed, but only one of us knew it wasn’t a joke. When I turned forty and she didn’t, I bought the David Bowie Starman tarot deck for her birthday. The backs of the cards are a design that’s supposed to depict an alien language, but whenever I lay them down to do a reading, the design always looks like a labyrinth to me. I trust the pattern of the cards to help pull away each of the seven veils that cover my truest face. To lead me to the center, to befriend Grief instead of binding them, and lead us out of the darkness together, with or without Theseus.
I am back in the dream where Muriel and I were both dressed like Sarah when we entered the Labyrinth. But now I look again: she’s not dressed like Sarah at all. She’s Jareth. Never take anything for granted, she reminds me, spinning the orb from one hand to the other. But that’s not fair, I tell her. She offers me the crystal ball. In its depths, I watch myself turn into a Minotaur and fall into an endless maze of stairs. You say that so often, she answers, and again the glass goes dark.
If a peach symbolizes long life, then to become immortal, first become a memory. Sometimes, I wonder if her suicide was as simple a decision as eating Jareth’s peach. You’re hungry, so you bite into the fruit without looking at it too closely. It’s only after you’ve already bitten that you realize the mistake, see the worm, taste the poison. I wonder if her dream felt familiar, like a hallucination we’d had once when we thought we would stay twenty forever, took little paper squares of LSD on our tongue, and went swimming in the bioluminescent sea. I need to believe it was like biting into a peach, just one terrible moment of understanding before arriving at the masquerade ball as the guest of honor.
Pay attention to the dancers in the back of the ballroom. Orbiting through the dazzling backdrop of someone else’s dream, every fantasy has a hidden fang somewhere. An edge sharp enough to draw blood.
I have a Minotaur of my own. I have been unspooling a thread of dreams and memories this whole time, like either of those things ever belonged to me for longer than the moment they were alive. Around every corner as treacherous as Theseus’ heart, I’ve become so turned around I can’t remember if I was trying to get to the center or to find a way out. This is how the beast finds you. In the moment of panic before you realize that once you’ve found the center, you’ve also found the way out.
After finishing the dance of seven veils, there’s nothing left hidden. After rounding the corners of the seven coils that make a labyrinth, I find myself at the center. There is no Minotaur here. There is only a bull that was so beloved, a king couldn’t bear to let it go and a queen loved it so much that the gods turned it into a bloodthirsty monster, to teach us a lesson about loving things with a short life span.
Not Long At All
The truth is, of course, that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.
― David Bowie
I don’t know where memory and dream overlap, or how to parse out what’s true from what should have been. That’s the point of a labyrinth.The story does not start or end with the Minotaur, but they are at the heart of it, as they are at the heart of a path that’s been twisted into a seven coiled pattern to hide the thing that scares you the most, the one who draws blood when you abandon them to the darkness.
There’s another version of the myth of the Minotaur, but this is one you won’t find in any book. In this version, Theseus doesn’t kill the Minotaur, and he doesn’t go into the labyrinth alone, either. Ariadne comes with him, and they both hold the thread as they round every treacherous corner, so that neither of them drops it, even when it’s so dark that they can’t see in front of them. In this story, when they get to the center, they say the name that the Minotaur has named themself when no one wanted to name them. And when the Minotaur remembers what their name is, they also remember why they were turned into a beast. They understand that it is easier to cast a magic spell to make a monster than it is to let go of something beloved that should have lived longer. Blood is easier to understand than sorrow, simpler to explain.
When Sarah rescues Toby from the Goblin King, she comes back changed. That, too, is the point of the labyrinth. The version of yourself that exits is not the same as the one who entered, though you’ve been on the same path the whole time. The rules are, and always have been, deceptively simple: the way in is the way out.
As I lay down the cards in a predictable pattern, I am Ariadne, and the place where memories, dreams, and magic meet are the labyrinth I’ve constructed around my Minotaur. I visit them bringing nourishment that isn’t blood and befriend them instead of trying to bind them. Every beast was once a beloved bull. It’s only sorrow that’s made them monstrous. This story has never been about Theseus. It’s always been about me and the Minotaur.
When you come to the end of the labyrinth, you find yourself holding an empty spindle. From the end point on the opposite side of where you started, it’s easy to look at the thread that connects both points to each other and assume that this is the inevitable, logical outcome.
Sometimes I dream about her in the Labyrinth, and a clock with thirteen hours. I wish the Goblin King would come and take you away. Right now. I imagine this, sometimes, very early on Sunday mornings, making waffles. What if she chose the Labyrinth instead? What if she just stood in front of the mirror and said the magic words—
You have no power over me
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3. Icons by Freepik via Flat icon. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.flaticon.com/free-icon/maze_1872202
4. Labyrinth photo by Martino Grua from Pexels. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://www.pexels.com/photo/distant-person-on-labyrinth-path-4326363/
5. Crystal ball Photo by Michal Lomza on Unsplash. Accessed 02/01/2021. https://unsplash.com/@loomzing
6. Photographs via author’s personal collection
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Allie Marini (she/ her) is a cross-genre Florida writer. In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a 2017 Oakland Poetry Slam team member & is a member of the Tarosophy Association. She writes poetry, fiction, essays, and tarot dossiers. Find her online: www.alliemarini.com or @kiddeternity.