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The Unending Mystery

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THE UNENDING MYSTERY: A Journey through Labyrinths and Mazes. By David Willis McCullough. Pantheon Books. 231 pages. $24.

Eons ago, labyrinths were etched by human tools on Scottish mountainsides, aboriginal caves, and Arizona rocks. Throughout the millennia, its shape has been found in the mosaic floors of ashen Pompeii, Victorian palace gardens, and 21st-century American hospitals. Despite this ubiquity, the original meaning of the maze is one of humankind’s oldest mysteries.

Is it an erotic dance, a game, a symbol of the Underworld or the City of God? Does it represent the human brain, the birth of a child, or Mother Earth? McCulloch does not solve these puzzles. Instead he guides the reader on a fabulous journey of discovery, through the ancient cities of Troy and Jericho, to the legends of the Minotaur, Ariadne’s “clew,” and Joshua’s wall-tumbling horns.

Divided into eleven chapters representing the eleven concentric circles of a labyrinth, McCulloch examines the countless manifestations of the design and its synonym, the maze. His easy narrative allows the reader to meander through the etymology, symbolism and metaphor in poetry, drama, and art of the labyrinth. The huge range of meaning within artistic, theological, and philosophical disciplines is explored, but McCulloch is at his best when paralleling ancient myths of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans with 21st-century labyrinth followers.

Carl Jung cites the labyrinth to be as old as thought, or even older. This primal act of creation is the basis for the communication of ideas throughout the history of mankind. For those interested in life, death, art, mythology and language, this book will entertain as much as provoke thought and inspire the imagination.

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About Nick Smith

  • Eric Olsen

    fascinating Nick – thanks and welcome!

  • “Divided into eleven chapters…, McCulloch examines…”

    Ouch! Sounds like McCulloch had his hands full, just keeping the 11 segments of himself together.

    “Carl Jung cites the labyrinth to be as old as thought or even older.”

    I’d love to hear more about this, as presented in the book. Any thoughts? Or paleo-thoughts, however labyrnthine?