Maze vs Labyrinth: What's The Difference?

Maze vs Labyrinth — Let’s Compare And See The Difference!

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If you’ve always used the terms maze and labyrinth interchangeably, then you are certainly not alone. But while they do have a lot of things in common, they are, in fact, very different things. In this article, I’m going to explain just what is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth.

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Differences Between a Maze and a Labyrinth

A comparison image between maze garden and labyrinth garden
Left: Maze Garden | Right: Labyrinth Garden

The significant difference between a maze and a labyrinth is the difficulty involved in walking through them. In a maze, there are many different branching routes. This means you can take wrong turns and end up in dead ends. It requires thought and persistence to get through a maze. On the other hand, there is only a single route through a labyrinth. It may follow a complex and twisting route, but you can’t make a wrong turn, as there are no choices to make.

Another difference that you can find between labyrinths and mazes comes from the entry and exit points. Because there is only ever one route through a labyrinth, that means there is one entrance and one exit. In some labyrinth designs, the entry and exit points may be the same. However, depending on the complexity and style of the maze, it is possible for there to be multiple entry points. Usually, there is only a single exit, but, again, this is not a fixed rule, as some deeply complex mazes can have multiple exits as well.

The final core difference between mazes and labyrinths comes in relation to the way they are used. Mazes are used primarily as a test of intellect. This could be as part of a science experiment or for fun and challenge. Labyrinths have a much more spiritual and cultural heritage. They are often used as tools of prayer or meditation.

How Are Mazes And Labyrinths The Same?

The reason many of us have conflated mazes and labyrinths in our minds is that they do have a lot in common. Both involve taking complex routes to reach a destination. They are also both often portrayed with high walls that block out the rest of the world.

Mazes

Mazes are a fascinating area of study in mathematics. All mazes, from the ones on the back of a children’s menu all the way up to 3D infinitely complex tangles, have 7 characteristics:

  • Dimension
  • Hyperdimension
  • Topology
  • Tessellation
  • Routing
  • Texture
  • Focus

It is the combination of these features that give the maze its character and complexity.

The fact that there are so many different ways to make a maze is why it is such a useful tool for scientists. Mazes have been used to study intelligence and decision-making in not only humans but all sorts of animals.

Why is it called a maze?

Mazes have been around for a long time, and it’s believed that the name dates back to the 13th Century. The root is thought to be the Middle English word mæs. Which appropriately means delirium or delusion.

What are the characteristics of an effective maze?

Children walking in maze drawn by chalk on cement

If you’re trying your hand at drawing a maze, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Firstly, it should strike the balance of offering a challenge without being too frustrating.

One of the first things to check for is that you haven’t accidentally created a trivial solution. This is surprisingly easy to do. Especially if you like to add routes that lead back towards the beginning.

When drawing by hand, the first important skill to master is drawing your passages to be a consistent width. If the walls get closer and farther apart, it can be challenging for someone to focus on where the paths actually go.

The junctions in your maze are the next place to focus your efforts. There are lots of different ways to create junctions in a maze. Using a variety keeps the maze interesting and can create a more interesting final look.

Labyrinths

Labyrinths are much older than mazes. There is evidence of labyrinths from the time of the ancient Egyptians. Based on the ruins found, the oldest labyrinth is thought to be around 4,000 years old.

The most famous labyrinth is probably the labyrinth of Crete – the one that housed the Minotaur. So, it’s probably no surprise that the word labyrinth comes from Greek and Latin roots. The words in both languages for a building with complicated passages are labyrinthus (Latin) and labýrinthos (Ancient Greek).

What are the benefits of walking a labyrinth?

Woman walking in the labyrinth in backyard

Labyrinths have long been viewed as something spiritual. Over the years, they have been thought to represent an inner path that we walk. At different points in time, this path has been given different meanings. It has represented the struggle of good vs. evil, the challenging path of walking to become closer to a god, or even just the path of finding oneself.

Recent practice has been to use labyrinths as a tool for meditation. This can be done by walking through a physical labyrinth and following the path to the center. Another option is to use finger labyrinths. These are small designs you trace with your finger. Both methods are useful for helping you to clear your mind or to work on mindfulness. They are especially helpful for those who struggle with sitting still for long periods but still want to try meditation.

We have another article for you to read if you’re interested in how to make a labyrinth at home. There are several different methods to create your own. Whether you want to use a labyrinth to help with your and your family’s mental health or as a place to stash your personal monster.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a labyrinth used for?

A modern labyrinth in a garden

Labyrinths have been used for a lot of different purposes. Modern labyrinths are often used as architectural features in gardens. They are also popular for use as spiritual tools. They are becoming popular as features in spiritual spaces as they can be used by any faith and denomination as a tool for prayer and reflection.

Why was the Minotaur kept in a labyrinth?

Greek mythology can be a bit of a sordid tale, with the gods seeing the lives of mortals as playthings. It’s from one of these interactions that the Minotaur was born. Minos was the king of Crete, and he angered the gods. As punishment, his wife bore an unnatural child who was half-bull, half-man.

At the direction of the Oracle at Delphi, Minos had the labyrinth constructed to contain the Minotaur and to use it as a means of ridding the country of unwanted citizens.

What is the symbolism of a labyrinth?

Labyrinths have taken on a lot of symbolic meaning over the years. Originally they were seen as a symbol of wholeness. They were representations of the purposeful path of the spirit. You would walk to the center to find an answer and then walk back to emerge as a whole and complete being.

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