Maze and Rock Art
Maze in Negev Desert Rock Art
Rock Art and its meaning israelrockart.com.
The intricate maze design in rock art represents a visual challenge for the viewer, as their mind tries in vain to navigate the tangled paths to find a beginning and end. The complexity of these symbols creates a sense of unease, implying danger and symbolizing a metaphorical, difficult journey, such as the path to the underworld. According to Zavaroni A. (2006), labyrinths in rock art symbolize the mysterious routes taken by souls that travel between the earthly world and the afterlife. He writes, “… labyrinths alluded to the mysterious routes available to souls and psychopomp gods for traveling from the terrestrial world to the Otherworld and back.”
The ancient people believed that the journey from life to death was complex and dangerous. The reincarnation of the soul requires crossing treacherous obstacles on their way through the underworld. They wanted to leave a lasting legacy and the journey was their final chance to avoid being forgotten. Thus, the journey had to be completed. To convey this remarkable scenario, it had to be both imaginative and convincing, the maze represented this requirement at first glance. Now, we can see several examples, in rock art, of how the ancient artists approached this abstract concept of the afterlife journey.
The Maze and the tri-finger Rock Art
The afterlife journey of the soul passes three realms: the underworld, earth, and heaven. Combining these symbols into a single image conveys their meaning. For instance, the depiction in Fig.2 incorporates four symbols: the maze (symbol1), representing the underworld and the transition to earth, the tri-fingered bird (symbol2), serving as a divine guide to heaven, and the sun (symbol3), signifying a place of reincarnation. These symbols are all related to the journey of the soul in the afterlife.
This rock art illustrates the various realms the soul must traverse on its way to the afterlife. The convoluted maze starts at the bottom of the rock and ends at a flat indentation near the rock face, symbolizing the shift from the underworld to the earth. The intricate design of the maze represents the peril of the journey through the underworld. Upon completing this treacherous path, the tri-fingered bird leads the soul toward the sun, symbolizing rejuvenation and rebirth.
The Maze and the bird Rock Art
The Greeks and Romans viewed death as a necessary phase for renewal. This transition is depicted in Fig.3. The large bird with outstretched wings (symbol2), retrieves the soul from the maze after completing the journey through the underworld, and carries it to the upper world. (symbol1) represents the soul as a baby, symbolizing reincarnation as the pure form of the deceased, who is then welcomed into heaven. The top of the maze resembles a face with two openings, which may signify the watchful eyes of the underworld deity.
This scene depicts all the phases of the journey to the afterlife, including the passage through the underworld and rebirth. The maze, a cage without a clear exit, symbolizes the obstacles the soul must face during its journey. After navigating the maze, the soul continues on as a newborn, guided by the celestial bird.
The Maze and the Sun Journey
The scene in Fig.4 portrays the sun’s journey through the maze-like underworld. In Egyptian belief, the sun navigated the underworld as it battled against the forces of darkness, including the giant coiled snake Apophis, which sought to stop the sun’s nightly journey. In this scene, we see the moment the sun, the circle (symbol 2 ), emerges from the underworld. The maze (symbol 3) starts at the bottom, indicating the underworld, and leads to the flat surface, symbolizing the transition to the earth. After its journey through the underworld, the sun travels through the sky in a golden wagon (symbol 1), a concept known from Roman mythology.
The maze designs in rock art represent the treacherous and dangerous path that the soul must navigate to reach the afterlife. The various rock art scenes combine symbols, such as the tri-fingered bird, the sun, and the celestial bird, that help the soul journey through the underworld.
In Zavaroni A. (2006) words, “The prehistoric labyrinths simply denote a conception of the world related to the rebirth of souls. To depict or to carve them is not only an act of veneration but also has a didactic function for those observing the images”. In essence, the maze describes a mental process associated with the painful departure from the living world. Modern maze interpretation shifted from death into a life journey symbolizing the choices in selecting the right path to achieve a goal such as finding god or reaching salvation.
Ajit Kumar (2015) Labyrinths in Rock Art: Morphology and Meaning
Lankester, D. (2012) Predynastic & Pharaonic era Rock-Art in Egypt’s Central Eastern Desert.
Kristiansen, K. (2010) The Sun journey in Indo-European mythology and Bronze Age rock art.
Matthews, W. H. (2015) Mazes and Labyrinths
Penelope R.D, (2012) The Idea of a Labyrinth
Zavaroni A. (2006) Souls across the Labyrinth: Representations of Rebirth in the Bronze/Iron Age in Europe
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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