Excavations at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey — at 11,000 years old, assessed to be the oldest temple on Earth — are not yet even halfway through. But will archaeologists eventually find that Gobekli Tepe is a labyrinth, or even a series of labyrinths, and that the carving on the stones are star constellations leading the initiate along his self-transformative journey?
For those who haven’t heard about Gobekli Tepe, it was built by our hunter-gatherer ancestors around 9,000 BCE in the mountains of southeastern Turkey. Excavations have been continuing under the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt since 1994, who has been unearthing T-shaped stones with enigmatic carvings. The whole site, not just the carvings, has been baffling the experts.
They were also puzzled to find that the site had been deliberately covered over with soil and seemingly abandoned, around 11,000 years ago. This is in fact quite typical of sacred sites which are covered in, even by indigenous tribes today, when a shaman dies and is buried there. The tribe then creates another sacred space somewhere else.
However, I don’t think anyone is considering that Gobekli Tepe was a labyrinth or that the carvings are related to star constellations because your bog standard archaeologist doesn’t really think that way. Most archaeologists have very little idea about the consciousness of those whose lives they are excavating, and thus are easily puzzled by what they pull out of the ground.
What they need is a shaman.
The shaman accesses dimensions which are beyond Time, and gets guidance and information from the Beings he meets there. These Beings include the Ancestors. So shamans like myself are being instructed by these Beings and we are coming to understand sacred space again. We are learning once more about the geomancy practised by our ancestors and about how certain points on the earth are ‘power spots’ where astrological alignments cause energies to come together and intertwine in whorls.
It is on these ‘power points’ that our ancestors built their first temples and labyrinths, to be used as part of their ceremonial and spiritually transformative work. This is because we as humans are not outside and separate to Nature and thus our anatomy and physiology and our very cognitive processes are formed in swirls and whorls too.
By getting in touch with and walking the labyrinth of our own lives, we can make much faster progress spiritually and in terms of self-transformation than walking in a straight line, figuratively speaking, even though we sometimes may appear to be walking away from the direction in which we see our goal. (I’ve had dreams like this, and I bet you have too!)
So anyway, based on that extra-dimensional instruction, here’s my assessment of what Gobekli Tepe was used for by our hunter-gatherer ancestors way back in the Neolithic period.
The case for the labyrinth
Before examining the specifics of Gobekli Tepe, let’s put it into some context within the sacred and ritual practises of that period. Because once we get that understanding, it would then be surprising if the labyrinth, or, at least, the spiral, didn’t feature within Gobekli Tepe. We will then see that some type of meandering maze or pathway was a recurring theme in most of our earliest ancestors’ ritual and ceremonial sites, magical workings, poems, stories and paintings.
The ritual accessory of choice — going back as far as the Blombos Caves in south Africa and dated to around 74,000 years ago — was the spiral nassarius shell.
The nassarius shell is a natural metaphor for the spiral or labyrinth.
Thousands of nassarius shells have been found in archaeological excacavations at the Blombos Caves, laid out in ritual settings. Further, we can follow this nassarius shell motif right through various Neanderthal sites in Europe (dated c. 40,000 years ago) to the Greek myth of the Minotaur who lived at the centre of the Cretan labyrinth.
The nassarius shell and the labyrinth
The nassarius shell features strongly in this c.3,000 year old Greek myth, where a vast labyrinth had been constructed by the brilliant artisan, Daedalus, in order to house the viscious and blood-thirsty Minotaur. As a rite of passage, young men were sent through the Cretan labyrinth to kill the Minotaur. None of them succeeds ~ with bloodcurdling results! ~ until the young Greek hero, Theseus, decides to get help from the labyrinth’s maker.
Daedalus gives Theseus a red thread to lay down as he walks through the labyrinth, so that he can find his way out again after killing the Minotaur. But as a result of this betrayal of his sponsor, Daedalus has to absent himself from the wrath of King Minos and run away and hide in another kingdom.
However, King Minos is determined not to let Daedalus escape his fury, and he searches for him for years, going from one country to another and asking each wise man he found the same question. “How can I feed a piece of thread through the centre of a nassarius shell to come out at the other end?”
Eventually, King Minos came upon a wise man who took the question to Daedalus, and Daedalus told the wise man to tell the king to “tie a red thread to an ant and then put a dab of honey at the other end, to tempt the ant through the labyrinth of the spiral nassarius shell.”
By giving away his trademark technique, Daedalus had inadvertently revealed his hiding place and identity to King Minos, and he was captured.
The story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth is a Greek myth, or rather, a story created by the Proto-Greeks, the Mycenaeans. In fact, when the Mycenaeans first discovered the abandoned island of Crete, they reported that thousands of nassarius shells were found scattered and pressed into the crevices of the mountains, as ritual offerings to the body of the Earth Goddess.
They also came up with the name ‘labyrinth’, as it described the mazelike processional route within the Palace of Knossos which was decorated with the trademark Minoan double axes, known as labrys.
The Mycenaeans had been inspired by what had been clearly a highly advanced civilisation on Crete before it was obliterated by the Santorini volcanic eruption, and they set about intertwining the Minoan sacred iconography with their own myths, as much as the Minoan snake goddess’s arms and body were intertwined with snakes.
It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Mycenaeans combined the image of the Cretan goddess who has snakes crawling up her body with the double axes (or labrys) to create the Caduceus.
Labyrinths can now be found all over the world, and some of them became very sophisticated and huge, such as those known as the Nazca lines created between 400 and 600 CE in the deserts of southern Peru.
Thanks to Sig Lonegren for the following photos, whose book, Labyrinths: Ancient Myths and Modern Uses, is highly recommended.
Mazes and meanders
Labyrinths are similar to mazes, but they are not mazes as such. Mazes have bits where you get stuck and have to retrace your steps. A labyrinth follows a unicursal path that moves in a spiral fashion. Once in, you have to keep going. The only way out is through.
The oldest known classic seven ring labyrinth in rock art is carved on a tomb in Sardinia, at Luzzanas, and is thought to date from 2500-2000 BCE.
This one (below) in India is thought to be even older ~ 8,000 to 9,000 years old ~ but there is some controversy over those dates.
However, the labyrinth is closely linked to meander patterns, and the earliest of these is around 20,000 years old.
Labyrinths and Troy
Many of the oldest labyrinths in the British Isles are found at places which have the word Troy in the name, such as City of Troy, Troy-town and the Welsh turf labyrinth Caerdroia, or Castle of Troy.
Also in Sweden, labyrinths are found at Troyaburg, Trjienborg and Trojborg. It is probably no coincidence that an Etruscan wine jar, dated to the 7th century BCE, shows a circular labyrinth with the word Truia, or Troy, written on it. The imagery depicts warfare and sexual intercourse. Could this be referring to the warfare at Troy over the abduction of the beautiful Helen by Paris?
The theme of labyrinth as besieged city and abduction of a noble female is also found in the Indian Ramayana. The demon Ravana abducts Sita, the wife of Rama, and holds her in his labyrinthine fortress before Rama eventually rescues her.
According to Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, the Egyptians had an extraordinary labyrinth, more impressive than the pyramids, and earlier than the Cretans, at what the Greeks named Crocodilopis. This has now been lost and is yet to be rediscovered…
Pliny, who also writes about Crocodilopis in the 1st century CE, was of the opinion that it was 3,600 years old then and …”there is no doubt that Daedalus adopted it as the model for the labyrinth built by him in Crete, but that he reproduced only a hundredth part of it containing passages that wind, advance and retreat in a bewilderingly intricate manner…”
(By the way, the above quote from Pliny also tells us that from the 1st century CE at least, they were already misreading myth as history. No wonder we’re confused!).
So given that the labyrinth or spiral was de rigeur in just about any sacred activity of our ancestors going back tens of thousands of years, we now come to Gobekli Tepe. And so we have to ask the question ~ how could it possibly not be a labyrinth?
Let’s take a look at this artist’s reconstruction, using the parts of Gobekli Tepe that have already been excavated.
If, as seems likely, Gobekli Tepe was used as a place of ritual and initiation by our hunter-gatherer ancestors 11,000 years ago, then it would also be highly likely that it was built in the shape of a labyrinth, or even several labyrinths.
But initiations also require an astronomical input, because (as explained in The Underworld Initiation of King Arthur) to the ancients, the position of the stars and planets when a Being was born did not dictate the nature of that Being, as we may understand astrology today. It was almost the opposite. Rather, only a certain type of Being could be born during certain conjunctions because, in a holographic, microcosmic/macrocosmic pattern, the Being was of the exact same nature as the conjunction. And equally importantly, rebirth could only take place at an astronomically auspicious time.
As R J Stewart says in his book: The Underworld Initiation:
“In ancient, magical workings, specific planetary or stellar patterns were used to aid incarnation. This was not that certain conjunctions caused certain Beings to appear in the physical world. Rather, the conjunction was identical to the nature of the Being, enabling it to manifest in the womb at a harmoniously related place.”
And so how does this relate to Gobelki Tepe?
This next comes from Timothy Stephany’s wonderful website: Myths, Mysteries and Wonders. He is analysing the carvings on one of the T-stones.
The first interesting form is the scorpion, which might first be thought to represent is known as Scorpius, but this does not appear to be the case. This is due to the presence of the three birds to the middle right (A, B, C), these three most clearly correspond to the “Summer Triangle” stars, the three birds, one represented by each star: Cygnus, Aquila (aka Vultur volans), and Vultur cadens (Lyra). The shape of the Aquila constellations holds the same general appearance as bird A, the angle of the Cygnus stars matches the shape of the body of bird B, with the feet angling off in the same direction as the neck of the Cygnus constellation. Bird C corresponds to the star Vega and perhaps some other stars taken together.
Thus the bird D with wings rising upwards matches the shape of the constellation Pegasus taking some Andromeda stars to form the upward wings and another star of Pegasus defining the legs angled off to the right. The head is drawn together from a bunch of lesser stars. Notice that the two stars within the head correspond to the two eyes in the drawing.
Running underneath these two major forms is a division line, which might crudely represent either the Ecliptic or the Celestial Equator, or might simply appear in coincidence. Beneath this dividing line is the scorpion E, which corresponds to no specific constellation, but some of the stars from Aquarius and a few others. The bird head F beneath the scorpion also corresponds to a “hook” of stars represented mostly by Piscis Austrinus. To the left of the scorpion is another hook that combines some stars from Aquarius along with the loop of stars from Pisces. Some of the stars in the lower loop of Aquarius and Sculptor appear to represent the partial head and limbs of a boar H.
The bones I above all the figures is a backbone and thus would most clearly be a representation and concept of the Milky Way, but the actual course of the path of the Milky Way more closely follows the zigzag pattern M that runs above and beneath the actual bones of the backbone, which itself might indicate the “backbone of night” idea was metaphorical (although at one time might have been the Milky Way itself). The animal J is most probably a squirrel, which would be representing the approximate position and orientation of Cassiopeia. (The Cassiopeia constellation was known among the Norse as the squirrel Ratatosk, but they don’t appear to be related.) The other two small figures located on either side of J within the backbone spaces represent other star formations: the bent figure on the left L is the constellation Perseus, the upside-down figure to the right N would be the constellation Hercules.
The object that poses the greatest difficulty is the circle K located right above the vulture D’s left wing. It does not clearly correspond to any fixed star on a current star map, and might represent another object such as the full Moon or a supernova. A supernova is possible, given the concentration of stars along the Milky Way would clearly increase the odds of a bright star at that location. Further investigation would be required to locate the remains of such a supernova at that location.
So now, hopefully, a picture is starting to build up. A context is starting to form out of the mist. There are some Mysteries that are not meant to be solved, because the Mystery in itself is a key that opens blocks in the subconscious mind. But there are other mysteries (with a lower case ‘m’) that are like knots and which are meant to be unravelled, and Gobekli Tepe is one of them.
Once we understand how our ancestors thought, it makes a nonsense of current scientific research with its silo-ed off specialisations. As one wag put it, we’re now learning more and more about less and less.
Our earliest ancestors thought holistically, not in the fragmented, boxed-off way we do today. The walk through the labyrinth mirrored, on the ground, and macrocosmically, the more microcosmic walk to and fro between the left and right sides of the brain, through the corpus callosum.
And by bringing together mythology, metaphysics, sacred geometry and astronomy, it appears (to me, anyway) that the intiate would walk the labyrinth, just like Theseus, to the sound of the shamans’ drums, at the most astronomically appropriate time for his initiation. And as he did so, he would also pass illustrations of the teaching stories he had been told by his Elders — stories his teachers had etched out in the stars and shown him reflected at night in streams and rivers, and now lit up in silver by a full moon.
It must have been awe-inspiring, life-changing and transformative.
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