When you visit the islands of Swedish Lapland you might stumble upon stones laid out in a formation. Maybe it’s actually an old labyrinth that you’ve found? The phenomena is tens of thousands years old, and the pattern can be found in different places across Europe.
In Sweden there are about 300 known pristine labyrinths. About 100 of these can be found on the coast and on the islands of Swedish Lapland. With all certainty, there are more labyrinths hidden under the moss and sand in the archipelago. One was discovered on the island Strömmingsören close to Hindersön as late as 1998.
The pattern created in the labyrinths is old and known by historians far as 3000 years back. The pattern is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean. The same pattern has been found on coins from Knossos in Greece, clay tablets from Rome, Italy, on church walls in France and in a convent in Nepal, amongst other places.
The history of labyrinths in Sweden
The custom of creating labyrinths probably originated in what now is known as southern Sweden some time around 400-500 A.D. In the middle of Sweden, the labyrinths are often found close to old tribal communities or old burial grounds. The original use may have been connected to fecundity rites. North of Stockholm there are no labyrinths in the inlands, except for one location: Edefors, 100 km upstream Luleå River – a location that’s been famous for its salmon fishing for a long time.
When the northern part of Sweden was colonised in the 13th and 14th century, it is likely that the tradition of building labyrinths followed north along the coastline. The labyrinths in the northern parts of Sweden have always been regarded as closely related to hunting and fishing.
A ritual for fisherman’s luck
We can only guess how people used to utilise the labyrinths. It is likely that one would walk through them to earn fisherman’s luck or successful hunting. The Swedish National Heritage Board has dated a lot of the labyrinths during an inventory of ancient monuments in the 1980’s.
A lot of the labyrinths on the coast and islands of Swedish Lapland was probably built in the 13th and 14th century. Other artefacts found in the area are remains of temporary settlements, boats and constructions used for hanging fishing nets.