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.

The labyrinth and the island Renskär in located in the woods about seven meters above sea level, which means that it is approximately 600 years old since the land rise is about one meter every hundred years.
The labyrinth on the island Rödkallen is one of the most obvious labyrinths, especially since it can be viewed from above from the old light house.
The labyrinths are often located close to old fishing villages and are said to have brought fisherman’s luck to the one who walked through it.
Many of the labyrinths are hidden under moss and grass and there are surely more than the around hundred known ones out there waiting to be discovered.

Learn more
If you want to visit labyrinths you can book guided tours through the local Tourist Information. Try and build your own labyrinth, download a plan to get the right pattern. (pdf)

Find the labyrinths of Swedish Lapland

The labyrinths can be found on many islands and on the mainland close to the coastline. On Bjuröklubb, a peninsula south of Skellefteå, there are many cultural-historical sites to be found. Bjuröklubb is mentioned in text from Olaus Magnus, a Swedish catholic priest, from his travels to the north in 1519, and even then, the labyrinths where several hundred years old.

At the fishing village of Vånön close to Burvik, there is a labyrinth in the woods, but when it was built many hundred years ago, the site was close to the beach. The land rise can often help date the labyrinth.

Stenskär, Kuntarna utside Piteå, Kluntarna outside Luleå, Renskär, Seskarö Furö and Haparanda Sandskär are some of the island of Swedish Lapland where you can find labyrinths. Most of the labyrinths are found in the eastern part of the archipelago outside the coast of Haparanda.

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