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 3,000 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 famous for its salmon fishing since the dark ages (well, almost).
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 fisher’s luck
We can only guess how people used to utilise the labyrinths. It is likely that one would walk through them to earn fisher’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.
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.
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)
Most of the labyrinths are found in the eastern part of the archipelago outside the coast of Haparanda.