What Are the Differences Between a Labyrinth and a Maze?

The principal difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that, while a maze is designed to challenge subjects to find a way to the exit, with dead ends to throw them off course, a labyrinth is designed to give them a single path in or out. In a labyrinth, there is no confusion as to which way to go.

In most labyrinth designs, one path leads subjects from the outside to the center, with no choices to make along the way. Labyrinths are made on flat walkways or with raised walls separating the paths. Materials used include pavement, hedges and turf.

Most mazes have high walls made from a wide variety of materials to block the pattern and offer subjects a greater challenge. Mazes are built to test problem-solving skills and memory. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are built to provide a confined, guided walk that helps subjects relax and meditate.

In English, the two terms are synonymous in casual usage. The distinction is typically made only by contemporary maze- and labyrinth-making enthusiasts and scholars of ancient Greek mythology.

In the myth of the Minotaur, a part man, part bull creature lived at the center of the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze-like construction designed by Daedalus on the command of King Minos of Crete. However, the earliest labyrinth symbols, dated as early as 430 BC, almost exclusively show single-path designs. Depictions of maze-like labyrinths did not surface until the Renaissance.