In the ancient myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus takes up the challenge to slay a horrible beast. In the shadows of the labyrinth Theseus metaphorically goes through what we would call doing his shadow work.
The myth of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur, and Theseus has parallels with the experience of spiritual awakening, greater personal understanding and in becoming and feeling more whole.
The ancient King Minos of Crete defeated the Athenians in war and demanded that at nine-year intervals seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls were to be sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull monster that lived in the Labyrinth (a dark underground matrix of passageways) created by Daedalus.
Theseus, son of Athenian king Aegeus, volunteered to slay the monster to stop the sacrifices and so he took the place of one of the Athenian youths. On his arrival in Crete, Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and on the advice of Daedalus gave him a ball of thread so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth. As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and brandished his sword which he had kept hidden from the guards inside his tunic.
Theseus came to the heart of the Labyrinth and also upon the sleeping Minotaur. The beast awoke and a tremendous fight ensued. Theseus overpowered the Minotaur with his strength and stabbed the beast in the throat with his sword. After decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth and managed to escape Crete with all of the young Athenians and Ariadne. 1
Taking a closer look at this myth and its relationship to personal Thesian challenges reveals what will help us through the labyrinth of the psyche’s dark passageways and overcome the monster of our fear and pain.
The Myth’s Characters:
The labyrinth represents the unconscious “shadow” in a person’s mind—the darkness within the psyche that covertly influences one’s thoughts and behaviors.
The Minotaur is the monster (the inner beast, demon, etc.) that thrives in the avoided, unknown, unseen, shadows of consciousness and in psychological darkness. He is hideous, part man and part beast, and represents the unacknowledged or disowned, disregarded, deformed, wounded, scarred aspects of oneself which rise from debased, unevolved, destructive and aggressive nature.
Theseus is The Seeker sent into the labyrinth on the quest to defeat the Minotaur monster. He represents the individual—specifically their Ego-personality, their conscious self, the “I” perspective and the manager or director of their choices and decisions.
The seeker is also an initiate—one who is dedicated to the path of acquiring and learning the arcana: esoteric or occult (that which is hidden) knowledge in order to accomplish a great quest: defeating the monster.
The Mythic Quest
A mythic quest pits The Hero against overwhelming odds to accomplish a great deed that brings benefit to others under the hero’s care and protection. Whether it is slaying dragons, lions, or giants, the hero overcomes adversity and his own limitations (sometimes with some luck or influence from a deity) and becomes a greater person—more of his potential.
The initiate, or seeker must dare to roam the passageways of the labyrinth searching out the Minotaur to defeat him and return out from the depths of the labyrinth’s darkness. The achievement is not a “search and destroy” mission, but one of discovering and learning about and wrangling (controlling, guiding, setting limits to) the otherwise uncontrolled and destructive forces within oneself.
Defeating the Minotaur is not killing him but transforming one’s relationship to him —from unknown, feared, uncontrolled and detrimental to becoming known, moderated, guided, and given limitations that prevent destructive abilities. The reason the word “defeat” is used, is because it takes a Herculean effort to find and face the monsters of our shadow psyche. We defeat our fear and overcome the trepidation and weakness we feel that makes other people give up and stop their quest. What is defeated is the part within us that enables and allows for the Minotaur to continue in the shadows, fear inspiring and destructively wrecking havoc to our emotions and behaviors.
The “weapons” the seeker uses are spiritual in nature and consist of one’s ability to overcome fear and have insight and discernment that reveals what is hidden in the shadows and previously unknown. These also include self-discipline and determination which enable the seeker to persist despite the odds against them and to overcome the Indiana Jones style “booby-trap” challenges that surface in the labyrinth’s dark passageways.
The Reward is in the Process
Those who brave the labyrinth, find and defeat their Minotaur(s) and achieve “right-relationship” with their labyrinth (shadow psyche) and are released from being driven by unconscious compulsions, fixations, and delusions represented by their Minotaur(s) in their labyrinth.
It’s the Minotaur not the Ego that must be defeated. The Ego needs to be part of the “right-relationship” which means its decisions must conform to a higher purpose if it is to be useful and transformative. The fallacy and detriment about the Ego is in its thinking that it reigns supreme over the domain of the psyche. In actuality, the Ego is a vassal King ruling in behalf of a greater King called the Higher Self or Soul. When the Ego doesn’t think too much of itself and submits to a higher authority it does wonderfully. When it usurps higher authority and distorts its mandate by aggregating power to itself then problems ensue.
What makes the Ego respond constructively and cooperatively is an individual’s state of being “awake” to the presence and benefit of spiritual principles and guidance, as well as a conscientious nurturing of a spiritual perspective facilitated by spiritual practice and diligent observance or “witnessing” of oneself.
In a spiritually unconscious and unaware state people who are not seekers repeat patterns of behavior and thinking that throw them into challenging situations and circumstances which are exacerbated by their lack of awareness, or spiritual blindness.
A person is either a “seeker” or they’re not. Becoming a seeker of spiritual principles which can guide someone to a better perspective on living in harmony with oneself, others, and nature usually happens in accordance with some momentous event that wakes up the one who is spiritually asleep. However, people who are not ready for it cannot see it—“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” At best, if manipulated or pressured to “obey” people will feign spiritual interest but prove false to its power—they won’t be able to sustain it or benefit much from its leading.
There are no spiritual mountains that once climbed are the end of the journey. Rather, being a spiritually awake person is like surfing many waves of life circumstances—you never finish unless you fall off the surfboard, and then you either flounder around going nowhere or you get back on the board and catch the next wave.
Once a seeker has collected their spiritual tools or weapons, they must dare the labyrinth’s dark passages and search for their monster in the shadows, to defeat. This process must be repeated for as many times as necessary to accomplish an integrated and interrelated sense of self which can reflexively respond with spiritual insight and perspective that creates harmonious interactions and relationships. In the Minator’s defeat, the spiritual accomplishment is in bringing into the light the shadow aspects of the psyche, process these and develop an integrated relationship which gleans the lesson or gift each monster is responsible for, and be able to recognize and mediate the monster’s tendencies to act-out.
The magical thinking of “happily ever-after” is relative. The “promised land” of a spiritual paradise is not some place where everyone is perfect and nothing “bad” happens. Happily ever-after is more accurately understood to mean that a seeker can adeptly and fluently maintain spiritual balance and respond in ways that support their inner and interpersonal harmony and the greater good.
Shadow Work: a Light in the Darkness
In the myth about the Theseus and the Minotaur, he carried with him string that he unraveled as he roamed the labyrinth’s passages so he could find his way out. When delving into the hidden depths of the psyche’s labyrinth, having someone who can help you navigate the passageways’ twists and turns is more than helpful.
On a practical level, people are complex beings consisting of energetic, emotional, and somatic aspects that all have essential contributions to the process of finding and defeating their Minotaur(s). The process I use with clients combines all three aspects (energy, emotion, and physical) to create a safe way through the labyrinth and defeat —achieve right-relationship and understanding of— the shadow psyche’s feared monsters.
For those who are struggling with their inner monsters which keep turning up to sabotage and disrupt your life, I trust that the above information will start you on the road to believing in yourself again, and know that you can defeat them. Like Theseus, you can take the Minotaur out of the shadows and into the light of understanding and right-relationship. It is very empowering when things make sense and you know what’s going on, to the point where you can moderate your feelings and behavior to stay present and grounded, and effectively handle your fears. In this state, you do things differently, more confidently and capably.
During over 37+ years of spiritual counseling and life coaching, I’ve seen how the Minotaurs within people have ruined and wasted potentially happy relationships and kept people from the happiness and goals they seek, weighing them down and sapping their strength and joy, damping their spirits and hopeful outlook for life. Don’t let that be you.
If I can help you get through your labyrinth and find and transform your Minotaur, please contact me to set up a free 15 min. consultation and begin your journey.