Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Bride Of Grimborg: A Skating Labyrinth


Labyrinths have both mystified and intrigued society for centuries. In her 2004 book "The Complete Guide To Labyrinths", Cassandra Eason explains that "labyrinths, in contrast to mazes (which set out to amaze you), are unicursal, meaning they have a single pathway leading to the center. Apart from the underground Minoan labyrinth in Crete, which was meant to keep a rather nasty being under wraps, most labyrinths are etched onto a flat surface on the ground so you can always keep the center in view during your journey. The key to experiencing a labyrinth is to keep walking even if it seems like you are being led astray or moving in the wrong direction at times. If you put one foot in front of the other, then suddenly, inexplicably, just as you were losing faith, you will step into the center."


John Algeo wrote that "all labyrinths are a kind of a game, but that does not negate their seriousness". What many people might not know is that skating has a very real connection to labyrinths and it is not only in the spiralling special figures skaters used to carve out on the ice in skating's early history. In a report of the Ethnological Survey of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm from 1985, a labyrinth game called The Bride Of Grimborg was recalled and was retold in Freyia Völundarhúsins' writing "Labyrinths and Ritual in Scandinavia": "In Västergötland, Sweden, a similar type of labyrinth game was reported in 1933: Here, people used to draw labyrinths in the snow on the ice during winter. The paths would be wide enough to skate on. In the center was a girl placed, who was called the 'Bride of Grimborg'. Grimborg is a medieval legendary hero well known from many parts of Sweden. According to the song of Grimborg, the hero forced his way through fences of iron and steel in order to reach the beautiful daughter of a king. He had to fight the king's men three times before the king allowed him to marry his daughter. In the skating labyrinth, a guard, like in the legend, would stand to protect the 'castle' – that is, the labyrinth. The guard would try to mislead and stop the young man playing Grimborg, who was trying to find his way to the bride."

The story of The Bride Of Grimborg skating labyrinth not only has that mythic charm that is hard to describe but also harkens me back a little to my skating days and the wonderful sense of play the youngest skaters I'd teach Canskate to would have when we'd play What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf, Red Light, Green Light or when they would chase me while I blowed them bubbles with a wand. I think as supporters of skating we can get so caught up in the nitty gritties and details of skating that it's hard for us sometimes to remember the sense of fun and freedom that drew us into the sport, whether by skating ourselves or just by getting lost in the feeling of watching a skater whose sense of fun or of artfulness took us to a different time and place.

Much as a skater fighting their way to the center of the labyrinth to The Bride Of Grimborg would have had to put one foot in front of the other and held onto the faith they'd eventually glide their way there, we can all hold onto faith that when we embrace the joy that drew us to skating in the first place, skating (like a labyrinth) will never really lead us astray. It's all in our perspectives.

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