Nigel Pennick, European Troytowns

This essay was first published by Fenris-Wolf (one of the author’s many imprints) in February 1981.

Copyright © 1981 Nigel Pennick. Republished here by permission.




by nigel pennick

Although the pavement labyrinths of Continental Europe and the turf mazes of England are well documented, the ancient troytowns of northern Europe have been relatively neglected. Most of them have been destroyed, and the majority of literature about them is out of print and unobtainable even in the Copyright Libraries. In recent years, the Institute of Geomantic Research has gone some way to remedying this dearth of information by translating and re-issuing several German works on troytowns which appeared in the magazine Germanien during the 1930s and early 40s. These articles have long been unavailable to students of troytowns owing to their provenance – Germanien was the official organ of the Ahnenerbe, the Nazi ‘ancestral heritage’ organization whose head, Wolfram Sievers, was executed in 1946 for crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the German politicians used ancient mysteries research for their own ends, and to study the subject was for years considered politically unsound in Germany. Hence we have little information on the existence or otherwise of those mazes which still survived into the 1940s.

Long before the Nazis encouraged research into ancient mysteries, antiquaries were fascinated by the northern European stone and turf mazes. In a book entitled Atlantica, published in 1695, the Swedish antiquary O. Rudbeck published a plan of a labyrinth composed of large pebbles or boulders. In 1835, Dr E. von Baer was delayed by bad weather on Wier Island, an uninhabited isle south of Hochland in the Gulf of Finland. Whilst holed up there, he made good his time by observing a stone maze composed of boulders, similar to others he had previously seen on the south coast of Lappland. He presented his findings to the Russian Academy at St Petersburg in a rare paper I have been unable to trace. In 1877, Dr J.R. Aspelin of Helsingfors (Helsinki) presented a paper which was subsequently published in the Zeitschrift Für Ethnologie, a learned journal more taken to measuring skulls to determine race. In their session for November 17 1877, he showed diagrams of three mazes and a ‘fibula’ from Montelius’s Antiquités Suédoises which he thought resembled the mazes’ patterns. The labyrinths illustrated by Aspelin were of two he had personally observed on an island near the town of Borgo, and one from Wier Island, copied from von Baer’s drawing in the St Petersburg journal.

Aspelin’s mazes were, like von Baer’s, made of pebbles “the size of a child’s head”. The mazes he measured ranged in size from 6, 10, 12, 15, 19 to 20 ells in diameter (an ell was about 26 inches). They went under various names; at Jio near Old Carleby it was called the Pietarinleikki (St Peter’s Game); one between Åbo and Christianstad was named Nunnantarha; in the Swedish Archipelago near Åbo and at Åland, Trojenborg and Rundborg; and near Helsingfors Jungfrudans (Maiden’s Dance) or Jerusalem, Jericho, City of Nineveh etc. Another common name was Jatulintarha (Giant’s Fence). Near Viborg the common name was Jätingkatu (Giant’s Road).

Aspelin was not present at the meeting; someone read out an article he had written. The Zeitschrift records a reply from Hr Virchow, who mentioned several stone circles he had seen, mentioning Stonehenge, Abury (sic) and Carnac. This confusion has persisted to the present day, when in Jurgen Spanuth’s book Atlantis of the North (1979) he hopelessly mixes up Troytowns and Stone Circles. Some of the confusion may have arisen because of the epithet -dance applied to some labyrinths and stone {2} circles alike (Stonehenge is referred to as Chorea Gigantica – the Giant’s Dance – by Geoffrey of Monmouth). Nobody seems to have connected the stone labyrinths with the turf ones at that date. At the session for December 15 1877 Hr Jagor spoke on Indian Stone Circles as a follow-up to Aspelin, but the mazy part was not pursued.

In 1893, Ernst Krause published his work entitled Die Trojaburgen Nordeuropas (Northern European Troytowns), but this book, like so many others, is not available. What I can gather from various sources is that he covered Scandinavian troytowns, “Wunderbergs” in Brandenburg, Troy-towns and picture-stones in England, Icelandic Wayland’s Houses, Garden and town-labyrinths, Siegfried, Easter Games, St George, Troy etc. etc. I know there is a copy in the Lippische Landsbibliothek at Detmold in the German Federal Republic, but that is not much use in Cambridge! In his seminal 1922 book Mazes and Labyrinths, their History and Development, W.H. Matthews omits entirely the turf mazes of Germany. Why this is so is not clear, as various of them still survived in his day. Perhaps the real revival in interest in German turf mazes came during the Nazi period 11 years later, as it is from the pages of Germanien that we find the major articles. In 1934, Haye Hamkens published an essay on Troy Towns which explored the lore and legend of mazes. He mentions the former maze at Graitschen south of HamburgNaumburg (error due to MB’s translation), where the ‘path’ of the troytown rather than the actual overall pattern survived as the municipal arms, a unique piece of heraldry, it seems. The March of Brandenburg, mentioned in Krause’s work, apparently once sported several similar layouts, styled Jekkendanz or Wunderberg, though none survived in 1934.

Krause, asserts Hamkens, made an etymological connexion between the name Trojaburg or Troytown and the Old German drajan, the Gothic thraien, the Celtic troian and the Middle English throwen; the Dutch and Low German draien, the Danish dreje and the Swedish dreja, meaning to turn. Even the English word throw, as in the engineering term the ‘throw’ of a crankshaft, means to turn. It is believed that the reference to turning applies equally to the layout and the movements made by people dancing, walking or running the labyrinths in imitation of the sun’s path.

Mazes at Kaufbeuren etc.
Fig. 1
Hamkens knew of only one surviving German troytown in his day, that at Steigra, though from the photograph reproduced here, Kaufbeuren was also extant then. In his 1936 article “A Troytown in Pomerania” (“Ein Troiaburg in Pommern”), Siegfried Sieber took Hamkens, like Krause, Paul Liebeskind, H. Wiechel and E. Schnippel to task for omitting the maze at Stolp in Pomerania. This town was awarded to Poland after the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany, and is now known as Słupsk. Sieber thought that troytown enthusiasts had overlooked this maze because it bore the name Windelbahn (coil track). Another oddity was that the local guild of shoemakers were patrons of the maze, using it for a ‘characteristic dance’. The custom was terminated in 1908, and the costumes, tools and the old ground-plan put away in the town museum. This groundplan is most interesting, as it shows that the guild kept a special plan amongst their regalia so that it could be re-cut from time to time. Perhaps such plans still exist elsewhere, even in Britain, among the documents of ‘worshipful companies’.

The Windelbahn festival at Stolp was held in May, for it began on the Tuesday after Whitsun and included the election of a May King. On the appointed day, the ceremonial shoemakers’ procession, complete with insignia and banners, wended its way to the maze. “On arriving at the Windelbahn” wrote Sieber, “the Stolp shoemakers set up their banners. Then the May King made a speech in verse and afterwards began his dance with a ‘lapwing step’ along the path, which was strewn with fresh flowers or sand. … After about a quarter of an hour, the May King had danced along half the path, and paused. Immediately the oldest member presented him with a goblet, which he drained to the cheers of the crowd. Then the dance continued in the same way, till the dancer reached the end of the path and stepped out.” After him, the others danced according to rank. {3}

European mazes
Fig. 2
The dance, or ‘lapwing step’ mentioned by Sieber was identified by him with a Cretan dance called the ‘Crane dance’, and is connected with various skipping games, even the familiar hopscotch which survives even in these days of a deculturalized proletariat. In a 1937 edition of Germanien, a photograph shows children in the slums of Berlin playing such a hopscotch game on a chalked spiral pathway. An enigmatic ancient earthwork called the ‘Devil’s Hopscotch’ still exists on the Icknield Way between Royston and Baldock in Hertfordshire. Before the Great War H. Wiechel investigated the children’s skipping games known as Paradise Game, Heaven and Hell, or Himmelhuppe, in Saxony, where he connected them with troytowns. E. Schnippel noted the connexion with the East Prussian ‘Jerusalem Hills’, and Sieber established the distribution of the game throughout the Balkans. A skipping festival of this kind was held at Kaufbeuren, site of a major troytown pictured here. The Swedish connexion at Kaufbeuren is reinforced by the tale that King Gustavus Adolphus founded the children’s festival there, just as a certain Prince Kroy was reputed to have set up the Stolp rituals.

The nature of the dance carried out at troytowns was the special interest of Haye Hamkens, who was writing in Germanien in 1934. He followed on Krause who linked the troytown dances with Morris Dancing, using the possibly false connexion of St Maurice’s Day (September 22) with the dance. Kurt Meschke’s studies into sword-dances showed a striking coincidence of style, according to Sieber: a connexion also between the pattern of the dance and the interlaced animal-ornament of the folk-migration period.

The Steigra maze, of which more below, was said by Hamkens to be called “Schwedenring” as a relic of Swedish rule. It was re-cut by the locals every Easter or thereabouts. Hamkens also unconsciously reinforced the connexion between troytowns and the Benedictine Monks, for the symbol for St Benedict in the rural calendar was a spiral emerging from a bowl decorated with nine semicircles. St Benedict’s day is March 21, near to the Spring Equinox. Work proceeding now under the aegis of the Caerdroia Project indicates a Benedictine connexion with British turf mazes like Saffron Walden and Sneinton.

The maze at Stolp (Słupsk) near the Baltic coast of Pomerania, then in Germany, was investigated in detail by Friedrich Mössinger, whose drawings are reproduced here. In 1940, he wrote an article in Germanien entitled “Baumtanz and Trojaburg” (Treedance and Troytown) which followed up the work of Krause, Meschke and Hamkens on the May round-dance and its connexion with labyrinths. He also detailed the variant centres of Continental mazes.

Cover of European Troytowns, 1981
For the Stolp maze, Mössinger’s starting-point was the engraving of 1784 reproduced on the cover of this paper. The engraving was accompanied by an account of the associated dance. In 1784, the dancer began at the middle of the maze. He first described a spiral, circling the centre point three times in the same direction. After this threefold spiral, the like of which once existed in the now-destroyed mazes of Comberton and Boughton Green, the pattern was a simple back-and-forth motion until the perimeter was reached with a single circuit then the entrance. This pattern is nearer to the Scandinavian designs than those found in Britain, which appear to be similar to the famous Chartres pattern, closer in fact to the Knossos pattern with the centre replaced by a spiral. The nearest British example, aberrant as far as British examples go, was the ‘Walls of Troy’ at Rockcliffe Marsh in Cumberland. This, however, did not have the characteristic centre of Stolp.

Mössinger’s interest in dance led him to study the Treedance held at festival time around a tree, commonly a lime, at traditional fairgrounds. These dances, which had local variations depending on the {4} province where they were held, involved processions and ‘rows’ of dancers around the tree in the manner of a labyrinth. The familiar Maypole dancing of England still performed today is a similar pattern, especially as it involves a back-and forth motion to produce certain ribbon-patterns on the Maypole. In the Bayrische Heimatschutz No. 24, 1928, Wilz wrote that in a certain French Treedance the procession of boys and girls marched three times round the tree in one direction, then three times in the other. “In this way the area is hallowed and consecrated and everything unclean and unholy is cast out.” To complete such a double circuit, a special design of labyrinth would be required with a turning point at the centre. And in the Kaufbeuren layout we find just such a centre (see picture). In this maze and in an almost-identical one illustrated by Aspelin as from near Borgo, this is precisely the effect of running it, for there are two entrances, and the maze is continuous. The little-known maze in the Eilenreide near Hannover also had an S-shaped centre, rather like the topiary labyrinth at Choisy-le-Roi illustrated in J.F. Blondel’s Cours d’Architecture, 1771–77. His spiral, however, was connected to a random and unpleasing pattern, and was obviously not of any ritual significance save that it may have been copied from a labyrinth of sacred origin elsewhere.

Text figures
Fig. 3
A notable feature of the Treedances was naturally the centre of their action, a tree. In Northern mythology this represents Yggdrassil, the great World Ash, or Central Pillar of the Universe. In Germany, the traditional sacred mark-tree was the Lime or Linden tree, and the famed Berlin boulevard named Unter den Linden recalls the reverence afforded this tree. In Westphalia, the ‘trained lime’ was an important geomantic marker, having been deliberately altered in a sort of topiary to form a gnarled and characteristic shape. Elsewhere in Germany, such trees were artificially fashioned into horizontal canopies reflecting the ancient labyrinth centre engravings of medieval Germany. Limes in Westphalia also served as meeting points – and gallows – for the unsavoury kangaroo courts of the Secret Tribunal or Vehmgericht which had been founded in 772 by Charlemagne to suppress Paganism, heresy, apostacy, the Jews and others deemed dangerous to the Empire. Until the late eighteenth century these masked vigilante courts ‘executed’ those unfortunate enough to fall foul of them. It is interesting to note that Wilhelm Brockpähler, a German expert on proclamation-stones and village customs, wrote a major article on these trees and their significance even in his day (early 1940s). It is intriguing to speculate on the reason for the trained limes next to the War Memorial in Glasgow’s George Square. An ash tree existed in the centre of the turf maze at Saffron Walden in England until 1823, when, on Guy Fawkes’ Night it perished in a blaze. Jurgen Spanuth has equated Asgard, traditional home of the Norse gods, with Atlantis, and placed it in the North Sea near Heligoland, a Pagan holy island. He draws attention to the concentric pattern of Atlantis as claimed by Plato, and there may be some connexion here with mazes. Yggdrassil, the World Ash, is equated with the World-Pillar Irminsul of the ancient Germans, and Irminsul has a specific form, recovered by Wilhelm Teudt from the sacred rocks in the Teutoburger Wald known as the Externsteine. This Irminsul pattern exists within a ‘fibula’ illustrated by Aspelin in his 1877 article on troytowns, another possible line of research for Norse mythology enthusiasts. The course of the planets or the sun around this central pillar could well be expressed in terms of a labyrinth, especially of the in-and-out-again variety like those at Kaufbeuren and Borgo.

The central object, representing Yggdrassil or Irminsul, need not necessarily have been a tree. At Visby it was a stone, and at Graitschen, where the maze appeared as part of the official coat of arms, it was a small mound, like that at Saffron Walden and several other British {5} examples.

Because troytowns exist on the borderline between antiquities of folklore and ancient monuments, very few of them have survived. Data are not available on what still exists on the continent outside the well-known cathedral mazes. If any reader has information, please contact the author at the Institute of Geomantic Research.


Note (July 2012): The Institute of Geomantic Research no longer exists.

Fenris-Wolf, The Institute of Geomantic Research, Full address suppressed in Web version, BAR HILL, Cambridge CB3 xxx, England.

Note (July 2012): The Caerdroia Project is now Labyrinthos. The address below is still valid.

The Caerdroia Project, 53 Thundersley Grove, Thundersley, BENFLEET, Essex SS7 3EB, England.


Aspelin, J.R.: “Steinlabyrinthe in Finnland.” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, IX (1877), 439–441.
Blondel, J.F.: Cours d’Architecture (1771–77).
Hamkens, Haye: “Troy Towns”, Ancient Mysteries No. 16 (1980)* trans. from Germanien 1934, p. 359 ff).
Krause, Ernst (Carus Sterne): Die Trojaburgen Nordeuropas (1893).
Matthews, W.H.: Mazes and Labyrinths, their history and development. (1922).
Mössinger, Friedrich: “Baumtanz and Trojaburg”. Germanien (1940) 282–289290 including the Appendix by Plassmann.
Pennick, N.C.: Caerdroia, Megalithic Visions (1974).
——: in Albion No. 1 (illustrated)**
Rudbeck, O.: Atlantica (1695–98).
Saward, Jeff: Caer Sidi – The Turf Mazes of England (Caerdroia Project) (1980).
Sieber, Siegfried: “EinEine Trojaburg in Pommern”. Germanien (1936), 83–86.
Spanuth, Jurgen: Atlantis of the North (1979).
Virchow: in Zeit. für Ethnol. (1877), 441–442.
Wilz: in Bayr. Heimatschutz. (1928), p. 30ff.

*Out of Print. Fenris-Wolf hopes to do a reprint of Hamkens, Sieber and Mössinger sometime during 1981.

**Available from the IGR at 45p.



All the above labyrinths were designed for running, dancing or walking, like the British, German and Scandinavian mazes. In addition, the Cathedral of Ely and Bourn Church, both in Cambridgeshire, have mazes which date from the last century. There is also a maze-like pattern at Thornton in Northants. In addition to pavement mazes, several continental chuches have maze patterns. These are Chalons-sur-Marne (Marne), France, where in the Abbatiale de Toussaints there are tiles with mazes on them. In Italy, the cathedrals at Lucca, Cremona, Pavia and a church at Piacenza have mural labyrinths.