180 Degrees of Separation – The Cardinal Elements

180 Degrees of Separation – The Cardinal Elements July 6, 2016

180 Degrees of Separation is a series I am doing about the differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in Paganism, Witchcraft and related areas.  I am Australian and like every Aussie Pagan (not a generalisation), I notice that the large majority of 101 resources for Pagans are quite north-centric, which can be a bit of a problem for us in certain cases.  There are of course many Aussie bloggers who are trying to share how these things are different and what it means – but in my opinion, the more of us doing this, the easier the knowledge is for others to find.  So, the more the merrier!

These posts are not only for us in the south though – I am sharing information for both hemispheres, about both hemispheres.  So people in the northern hemisphere will hopefully find value in these posts as well – keeping mind these are a bit 101 so if you’re an experienced Pagan, you probably already know most of what’s here anyway.  But you might not know about all the hemisphere differences, so you may still find this series a worthwhile read.

So far we have looked at The Moon in part 1 and part 2, The Wheel of the Year in Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3.


five elements
By Nyo (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This weeks post is all about directions and the four, or five, elements – though we won’t be discussing the spirit element.  You wouldn’t think so, but the cardinal directions, corresponding elements and the directions for casting a circle and similar things is actually the cause for a lot confusion down here in the southern hemisphere.  We’ll begin with circle casting, which is perhaps the most confusing for all of us.

The Sun

Scenography of the Copernican world system.
Andreas Cellarius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The sun seems to move along the equator, or near to depending on the time of year, so depending on which hemisphere you are in, the sun will appear to move in a different direction.  Now of course the sun always moves from east to west, this unchangeable, but perspective matters.  In the north when you look towards the equator, where the sun “travels” you are looking towards us down here, and we look towards you.

So while the sun seems to move from left to right for people in the northern hemisphere, it seems to move from right to left for us down south.  To see this easily simply look at a map of earth, trace east to west – which way are you tracing? Bet it’s right to left – which by the way, kind of suggests that you up north are the ones who are upside down, since to get your perspective when looking at a map you have to turn the map upside down.  Perspective is an interesting thing isn’t it?

But what difference does this make?  It doesn’t seem like a big deal really, but in truth it is one of the most confusing things for us down here – and there is no way for us to answer this one completely and truly.  The issue is something so simple and basic – circle casting and which way is which.

Witchcraft 101, for this spell, cast deosil, for this other spell cast widdershins.  When you remember that deosil and widdershins refer to two different things you may understand the confusion – deosil and widdershins refer to the direction the sun travels and the direction the hands on the clock travel.  Not so hard until you realise, from our perspective, the sun and the clock don’t match up like it does for everyone up north.

North

  • Sun appears to cross the sky from left to right.
  • Sun appears to travel in a clockwise direction.
  • Sunwise is Deosil is Clockwise.
  • Counter-sunwise is Widdershins is Counter-clockwise.

So the question becomes, for us here, what are deosil and widdershins?  Are they solar directions, clock directions or something else.  When we look for answers, we get no clear answer at all.  Wikipedia seems to suggest that both words refer to the direction of the sun, which suggests for us deosil would be anti-clockwise and widdershins would be clockwise.  Right?

Well, yes and no.  Because then the Wiki entry on widdershins suggests that widdershins refers to “counter clockwise” or “left to right” specifically.  But then, in that same entry it states that counter-clockwise is deosil in the southern hemisphere and widdershins is “running-counter to the direction of the Sun” despite earlier stating this cannot be the case!

Pagan/Wiccan About saysTo move deosil is to move in a clockwise (or sunwise) direction. […] The opposite of deosil is widdershins, which means counterclockwise.”  And mentions the south not at all.  As is common, clockwise and sunwise are considered synonymous.

Etymology online, on Deosil states that deosil (or deasil) means “rightwise, turned toward the right; motion according to the apparent course of the sun…”  But its root words all mean “right” in some way.  But the same site, on Widdershins goes on to state, “contrary to the course of the sun or a clock” once again conflating the two movements.  It also says, etymologically, that widdershins derives from things meaning, “in the opposite direction” and “to go against” – which doesn’t give us much really.

So what are we left with here? An understandable conflation between the words clockwise and sunwise (considering the sources of our originating languages, such conflations are completely normal).  Unfortunately that conflation leaves us with nothing but confusion.  Either we look to the sun and say deosil means sunwise, which means, for us down here, counter-clockwise.  Or we say deosil means right, which means counter-sunwise.  So which is it?

The answer comes to me in the most unexpected way.  In the first instalment, the introduction, of this 180 Degrees series I was asked a question in the comments that I didn’t really think would be relevant to this series – nothing more than a matter of curiosity.  I answered it, that was that.  I didn’t really think of it again.

Yvonne Aburrow, from Dowsing for Divinity, asked, “Is it true that the water goes anti-clockwise down the plughole?”  The answer was no, it doesn’t (though it can, and it can in the north too, it really depends on your plumbing, what its made of, the design etc).  I said that it was a myth based on a misunderstanding of the Coriolis Effect which affects the spin direction of “tornadoes or something“.  Yeh, I said “or something,” that’s how trivial that bit of, well, trivia was to me in that moment.  A fun question, but not something that was a big deal to me.  And yet…

Now we come to Under the Waning Moon, who makes the best case for the doesil/widdershins confusion I have ever seen – and I mean ever!  Basically, the Coriolis Effect is caused by the rotation of the earth, but because the Earth rotates relatively slowly it only affects large things, like tornadoes and cyclones.  What it does is cause such large things to rotate from left to right, in the northern hemisphere but right to left in the southern hemisphere.  Considering the fact that the direction of casting a circle is not based on some arbitrary thing as right and left, but is actually more about the power being called on or used, then the Coriolis effect is actually the perfect example of power and raising energy.  In the northern hemisphere the Coriolis Effect shows us that energy is raised in a clockwise direction, but it is raised in an anti-clockwise direction down here in the south.

And so I began this question by tracing the definition of words and the etymology of those same words and instead I end up finding my answer in the most random and kind of ironic way possible.  If you can’t see the irony in me talking about the Coriolis Effect in the first instalment of this series and not realising it was actually the answer to one of the conundrums posed by this series – you need to learn about irony!

North

  • Sun appears to cross the sky from left to right.
  • Sun appears to travel in a clockwise direction.
  • Sunwise is Deosil is Clockwise.
  • Counter-sunwise is Widdershins is Counter-clockwise.

South

  • Sun appears to cross the sky from left to right.
  • Sun appears to travel in an anti-clockwise direction.
  • The Coriolis Effect shows energy rising in an anti-clockwise direction.
  • Coriolis is Sunwise is Deosil is Anti-Clockwise.
  • Counter-sunwise is Widdershins is Clockwise.

Why do I say Deosil still equals sunwise?  It’s mostly because of its usage in Paganism and Witchcraft.  Read any spell and if it calls for Deosil it is because that is the direction for raising energy, whether it be sunwise or not, Deosil for us equals “raising energy” and Widdershins is more about banishing.  This is good, because our general assumption has been the same as above (deosil = counter-clockwise) but we never knew if the author of a book meant sunwise or clockwise in their usage of the word deosil.  By using the Coriolis Effect for our basis, it no longer matters.  Energy Raising direction is what we need to think about, the rest is meaningless.


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