Widdershins

Widdershins

[wid-er-shinz]

Widdershins (sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. The Oxford English Dictionary's entry cites the earliest uses of the word from 1513, where it was found in the phrase widdersyns start my hair, i.e my hair stood on end.

The use of the word also means "in a direction opposite to the usual", and in a direction contrary to the apparent course of the sun sixteenth century. It is cognate with the German language widersinnig, i.e., "against" + "sense". The term "widdershins" was especially common in Lowland Scots, and was known in Scottish Gaelic as tuathal, or "left-hand-wise". It uses the same root as tuath meaning "countryside", originally "tribal-land", "folk", "people", the opposite of widdershins is Gaelic deiseil or right-hand-wise.

Superstition and religion

Because the sun played a highly important role in primitive religion, to go against it was considered very bad luck for sun-venerating traditions.

It was considered unlucky in former times in Britain to travel in an anticlockwise (because anti sun wise) direction around a church and a number of folk myths make reference to this superstition, e.g. Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elfland after his sister runs widdershins round a church. There is also a reference to this in Dorothy Sayers's novels The Nine Tailors (chapter entitled The Second Course; "He turned to his right, knowing that it is unlucky to walk about a church widdershins, ...") and Clouds of Witness ("True, O King, and as this isn't a church, there's no harm in going round it widdershins").

In contrast, in Judaism circles are sometimes walked anticlockwise. For example: when a bride circles her groom seven times before marriage, when dancing around the bimah during Simchat Torah (or when dancing in a circle at any time), or when the Torah is brought out of the Ark (Ark is approached from the right, and left from the left).

This has its origins in the Beis Hamikdash, where in order not to get in each others way, the Priests would walk around the Altar anticlockwise while performing their duties. When entering the Beis Hamikdash the people would enter by one gate, and leave by another. The resulting direction of motion was anticlockwise.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, it is normal for processions around a church to go widdershins.

Modern usage

The word is frequently used in fiction in incantations etc, as a means of heightening atmosphere on account of the archaic and arcane nature of the word itself.

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, Widdershins is the opposite of Turnwise, the direction in which the Disc rotates.

The Wiccan Rede states "Widdershins go by wanning moon, chanting out the baneful tune."

Widdershins is the name of the squad mage in Sergeant Balm's squad in Steven Erikson's The Bonehunters.

Widdershins is the title of a Charles de Lint book set in Newford. The title is both literal and metaphorical. In one situation, the characters walk widdershins around a vortex to return home from the Otherworld. But as the book jacket says, "It's also the way people often back slowly into the relationships that matter, the real ones that make for life."

Widdershins is also the name of a do-it-yourself fanzine from Mexico dealing with the Occult and some forms of artistic ways evoking satanic and dark feelings in the minds of the readers.

Widdershins is also the name of a pagan community newspaper based in the Pacific Northwest, now on hiatus. It was published eight times each year from 1995 to 2007.

Withershin is also the name of a Swedish black metal group.

Widdershins is mentioned in the movie 'The Book of Shadows : The Blair Witch Project II' (2000).

Bön

The Bönpo in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally circumambulate (generally) in a counter-clockwise and 'widdershins' direction, that is a direction that runs counter to the apparent movement of the Sun within the sky from the vantage of ground. This runs counter to the prevalent directionality of Buddhism (in general) and orthodox Hinduism, from which Buddhism seceded. This is in keeping with the aspect and directionality of the 'Sauvastika' (Tibetan: yung-drung), sacred to the Bönpo. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Bonpo practitioner is required to elect whether the directionality of 'counter-clockwise' (deosil in the Southern Hemisphere) or running-counter to the direction of the Sun (widdershins in the Southern Hemisphere) is the key intention of the tradition. The resolution to this conundrum is left open to the practitioner, their 'intuitive insight' (Sanskrit: prajna) and their tradition.

See also

References

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