Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ritualized Quarterly Directions

Last week, we were covering the five elements in terms of their traditional associations (direction, gender, symbols, etc.) when one of my students wondered why each element was linked to its compass point (earth: North, water: West, air: East, fire: South). I was stumped to explain the mythological evolution of this association, so I promised I'd look it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn't really find anything satisfying in my books about it, other than "This is the way it is". So I turned to the Internet and asked the question to Yahoo Answers. Aside from some asinine responses which basically said I was a fool to believe in such nonsense and I would soon find myself in concrete galoshes in a lake of fire, I got these two great responses:

From katyask
I can tell you about Native American element and compass correlation.

East (Red-fire/heat) - The direction from which the sun comes. Light dawns in the morning and spreads over the earth.

South (Yellow-earth) - warmth and growing, the sun's rays are powerful in drawing life from the earth. It is said the life of all things comes from the south. also, warm and pleasant winds come from the south.

West (black-water) - To the west, the sun sets, and the day ends. For this reason, west signifies the end of life and sends thunder and : rain, lakes, streams and rivers. nothing can live without water, so the west is vital.

North (white-air) - North brings the cold, harsh winds of the winter season. These winds are cleansing. They cause the leaves to fall and the earth to rest under a blanket of snow.

From Cosimo )O( Basta!
That is the normal convention in the Western tradition. I believe the circle is analogous both to the wheel of the year and to the ages of a human lifespan:

East for Spring, when the wind stirs in the new foliage - air;
South for Summer, when the sun swells the grain - fire;
West for Autumn, when rivers rise and fog swirls - water;
North for Winter, when all things await rebirth and the Goddess welcomes us back to her embrace.

East for sunrise and West for sunset mirror the sun's annual cycle in the daily cycle. And for those in the northern hemisphere, the sun's heat always comes from the south. In European pagan traditions, North is ever a place of magic and mystery, the home of the gods.

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