Many Traditions work with and emphasize the importance of the Cardinal Directions. Compass points, or the compass round is a how many practitioners orientate their sacred ritual space. To each direction governance of one of the four Classical Elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air. As well as this a suit of the Tarot cards, and a season in the Wheel of the Year. These considerations permeate a great many practices besides the ritual circle, which means, even for someone like myself, who does not cast a circle in the fashion of the Wiccan Traditions, or more ceremonial styles of Craft “Call the Quarters/Elements”, the Northern Hemisphere can still trip up my general practice. It is easy enough to orientate oneself towards any direction in keeping with a particular working, much harder to keep to traditional practices, like, the Tarot, and use them to their fullest extent, when simply put, they just were not written and developed with the Southern Hemisphere even remotely in mind.
And don’t we Southern Folk know it! Our task, as Australian practitioners of various European traditions, is hardly as easy as simply learning our traditions, and practising. Between learning and practising there is a host of translation that goes on. We flip, we shuffle, we reorientate, we experiment. And in the two weeks of ‘Q’ posts for the Pagan Blog Project there were three Aussies who took to the blogsphere to talk about it. The trials and tribulations of Earth Based Spirituality in Terra Australis Incognito.
The Traditional Arrangement: Northern Hemisphere
I acknowledge that, even in the Northern Hemisphere there are variations in terms of the Cardinal Directions and Classical Elements, depending on the Tradition. But these variations seem orientated between East and South, Wands and Swords, Fire and Air, and West and North, Cups and Disks, Water and Earth. Below I have listed my personal start point.
East: Air: Swords: Spring
South: Fire: Wands: Summer
West: Water: Cups/Hearts: Autumn
North: Earth: Disk/Pentacles: Winter
Letitia Webb at Spinning Webbs, practising in Central NSW, orientates the directions thus:
She further notes the issue of Widdershins, and also that for indoor workings she works according to Northern Hemisphere traditions, opting for more location based directions when working outdoors.
Working a little bit further east, Christie Britton aka Fallen-Earth-Angel of Southern Hemisphere Pagan notes her use of directions in her post ‘Q is for Quarters’ thus:
In Melbourne: and in Sydney:
North: Fire North: Fire
East: Air East: Water
South: Water South: Air
West: Earth West: Earth
All the way on the other side of the Continent in Western Australia (which is actually further away for most Aussies than many other countries), Lee Pike on Antipodean Witch: Weaving the craft down under has a series of posts considering the nature of the directions and elements in her locale, the third being ‘The Element of Water: May You Never Thirst‘ (with links to the other posts). For her:
Turn me around two times… Oh shit, I’m lost!
I remember moving to Darlinghurst in Sydney’s CBD, and feeling completely lost. I remember telling my then boyfriend “I can’t see the sun!” I’d spent far too long living in the vast flatness of South Western Sydney, and my sense of direction was never so crash hot. Without the horizon as a reference, I regularly felt like a complete loser. If it wasn’t for the slop towards the ocean, Hyde Park, and a great memory, I’m sure I would be featured on milk cartons and posters.
I now live in Hobart Tasmania, and though a long way a way from Liverpool, my orientation, even in terms of local bodies of water, and the precise orientation of my house, is fundamentally no different. When I stand at the back door of my house, the setting sun is in the exact location in reference to my body, as the setting sun standing at the back door of my family home. When I sit on the lounge talking to my Mum on the phone, whilst she is stilling on her lounge, I know we are facing the exact same direction. (Or if she is sitting on the lounge on the other side of the room, we’re facing each other!) The water as it flows, is dammed, and runs to the ocean is, from my house, is the same as the water behind Mum’s place. Before they part directions further afield. (One bends south, and the other north.)
These little observations mean very little except that my general view of the expanse of Australia’s South East Coast is generally the same from Northern Sydney to South of Hobart.
Having a look at the Standard Sydney Directions as described by Cara’s post in Book of Eucalypt, compared to the “standard flip” from the Northern Hemisphere standards at the top of this post:
Standard Sydney Directions: Southern Hemisphere Standard Flip:
North: Fire: Wands North: Fire: Wands: Summer
West: Earth: Disks/Pentacles West: Water: Cups/Hearts: Autumn
South: Air: Swords South: Earth: Disks/Pentacles: Winter
East: Water: Cups/Hearts East: Air: Swords: Spring
The first thing you should notice about the standard hemispherical flip is that now, on the compass round, the seasons, and the sun, actually move widdershins, anti-clockwise. And it does. And they also correspond to Lee Pike’s considerations in Western Australia perfectly. Producing a dual flip, once for the Southern Hemisphere, once for the East Coast, produces a movement of seasons on the compass round sunwise, clockwise, or deosil, as it would be in the Northern Hemisphere, but essentially anti-sun-wise for those in Australia, which the standard Sydney Directions do not.
Moving Through Space & Time
The question of widdershins is a valid one. Many Aussies still move in ritual in an anti-clockwise or to the left direction. Though this too depends on tradition, and (broadly) speaks to going “against sense” or time, or the sun, and a practitioner moving thus, enters the unseen from the seen (Sun), the timeless space from the progression of time in this world (clockwise).
For myself, I always enter ritual widdershins. It is part of how I learned, and speaks to tradition beyond technology. As someone who has taken to more than one ballroom, and still loves a good ritual dance, anti-clockwise is still and forever the line of dance, and I’m not about to change, even when dancing with the spirits of the unseen worlds.
In this regard, it seems Aussies have a choice. Regardless of which we choose, we will invariably lose the other. Against the sun is to go clockwise, against the clock is to go sunwise. In this way, flipping the seasonal associations horizontally again for the East Coast, as a written representation and resulting in a clockwise seasonal representation seems rather moot. A written depiction, or even laying the Tarot cards in a clockwise direction, in a way resonates with the idea of moving into the unseen and against time, which divination is, without actually having to break from how we are taught.
How I do it
North: Fire: Wands: Summer: The Equator, the path of the Sun
East: Water: Cups/Hearts: Spring: The Tasman Sea (The Pacific Ocean), Rising Sun
South: Earth: Disks/Pentacle: Winter: Antarctica, Ice
West: Air: Swords: Autumn: The rest of the Continent, Setting Sun
Traditional Element Suit Season S/H Direction S/H Season
East Air Swords Spring West Autumn
South Fire Wands Summer North Summer
West Water Cups/Hearts Autumn East Spring
North Earth Disk/Pentacles Winter South Winter
As it happens, these are the same as Letitia’s from Spinning Webbs. I’ve also indicated the fact that I associate the elements with slightly different seasons. Though essentially a flip once for the hemisphere and then horizontally for the elemental considerations of the East Coast, the seasonal flip is only in terms of the hemisphere. In this way, Spring doesn’t follow Air and Swords to the West, but is associated here still in the East, but rather with Water and Cups/Hearts. Because Spring being associated with the setting Sun is entirely counter intuitive. Also, the elemental correspondences with the seasons is not as an important consideration, none of them being absent from any given season. And maintains an actual sunwise orientation.
The elements, their classical correspondences and their manifestation or occurrence where we actually live, the season, the path of the sun, and the tradition of casting a circle or cards, are all going to be considered at least once for many a practising pagan. Evidently, there are lots of ways to do it, and people consider the importance of one over the other in their own practice. For some the element and direction is more important a link than that between direction and season, for others, season and element will be more important, particularly for those who follow a tradition single Wheel of the Year mythic narrative. From the outside it can seem as if Aussies have thrown all care to the wind, but as a group of people, Australian Pagans are no less inclined towards earth-based practices, despite the fact we’re doing it entirely upside down. Fortunately there are those people who are sharing their reasons for their associations for those still grappling with some of the practices very often taken for granted in other places in the world.
P.S. ‘Q’ is for “Quarters”. This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project 2014.