By Sedwin na Sidhe
"When you work in widdershins, to move out you must move in."
Dictionaries describe widdershins as "going against" or "to move in a wrong or contrary direction". Widdershins is movement in a counterclockwise direction - the opposite of deosil or clockwise/sunwise motion. The word widdershins is German and has a first recorded use in 1513. However, depending on the source, it is also described as a variant spelling of withershins, the Scottish word for counterclockwise.
Doing something with a widdershins motion has been called the "witches' way". In ancient Scotland it was believed to be unlucky or evil to walk around a churchyard in a counterclockwise direction. Even today there is a general perception that moving widdershins represents an undoing, regressive, and backward energy. On the one hand, it is believed to be used for negative magical purposes, however, it is said to be used for dispersing negative energies or diseases.
The idea that clockwise is the "right" way to move may have its roots with sundials. Our early ancestors were aware of and celebrated the movements of the sun and moon. Because they were keen observers, they must have been aware of shadows moving from left to right as the sun moved through the sky each day. Because the sun angles shadows toward the north (in the northern hemisphere), early Europeans would have faced north to see their own shadows. It was natural that the design of the earliest sundials required people to face north in order to read them. Taking their cue from the sun, movement in sacred ritual also followed the deosil (clockwise) direction.
According to Starhawk in The Spiral Dance, widdershins "is used for decrease and banishings". While widdershins movement in ritual seems to have been avoided by many Wiccans (except for occasional use in dispersing the Circle), people are beginning to reevaluate its merits. Movement in both directions helps to stir the cauldron of ritual and raise a balanced energy. Using a widdershins-only direction in ritual during winter months can be beneficial for quiet self-work.
When working deosil with the cardinal directions, we build energy that moves outward. Starting in the East, place of the mind, we begin with knowledge. In the South, place of spirit, we build heat and energy. Place of emotions, the West gives us love and intuition to shape our intentions. Finally, North, place of the body, nature, sustenance and creativity helps us move the energy of ritual out into the universe.
Working widdershins begins in the West where we call on courage for the inward journey. The heat of South burns away false façades to allow us to see who we really are. As we approach our inner selves, we begin to heal the wounds that life can inflict upon us. Moving to the East we begin to learn about our true selves and who we are. Then we are able to move to the North, place of death but also birth and growth. Here we come to our center, home of spirit. In discovering our true spirit, we find the Divine. By moving within we can discover that spark that links us with the web of all things in the universe.
In ritual and self-work, the act of moving inward ultimately brings us back out. In essence, we are dancers moving through the spiral dance that is our lives. It has its cycles of inward motion where we nurture our souls which, in turn, prepare us to continue our dance and sweep outward with beauty and energy to enrich the world around us. We are but a mirror of Mother Earth going through our own seasons.
May your self-work of the winter season be richly rewarding.
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**Note from the author: "Thank you for making so much available to so many people." Blessed be, Sandra Kynes** (posted with permission June 9, 2002)