Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Today's Word: Deasil

It's not a type of petroleum fuel! No!

Deasil is an ancient and fundamental word! Until advances in engineering allowed for easy manufacture of machined gears, deasil was a household word!

It means, of course, the opposite of widdershins!

Before clocks were invented, our clever ancestors measured time by following the shadow thrown by the Sun. As the day progresses, a sundial's shadow travels from left to right.

(This all falls apart if you venture into the Southern Hemisphere, but that's another story,)

Pay attention!

It's an odd thing, describing direction! Try to describe 'left' or 'right' to someone over the phone, but without using the words 'left' or 'right'! It's impossible unless you use landmarks - and the biggest landmark is the Sun! The problem with describing direction is perspective! Depending on where you are, what is 'right' to me may be 'left' to you, or 'forward' or 'back'.

Navigators and orienteers use another landmark to guide themselves; they use the Earth itself. Unlike the Sun, which falls out of view every evening, the magnetic field of the Earth is consistent enough to provide anyone with a magnet the ability to record direction. My grandfather always gave directions using compass points, and sometimes he'd test you! "Which way is North!?!?"

But the Sun and its shadow gave direction to time itself! When clockmakers created the first mechanical clocks, they crafted them in such a manner as to mimic the motion of the familiar sundial. Deasil - which means 'clockwise', or 'to the right' - comes from the Gaelic word 'deisiel' ('with the sun'), which in turn is drawn from the Latin 'dexter' ('skillful or right-handed').

(Not all clocks tell time with rightward motions! No! Some European synagogue clocktowers still have rare mechanisms that sweep in the opposite direction - this is because Hebrew is read from right to left!)

Widdershins - of course - means counter-clockwise (anticlockwise for our British friends), and comes from the Middle Low German word 'weddersinnes' which means quite literally, 'opposite course' or 'against the sun'.

Today, the word 'deasil' has all but fallen into obscurity! It has been replaced with "clockwise".

However, it does retain meaning in the world of witchcraft!

Paganism was extremely popular before the spread of Christianity. Like many religious systems, Pagans found it convenient to break the world into good and evil and - as is often the case - darkness was infused with evil meaning, where light was interpreted as good. (It's not just Wiccans who do this! Zen Buddhists have the Yin and Yang, symbolized by interlocking black and white swirls, to represent the dual forces that flow through all things - interestingly, many belief systems go further and apply gender connotations to these distinctions as well!). Even in today's modern version of Paganism, Wicca, Deasil movements are meant to invoke positive qualities in a ritual.



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