Why do We Move Clockwise in Lodge?
V.W. Bro. John Bower
North West Mounted Police Lodge, Regina
Swift Current Lodge, Swift Current
Craven Lodge, Craven
Grand Lodge of Saskatchewan
While it only seems natural to move clockwise around the Lodge room why do we, in fact, move in that direction?
Historically, time keeping developed in the northern hemisphere where one would notice that your shadow moves from left to right during the day. In Iraq this phenomenon was first recorded over 4,000 years ago and the first sundials were simple sticks placed in the ground to indicate the travel of the shadow – from left to right or clockwise. The northern hemisphere is important here for if time keeping had been developed in the southern hemisphere then sundials and hence clockwise would have been the other way round. As the real estate people would say location, location, location.
The constellations rotate in a clockwise fashion. Ursa Major, the Great bear, was a star clock used to track the seasons of the year. The bear’s tail points north in winter, east in spring, south in summer and west in the fall and this constellation would have been used for centuries to determine planting and harvest schedules – very important in the Northern Hemisphere where we experience winter. As sundials were first developed they were generally constructed with the numbers on the north side and the shadow would move from left to right.
In order to track the movement of the sun one would have to face south so that, again the movement is from left to right – east to west. We also know from our Masonic ritual and from our schooling that learning developed in the east and moved towards the west so another reason to move clockwise in Lodge.
Clockwise movement is also important in religious practices dating back to the Sumerians, Egyptians and Babylonians who had their religious ceremonies move in a clockwise fashion perhaps to ensure that the seasons would continue to turn in the same direction year after year. It is believed that Stonehenge and other stone circles were used as calendars by the ancients and the shadows would have again traversed from left to right in a clockwise fashion.
The idea and practice of the Stations of the Cross was brought by crusaders to medieval Europe as a way to go on a religious pilgrimage when it wasn’t possible to travel to the Holy Land. Sculptures and paintings depicting Christ’s last hours helped Christians better understand what Jesus experienced. The Stations of the Cross in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are generally started on what is called the ‘gospel’ side of the church. Prior to Vatican II the priest when reading the gospel would be facing the front of the church, which was generally to the east as most churches were oriented east and west – sound familiar? While reading the gospel the priest stood with his back to the congregation so the gospel would be on the north side. It is believed that the north side was used for the gospel as that was where the pagans and barbarians were from and by reading on the north you were preaching to the barbarians to convert them. Of course, churches were built with windows in the east, south and west sides but not the north as that was the cold side away from the sun. In effect, travelling clockwise in church doing the Stations of the Cross, one would leave the darkness and come to the light much as we do in Lodge by bringing the candidate in on the north side and moving him around to the east, south and west as he gains light.
It is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox Church has a different series of Stations of the Cross and their circumambulation is from right to left. There is a theory that this is as a result of the schism that split the Eastern church from the Roman version – in other words just to be different. The Muslim faithful in Mecca circle the Kaaba stone seven times counter-clockwise. There is speculation that Muslims, being descended from the Semites from south of the Equator in Africa, turn counter clockwise as that is the direction the sun would take in the southern hemisphere. The Jews, who are also descended from the Semites, circle the Sacred Rock in Jerusalem in a clockwise direction perhaps just to be different again but circle the Torah counter-clockwise. Interestingly a Jewish bride circles her husband in a clockwise fashion for seven revolutions.
Turning counter clockwise as a threatening gesture is recorded in ancient history. Tales of warriors wordlessly marching counter clockwise in front of an enemy army was an indication of the intention to undo them and destroy them. The Bible talks of the circumambulation of Jericho by the Israelites before the walls fell. There is no definitive proof of the direction of travel but it is believed that the Israelites traveled counter-clockwise to figuratively undo the structure of the city.
The practice of turning counter clockwise as undoing is a tradition or superstition in the Northern Hemisphere as the direction was seen as the direction of the devil. Turning counter clockwise is referred to as widdershins, and this anti-sunwise, or backwards motion was required by some rituals—particularly in the ancient ‘undoing’ ceremony—the ‘ceremony of riddance.’ For instance, there is a record that Welsh children suffering from internal disorders were ‘dipped into a sacred well against the sun’, and were then dragged three times around the well on the grass in the same direction. Brethren, do not try this at home but, Sunni traditional divorce involves a man saying ‘I divorce you’ three times to his wife and the deed is done. According to some Sunni justice schools the three declarations must be said with three menstrual cycles between utterances giving – a total of seven months which is a number familiar to Masons, but I digress. The point is that the undoing ceremony is done in groups of three just as with the Welsh child example mentioned previously. It would be interesting to speculate on the number of turns being three and how that would apply to Masonry for, as you all know, the number three arises several times in our ritual.
Right to left motion was also considered to be evil, or a method of summoning the Devil, and therefore became common in ‘black’ magic. For centuries those who were left handed were thought to be unnatural or sinister because the left side was in darkness while the right was in light. In the practice of witch craft the ceremonies turn counter clockwise – a sign of the devil moving from light to darkness. To this day in England there is an old wives tale, for want of a better term, that if you walk through a graveyard counter clockwise you will encounter the devil.
Having said all that there are no doubt some of you saying, ‘but what if we look from the clock’s point of view then isn’t clockwise from right to left?’ to which I respond yes but if you want to spend your time in the clock tower, say Big Ben, it will be a bit noisy. In addition the sports enthusiasts amongst you might be saying ‘but horse racing, auto racing, baseball and so forth all turn counter-clockwise’ so are they evil? You could ask your better halves and, depending on how much time you spent last weekend in front of the TV watching sports, she may well have an answer to that!
I have been reading a book on rabies, and found an interesting reference to the prevention of rabies in dogs and humans. The reference was written in a medical text by Pliny the Elder (Ad 23 – 79). He recommended taking the ‘worm’ (a small tendon under the tongue) from a puppy’s tongue which would prevent rabies in the dog. To cure rabies in humans you took the same ‘worm’ carry it round the fire in a clockwise fashion three times and then feed it to the human who had been bitten by a rabid dog to prevent the human getting rabies.
In conclusion, we turn clockwise in Lodge because we follow the sun, the constellations, the spread of learning, the Stations of the Cross, our clocks, and our own shadows. Good enough for me.
(Copied from the Sunday Masonic Papers March 2018)