Another consideration in regard to the magick circle is that of the use of ritual movement within it. In a Wiccan magick circle all movement is performed sunwise (deosil) unless it is for the purposes of banishing, in which case movement is performed anti-sunwise (widdershins). The immediate precedent for this is to be found in Aleister Crowley’s classic work Magick, where he observes of spirals that “like the circumambulation, if performed deosil they invoke - if widdershins they banish.” The magickal use of the terms deosil and widdershins together in Crowley’s work is significant, indicating again the use of his writings as possible source material, though the terms also turn up at times separately in older texts.
Margaret Murray used the term ‘widdershins’ in her The Witch Cult in Western Europe, relating it to the rites of the witches:
“In Lorraine the round dance always moved to the left. As the dancers faced outwards, this would mean that they moved 'widdershins', i.e. against the sun.”
At this point we should consider the actions which correspond to moving deosil and widdershins in a circle. A deosil circle will be walked with the left hand side of the body on the outside and the right on the inside. This means the natural tendency would be to use the left hand to cast the magick circle, rather than reach across the body with the right hand. Although deosil is ‘sunwise’, most Wiccan magick circles are cast at night, so the movement of the sun is not that relevant a factor, unless the ritual is specifically focused on a solar deity. The use of the left hand side would be symbolically appropriate for several reasons.
The use of the term deosil may be a later incidental addition to the more significant factor of the practice of using the left, or sinister, side of the body. Negative or ‘black’ magick is commonly called ‘the left-hand path’. This is a very old association, seen from the Latin word sinister meaning both ‘left’ and ‘evil’, and even earlier in the ancient world where movement to the right was seen as propitious and to the left as unfavourable. This combination of the left with black magick was also extended to women and the moon. It became established Christian doctrine that Eve was formed from the smallest rib on Adam’s left side, supporting the identification of woman with the left and evil.
This connection between the left side of the body and magick is seen particularly in the Celtic mysteries, e.g. with the corrguinecht (‘heron/crane-killing’) posture adopted by several of the Celtic deities. It is first recorded in the ninth century, being used by the god Lugh in The Second Battle of Moytura (Cath Maige Tuired) against the opposing army of the Fomorians. It is also used by the goddess Badb in the twelfth century tale of the Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel (Togail Bruidne Da Derga) and the goddess Morrigan in the fifteenth century Destruction of Da Choca’s Hostel (Bruiden Da Chocae). This posture, used for prophecy and cursing, involved standing on the left leg, pointing with the left arm and closing the right eye, thus entirely concentrating the body’s energy in the left side.
The association with the left is also seen in Tantra, which is known as the Vama Marg, or ‘Left Hand Path’. It is so called because of the emphasis placed on unconventional and taboo areas of Indian religious life. Thus Tantra places more emphasis on sex, death and individuality, and being outside the boundaries, whereas conventional Hinduism has very clearly defined boundaries.
In using the term widdershins Murray was recording a phrase which saw popular use long before her work. In a report of the case of Johanne Feane (Cwninghame) schoolmaster of Saltpans, Lothian, who was arraigned for witchcraft and high treason on the 26th of December 1590, which appeared in the book Witch Stories by Lynn Linton first published in 1861 we find the following:
“A further count was, that once again he consorted with Satan and his crew, still in North Berwick church, where they paced round the church wider shins (wider sheins), that is contrary to the way of the sun...”
The term widdershins also frequently turned up in prose during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, one such example being in the book Popular Rhymes, sayings and Proverbs of the county of Berwickwhich was published in 1856, in a poem entitled ‘Betty Bathgate the Witch’
How she runs widdershins!
She's sunken Geordie Houldie's ship
And drown'd his men in it;
She, and her devilish squad
Hae gar'd Tom Burgon's nag rin mad;
She' shaken a' Pate Trumbul's bere,
And kill'd the cow o' Robin Weir!
Now she rins widdershins,
Nine times round the grey stane,
Nine times round the riddle!"
There are much older examples of this principle to be seen in ancient Egypt, where all movement in the magick space was conducted sunwise (deosil), in the direction of the daily journey of the Sun god Re. Any anti-sunwise movement was considered to be inviting isfet (chaos and disorder) and was avoided at all costs. This principle of creation being associated with sunwise movement and disorder or negativity being associated with anti-sunwise movement is still adhered to today in the Wiccan tradition five thousand years later.
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.