The Symbolism associated with the north
Why is it that the north has been associated with a place of darkness? We learn from the first degree lecture, that "there are three lights in a Lodge....There is none in the north”In "King Solomon’s Temple....the sun and moon....could dart no ray of light into the north part thereof. The north, therefore, we Masonically term a place of darkness”.
The Sun, while progressing through the ecliptic, never reaches farther than 23 degrees and 28 minutes north of the Equator. Therefore, a building that is erected further north than this would receive the sun, at its meridian height, only on its south side.
Similar references to darkness in the north can be found in the Bible. For example in Jeremiah 1-13/14 we find: “What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north. Then the Lord said unto me, out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land”. Again, in Jeremiah 46-20: “destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north”.
As it is said that the Lord will rise again in the east, the east side of a church is always regarded as the most sacred. Indeed it was common practice for the dead to be buried with their feet towards to east, so that they could meet Him. In Wales, for example, a wind coming from the east, is referred to as "The wind of the dead man's feet". In a Lodge too, the east, the place of the Worshipful Master, where the Sun rises, is the most important.
Next is the south, then the west, and finally the north - this from the belief that the dead would rise in this order. Felons, therefore, were frequently buried in the north side of the churchyard. The east is considered God's side, where His throne is set; the west, man's side, the Galilee of the Gentiles; the south, the side of the “spirits made just” and angels, where the sun shines in her strength; the north, the devil's side, where Satan and his legion lurk to catch the unwary. Some churches have still a “devil's door” in the north wall, which is opened at baptisms and communions to let the devil out.
Another passage in the Bible, shows that the north is also associated with other forms of death, such as sacrifices. In Leviticus 1/11, we read "He is to slaughter it at the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle its blood against the altar on all sides".
In ancient Central American cultures, where directions have a permanent symbolic importance, north is the place the living come from and the dead return to, a country of cold, hunger, night. The eagle, symbol of war, resides in the north, because it is the territory of hunting and combat. The color of north is black. Ancient Mongols, when making toasts, spilled their cups to the south to honor fire, to the east to honor air, to the west to honor water, and to the north to honor the dead.
Perhaps partly based on this Mongol tradition, in the ancient Japanese sport of Sumo, there are 4 colored tassels hanging above the ring where the Japanese wrestling (Sumo) takes place. Each represents a direction, and a season. A black tassel is representative of the north, and winter. The Japanese strongly believe that sleeping with ones head towards the north is bad luck.
During the Middle Ages, an accused person would stand facing his judges to the north. According to the book of Bahir (one of the oldest Kabalistic texts), the north is the abode evil, and Satan comes from the north.
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