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Sacred Directions, Orientation, and the Top of the Map Author(s): B. L.

Gordon Reviewed work(s): Source: History of Religions, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Feb., 1971), pp. 211-227 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 30/10/2012 23:04
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the four-part frame of reference. it could well trace from a single source in man's earliest history. spontaneously and independently. at first purely egocentric in that it shifted about depending upon individual viewpoint. Gordon SACRED DIRECTIONS. This four-part division is sometimes said to have been suggested to prehistoric man by his astronomical observations: the direction of either the noon sun or the North Star establishes a north-south coordinate through the observer's position. appearing among well-separated peoples of diverse cultural origins. and the positions of the rising and setting sun establish what is roughly an east-west coordinate. Be this as it may. THE TOP OF THE MAP THE FOUR CARDINAL DIRECTIONS The practice of dividing the circle of the horizon into four cardinal directions is almost universal. This is not to say that the number four was repeatedly selected. was eventually made more abstract and useful with the development of the concept of azi211 . AND ORIENTATION. a left and a right side. But the directions of rising and setting sun vary greatly according to season and latitude. L. a fact which makes this explanation implausible.B. It seems more likely that the choice of the number four derives from the symmetry of the human body itself-a symmetry which suggests a four-part division of the horizon: a front and a back.

212 . 43:2. 4 T. . 2 Ezek. from culture to culture." Hebrew Union College Annual 6 [1929] :1). Ezek. with an idealized map upon which the directions have positive or negative spiritual significance: "Thou also." East is the favored direction. even Jerusalem . Morgenstern. perhaps. son of man. 2:2. 3 Num. Atkinson. There are probably few peoples who have no sense of primary reference direction-a cosmography without directional alignment being hard to imagine." but the same four-part division appears in descriptions of mythical landscapes beyond the earth. also Zach. on a distant peak and later to a point beneath some astronomical object. the eastern gate of the Haram-esh-Sherif in Jerusalem. But in the earliest religious records of the Middle East yet another development appears: the cardinal points cease to have simply geographical associations. and lay it before thee. the glory of the God of Israel came by the way of the east. From this fixed point. and portray upon it the city. The fixed point. COSMOGRAPHIES AND PRAYER DIRECTION No doubt the marking of the horizon with four cardinal points and the idea of azimuth were widespread long before the religious organizations known to history existed.Sacred Directions muth: by this convention one of the four points was fixed on the horizon-originally. 10:85. the City of God. For instance. other bearings were taken. the Jewish "tent of meeting" opened toward the east. D. The famous Golden Gate. the Hebrew word for east meaning literally "the front" and that for west."4 North had an unfavorable association for the early Jews: for instance. 4. the early Hebrew speaker imagined himself facing east. Considering first the example of the ancient Jews. behold. "the back. or prime direction. "The Gates of Righteousness. however. 4:1. take thee a tile. 14:4. Ezekiel introduces his vision of a Holy Jerusalem. we find in the Old Testament that the horizon is divided consistently into four parts. 3. they appear as symbols for more than directions alone. as was generally the case among the Semitic peoples: "And. "Points of the Compass. tracing back to pre-urban Jewish antiquity."2 And. varies. Not only do we read of the "four corners of the earth. "the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the 1 The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments in the Authorized King James Version. . 1955).3 Indeed. is supposed to occupy the site of the eastern gate of the Temple of Solomon (J. four winds blow in heaven-supposed by the ancients to be located in the stars of the Pleiades-and four rivers flow through paradise." Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (New York.

"9 A Jewish sect. 6:10. although it may have been of Jewish origin.. who prayed facing south. 70. also Dan. were about twenty-five men with their backs to the Lord's Temple and their faces toward the east. with south occasionally a rival. also Jer." Hebrew Union College Annual 28 (1957):194.10 On the other hand. 1962). S. to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north. and brought me in the vision of God to Jerusalem. which provoketh to jealousy. state "let all rise up with 5 Ezek. not unreasonably. 6 E. 21:1. continued to face the rising sun-the dawn having been for them. 213 ."7 "And the word of the Lord came unto me. Pagans of the Mediterranean area knew it. 9 Ezek. for instance. Both the Jews and the Christians have tried to disassociate east from the worship of the sun. the Parsis. and toward the house that I have built for Thy name. The "Apostolical Constitutions. the Nazarenes. 2--H. a sect of Jewish Christians which survived in Syria until the fourth century A." which were probably written towards the end of the third century. 10 Franz Landsberger. Foster [Cambridge.D.R. faced Jerusalem when praying. "The Sacred Direction in Synagogue and Church. since this confusion of symbols occurred repeatedly: "At the door of the Lord's Temple .. the notion of kiblah was not uniquely Jewish. saying. still do. 8:3. the cardinal directions lost most of this significance when the Jews began taking spiritual bearings by the direction of the Holy City of Jerusalem. and that the change in prayer direction was made for that reason. 7 1 Kings 8:44. from ancient sun worship. 3:265). Mass. as their descendants. 18. set thy face toward Jerusalem and drop the word toward the holy places."5 This association of north with evil was found also among the Zoroastrians.. Essene example may have prompted the Christian selection of east as the direction of prayer and the Second Coming..D. where was the seat of the image of jealousy. 4:6. The Mandaeans and Iran (Leiden. son of man. Drower. 0.History of Religions heaven. True. no doubt. the Romans prayed facing in the direction of the temple of Jupiter in Rome (Livy. symbolic of resurrection. 8:16. 1:14. trans. Sun worship was frequently condemned. 2. B. they were bowing down to the sun. around A."8 Reverence for the east derives. Thus the people are told that they "shall pray unto the Lord toward the city which Thou hast chosen. 1911]. stressing the fact that east has a different meaning for them.6 Although in earliest times the sacred direction for the Jews appears to have been east. of Iraq 8 Ezek. and 6:1. suggests that the destruction of Jerusalem was taken by the Christians as evidence that God had forsaken the Jews. when away from their city. the Essenes. p.

."ll An eastern star heralded the birth of Christ. 124. And until recently. 15 The Muslims perfected the astrolabe. 223). or kiblah. and used it to determine both the hours of prayer and the direction of Mecca. who ascending up to the heaven of heavens to the east. p. small compasses which had the kiblah direction marked upon them were being sold in Egypt (E. probably in the thirteenth century. an astronomical instrument which had been invented by the Greeks. After they had acquired the compass. whose strong sense of direction is perhaps evidenced by the fact that the words "azimuth." "zenith. Avoiding the north. Lane. You look towards the sunset and in this wise you renounce this dark and sinister ruler. pray to God eastward. "no one longer dared to look at the rising sun. The Modern Egyptians [London. 1963). 325 (Edinburgh. 201. Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A. Mohammed took from the Jews. 14 Ibid. The early Christian attitude toward west is expressed as follows in a fourth-century sermon to newly baptized converts: "You stretched forth your hand and with this gesture you renounced Satan as though he were actually present. W. and looking towards the east.. Christ on the cross faced west..."l4 Geographic symbolism is at its most complicated among the Muslims. Ill.. The idea of a Holy City as a spiritual pole and of a sacred direction. He himself had prayed toward Jerusalem until he received a revelation bidding him to turn his back upon it and face Mecca. After the Christian cause was victorious in the fourth century under the Emperor Constantine..13 When Christianity and Mithraism met in Rome. Even farmers and sailors refrained from observing the stars." and "nadir" came into English from Arabic."12 Next consider the worshippers of Mithra. at least. the Mithraist priests addressed three prayers a day to the sun: at morning." Ante-Nicene. GreekMyths and Christian Mysteries (New York and Evanston. The expression "to go west. and death for the Christians." meaning to die.). 1956). noon. for instance. and tremblingly held their eyes fixed upon the ground. 1908]. 12 Hugo Rahner. they became irreconcilable enemies.Sacred Directions one consent. they used it not only in navigating but to find prayer direction. 166. West has persistently symbolized satanic darkness. still occurs in popular usage. the ancient Persian sun god who was adopted by the Zoroastrians and made known by them in the eastern Mediterranean..15 11 James Donaldson. p.. 214 . n. p. and evening. This tradition was carried to the limits of early Christendom..D. 17:85. The Mysteries of Mithra (New York. "The Apostolical Constitutions. grief.. ed. remembering also the ancient situation of paradise in the east.d. p.. the Nestorians in China prayed facing eastward. 13 Franz Cumont.

. occasionally north. south was its rival). which lay in 16 When introduced into modern industrial societies. East and south have been favorites and. "Nord-Siid-Ost-West. are obliged to pray five times a day."l7 Linguistic evidence indicates that the easterly direction was fundamental in the world outlook of the pagan Indo-Europeans. and it remains so for Muslims in general-most positive. that is. being Moslems.16 Like other Semitic peoples. The interior of the church is the universe.000 Turks. gone Germany jobs. always facing Mecca .) The sense of Holy Direction pervades even the detail of the Muslim's everyday life. Certainly the conviction that there is a proper direction to face while praying is widespread. Few peoples have chosen west. the concept of kiblahis a powerful unifying force. Among the augurs of pagan Italy. describes how the Roman augur "markedoff the heavens by a line from east to west. Livy. designating as 'right' the regions to the south. too. The altar is paradise. 18 Heinrich Schroder. He does not spit in the direction of the kiblahnor relieve nature while facing in that direction. CHURCH AND TOMB ALIGNMENT: COSMOGRAPHICAL SYMBOLS In the Christian church. the faithful are supposed to face kiblah in prayer. the root of the words "north" and "left"' and for the words "south" and "right" being often the same in Indo-European languages. The head of an animal to be slaughteredis turned toward Mecca. 215 . The Germans have cars' on their with railroad trains provided special 'prayer prayer rugs and a compass that points out the location of Mecca as the train rolls along. and beyond. and spiritual polarity is at its strongest among Muslims. Romanisch Monatsschrift 17 (1929):421. the custom generates interesting adaptations: In 1967. east was the direction most favorable to the revelation of mysteries (although. the ancient Arabs had taken east as the primary or positive point on the horizon (with south a rival). the German Information Office reported "some Turks have to to find And 250. the early Semites were similarly oriented linguistically. for instance. "The four parts of the interior of the church symbolize the four cardinal directions. as we shall see. Beyond question. 1:67. as 'left' those to the north.. that it was because his doctrines were poorly received by the Jewish elders that he chose Mecca instead of Jerusalem as the Holy City of Islam. Throughout the whole of Islam from westernmost Africa to central Asia.History of Religions (It has been claimed.18 As noted above. the Philippines. next to the kiblah." Germanisch. again.." 17 Livy.

the majority of the churches in Italy were built with their choirs at the eastern end. Colo. The Armenian churches. canonically. every effort is made to orient the buildings. which had their portals facing the built.. It would be equally interesting to learn the opinions about sacred 19 Mircea Eliade. 9-12. Nevertheless. east.. with the sanctuary at the eastern end. Gregory Church in San Francisco is oriented. p. the newly built St. at the western edge of Christendom. although this could only be accomplished by building a courtyard extending alongside the church from the street to the entrance at the west end. 22 The Armenian rector in San Francisco has kindly informed me that. this orientation is usually accomplished by having the buildings aligned from west to east. 201). Since most synagogues lie to the west of Jerusalem. Ill. 61. Trask (New York and Evanston. however. W. 20 Donaldson. too. which faced eastward (Landsberger. only a few of the older Spanish churches were laid out in the traditional directions. although Armenian churches are. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. I do not know. he shows. In the Middle Ages in Islamic countries. however the building itself may be aligned. p. 23 George Kubler. I have not been able to learn. all Jewish synagogues had their entrances to the east. 23. R.21 Romanesque and Gothic sculptural programs generally have the Last Judgment on the west end.Sacred Directions the East. In today's synagogue the Ark is generally placed before the worshippers so that in facing it they also face toward Jerusalem. In New Mexico."20 Beginning in the fifth century. p. 17:83. 23. In Mexico. modern English Anglican churches are usually oriented. 1957). apparently taking the "tent of meeting" as their model. were built with their altars oriented. the expression "Ecclesiastical East" is sometimes still used in reference to the altar end of the church. that is. 24 Landsberger. in America some actually are not because available lots are not always laid out so that orientation is possible."19 The "Apostolical Constitutions" prescribe that "the building be long with its head to the east. Orientation is the rule in the Eastern church. both synagogues and churches had the sacred direction indicated by their portals. The Religious Architecture of New Mexico (Colorado Springs. Although tradition plays little part in the alignment of modern Protestant churches. trans. that east continued to be a special direction.22 Whether this was the practice among the Nestorian Christians even farther eastward. In the beginning of the Christian era synagogues were to the both north and south of Jerusalem.23 On the other hand. the Franciscans alone observed the rules of orientation throughout the sixteenth century. for example. supposed to be oriented. 216 .24 How the direction of Jerusalem was determined in the old synagogues of the Crimea. churches were generally built throughout Christendom so that their congregations faced east in facing the altar. 1940). On pp. p. And by the eighth century. 21 In the first few centuries of the Christian era.

) Frequently. that is. and the Aegean in the centre. quoted in J. History of Cartography (London. Tooley. V. 1964). Whereas medieval Christians generally put east at the top of the map. 1952).History of Religions direction held by the Karaites. p. H. M. with the east uppermost. Among the Muslims.D. Maps and Map Makers (New York. 28 R. easting-ourselves. 260. as well as laymen. (In practice. with their heads toward the west and feet toward the east. was a flat disc of land surrounded by the sea. as is Stonehenge in Britain. A. the changes began during the Reformation. occasionally south.26 THE MAP AS A COSMOGRAPHICAL PLAN The "basic cosmographical concept of Roman cosmographers. 217 . eds. Pagan Graeco-Roman temples were commonly aligned eastwest. the old schismatic sect of Judaism which survives in the Crimea and in Poland. Kramers. they had to align their prayer niche and prayer mats askew of the axis of the building. 1953). at the top of the world map shortly after the church began orientating its architecture. 27 Leo Bagrow. A French cleric writing in the year 170325 remarks on the Church's practice of burying ecclesiastics. For example. the graves were aligned roughly parallel to the walls of the churches. 13. noting that the practice had been maintained over a period of more than fifteen centuries and that changes in this procedure were an innovation begun no more than a century earlier. their sacred direction. a special niche called the mihrab is built in a wall of the mosque so that the prayers of those facing it will be addressed toward Mecca."27 Their maps were drawn accordingly."28 It is this Christian tradition that makes us still speak of "orienting"-that is. and the only known example of Byzantine cartography. Christian cartographers started placing east. as of the Greeks. the Madaba Mosaic of about A. the graves in older Jewish cemeteries are aligned in the direction of the Holy City. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam (New York. Guichard. Gibb and J. p. When Constantinople fell and the Muslims took over the oriented Hagia Sophia. p. R. 38. the early Muslims almost always put 25 Magillon. 26 H. "Rapport sur les travaux de la Societ6 Royale de France.. 550 "is the earliest example of a map with east at the top." Memoires de la Societe Royal des Antiquaires de France 17 (1844):68. Muslim dead are usually buried on their right sides with their faces turned toward Mecca.

260. 30 Shu-hua Li.. (New Hyde Park."29 Indeed the kiblah was mistakenly associated with the southerly direction elsewhere: the mihrab in the great mosque at Cordoba erected in the eighth century.32 Thus. In ancient China both directions had merit.C. "to bury on the north [of the city] and with the head [of the deceased] turned to the north. was the common practice. 1967). accustomed in their homeland to finding the kiblah to the south. thus kiblah . the question arises: How did north come to the top of the map in the Christian world ? Thus there is another tradition to be considered: the tradition in which north is sacred. this meant that the oldest Muslim cultural centers were located to the north of Mecca. 1. "The South-pointing Carriage and the Mariner's Compass. NORTH AS A SACRED DIRECTION As we have seen. according to the Chinese religious 29 Gibb and Kramers. the Arabs' early conquests were northward into the culturally more advanced. the kiblad direction became south. where south was the sacred direction. 31 Li Chi. and. and for that reason the Chinese used the south-pointing compass. In the Orient this was not the case. 1:170. according to the direction in which Mecca lies. Christians."31 The emperor's palace and throne are described as facing south. south. alignment there was north-south. 2 vols.Sacred Directions south at the top. James Legge. for the pagan Romans and Greeks..Y. Syrian architects. as we have seen. n. thus. as they should. 1:224 and 2:28.. are thought to have been responsible for the error. East having usually been at the top of Christian maps and south at the top of Muslim maps throughout medieval times. 32 Ibid. and Muslims. but the southward was the more godly view." Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies. in this area. a more sacred direction for the Semites. N. only shortly after the Muslims arrived in Spain. Book of Rites. The Son of Heaven's ancestral burial temple was entered by a gate on the south. "In many Muslim lands the word kiblah has become the name of the point of the compass. p. and partially nonSemitic. Probably two factors are involved in the explanation: first.30 According to Li Chi. the principal cosmographic axis was aligned east-west. means in Egypt and in Palestine. territory of the Zoroastrians. second.. and for the Jews. trans. an encyclopedia compiled during the first century B.s. was built so that worshippers looked south instead of east toward Mecca. no. 218 . 1 (June 1956):64.. despite the fact that east was.

which generates yet more bodies. 219 . 36 Jean Doresse. in very much the same sense. Their challenge to the Christian church culminated in the destruction of the French Albigenses in the crusades of the thirteenth century. to be confused and unable to distinguish the true from the false.D. According to the Gnostics.p. Chinese maps had north at the top. a curious remnant of a sect once widespread in the Near East whose religious ancestry has been traced back partly to Gnostic sources. 34 Joseph Needham (with the collaboration of Wang Ling). Dualist doctrines. a person who is disoriented is. 37 Drower. Ancient Chinese maps were aligned accordingly. TheSecret Books ofthe Egyptian Gnostics (New York. denounced as heresy by the Christian church."37 Spreading westward.History of Religions cosmography. in modern Japan. To be "disoriented" is to be uncertain of the direction in which truth lies-that is. p. 35 The use of the term "Dualist" is expiained by the following statement of some of their doctrines: Good and evil are the products of rival creators. The heretical sects included the Manichees. 33 In the Christian tradition. like the Gnostic. 18. the body. "un-northed" (literally. In Chinese. east is taken metaphorically for the truth. Up to and including the twelfth century A. that is.33 Similarly.34 A tradition which holds to north as the most sacred of all directions originated in the Persian-Mesopotamian area and was kept by several historically related. the altars of Shinto shrines face south. instruction and healing.36 In modern Iraq and Iran live the Mandaeans. good and evil are revealed in the struggles of the spirit with the demands of the flesh. The body and material things in general are evil. on the other hand. The soul. Mongol conquerers of China appear to have prescribed the position of south at the tops of Chinese maps beginning in the thirteenth century-a custom they had learned from the Moslems. 1964). "even the north he doesn't know" or. and thus more imprisoned souls. Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge. almost undermined medieval Christianity.35 It was introduced by them into the Mediterranean. is imprisoned in a creature of the Kingdom of Darkness. groups usually referred to collectively as Gnostics or Dualists. since north is the source of light. 270. so to speak. and Albigenses. is evil indeed. the worshipper should face the northpoint. The Mandaean looks north if he wants to think deeply and. "he doesn't know north from south"). The act of procreation. and face northward. worshippers enter the shrine through a gate at the south end. generally unorthodox. Cathars.. generated in the Kingdom of Light. Bogomils. faces "the pole star while praying. also. light. Basically. beneficence. and revelations come toward our terrestrial world from the north. 1960). 3:549. especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

but with the upper part-that is. revered the principal source of light. 164. the north slopes appear to the valley dweller to be better lighted than the south may be cited in explanation. 1964]. In no work of piety do they direct themselves southward or walk southward. goodness. beneficence. which possessed the same superiority in the Manichees' system as it does among the Mandaeans. Philosophy. 1925). symbolized by his exile in the unholy city of Qairawan. and from whom the Manichees obtained parts of their doctrine. p. Franz Cumont attempts to trace this concept to Sumero-Accadian sources in Recherches sur la Manicheisme (Brussels. and their addressing prayers to the north on moonless nights. and ed. oder der grosse Buch der Mandder (Gottingen. 1925).39 One Manichaean trait is particularly significant here: they specifically associated north not only with light... their following of the sun in its course with prayers (like the Mithraists). Astronomy. this is really not an obvious feature of landscape illumination.D. find the heavenly realm of light in the east rather than in the north. and ed. 1 (Summer 1963):74. and north-while darkness. H. appears in the religion of the Mandaeans. and so on. west. Deryck Lodrick for bringing this passage to my attention. Alberuni's India: An Account of the Religion. east. the Tree of Death stood in the south. remained in the southern world region. repeatedly criticizes their prayer direction. Those Muslim fellahin in Iraq who consider north the seat of paradise (Drower. 307). J. 41 Mark Lidzbarski. His original home. Light. 42 F.38 occupied three sides of the world-east. 19) may have been Manichees or Mandaeans before their conversion to Mohammedanism. 39 Werner Miiller. Geography. addressing their prayers not to the north but to the sun itself. This association of north with light is curious. with the top-of the world. Ginza. South also had a negative connotation elsewhere in the Indo-Iranian area. trans. that is.42 38 Although such Dualist ideas survive both in Christianity and in Mohammedanism. and south with the nether regions. West is the realm of matter. 29. to which he hopes to return." History of Religion 3. Laws. the Tree of Life. Sol Salutis. the Mithraists. Three Muslim Sages [Cambridge.. too. The fact that at the earth's surface itself.D. stood in the north. 1910]. Mesopotamian Elements in Manichaeism (Uppsala. In the Muslim sage Suhrawardi's Tale of the Occidental Exile.. More understandably. apparently in Yemen (S. of the dark and the worldly. Customs. 1946). p.)41 In his books on heresy Saint Augustine. der Schatz. 1908). Any other direction would be more reasonable for inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. pp. The south occurs only in connection with impious acts" (Edward C. the Muslims. the direction of the spirit. located far in the west of the Muslim world. Gebet und Gesang im christlichen Altertum (Munster. is in the east. who were religious phototropists too. Chronology.40 (This concept. but. 39. unlike the Manichees. p. and Astrology of India about A. 220 . "Mazdak and the Alphabet Mysticism of the East. p. no. wedged in. except in hilly country at high latitudes. Sachau. south being the best lighted part of the sky. Mass. 1030 [London. Dolger. 280-82. 65). 40 Geo Widengren. who had once belonged to a western branch of the Manichaean sect. man falls into the world of matter. beyond the extent of the Manichees. The following account was written in the eleventh century: "The Hindus consider the south as foreboding evil. p. Literature.Sacred Directions According to the Manichees. whose founder lived in Persia in the third century A. Nasr. trans. 2:111. I am indebted to Mr.

east of light and knowledge. suicides. Popular Activities of Great Britain (London. the lodestone points just as unswervingly southward as northward and.47 Now all of this is anything but certain: after all. 475. in the twelfth was century-a period of widespread Manichaean activity-north described as representing the power of the devil. With one of its surfaces facing north. The Arrow and the Sword (London. 44 Honorius of Autun. P. The World in Maps (New York. in the oriented trated the Church-persisting. so the Grand Recorder in San Francisco kindly informed me. G. in fact. Masonic buildings are rectangular in plan and aligned east-west. 21. the excommunicated. The stone is always placed in the northeast corner of the building. Jervis. p. p.)45 In Great Britain. p. in Patrologiae Latina. J. 133. north was viewed with special disfavor by the Roman church43-replacing west as the direction most strongly associated with evil. whither the lodestone has pointed. 46 John Brand. the cornerstone is said to symbolize the position of the neophyte turning away from the dark and worldly toward light and knowledge (A. 167). 172:551.. 43 For the Masons. it certainly brought down Paradise from its exalted position at the top of the map. 1938). The laying of the cornerstones in their lodges is a major ceremony. p. the candidates enter the lodge room from the west and proceed toward the master station at the east end. specifically. the introduction of the compass brought north to the top of European maps. too. Anglican church. taking magnetic declination into account. Within the buildings. The Symbolism of Freemasonry [Chicago. Mackey.. a curious bit of alignment lore. We may well ask how. 1905). Migne (Paris. For example. 1947].44 (Other explanations have been given for this practice: it has been suggested that certain Manichaean influences even penefor example.History of Religions Throughout medieval times. 1895). a position that was henceforward occupied by North. Furthermore. 45 H. as opposed to the inferior "Epistle-side" on the south. north is the direction of the dark and the profane. unfortunately severed from historical roots in early times. the Gospel being read toward the north side of the altar in order to drive Satan out. and one east. 47 W. The lodestone has pointed northwards even more unswervingly than medieval faith pointed heavenwards. and the unbaptized were buried on the north side of the church.46 NORTHING THE MAP: THE COMPASS AND PTOLEMY It has often been claimed that north was established at the top of maps drawn in Europe after the introduction of the compass. in the ritual assigning the "Gospel-side" of the altar to the north. W. the executed. ed. 221 . not so unswervingly toward either. 1947). Ross Williamson. as a consequence of the use of that instrument in the making of nautical maps: The East remained conventionally at the top of the map until the introduction of the use of the compass .

Although determining the rhumb lines on the early portalan maps demanded the use of the compass. at the top. with windroses and rhumb lines. if at all. 49 Tooley. and. east.Sacred Directions It has also been said that the influences of nautical charts made with compasses. p. portalan maps. 8:1. Although the Arabs have been named as those who introduced 48 E. It is true that in using the compass to make a map it is somewhat more convenient to have north or south at the top than it is to have east or west. and. in the last half of the thirteenth century. 3.49 (On early compass cards. It should be noted. Although west appeared rarely. certainly the more traditional direction." If the compass was effective at all. it was long-some five centuries-in taking effect. P. east was placed uppermost. and of Ptolemaic cartography. and this over a long period-from the appearance of the earliest true portalan chart. Thus. They continued putting south at the top of their maps long after they had acquired the instrument. until as late as the seventeenth century. the east point was commonly marked with the cross. the lines usually bore no relation to the actual construction of the map itself.)50 In fact. 1951)." Imago Mundi (Leiden. were commonly made with south. G. 15. but between north and south there is nothing to choose. in later times. that use of the compass had no such effect on Muslim cartographers. it is not uncommonly at the top of the sixteenth-century maps of the Americas-perhaps because exploration of these continents proceeded generally westward. the map can hardly be said to have turned "through a right angle at the Renaissance. West also appears on deWit's seventeenth-century engraved map of Europe. 11 shows an illustration of an early compass card with the east point at the top marked by the cross. 11. in the early part of this period (probably because traditional religious influences were stronger then). "The South-pointing Needle. on some. R. Taylor. too. 222 . if the use of the compass had an influence on the direction at the top of the map. 50 S. pp. explain the appearance of north at the top: "It took the combined pull of the nautical chart and of Ptolemy's newly recovered maps to turn the Mappa Mundi through a right angle at the Renaissance. Thompson. however."48 There are. 1913). P. north. presumably from the Far East. even west at the top. one wonders why it did not act to put south. The Rose of the Winds (London. historical arguments against the claim that north came to the top of the map as a consequence of the use of the compass in the making of nautical charts.

History of Religions the compass into Europe from the Far East. who were familiar with the magnetic needle in the third century B. Norsemen used the compass about two centuries earlier than this. they placed north at the top of their maps. However. p. 1500 Erhard Etzlaub. used the south-pointing needle."s5 According to some authorities. in A. p. Skelton.54 The Muslims.D. The first indubitable indication that Islamic sea captains knew the compass is found in an author of 1282. invented the compass and were using the south-pointing end of the needle in navigating in the eleventh century A. after the Mongol invasions. 169.C. T. they took south as the 51 J. Indeed. 223 . South was at the top of his map of Europe and Africa as well. To repeat. and the Normans made the instrument known in southern Europe. when they acquired the compass from the Chinese and used it in making nautical maps. pp. north has no special advantage over south. 1931). Painter. then. 52 R.. and G..52 and assume that the Arabs communicated the knowledge of the compass from the Orient to Europe. H. in navigating with the compass and in making maps. found it necessary in using the instrument to place north at the top of the map. that the compass was not used by the medieval Norsemen. 53 Shu-hua Li. 108. Christian maps were also occasionally made with south uppermost. "Geography and Commerce. and London. and probably earlier. himself a compass maker.53 In early times. "it cannot be proved that the Muhammadans were acquainted with this instrument at an earlier date than the Christians. the latter. Marston.D. although east was conventionally at the top of the map. certainly not the least scientific of map makers. made for the use of Christian pilgrims to Rome.. Conn." The Legacy of Islam (Oxford. E. inexplicably. and this is about the same time that a knowledge of it can be traced in France and Italy. nautical or otherwise. p. Kramers. 149. 8:1.55 And. The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation (New Haven.. D. south was placed at the top. the reasoning would be this: the Chinese.56 placed south at the top of his Rom-Weg map. Nuremberg was a center for their manufacture. for example. p. A.. 54 Bagrow. 56 Bagrow. But when the Muslims in turn made the compass known to the Europeans. 200. 55 Taylor. 97-98.. south-pointing compass needles were popular in Europe at least as early as 1451. 1965). were putting south at the top of their maps. Western astronomers. if we do take the commonly held and better-documented view.

Ptolemy left no actual maps. the heretical Franciscan monk.59 In fact. 58 Tooley. And therefore the needle always turns to it as to like" (John of Rupescissa. except for some fourteenth-century knowledge of the work obtained from the Muslims. consider the cartographic influence of the Greek. John of Rupescissa. John of Rupescissa. 21. his Tetrabiblos has been described as the astrologer's bible. nor toward a southerly Mecca as with the Levantine Muslims. p. 9. Crone. Whence has the needle this property that it is always unfailingly turns against the star. In the early fifteenth century a version of the Geography was obtained from Byzantine scholars. 57 "Consider and see how those sailing the sea affixing a needle with the stone adamant [magnetite] make it turn against the pole star.D. for his astronomy and astrology. claimed that God had given that star and the magnetic needle properties in common. A History of Magic and Experimental Science [New York. but by the polestar-whose signicance for the Gnostics we have noted. ? Without doubt this is because both iron and adamant by order of God are generated on earth by the influence of that star and have in them the nature and influence and property of the star.57 Next. an Introduction to the History of Cartography (London. Ptolemy. R. was imprisoned on several occasions for heresy.Sacred Directions starting point in reckoning azimuth. made up of parallels and meridians. Throughout medieval times Ptolemy was known. 3:364).and fourteenth-century Europe on the basis of utilitarian advantage. For example. making their celestial maps with south at the top. 59 G. The use of the north-pointing compass was not being explained in thirteenth. 1953). not toward a venerated south (marked by the noon sun) as with the Chinese. Consideration of the Fifth Essence. instead. It is generally assumed that these maps perpetuated a practice initiated by Ptolemy himself-placing north uppermost. It might seem that Ptolemy's plotting of latitudinal climatic zones and his use of a grid. a Catalan who joined the Franciscan Order in 1332. Maps and Their Makers. probably from Syrian texts. There the idea had developed that the needle is attracted. the author of Geography. The Geography was virtually unknown in Europe until the early fifteenth century. The maps that came with the Byzantine version did not originate in Ptolemy's time: studies of their content indicate that the maps were not drawn until the thirteenth century. who lived in Alexandria in the second century A. His book was translated into Arabic in the eighth century. only a list of the latitudes and longitudes of places which were used in drawing maps in the Middle Ages and later. p.58 and had a profound effect on Muslim geography. quoted from Lynn Thorndike.. and still do so.. 1929]. 224 .

(His astronomical records show that Ptolemy's adult life included the period A. with the parallels in its grid based upon the Ptolemaic climatic zones.D. How is it that over a period of some seven centuries Ptolemy's potent influence did not put north at the top of Muslim maps. 12). had south at the top. the compass could have had nothing to do with his decision at this early date. The convention of north at the top would have been welcomed by dualists using or making maps and by Protestants who associated orientation with the Roman church.) Ptolemy was receptive to eastern cosmological thought. the grid is just as serviceable thus.60 Other questions remain unanswered: Ptolemy's writings were as influential in Europe as they had been among the Muslims. As we have seen. could he have adopted an Iranian tradition from Syrian Gnostics in so doing ? Gnosticism passed over from Syria to Egypt in the time of Hadrian-A. That certain directions had been thus identified with the authority of the church by its opponents can be seen in De superstitionibus. yet contributed strongly to this effect in Europe ? Could it not be because Dualist doctrines did not spread as a heresy in Islam as they did in the Christian world and that the Ptolemaic influence reinforced heretical doctrines already widespread in Europe ? In these times religious doctrine influenced most artistic and scientific expressions. it is only because we are accustomed to such an arrangement. Indeed. 1150. northing maps could well have been a practice added to Ptolemy's system later. Thus the great Gnostics Basilides. as did other Arabic maps drawn according to Ptolemy's ideas. p.D. the critical technical advance here was the introduction of the grid itself. For that matter.D. the real origin of the custom of northing maps is still obscure. if so. written around 1405 from the orthodox standpoint. much of his astrology is derived from Persian and Babylonian sources. not its particular directional alignment. 110-38 (Jean Doresse.History of Religions would favor the placing of north uppermost. and Valentinus were teaching in Alexandria during Ptolemy's time. Carpocrates. Plainly. 127-41. The renowned al-Idrisi world map of A. Assuming that Ptolemy actually put north at the top. in which praying toward the north 60 Since none of Ptolemy's maps survives. by others. for instance. For Ptolemy to have placed north at the top of the map would have been contrary both to his own Greek custom and to all the religious cosmographies of the Mediterranean area except that of the Gnostics. 225 . this contradiction cannot be explained on simply practical grounds. nothing but tradition prevents such a grid from being rotated ninety degrees to place west or east uppermost. On the other hand.whereupon Alexandria became virtually the Gnostic capital. But.

B. must have known them. and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 1170 were murder-suicides performed according to the ritual and symbolism of Dualist heresy. the portalan charts. 1250.62 In 1584. so that he would fall northward on the cathedral floor. Paris. but it is not unreasonable. But by this time Ptolemy's Geography was becoming known in Europe: a translation of the text into Latin was made in 1409. Albans Abbey only a short distance away. 1907).64 Perhaps the selection of north was personal innovation on Paris's part. Another of the rare examples of early maps with north at the top was d'Ailly's world map of A. which has been described as the main instrument of the CounterReformation. if not sympathetic to. the first map drawn in western Europe with north at the top.D. the custom of orienting churches and tombs weakened in the Roman church during the Reformation. probably before the use of the compass there. considering what has been said about orientation and dogma. for instance. William II. the assassinations of both the Norman King of England.61 As late as 1563. and before the appearance of the first portalan charts. who studied the Matthew Paris maps. in fact. or contemporary mappae mundi" (J. 1100." Geographical Journal 81 [January 1933]:29). Orientation. 2:413. 1410.65 In any case. at St. "In no case does it appear necessary to postulate a genetic connection between St. The crusades against the Albigensian heretics were in progress during Matthew Paris's youth. who was almost a contemporary and likewise worked within the church. the monk Matthew Paris drew a map of Great Britain. 64 Mitchell. forbade the building of churches so that their congregations faced north.D. was slain by four knights.D. is cited here from Thorndike. Becket took his stand in the north transept of the cathedral. 6. Ross Williamson. p. in A. Thomas a Becket. a leading Puritan.Sacred Directions and west is condemned. by Nikolaus Jauer. was stricken four times (four was the mystical Dualist number). 65 Although Dualist influence in Britain itself is generally thought to have been slight. in his interesting The Arrow and the Sword. Studien zur Geschichte der Religion (Berlin.63 As we have seen. 4:282. He would undoubtedly have been acquainted with. except for those special cases where the site made no other solution possible. in A. heretical doctrines in these circles if they existed. This was a victory for science and for the com- 61 De superstitionibus. the Council of Trent.. This was before Ptolemy's Geography was known in Britain. 62 Heinrich Nissen. 63 Ibid. "The Matthew Paris Maps. concludes. 226 . who built the chapel at Emmanuel College. Mitchell. Whatever the true circumstances of Becket's death. the foregoing historical evidence shows that statements like the following about Paris's map quite miss the mark: "The north appears triumphantly at the top for the first time on a North European map.D. aligned it in the north-south direction in protest. to look for religious influences here too. In about A. maintains that it existed there as well. Albans maps and the Britain of the map designs of Ptolemy. Cambridge. it was discontinued by the Protestants. that. the architect Sir Walter Mildmay.

67 66 227 . 1914). the Arabs and some eastern European influences had backed the south. among the Calvinists. Some of his expressions have a decidedly Manichean tone. appearing among the Waldenses and in sixteenth-century Protestantism. often called the founder of modern cartography. who wrote religious speculations and commentaries throughout his adult life. the graves of Waldensians are distinguished from those of the Lutheran minority by the absence of crosses. 68 H. 1966]. Anabaptists. Many Gnostics rejected the cross as a symbol. Averdunk and J. and London. Gerhard Mercator. Zwingli and the Arts [New Haven. "We have churches that are positively luminous. Mercator. p. for instance. Ergiinzungsheft no. In Zurich. after his followers had dismantled the church buildings and destroyed the "corporeal things. imprisoned on charges of heresy. It is interesting that even today at the Waldensian colony at Rohrbach in Odenwald."66 Dualist ideas persisted in western Europe well after the heretical organizations themselves were suppressed. "Gerhard Mercator und die Geographen unter seinen Nachkommen.67 It was during the Reformation that northing the map became almost the rule. and Zwinglians." as Zwingli put it. p." Petermanns Mitteilungen. 41. 182 (Gotha. The doctrines of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) may be taken as a case in point. Zwingli was one of the most zealous Protestant opponents of all symbolism and imagery in the church. Jervis.History of Religions pass. and only secondarily pragmatic. even opposing the use of the cross. p. The illustrious sixteenth-century Flemish map maker. 160). Miiller-Reinhard. Conn.68 It seems a reasonable conclusion that north came to the top of the map for a combination of reasons-primarily doctrinal and traditional.. as the primary quarter. took Ptolemy as his guide and put north at the top of his maps. 73. became especially interested in religious reform and was. himself. the walls are beautifully white" (Charles Garside. Mercator is described as having thought along strongly Zwinglian lines. Waldensians there explain this as obedience to biblical injunctions against use of graven images. His Chronology was listed in the Roman church's index of forbidden books and his Atlas was banned.