Monday, June 7, 2010

Today's Word: widdershins

widdershins: Counterclockwise, left-handed, in a contrary motion to the sun, or in a contrary way. Most of the early examples of the use of the word deal with superstitions and witchcraft. One of the earlier examples appears in George Sinclair's 1685 Satan's Invisible World Discovered, which appears to be a collection of stories of people's horrifying and true experiences with Satanic cults:

The Night was still and calme, as an Summers evening, without the least appearance of Change, when upon a sudden at midnight, as James Fleming himself was coursing her too and again, as the custome was, holding her by the hand, I say upon a sudden, a terrible tempest, like an Hirricano came on, which took the roof from the house, to their great consternation. And a voice was heard three times, calling her by a strange name to come away. At which she made three several loups upward increasing gardually, till her feet were as high as his breast. But he held her by both her armes, and as he used to say, when he spoke of it) he betooched himself strongly and earnestly to God, though with great amazement, his hair standing Widdershins in his head. And after the third call, he prevailed against the greatest Effort, which ever he felt, and threw her on the ground, she groveling and fomeing like one having the falling-sickness . . .

This certainly shows the word in a spooky, phantasmagorical light, but even in this context it could mean just about anything. Elsewhere in the book, we read about one young lady's experience with a Satanic cult in which Satan himself — in the likeness of man — brings her into the fold. After a long list of names of people in attendance, we get this little gem:

The women made first their courtesy to their Maister [Satan], and then the men. The men turned nine time Widder-shines about, and the Women six times. Iohn Fein blew up the Kirk doors, and blew in the lights, which wer like Mickl black candles sticking round about the Pulpit.

Widdershins is also a Pagan community newspaper in the Pacific northwest, a Celtic band in Oregon, and, of course, a blog.