For many Western Magical traditions and followers of the Northern Pagan and Neo-Pagan paths, clockwise motion is considered a positive and creative force, while counterclockwise is negative and destructive. This belief stems from an attempt to harmonize with the natural rhythm of our sun; which in the northern hemisphere moves clockwise as it rises in the east reaches midday in the south and sets in the west. For these traditions positive energy is invoked clockwise and negative energy banished counterclockwise. Consequently, magic circles – the iconic sacred space of such traditions – are cast “sunwise” to protect those within.
This fundamental observation of the natural world and desire to harmonize with it, speaks to the earliest shamanic practices of indigenous northern traditions. However, it is important to understand that these concepts of directionality are only relevant within the cosmological perspective of the people in these latitudes. As we mover closer to the tropics, the celestial pole shifts closer to the horizon and the solar arc moves higher overhead, becoming less and less clockwise. At southern latitudes, “sunwise” is counterclockwise.
|British Isles & Northern Europe (50º Latitude)||Mediterranean & Northern Egypt (30º Latitude)|
|Southern Egypt (20º Latitude)||South Africa (-30º Latitude)|
Despite linking to universal principles, the use of directionality in magic and ritual is and will always be a matter of perspective. Because of this, it can provide unique glimpses into the foundational cosmology and orientation of a tradition.
The rituals and spells of the Graeco-Egyptian traditions as preserved in the PGM suggest that these magicians did not follow such “sunwise” traditions. This may comes a surprise to those of us familiar with the 19th Century Hermetic lodge magic that adopted northern practices alongside the symbols and namesake of the Graeco-Egyptian magicians. However, the proof is in the papyri. There are numerous spells in the PGM that are in complete opposition – in terms of directionality – to the expected solar correspondences. For example, we find a binding and destructive spell with the names of power written clockwise around the talisman (PGM V.304-369); and a protective amulet (PGM VII. 579-590) with the names of power written counterclockwise.
This distinctly Graeco-Egyptian paradigm of directionality is further uncovered when we look at how the spells and rituals of the PGM address the cardinal points. These points are only mentioned in two types of texts: 1) The invocation of a deity, or 2) Instructions for defining ritual/sacred space.
The table below summarizes all the spells in the PGM (and PDM) that explicitly mention the four cardinal points.
|PGM II. 64-183||Invocation||North – South – West – East||Cross|
|PGM IV. 2145-2240||Invocation||West – East – South – North||Cross|
|PGM IV. 3172 – 3208||Ritual Space||East – South – North – West||CW | CCW|
|PGM VIII. 1-63||Invocation||East – West – North – South||Cross|
|PGM XIII. 343-645||Ritual Space||East – South – North – West||CW | CCW|
|PGM XIII. 734-1077*||Ritual Space||East – North – West – South||CCW|
|PGM XIII. 734-1077*||Ritual Space||East – South – West – North||CW|
|PDM XIV. 239-295||Invocation||South – North – West – East||Cross|
* In PGM XIII. 734-1077, the “casting” of ritual space occurs in two phases (CCW then CW), see below.
From the order in which the quadrants are listed, we can determine directionality. We find that they are honored and addressed clockwise (East-South-West-North), counterclockwise (East-North-West-South), and crossing or combining clockwise and counterclockwise motion. However, there is distinct grouping of directionality that suggests a formalized system depending on the intent of the operation.
Invocations to deity hail the quadrants in a crossed manner by pairing opposite directions. This is a common formula in magical incantations used to bring into focus the tension and point of unity between two antipodal concepts; in terms of opposite directions, that focus is always the center. It is a very effective ritual technique.
“Come to me! You who are master above the earth and below the earth, who look to the west and the east and gaze upon the south and the north, O master of all, Aion of Aions!”
– PGM IV. 2195
The second grouping consist of the practices used to define and activate ritual space; these are the “circle casting” rites of the Graeco-Egyptian magicians. There are only three distinct examples in the PGM, yet they all employ both a combination of clockwise & counterclockwise motion!
In a ceremony for a dream oracle (PGM IV. 3172-3208), and in the closing rite of PGM XIII. 343-646, the practitioner addresses the cardinal points clockwise from east to south, then crosses over to the north before moving counterclockwise to the west. In the Opening Rite of the Heptagram (PGM XIII. 734-1077), two complete 360º circles are made first counterclockwise then clockwise. The instructions in the papyri are unmistakable in informing the practitioner to rotate in both directions. 
Luckily, the Corpus Hermeticum has preserved the cosmological context behind such practices. In Book II, Hermes explains the philosophy behind this principle of countermovement to Ascelpius. 
Hermes – …All that is moved is not moved in what is moved, but in what is unmoved. The mover is still; it is impossible for Him to be moved.
Ascelpius – How then, O Trismegistus, are these things here moved to those which move them? For you have said that the planetary spheres are moved by the fixed stars.
Hermes – It is not the same movement, O Ascelpius, but a movement in the opposite direction, for they are not moved in the same way but in a way opposite to each other. This countermovement has a point for its movement that is Fixed.
– Corpus Hermeticum, Bk. II.vi
And, again in the next chapter:
For countermovement is the bringer of stillness. Now the planetary spheres are moved in the opposite direction to the fixed stars. They are moved by each other in opposition. They are moved round their opposite by a point which is fixed and it cannot be otherwise…
– Corpus Hermeticum, Bk. II.viii
Those who have practiced these rituals, can attest to the resulting stillness that is evoked by the equilibrium of the two motions. When performed properly, there is a tangible sensation of being in the calm center amidst a storm of energy. This sensation becomes even more pronounced when the practice is aligned to the motions of the heavens.
The explanations in the Corpus Hermeticum revolve (pun, fully intended) around a “fixed point” – the pivot around which all celestial bodies appear to rotate. This is the celestial pole, and indeed it is here where the principle of movement and countermovement is best exemplified.
As Hermes states in Bk. II.vii, while the sun and planets rotate daily around the pole in one direction (movement) , the stars rotate in the opposite direction (countermovement) completing one full rotation every year. This is the geocentric expression of the base heliocentric motions of our planet; the daily rotation of the Earth and her annual orbit around the Sun. Movement and countermovement exemplified as transcendent principles.
The celestial pole deserves much more exploration in the Hermetic magical traditions than it has received to date; it is a gateway to many mysteries. In its ever so slight counterclockwise rotation around the ecliptic pole (~ 1º every 72 years) it unveils yet another cycle of countermovement, the 25,950-year precessional cycle. This cycle manifests as the constellation of Draco (from Gk. δρακον, “giant serpent”) slowly slithering clockwise around the celestial pole. Throughout the ancient world, the knowledge of this cycle was seen as a tremendous source of esoteric power as it represented a power greater than the visible planets and “fixed” stars and far beyond the confines of the human experience.
In the spatial-spiritual landscape of the Hermetic magicians, the celestial pole would be seen as nothing less than a direct portal to celestial divinity. As such, it is fitting that in the Heptagram Opening Rite – a ritual concerned with orientation – the polar divinity is invoked directly:
“Inspire form your exhalation (?), ruler of the pole, him who is under you; accomplish for me the NN thing.”
– PGM XIII. 843
Perhaps, this was the intent of countermovement in the ritual practices of the PGM. Not necessarily a specific manifestation of a single countermovement cycle, the universe is resplendent with such examples; but rather orienting the practitioner towards the equilibrium and unity of the celestial pole as a source of stability and power by which to approach the deeper mysteries of our cosmos.
The circular movement is a movement around that point governed by that which is still, for revolution round that point prevents any digression; digression is prevented, if the revolution is established. Thus the movement in the opposite direction is stabilizing and is fixed by the principle of countermovement.
– Corpus Hermeticum, Bk. II.viii
- Hans Dieter Betz (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
- Tony Mierzwicki. Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment (Stafford, UK: Megalitica Books, 2006). Mierzwicki goes into far more details regarding the motions of these rites.
- Brian P. Copenhaver (ed). Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
- See The Eternal Chronos & Sun:Ignis Centrum.
- See Teli-Apep: Celestial Serpents.
- David Ulansey. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World ( Oxford University Press, 1991)