leftward movement

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Since rightward movement is regarded in all European traditions as corresponding to that of the sun, and hence beneficial and joyous, circling to the left is necessarily ‘backwards’, reversing the norm. Folklore links leftward circling with bad luck, cursing, witchcraft, and raising the Devil. Until the 19th century, this was purely a Scottish and Irish belief, though one which intrigued English observers, as shown by quotations in the OED (under ‘sunways’ and ‘withershins’) and in Opie and Tatem (1989: 383–6). The few English references in Victorian times concerned the bad luck involved if a funeral or bridal procession moved anticlockwise. Nowadays, popular writers have built up a conventional picture of black magic rituals, in which turning withershins causes evil, and the belief has become more widespread.

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