The Four Directions Symbolism & Meaning
The Cardinal Directions have symbolism and meaning that are very important to your Spirit, Totem, and Power Animal quest. As you explore what each direction represents, you will find tools that improve your relationship with and understanding of Animal Spirits and Guides.
Of course figuring out or intuiting our own life path is a big enough job! LOL But, knowing the symbolism and meaning of the Cardinal Directions is a crucial element in understanding and interpreting messages from your Spirit, Totem, and Power Animals – especially if you’re training to be a Shamanic Practitioner or Journeyer, a Psychic Medium, or Animal Communicator.
Four Cardinal Directions Overview
In a global overview the beliefs about the Four Directions change depending on the culture and era you study. Nonetheless nearly every ancient civilization regarded the Four Directions as Sacred. Each Cardinal Direction has a vibration all its own, a personality if you will, that you can tap into for your spiritual efforts. Like any good relationship, it takes time to build a rapport with the directions but it’s well worth it. For example, say you see your Animal Spirit in a dream moving toward or away from the West. How would you interpret that? When you know the various symbolic values and energies of the West, the meaning of the dream take on greater focus.
To the key Cardinal Directions, mathematicians add two more points of reference – up and down. This creates a three dimensional space. While this article does not go into detail on up and down, we can provide a little insight if you wish to utilize them:
- Up represents the higher self, angelic beings, god, liberation and vision.
- Down speaks of the earth, grounding, nature and the realm of death/transformation.
The easiest way to visualize all Four Directions is on a wheel, the hub of which is Spirit itself. Native Americans call this wheel “The Medicine Wheel”. Each direction has a season, color, attributes, plants and animals. Below you’ll find a brief overview of the symbolism and meaning for each Cardinal Direction with links to its in-depth description.
Cardinal Direction of West
In China, West is the direction of enlightenment. Judaism tells us that moving westward brings us closer to the shining presence of the Divine. Aztec civilization and the ancient Egyptians alike believed this is where the door to the next world resided. Celtic tradition is similar but for the fact that you must go to edge of the sea to find the nether world. In India, people face West to pray, the direction of Mecca.
From a magical perspective West represents the element of Water. This is the pure power of our emotional life. Seasonally West is the Fall when the earth readies itself for the sleep and transformation of winter. People work magic in the West for releasing old habits, pains or patterns that hold them back. Light Workers tell us that West is the key direction for beginning a vision quest.
You can use various symbols to represent the west such as a fish tank, a blue table cloth, a cup and seashells. In Ritual the direction of West supports our intuitive self, our ability to love and fertility. Astrologically the signs of Pisces, Scorpio and Cancer come under this influence.
Click to read more all about West Direction Symbolism and Meaning.
Cardinal Direction of East
The direction of the rising sun, East represents new beginning, fresh vision, rebirth and ascension. The Element associated with East is air which governs our mind, insight and learning processes. You can represent the East with things like bird images, incense and feathers. The season is spring, when the earth awakens from slumber and begins restoring beauty to the land. It is warm again. We feel vibrant and creative.
Eastern energies project psychic powers and scintillate the imagination. Rituals and spells that utilize scents provide greater connection to this Cardinal Direction. Use aromas in workings for freedom, ken-mindedness and self-development. Meditate on East’s freshness and lightness of spirit.
East is the domain of fairies and sylphs, beautiful creatures albeit a bit whimsical. You can see them in the East at dawn and dusk (the in between times). Colors for the East include pale yellow (like the rising sun) and white. Zodiac signs who come under this domain are Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.
Click to read more all about East Direction Symbolism and Meaning.
Cardinal Direction of North
Like the North Star, the Cardinal Direction of North is a guiding light. Here we find the energy of discoveries, comprehension of deeper mysteries, deductive reasoning and logic and pure intellect. The element for North is Earth, which grounds us, provides for us and vibrates on a prosperous level. Magical workings in the northern quadrant may utilize tools such as herbs, wood, stone and flowers. Salt, which purifies, also aligns with the direction of North.
The mystical beings that abide in the North are those who are deeply connect to the soil. Gnomes, Dwarves and Trolls enjoy the lovely ambiance of a deep cavern with smells of nature all around.
North represents the hour of midnight and the season of winter. Midnight is a very powerful time in the circle of days. At his hour the veils between worlds grow thin and we can see things, experience things that otherwise would remain hidden.
The colors for north are black, green and brown. Zodiac signs that come under the influence of North are Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.
Magical working that benefit from the Northern quadrant include prosperity, grounding, spiritually-oriented herbalism and binding.
Click to read more all about North Direction Symbolism and Meaning.
Cardinal Direction of South
Moving to the southern quarter of creation we have energy of the element of fire and a sun high in the sky. This provides illumination, particularly in matters of the heart. Here the pulse of creation waits to make a spark of life. Summer comes under the dominion of the South with its colors being yellow and green. Zodiac signs associated with South are Sagittarius, Leo and Aries.
In the human cycle, South represents our inner child who is truly alive and curious. This child wants to experience everything through the senses. Life engages here, its dynamic and pleasurable. Where some directions have a more mental element to them, South encourages spontaneity ; its physical and confident.
Colors for this quarter include tones of orange, gold and yellow. Fantasy creatures who live here include the Djinn, Salamanders, the grand red Dragon and the eternal Phoenix. Natural animals associated with South include lizards, tigers and the golden lion.
Suitable types of magic for the southern quadrant of your sacred space include cleansing, protection, victory and banishing negativity. South can also energize faithfulness, courage and enthusiasm. Go ahead and take a leap of faith!
Click to read more all about South Direction Symbolism and Meaning.
Cardinal Directions Symbolism and Meanings Around the World
It would appear that every culture on the globe used directional correspondences of some type as widely separated as the Native Americans to indigenous Australia. To be honest, no one really knows who came up with the directions used in any place. We assume that sages used the movement of the stars, the sun and the seasons to guide them. Truly the power of observation guided our ancestors.
As for how the directions received their names, that too was a local and cultural thing. Perhaps they looked to a landmark for naming or tribal gathering sites. They might also use simple clarifying terms like forward or back
From western history many directional names have some type of Germanic origins. North comes from an Indo-European language term for left. We propose that when you look to the morning sun, North is on your left.
South has two potential origins – Old English or early Germanic. The Old English term translates as southward, and the German term translates as sun, implying warmer parts of the country.
East takes a cue from an early German term for “toward the sunrise.” There is also some historical potential that East is a derivative of a Dawn Goddess. Finally West comes from a word that means “go down” as the sun sinks in the West.
We call them Cardinal Directions because the word ‘cardinal’ means essential, foremost.
Let’s take a look at how different cultural influences impacted the symbolism and meaning of the Cardinal Directions:
The Celts were very similar to western ideology having East as Air, South as fire, West as water and North as earth. Feng Shui tells us that North represents the Rat, a zodiac creature. East follows as a rabbit, South as a horse and West as a rooster.
In Astrology East corresponds to the Earth Element and Taurus. South is fire and Leo, West is water and Scorpio and North is air and Aquarius. Finally Native Americans ascribe North to the energy of wisdom, East to salvation, South to new beginnings and west to closure.
Animal Spirits and Cardinal Directions
There are two ways in which the Cardinal Directions impact the interactions you have with your Animal guides. First is observing their movement when they come toward or away from you during meditation, a dream or whatever. Should the creature move in a specific direction consider the symbolism and meanings of that direction when interpreting your Animal Spirits intended message.
Second would be finding out what direction your Animal Spirit corresponds to. For example, East is Eagle, Spider and Raven; West is Dolphin, Frogs, Swan; North has Cow, Dog, Horse, Wolf and Bears; South has Lions, Scorpions and Bees. There are certainly more animals for every direction, but the Cardinal Direction in which your Spirit chooses to abide can provide another level of understanding in your medicine.