The north is Masonically called a Place of Darkness. The sun in his progress through the ecliptic never reaches farther than 23 28' north of the equator. A wall being erected on any part of the earth farther north than that, will therefore, at meridian, receive the rays of the sun only on its south side, while the north will be entirely in shadow at the hour of meridian. The use of the north as a symbol of darkness is found, with the present interpretation, in the early instructions of the eighteenth century. It is a portion of the old sun worship of which we find so many relics in Gnosticism, in Hermetic philosophy, and in Freemasonry. The east was the place of the sun's daily birth, and hence highly revered; the north the place of his annual death, to which he approached only to lose his terrific heat, and to clothe the earth in darkness of long nights and dreariness of winter.
However, this point of the compass, or place of Masonic darkness, must not be construed as implying that in the Temple of Solomon no light or ventilation was had from this direction. The Talmud, and as well Josephus, allude to an extensive opening toward the North, framed with costly magnificence, and known as the great Golden Window. There were as many openings in the outer wall on the north as on the south side. There were three entrances through the "Chel" on the north and six on the south (see Temple). While once within the walls and Chel of the Temple all advances were made from east to west, yet the north side was mainly used for stabling, slaughtering, cleansing, etc., and contained the chambers of broken knives, defiled stones of the House of Burning, and of sheep. The Masonic symbolism of the entrance of an initiate from the north, or more practically from the northwest, and advancing toward the position occupied by the Corner-stone in the north-east, forcibly calls to mind the triplet of Homer:
Two marble doors unfold on either side Sacred the South by which the gods descend; But mortals enter on the Northern end.
So in the Mysteries of Dionysos, the gate of entrance for the aspirant was from the north; but when purged from his corruptions, he was termed indifferently new-born or immortal, and the sacred south door was thence accessible to his steps.
In the Middle Ages, below and to the right of the judges stood the accuser, facing north; to the left was the defendant, in the north facing south. Brother George F. Fort, in his Antiquities of Freemasonry (page 292), says:
In the center of the court, directly before the judge stood an altar piece or shrine, upon which an open Bible was displayed. The south to the right of the justiciaries was deemed honorable and worthy for a plaintiff- but the north was typical of a frightful and diabolical sombreness.
Thus, when a solemn oath of purgation was taken in grievous criminal accusations, the accused turned toward the north.
The judicial headsman, in executing the extreme penalty of outraged justice, turned the convict's face northward, or towards the place whence emanated the earliest dismal shades of night. When Earl Hakon bowed a tremulous knee before the deadly powers of Paganism and sacrificed his seven-year-old child, he gazed out upon the far-off, gloomy north.
In Nastrond, or shores of death, stood a revolting hall, whose portals opened toward the north-the regions of night. North, by the Jutes was denominated black or sombre; the Frisians called it fear corner. The gallows faced the north, and from these hyperborean shores everything base and terrible proceeded. In consequence of this belief, it was ordered that, in the adjudication of a crime, the accused should be on the north side of the court enclosure. And in harmony with the Scandinavian superstition, no Lodge of Masons illumines the darkened north with a symbolic light, whose brightness would be unable to dissipate the gloom of that cardinal point with which was associated all that was sinstrous and direful.
So many of our Masonic customs hinge Upon the connection with old church practices that we are inclined to add to the above summary a few additional particulars. The book entitled Curious Church Customs, edited by William Andrews, 1898, has on page 136 the following item:
Tradition authorizes the expectation that our Lord still appear in the east; therefore all the faithful dead are buried with their feet towards the east to meet Him. Hence in Wales the east wind is called "The wind of the dead men's feet." The eastern portion of a churchyard is always looked on as the most honoured next the south then the west, and last of all the north from the belief that in this order the dead will rise curious instance of this belief is furnished by an epitaph on a tombstone, dated 1807, on the north side of Epworth Churchyard, Lincolnshire, the last two lines of which run as follows:
And that I might longer undisturbed abide I choosed to be laid on this northern side.
Felons, and notorious bad characters, were frequently buried on the north side of the church. In Suffolk most of the churches have both a north and south door, and where old customs are observed, the bodes is brought in at the south door, put down at the west end of the aisle and carried out by the north door. In Lincolnshire the north is generally reserved entirely for funerals, the south and west doors being reserved for christenings and weddings.
William Andrews, in a companion volume dealing with Ecclesiastical Curiosities, 1899, has some references to churchyard superstitions, and gives considerable space to inquiries made regarding the old prejudices against being buried on the north side of the church. This prejudice is proven in several parts of England by the scarcity of graves on the north side of churches. The Reverend Theodore Johnson, writing upon this subject, tells of taking charge of a parish in Norfolk; and on being called upon to select a suitable place for a funeral suggested that as there were no graves on the north side of the church a place could be assigned there.
This aroused vigorous objection but no particular explanation beyond that of a decided dislike. Further inquiry obtained the information that in some cases the north part of the churchyard was left unconsecrated for burial of those for whom no religious service was considered necessary. At last the clergyman found light in visiting an old member of his flock during his last hours on earth. He was a widower, and in speaking of his place of burial he particularly emphasized the words "On the south side, sir, near by the wife." The clergyman inquired why there was such a strong objection to burial on the north side of the church, and the prompt and reproachful answer was at once made: "The left side of Christ, sir: we don't like to be counted among the goats." The author continues:
Here was the best answer to the mystery, pointing with no uncertain words to the glorious Resurrection Day, this aged, earthly shepherd at the end of his years of toil recognized his Great Master, Jesus. as the True Shepherd of mankind, meeting His flock as they arose from their long sleep of death, with their faces turned eastward, awaiting His appearing.
Then when all had been called and recognized He turned to lead them onward, still their True Shepherd and Guide, with the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left hand, so wonderfully foretold in the Gospel story: "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the hole angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; land before Him shall be gathered all nations and He shall separate them one from another as a Shepherd divideth ads sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left." Matthew xxv, 31-3.
Surely, the above simple illustration explains much that is difficult and mysterious to us in the wax of religious superstition. Undoubtedly, we have here a good example of how superstitions have arisen, probable from a good source, it may be the words of some teacher long since passed away. The circumstance has long been for gotten, yet the lesson remains, and being handed down by oral tradition only, every vestige of its religions nature disappears and but the feeling remains, which, b in the minds of the ignorant populace, increases in mysteries and enfolds itself in superstitious awe, without any desire from them to discover the origin, or Source, of such a strange custom, or event.
So much of our ceremonies and instruction in the Craft is bound up intimately with the practices of the Church that the foregoing details and the comments made upon them are well worth notice and reflection. We need not in any enthusiasm for the prehistoric and the religious customs of the older nations in the childhood of their faith when the Mysteries of Greece and Rome were flourishing, overlook the equally good claims for attention presented by the more recent traditions that survive and thrive even unto our own times.