Encylcopedia of Freemasonry & its kindred Sciences
by Albert C. Mackey M. D.
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 was sinstrous and direful."