“He turned to his right, knowing that is is unlucky to walk around a church widdershins, and followed the path close beneath the wall till he found himself standing by the west door”.
That sentence struck me as odd the first time I read it, in Dorothy Sayers’s novel The nine tailors a couple of years ago, and it still strikes me as odd today, on rereading it.
“He” was Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy Sayers’s aristocratic amateur sleuth. Now admittedly he’s a fictional aristocrat, so it’s not as if one had a poll of the English aristocracy to see how many of them “know” that it is unlucky to walk around a church widdershins. But it’s still strange when even a fictional aristocrat gives credence to what sounds like a peasant superstition. And in a work of fiction, of course, it’s quite possible that the superstition itself is fictional.
So what I’m interested in finding out is how many people in real life have this particular piece of knowledge.
What strikes me as odd about it is that in the Orthodox Church there are quite often processions around the church, and they always go around the church widdershins, so why should it be unlucky?
If it is a superstition in the real world, it must be a fairly recent one, dating from well after the East-West schism, and possibly after the Reformation, because as far as I can tell, the word “widdershins” only entered the English language about the time of the Reformation.