Articles & Essays

Compass Rose: On Course to True North

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
Bertha Calloway

Welcome to The Compass Rose, an in-depth feature that explores the terrain of traveling — be the focus the journey itself, a given destination, or the unfolding of a life lesson. Like many travelers, when discovering a new land, I seem to learn something new about my own internal landscape in the process.

The title “Compass Rose” was proposed by a View from the Pier subscriber. In suggesting the moniker, he explained: “It’s more about the journey than the destination. The compass is universally recognized as a path-finding device, with an interesting back story on wind directions. Your site ‘guides’ travelers — armchair or otherwise. The ‘Rose?’ It relates to the appearance of the compass itself, but as Shakespeare said, ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ ”

Before the magnetic compass was discovered, early map makers would draw a small 16-pointed circle on the map, and place an “N” to point to North. These were the 16 Cardinal Points from which the winds were thought to blow and the symbol was called a “Wind Rose.”

Almost all ancient cultures had gods associated with the wind. To Native Americans, the wind seems to be personified as divine messenger, able to manipulate unseen energy. V?yu is a primary Hindu deity, the Lord of the winds, and the chief of Life itself. In Greek mythology, four wind gods represented various seasons and weather conditions.

A compass needle is driven by magnetic force, which varies in different parts of the world and is constantly changing. “True North” refers to the earth’s axis, a more defined, firmly-fixed center. When the magnetic compass came along, it was set on top of the Wind Rose pattern in order to orient the nautical chart in the proper direction. The wind rose eventually became known as a Compass Rose.

Like ViewfromthePier.com’s Peer to Pier Q & A, the Compass Rose feature is intended to be an aid in navigating both cultural waters and self-discovery. Enjoy!

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