Cardinal Points – Concept, uses and different meanings

We explain what the cardinal points are and what these four directions can be used for. Also, its different meanings.

Cardinal points
The names of the four cardinal points are of German origin.

What are the cardinal points?

Cardinal points are called the four senses or directions that, in a Cartesian reference system, allow spatial orientation on a map or in any region of the earth’s surface.

The Cardinal points they are East (E), West (W), North (N) and South (S). East is understood to be the approximate region of the planet through which the Sun rises each day; to the West the opposite point, where the Sun hides every day; North the upper part of the axis of planet earth and South the lower part of the same axis on which it rotates.

This results in two axes: East-West and North-South, among which there are also intermediate points: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southwest (SW) and Southeast (SE), known as secondary cardinal points. From this geometric operation is derived the “Rose of the Winds”, used together with a compass for navigation since ancient times.

The names of the four points are of Germanic origin: Nordri (North), Sudri (South), Austri (East) and Vestri (West), from Germanic mythology. These terms became universal and incorporated into other languages ​​relatively recently, since they were previously called in Spanish: Septentrión or Boreal (North), Meridión or Austral (South), Oriente, Levante or Naciente (East) and Occidente or Poniente (West) .

For its part, the term cardinal points comes from the Latin term cardus, which was the name given by the Romans to the orientation axes, generally North-South, with which they built their military camps and their cities. Hence the expression of being “cardinal” when it comes to something central or very important.

In the different Western traditions, the four cardinal points were incorporated into certain imaginations and conceptions of nature, who associated them with the four elements (water, earth, fire and wind), the four seasons (summer, spring, autumn, winter), the four humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm), etc.