West is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from east, and is the direction in which the sun sets.


The word "west" is a Germanic word passed into some Romance languages (ouest in French, oest in Catalan, ovest in Italian, oeste in Spanish and Portuguese). It stems from the Indo-European root *wes reduced from *wes-pero 'evening, night' which is related to Old Greek hesperos and Latin vesper 'evening; west'.[1]

To go west using a compass for navigation (in a place where magnetic north is the same direction as true north) one needs to set a bearing or azimuth of 270°.

West is the direction opposite that of the Earth's rotation on its axis, and is therefore the general direction towards which the Sun appears to constantly progress and eventually set.

In a map with north at the top, west is on the left. (This is not true on the planet Venus, which rotates in the opposite direction from the Earth. Thus in a map of Venus, west is on the right.)

Moving continuously west is following a circle of latitude.


Due to the direction of the Earth's rotation, the prevailing wind in many places is from the west.


The phrase "the West" is often spoken in reference to the Western world, which includes the European Union (also the EFTA countries), the Americas, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and (in part) South Africa.

The concept of the Western part of the earth has its roots in the Western Roman Empire and the Western Christianity. During the Cold War "the West" was often used to refer to the NATO camp as opposed to the Warsaw Pact and non-aligned nations. The expression survives, with an increasingly ambiguous meaning.

Symbolic meanings

In Chinese Buddhism, the West represents movement toward the Buddha or enlightenment (see Journey to the West). The ancient Aztecs believed that the West was the realm of the great goddess of water, mist, and maize. In Ancient Egypt, the West was considered to be the portal to the netherworld, and is the cardinal direction regarded in connection with death, though not always with a negative connotation. Ancient Egyptians also believed that the Goddess Amunet was a personification of the West.[2] The Celts believed that beyond the western sea off the edges of all maps lay the Otherworld, or Afterlife.

In Judaism, west is seen to be toward the Shekinah (presence) of God, as in Jewish history the Tabernacle and subsequent Jerusalem Temple faced east, with God's Presence in the Holy of Holies up the steps to the west. According to the Bible, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River westward into the Promised Land. In Islam, while in India, people pray facing towards the west as in respect to Mecca, Mecca is in the West-ward direction.

In American literature (e.g., in The Great Gatsby) moving West has sometimes symbolized gaining freedom, perhaps as an association with the settling of the Wild West (see also the American frontier and Manifest Destiny).

Fantasy fiction

Tolkien used it symbolically, with the dying Thorin calling Bilbo Baggins "child of the kindly West" in The Hobbit. This is much more definite in The Lord of the Rings, where the east served Sauron and his enemies associate themselves with the West.

In Saberhagen's Empire of the East series, the rival powers are West and East, including both humans and supernatural beings. All demons are part of the East.

This is not universal. In Tolkien's earlier work, the north had been the direction of evil. C S Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has the east as the sacred direction, leading to Aslan's country


  1. "west | Origin and meaning of west by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  2. Campbell, Joseph. The Mythic Image. Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • The dictionary definition of west at Wiktionary
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