Orient yourself with churches, satellite dishes and dogs pooping

Orient yourself with churches, satellite dishes and dogs pooping

Churches are aligned West to East

Most Christian churches were built with the entrance on the west and the altar on the east, so that the congregation are praying towards the east.

St Pauls Cathedral in London and Notre Dame in Paris both follow this rule, as do most churches since the 8th century. So if you’re lost in town and need to orient yourself, look for a church!

Why pray to the east?

There are a few possible explanations for this:

  • It was based on the Jewish tradition of facing east (‘Mizrah’) towards Jerusalem after the diaspora headed west from there
  • Christ’s second coming was expected from the east
  • It was based on the pagan ritual of praying towards the rising sun

If you can’t find a church, try looking for a cemetery as gravestones often face East as well.

Mosques have a wall that faces Mecca

Mosques have a wall called the ‘mihrab’ which faces Mecca in Saudi Arabia, in the UK this is South-East, in North America it is North East.

Satellites face south or south-east

For the best signal it is recommended to install a satellite dish on a south facing wall and pointing South East, (Satellite dishes face South in North America).

Moss grows on the north side of trees

Lichen and moss tend to grow on the north side of trees in the northern hemisphere. Moss like damp conditions where there is less sun so they don’t dry out as easily, so moss often grows on the north side of trees. But this is only a rule of thumb, if the conditions are generally damp, moss can sometimes grow on other sides of trees.

You can also look at the way trees are leaning. If you have a prevailing south-westerly wind the trees might be leaning towards the north-east.

West side is nice

If you are lost and are in an affluent-looking area, you might be on the west side of town. Due to the gulf stream, the wind blows west to east in most cities in both the US and UK. Since the industrial revolution and the advent of polluting factories, this has meant that the smoke blows over the houses in the east. This is why in many older cities, the wealthier people lived on the west side and the poorer people on the east. For example in London on the west there are the affluent areas of Kensington and Chelsea, compared to Whitechapel and Tower Hamlets on the East.

In New York there are the wealthy areas of the Upper-West side and poorer areas in the east, like the Bronx.

Clouds follow the prevailing wind

Just as pollution follows the prevailing wind, clouds will float from West to East in the USA or from the South-West or West in the UK.

Watch which way a dog poops

According to a scientific study published in Frontiers in Zoology, dogs prefer to poop in a north-south orientation, rather than west-east. Like many animals, dogs are influenced by the earth’s magnetic field. The scientists do not know exactly why the 70 dogs over a 2 year experiment preferred to excrete in a north-south orientation, but speculate that they can hear, see or smell the magnetic field.

Look at some cows

If you are in the countryside you might notice that cows tend to orient themselves in north-south direction. After analysing thousands of satellite images, a team from the University of Duisburg-Essen found that cows generally orient themselves on a north-south axis. It is thought that, like dogs, they are influenced by the earth’s magnetic field.

Links about orientating yourself when you are lost

PBS – Dogs poop in alignment with Earth’s magnetic field, study finds


A Quick History of Whitechapel District in London

NPR – Moo North: Cows Sense Earth’s Magnetism

BBC News – Six ways to never get lost in a city again

The Catholic Thing – Facing East

Wikipedia – Orientation of Churches