The days grow shorter and the longest night of the year spreads its cloak of stars across the land. Known by many names including the Winter Solstice, Yule, Midwinter, Alban Arthan, it’s a time of cold, the steady burn of the hearthfire, and gathering together with friends and family.
Even the cities can take on a strange and peaceful silence during the winter (especially after a fresh snowfall). The woods are dark, branches stripped of their leaves, and most animals are hibernating or have moved south to warmer climates. The sharp icy air tingles with the magick of a thousand candles and twinkling lights. I find myself under blankets, sipping hot teas and cocoas, while lost in a good book (it's probably on witchcraft). Now is a quiet time in the apothecary - herbs have already been harvested and charmed into remedies during the fall and, except for the occasional custom blend for a new cold or deep need to create another herbal coffee, there is blissfully less to do.
The Winter Solstice marks the turn of the wheel from the mutable fire sign of Sagittarius to the cardinal earth sign of Capricorn. The frenzy of preparation and transition during the fall settles into the soft energy of winter (especially after the winter holidays have passed). Spend time outdoors enjoying the refreshing chill in the air, but be sure to balance it with warm downtime indoors. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Drink warming teas and add warming spices to your food. Do those things which make you feel cozy.
Body System Focus: Kidneys, Bladder, + Liver
or Strengthen + Settle Into Your Flow
Within the four elements system of traditional western herbalism (I write more about TWH energetics over here), the season of winter is the transformation of the dryness of earth into the coldness of water. Our bodies are moving from the busyness of gathering our resources in the fall to the settling depths of winter’s dark. It’s time to move from the hurry, hurry, get it done of fall into the slow down and have another cup of tea of winter. Continuing the magick of fall with warming stews and root vegetables. Heating and warming herbs are a must to help us keep our internal fires well taken care of as well as herbs that support the immune system. The plant allies of winter are immunomodulating and sometimes immunostimulating. They are often diuretic in nature, supporting liver and kidney health. If the magick of winter is difficult to connect to, check out the healing ways of Capricorn to help you find a spark of joy.
Weeds are scarce during winter, but the ones that remain are often roots, trees or connected to trees. Evergreens are persistent allies during the winter season and they’re scent alone can have an uplifting and invigorating affect on the body. Autumn's retreat from the summer is complete and the time of the Oldest Ones has arrived with their bare rattling bones and stone teeth. Enjoying foraged weeds as food and medicine is an amazing way to connect with the season and practice self-care. If you want to learn more about the healing properties of weeds, I highly recommend checking out The Wise Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair.
Pine (Pinus spp.) : Evergreens like Pine offer some of the only color in far northern climates, keeping their green wrapped around them throughout the year. The needles of the tree are a rich source of vitamin C and make a enjoyable tea. Pine also supports healthy circulation and is a great preventative and restorative remedy from winter illnesses like laryngitis, bronchitis, and the ‘flu. It helps to protect cells from damage - an excellent ally in preventative care against cancer. I collect chunks of the recently fallen sap and add it to honey to create a antiviral, analgesic, and expectorant syrup for coughs and colds. Add the needles to baths for pain-relief and to soften tight muscles. Incorporate Pine into your practice if your health is impacted by feelings of guilt and failure - the tree teaches us how resilient by showing us what is no longer necessary to carry.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) : Chaga is a mushroom that grows on trees such as the Birch. It has recorded use in traditional Chinese medicine since the first century and is a prized medicine in many far northern habitats where it can be found growing wild. I was first introduced to Chaga while living in Maine where I would make crockpots of Chaga hot cocoa at the cafe I worked at (it was amazing stuff). Like many mushrooms, Chaga helps to regulate the immune system - a common need during the winter when colds are passed around like gifts. Chaga has been used in cancer care as it inhibits the growth of tumors and its rich antioxidant content. It’s a hepatoprotective mushroom, acting as a guardian of the liver. I love incorporating it into chai blends and herbal coffees as it lends an earthy and grounding taste.
Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos spp.) : Known also as Bearberry, Uva Ursi is an evergreen shrub with extensive use in both European and American Indian medicine. Where Pine is warming, Uva Ursi is cooling, reducing inflammation and toxin-supporting heat. It’s a classic remedy in traditional western herbalism for kidney complaints including urinary tract infections, urethritis, bladder and kidney stones, kidney infections, pulmonary edema, and more. Uva Ursi also helps with the imbalances to the skin brought about by kidney problems including acne, rashes, and dandruff (use both topically and externally). Uva Ursi is powerful medicine and should only be used for a week at a time with week-long breaks in-between.
Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia aquifolium or nervosa, Berberis aquifolium or nervosa) : Similar to Uva Ursi, Oregan Grape is another evergreen shrub with antimicrobial and diuretic gifts that support the liver. The root is powerfully cleansing, sweeping through the body and clearing out excess heat. It opens the blood vessels helping to lower blood pressure. It dries up wet, damp, mucusy coughs and assists with general debility. Oregon Grape is a powerful ally when it comes to staph and other infections. The herb is also a great winter bitter, stimulating a sluggish digestive system and supporting a healthy appetite. Like Uva Ursi, skin problems caused by a sluggish liver and digestion are alleviated with Oregon Grape.
Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale) : Roasted Dandelion Root is an essential part of my cozy winter practice. The root supports liver health, gently detoxifying the overtaxed organ. It is wonderfully useful for skin complaints like acne and eczema both as an internal and external treatment. I incorporate the roasted root into chai blends and herbal coffees (both of which, you may have surmised at this point, are very popular in my house during the winter) and it brings a rich coffee-like flavor to the brew. If you’re someone who suffers from heartburn and excess acidity, try adding some Dandelion bitters into your routine before and after meals. Dandelion Flower Essence can be useful for folks who struggle with the dark of long winter nights, feeling hopeless and forlorn. The essence helps to bring brightness and levity to dark places.
Elm (Ulmus Procera) Flower Essence : Elm Flower Essence is for the doers and great sacrificers who do what needs doing, but at the end of the day they are left utterly exhausted. Folks who are best served by Elm are ones that struggle to take time off because so much of their self-worth is tied up in feeling useful to others. Elm teaches us how to find self-worth from within by taking much needed time off. The tree shows us different ways of connecting and communicating with people that doesn’t rely on us wearing ourselves thin. Elm is also useful for anyone who needs to take a break and put their busy lives and what they think must absolutely get done this very second into perspective.
Winter is a time of both gathering in (as was begun in Autumn) and gathering together. Spend time working on your grimoire or book of shadows by candlelight. Gather together with covenmates, family, friends, and those you love the most for good food and celebrating. Spend time gazing into the dark curve of the night’s mirror and discover what you find gazing back. Open up to the wonder of the season and connect with your inner child who has never lost touch with their magickal thinking. Take a moment to step out of the busyness of the year - whether pleasurable or stressful - and find yourself connecting to your purpose. For to follow the wheel of the year is to honor the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, learning from all three overlapping and entangled phases. Sometimes it’s hard to discover what we feel the purpose of life is until it feels too late. So perform some meditative magick and imagine that you’re about to step through life into death. What would want to know that you had spent your life doing? I have found such a practice to be life-affirming, purpose-aligning, and interwoven with the energies of winter. To help you continue to dive into the world of winter magick, I offer you three forms of winter magick that I practice to help me settle into the power of the darkest part of the year.
3 Paths of Winter Magick
Settling In : We settle in to the season of slowness and dark. Rituals include long-term spells and charms completed over a series of days and weeks; house protection charms and first foot rituals; bringing warmth and nature indoors including candles, evergreen boughs, berries and citrus; divination for goal setting with an emphasis on timing; spells to protect your time; homecoming and soul-loss rituals; body-centered practices to help you come home to your self; pay attention to your need for quiet, calmness, and time spent alone or only with the closest of companions (including our animal friends).
Settling In Meditation : Beginning in a position that is comfortable for you, notice where there is tension in your body. Then turn your attention to your feet. Create tension in your feet by tightening your foot muscles and curling your toes - hold this for a few seconds and then release the tension (if you have trouble releasing the tension try saying out loud any of the following words: release, soften, open, trust). Then create tension in your lower legs, holding it for a few moments and then releasing. Follow through to your upper legs, bottom, belly, chest, hands, arms, neck and head. Take a deep breath and observe how your body feels different than when you began.
Connecting Cosmically : We listen to the depths within us so that we may remember and connect to our starry origins. Rituals revolve around connecting to the cosmic dance of dark and light; standing in stillness with the sun on the night of the solstice; rising up singing with the dawn; incorporating astrological correspondences and magickal techniques into your workings; studying the night sky and your birth chart; being caught up in your smallness; finding rapture in your never ending expanse.
Connecting Cosmically Meditation : If you’re able perform this meditation under a night sky please do. Spend some time centering yourself through your breath. Listen to the stars in the sky and in the earth beneath you. Listen to the stars in your blood. With every in-breath call the stars towards you. With every out-breath, glow brighter. In with stars. Out and bright with your glow. Repeat this simple cycle for however long you desire. Be sure to end your meditation with a firm grounding and centering, perhaps choosing to eat salty food to help you return fully to your body.
Wishing Well : We welcome in the magick of being awestruck and enchanted through wishing ourselves and others well. Rituals include any and all activities which delight your inner child; performing spells to help you find your joy; connecting with the house and land spirits from a place of joviality and play; creating a ritual that your tween/teen witch self would be proud of; giving sacred gifts and hosting giveaways; rituals of wishing others good fortune as well as community blessings for health and longevity; inviting in the possibility that you are not and have never been broken; remembering to pay attention to the beauty of the world - beauty is always seeking you, so try and let it find you.
Wishing Well Meditation : Start your meditation by focusing on the statement, “I am enchanted by…” and give space for thoughts, memories, and visions to arise eventually completing the sentence (i.e. I am enchanted by snow flurries dancing along windowsills). Dwell for a time in the feeling of enchantment and of being awestruck. Reflect on the following statement, “I enchant the lives of others by…” In other words, how to move others deeply and help evoke from them a joyful awe of the beauty of the world.
Talisman of Sacred Time
Set aside some time when you'll be uninterrupted (this is the first act of magick for our spell). Make yourself some hot cocoa, get comfortable, and grab a journal or your book of shadows to record the messages you’ll be receiving. The following ritual is part divinatory and part craft. You’ll be creating a talisman to protect your time as sacred in order to help you make choices in your life that align you with your purpose. In other words, instead of spending another weekend shopping mindlessly or scrolling the internet aimlessly, choosing to spend your time caught up in that project you’ve been wanting to do but putting off. Or choosing to lie down, read a book, and go to bed early instead of working another 6 hours into the dusk of morning.
You will need a small pouch of black fabric, some dried Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a piece of paper and pen, and a tarot deck (or oracle, runes, ogham feda or similar divinatory system).
Begin with divination. Three cards are cast, one for each part of yourself offering a message regarding how to align with time in a sacred manner (i.e. how to spend your time, what to do less of, etc.):
- A message from your past self.
- A message from your present self.
- A message from your future self.
Record any notes and observations that you want to remember. From each card find one word of power. For example, your future self may advise with the word, “explore” while your past self reminds you to “reconcile” and your present self speaks “be.” Write these three words on a piece of paper that can be folded small enough to fit into your talisman pouch.
Keeping the cards out before you, begin to assemble your talisman. Touch the empty pouch to your past, future, and present card, saying:
What was, what shall be, what is.
Repeat this twice more. Then following the same order, say three times through:
Is sacred, is sacred, is sacred.
Finally, fold up your paper and place it in the pouch. Add to it three pinches of Thyme. Thyme is an herb that helps us to bend and shape the current of time running through all of the worlds. Speak the three words of power as you touch each card again with your pouch. Using our example, you would say three times through:
Reconcile. Explore. Be.
Tie up the talisman and seal the spell with a “So mote it be!”
Carry the talisman with you, either wearing it around your neck, slipping it in your pocket, a bra, or other space where it shall be kept close. Speak your words of power to it when you feel time slipping away to regain your footing or when you are spending your time in a way that pleases you to ensorcel it with purpose.