Welcome to the Winter Quarter

Winter is the Celtic season of sleep, the "Time Between" or "Silent Time." The clans gathered in winter steading where there was protection from wind and weather...many of the megalithic ruins in present-day Ireland and England were erected at sites where clanholdings were located. As do herds of wild animals in winter, the people gathered together for protection, aid and companionship. The sun is journeying to the uttermost north, and the seasonal alignments are north and northeast. The correspondences for the season are earth of water ( snow and ice) as well as fire of earth ( the dying sun) and earth of earth ( frozen ground, dead vegetation). The time of day is midnight, symbol of the hidden truths of nature as well as of the longest night of the year. The Winter season begins on the morning of Samhain, and lasts until the Dark Moon of Birch.

The colours for the season are midnight blue, white, dark grey, black, deep green, red and gold. They are representative of the midnight sky, the white starkness of the snowcovered land, the brooding grey skies, the bleak winter landscape of bare branches and evergreen needles, the red of hollyberry and the blood of winterkilled game, and the gold of midnight stars and the reborn Yule sun. Foods of the season are substantial, soups and stews and rich gravies and sauces, a legacy of a time when the cattle and sheep were slaughtered at the winter feast because there was no grass for them to eat, and of the needs of laboring men and women to eat well and substantially against the killing winter cold. As it was in ancient times, it is still a time for family gatherings and conviviality, as people came together to reassure themselves of the well-being of loved ones in the time of sickness and famine. All cultures from ancient times held some sort of festival in the midwinter as a reassurance of the re-emergence of light in the spring. Since there was no work in field or fold, crafts became the occupations of the long winter nights, and spinning and quilting, weaving and lacemaking, woodcarving and potterymaking, developed from skills for sustenance to art forms over centuries of long cold winters.

The Witch in winter is a seeker, looking to the secrets of night and starlight. There is time and quiet for long trancejourneying, as we seek to understand the ultimate mystery of death and rebirth. Long winter evenings lend themselves to the making of charms and the writing of memoirs, lore and stories to share with students, children or fellow-seekers on the Path. As we look to the rebirth of Light, candles are made and blessed for use in ritual throughout the year. Brews are concocted for colds and flu, for sound sleep and peaceful dreaming. Dreampillows are sewn from herbs gathered in summer and fall. And in a spirit of gathering together to face the darkness, many covens and groves do deep workings on the full and dark moons surrounding the Yule festival, as well as great gatherings of feasting and dancing and giftgiving at the Solstice.

In our mundane lives, we link to the Wheel in some ways we know, and others we are not aware of. Consciously, in winter people may make efforts to finish projects put off during the busy hours of summer and autumn. Many people send holiday letters which are reports of their activities and achievements during the year, the modernday equivalent of the ancient clanmoot, where the bards sang of each family's journeys and events since the last meeting. We decorate our houses for Yule with bright-colored lights, as ancient peoples built bonfires against the winter darkness. As did the old peoples, we reserve some of our most elaborate cooking and baking for winter festivals, as we revel in time the busy mobile life of urban summer did not afford, as well as creating delicacies as celebration of the persistence of life. Unfortunately, some people also suffer from the "Winter Blues" or holiday depression, as they demonstrate with their bodily cycles that despite modern conveniences we suffer as did ancient peoples from the long deprivation of sunlight. And despite claims of modern medicine, the old remedies of sleep, comforting foods (especially chicken soup!) and the companionship of friends and family still combat these ills as well s they ever did!


The elder tree is the "Tree of Doom" in Celtic lore, but the word means "Fate" or "That which must happen" rather than simply "bad luck". Ancient peoples believed that elder was the tree of death and dissolution, so placing a child in a cradle made of elderwood, or kindling a house fire for cooking or warmth of this wood were notoriously unlucky; on the other hand, arrows made of elderwood would find their way unerringly to the heart of an enemy, and one made ill by cursing or the act of an enemy could be cured with wine of elderberries or poultices or infusions made of the bark of the elder.

The elder tree is also considered a tree of wisdom. Celtic shamanism uses the elder tree to form the sacred hoop on which the shield of the shaman is strung, and fires of elderwood afforded dreams wherein the shaman could walk between the worlds and retrieve the wisdom of the ancestors. (This belief, that elder smoke produced visions, is probably the source of the prohibition against burning a fire of elderwood in the home hearth.) The Mighty Dead, wise ones of the ancient clans, were thought to take up residence in elder trees, whose branches then sighed their names when the wind blew. An Elder tree growing where no tree had been before, alone and separate from other trees, was probably a Witch enchanted, and such wood was never gathered....even the ground beneath such a tree was thought to be unlucky.

The Elder Moon contains the Solar Festival of Yule, or immediately precedes it. For Celtic traditional witches, the festival of Samhain marks the death of the Sun-King, and the weeks from Samhain to Yule are the "Silent Time" the "Dark Time", or the "Time Between." This is the time when the Sunlord rests in the belly of the Mother, and receives wisdom and arcane knowledge from his own Elder Selves, all the solar incarnations which have preceded the one to come. As far as the calendar goes, the Elder Moon may actually contain the festival of Yule, the Winter Solstice, or the moon may end several days before the Sabbat. If the latter occurs, the Dark Moon which precedes Yule is called a "Black Moon" as it is actually considered a second Dark Moon of Elder, rather than the Dark Moon of Birch, because the Solstice has not yet taken place, so the Year has not turned from Dark to Light. Such a moon is very powerful for communion with the Mighty Dead, elders of clan or tribe. In such a year, Yule falls after the Black Moon, and the Full Moon which follows is as always the Birch Moon and the beginning of the new Lunar Year.

The Celtic Tree Alphabet assigns the letter "R" to the elder tree. The bird of this season is the Rook, which is also a symbol of death. As well, the colour "Ruadh" (blood-red) is a symbol of the season. The energy of the Moon is "Ancient Wisdom" as we contemplate the endless cycles of birth and death and the many ways our own lives depend upon the lives of those who have gone before.



The custom of planting graveyard borders with yew trees which will grow to form hedges is a carryover from the mythic significance of the tree, as the yew was the "Border Tree" which delineated the boundary between the worlds. Yew wood was used for the staves of barrels which contained sacred wine, which brought visions of the world beyond. As it is an ancient tree and also takes many years to come to maturity, the yew is also seen as a symbol of longevity and the wisdom of age. Old Man Winter carries a staff of yew, and the tree is so longlived that the saying was "the life of the Yew is the length of an Age." The tree has an extraordinary ability to resist corruption, and was therefore used for coffins as well as for the chests which were filled with treasures and buried to preserve them from invaders. Yew logs burn very well, and the wood was used for the fires upon which were immolated the sacred kings as well as the root which became the Yule log, symbol of rebirth.

The Celtic Tree Alphabet lists the letter for the Yew as "Idho" which is the vowel "I" . The word "Irfind" in Old Irish means "very white"...the white of bleached bone or death. The Yew tree is sacred to the goddess Banba, one of the Celtic Triad, and a death crone goddess. The bird of this tree is the eaglet, whose name in Irish is "Illait", because like death its appetite is endless. The letter and sound also correspond to the Anglo-Saxon rune "Is" or "Ys" which is the rune of "ice" and which is the symbol of death.

The season of Yew is short...it is the tree of the Winter Solstice, and so has a "station" ( a single day) rather than a moon-month. Since the solar and lunar calendars do not correspond exactly, the days between the Solstice and the next moon fall in the Elder Month, as was mentioned above, and the next moon after Solstice is a Birch Moon, whether full or dark. But whether there are several days of the Elder moon remaining after the Solstice or not, that day itself is sacred to the Yew, and is considered the Year-Day ( last day of the old year.)


The word "Yule" is from the Saxon "Ule" which means "Wheel" and which also is a shout of exultation symbolizing the circle of life. At this midwinter season, ancient peoples celebrated the rebirth of light in the deepest darkness of winter. The festival of Yule was known to all the elder peoples by whatever name they chose to call it, and the later Christian teachers chose to ascribe the birth of the Son-God, Jesus, to the time of year which was already sacred to the people as the birth of the Sun-God.

There is scarcely a custom of this season that does not have its roots in ancient lore, particularly that of the Celts. As did other ancient peoples, the Celts worshipped a fire-god, Bel, at this season. So the fire itself was seen as a sacred symbol, as it kept off predators, cooked food and provided warmth and light. The root of a tree was used to kindle the Yule fire as a remembrance that all life comes from that which has preceded it. Indeed, the remnant of the preceding year's Yule clog was saved to serve as kindling for that of the current year. Since ancient peoples believed that fire was a living creature which resided in the wood unless called forth, to them in a very real sense each year's Yule fire was the same fire as that of the year before, and the year before that, all the way back to the times before there were men, or fires, at all.

The Holly King, tanist of the Oak King and one of the faces of the "Two-Faced God," is the representation of the Dying Year, and the precursor of Santa Claus. The evergreen tree ( the silver fir which is the tree of the Celtic Tree Calendar) actually represents him as it is cut down and decorated to simultaneously represent his death for the land and rebirth as the Oaklord, Sun of the Mother. For this reason the tree is decorated with representations of fruits, flowers, gifts and colored lights, all symbols of plenty and abundance in the year to come. As we place gifts under and around the tree we recognize that in a very real sense all the gifts of life come to us from the death and rebirth of the God, which are actually seedtime and harvest, the gifts of the Year.

The carols we sing at this time of the year were originally all dance tunes ("carol" comes from the Old French word for "dance"). As we hear familiar tunes we can recall the spiral dance of life and rebirth, as well as the dances around the Bel-fire to coax the Sun back from the depths of winter's darkness. The Holly King is Lord of the Dance, and Witches honor him, and the spiral of life, with dancing, feasting and singing to renew the cycles of their own lives and the life of the land.

For the urban Witch, the season still has the same correspondences it had for our ancestors. It is still a remembrance in the midst of winter darkness of light, of life to come, of the love of friends and family. In our mundane lives, we create gifts of our own working, treats for friends and family, newsletters catching up distant relatives with the family news of the past year. We gather at parties and family reunions, to feast and sing and share our love.
Magickally, it is a time of renewal, of self-love and praise for the bounties of life. We may renew personal vows, note the success of spells cast at the birth of the year, and end workings which we have completed this Wheel. As the Holly King gives way to the Oak Lord, we find our own magickal tides reversing, and the rebirth of the Sun renews our optimism, energy, and focus to carry us forward into the New Wheel. It is for this reason that the custom of New Year's resolutions, now adopted more or less seriously by the civilized mundane world, is another old Pagan tradition.



 The Silver Fir is the tree of the "extra day" between the Winter Solstice and the beginning of the New Year...the "day" in " a year and a day". It is the tree of birth, and represents female fertility by being a female tree which bears both male and female cones ( parthogenesis in action!) It is sacred to Artemis, who, although she is the "maiden huntress" is the patron Deity of childbirth. She is the Moon which gives birth to the Sun, and Her tree is represented by the birth-vowel, "A", Ailm. The silver colour of the bark and undersides of the needles is in remembrance of the Moon's silver, as Her light dominates the Winter season, yet the evergreen leaves give hope of new life at the rebirth of the Sun. Similarly, the cut fir tree erected in our homes at Yule represents the sacrifice of the Holly King...yet its leaves and lights and decorations give honor to the reborn Sun, the Oak Lord of the Waxing Year.
The energy of this day is lunar energy in its purest form...the energy of secrets, midnight, mysticism, female power, silence, hidden wisdom. of all days in the year, this one is the best for performing the female mysteries, as well as being a wonderful time for magic pertaining to motherhood and old women's wisdom. The Gallic fir-Goddess, Druantia, is the Mother of the Druids and the mistress of secrets. As this tree is the first in the Celtic Tree Calendar, and gives birth to the year, so do we open our eyes on a new day and begin our lives anew.


The birch is the first tree to bud in most of Western Europe and North America. Its branches bear both male and female flowers, an emblem of self-sufficiency. The flexible branches have traditionally been used for birch besoms, the tool of cleansing, and anciently flails of birch were used in ceremonial floggings to drive out the old energy, or the old year, and actual chastisement of delinquents.

Birch is the tree of inception, the new energy of growth and rebirth. The colour white ( ban) is not only descriptive of the trunk of the tree, but also relates to newness, unsoiled paper, the virginal soul, the mother's milk which nurtures new life. The Irish word "ban" also means "woman", as women were, to primitive peoples, the sole bringers of new life.
For the urban witch, the Birch Moon brings putting away of Yule decorations, New Year's resolutions,, ceremonial altar cleansing and refitting, and the planting of bulbs and early spring crops with intent to bear fruit in the new year. Spiritually, birch also may include the founding of covens or taking of a teacher, the inception of new spiritual practices, and the cleansing or discarding of that which is no longer useful. The sharp, spicy smell of birch oil awakens the limbic centres as we begin to look around us to find that which is beginning and give it new attention and focus.



The word "Imbolc" or "Imbolg" is Irish for "in the belly," and is the festival when the ewes who are pregnant begin to lactate and bear their winter lambs. The feast is also called "Candlemas" and is known as the Feast of the Waxing Light. In many traditions the Young God, born at Yule, is named by his mother, the first name or "milk-name" by which he will be known until his puberty at Spring Equinox. This is the first of the three sowing festivals, and the new wheat is sown on the snow, to be nourished as it melts. The festival is sacred in the Celtic traditions to the Triple Goddess Brighid, who is patroness of poets, smiths, and healers.

Imbolc is represented by the colors of fire and snow...silver, gold, red and white. It is the time of the melting of ice and sometimes of the first buds on leafless branches. The Goddess inspires us with the first warmer winds to shake loose the frozen death of Winter in our souls, and to begin to burn brighter within, to wax as does the light of day from the long night of Yule. Traditional Celtic Craft holds Imbolc to be the best time for initiations, as the symbolism of the new growth of light is congruent with initiation.

Brighid, Triple Goddess of the Celts who is honored on this feast day, is said to be the patroness of poetry, smithcraft and healing. Therefore covens often reserve Imbolc to perform original plays, poems or songs in Her honor, as well as doing healing work or making things in circle to adorn the Temple or covenstead. It is traditional at Imbolc to make handmade candles for use in ritual throughout the year, as well as plaiting birch brooms and making wands from birch.


The rowan tree is called the Quickbeam, or Quicken tree, as it represents the life of the forest, and is a magickal protection against evil spells. Rowan trees were planted at the doorways of houses in medieval times to prevent evil spirits from entering the house. The rowanberry makes a light sweet wine whose power was said to make it possible for one to visit the land of Faery without coming to harm, and rowan ale was used in Welsh weddings to protect the married couple. The Druids did divination in the smoke rising from sacred fires of rowan branches, while the bark of the rowan produced the black dye for their robes. In Arthurian legend, the PenDragon was harnessed and tamed with a whip of rowan, and Myrddyn the mage had a staff of rowan which forever sprouted leaves and berries that could not die.

The urban witch sees the rowan moon as the first lunation of spring. The blood begins to move and some begin to venture outdoors for exercise, as well as beginning spring cleaning. Ice is melting and the red berries of the rowan tree emerge on leafless branches under melting snow, symbolizing the persistence of life. Magically it is a time to do spells of warding and psychic protection, as well as healing work for those in emotional or spiritual turmoil. It is an auspicious time to begin or deepen one's magickal practice, or create structures of magick, such as covens and learning circles.

To move to the Spring Quarter, click on the butterfly
To return Home, click on the moon  To return to the Sanctuary, click on the candle