1st Month of Winter

  1. In the first month of winter, the tail of the Great Bear points to the North.
  2. Winter occupies the North. The fullness of power is in Water.[i] Its will of life is fear, its power emphasis and its virtue is wisdom.
  3. The correspondences of this month are the days ren and gui, the Sovereign Zhuanxu, his assisting spirit Xuanming, the creatures that are armored, the musical note yu, the pitch-pipe known as Responsive Bell, the number six, the taste of salty, the smell of putrid, and the sound of groan. The domestic animal is the pig; the weapon is the partisan.
  4. Sacrifices are made to the spirits of the well[ii]; in sacrifice, the kidneys are offered first.
  5. The trigram of the West is K’an, Water. “The Abysmal means water. It is the trigram of due north, the trigram of toil, to which all creatures are subject. Therefore it is said: ‘he toils in the sign of the Abysmal’.[iii]
  6. In the period of Beginning of Winter, water begins to freeze, earth begins to harden and killdeer dive into the great lakes to become giant clams. In the period of Lesser Snow, rainbows hide from sight, heavenly qi ascends, earthly qi descends and all is shut up and has reached its wintry end.[iv]
  7. The Son of Heaven is the Snapping Turtle.[v] He wears black robes and black jade pendants. He rides in a chariot pulled by black horses and flies a black banner. He resides in the chambers of the north. He drinks waters gathered from the eight winds and cooks with fires kindled with pine branches. His dishes are wide and deep; from them, he eats millet and pork.
  8.  His consorts also wear black garments and play upon stone chimes.
  9. On the first day of winter[vi], the Son of Heaven leads the ceremony known as “Establishing the Winter” at the northern altar. Upon his return to the court, he rewards the families of those slain in service to the state and places widows and orphans under his protection.
  10. The Son of Heaven promulgates the winter ordinances. “The cosmic ethers of Heaven have ascended on high while those of Earth have descended here below. Communication between Heaven and Earth has ceased, and everything is closed. Winter has matured.”[vii] It is now prohibited to walk abroad and those who do are placed in detention. Gates of cities are closed at this time. Punishments and judgments must be carried out with alacrity.
  11. The hexagram of this month is K’un, The Receptive. “The Receptive brings about sublime success, furthering through the perseverance of a mare. If the superior man undertakes something and tries to lead, he goes astray; but if he follows, he finds guidance…Quiet perseverance brings good fortune.[viii]
  12. In this month, the Master of Artisans examines the work of the craftsmen. The finest work is offered to the Son of Heaven and the spirits; those who have created work of poor quality are punished. The military officers teach and train their troops. The Superintendent of Waters and the Master of Fisheries collect taxes dues on all things harvested from rivers and lakes, springs and marshes. The Master of Prayers is enjoined to pray and sacrifice to the spirits so that yarrow stalks and turtle shells, the trigrams and bones may speak true.
  13. In this month, the Son of Heaven dons robes of fur. He commands his officials to uphold the principles of storing and conserving. Walls and fortifications are repaired, doors and gates must be inspected and the defenses of city and country are strengthened. The rituals of burial and mourning are promulgated so that the dead are treated appropriately.
  14. In this month there is a great drinking festival where the Son of Heaven prays to Heaven and Earth, the four seasons and the ancestors asking for blessings on the new year. He rewards the farmers for their labors; this is their time of rest.
  15. If in this first month of winter, the rituals of spring were enacted, the shutting of the earth would be incomplete. Its ethers would escape and the people would wander away. If the rituals of summer were enacted, hot winds would come nullifying the cold and reawakening the insects. If the rituals of autumn were enacted, the snow and frost would not come. There would be outbreaks of fighting and territory would be lost.
  16. The tree of the tenth month is the eastern red cedar.[ix]
  17. Its medicinal plant is goldenrod.[x]
  18. The messenger of Heaven is the black-capped chickadee.[xi]
  19. This month is governed by the Master of Horses.


[i] This reference is found in the Yueling.

[ii] While the Yueling refers to the god of the well, the Lüshi chunqiu refers to the god of the path.

[iii] I Ching, p.270.  References to the trigrams were not included in the original almanacs.

[iv] In all the almanacs, there are references to “Omens and portents from the world of living creatures: signs of the changing year [monthly]. See p.220 of Major, J. S. (1993). Heaven and earth in early Han thought: Chapters three, four and five of the Huainanzi. Albany: State University of New York Press. I have modified the omens and portents through personal research and observation of Nature in these periods as well as reference to Heiner Fruehauf’s “Correlative Cosmology in Chinese medicine”.

[v] Given that the original texts describe the thearch’s steed as a dragon, I have continued this “aura of ritual magic” (Major, p.226). The emperor in each season is represented by a resonant North American species.  The creatures of winter are ‘armoured’ [shelled], thus the snapping turtle, the largest turtle in this region. While sources cite the snapper reaching sizes of 10 to 19 inches in this area, I have seen snapping turtles in Virginia with shells up to three feet.

[vi] The Yueling refers to this ceremony occurring on the first day of winter (which is logical). On the other hand, the Li chi and the Lüshi chunqiu speak of this ceremony occurring at some point in the first month. In all likelihood, there is no conflict as the first day of each season would be calculated anew each year rather than having a set date.

[vii] Lüshi chunqiu, p.225

[viii] I Ching, p.11. While references to the hexagrams relating to each month were not included in the original almanacs, I believe they bring another layer of understanding to the movement and manifestations of qi in the relevant month.

[ix] The original tree is sandalwood- Major postulates that this was “because it was used in making incense used in connection with [divination] rites.” p.251 Red cedar is used for smudging in indigenous ceremonies.

[x] The addition of medicinal plants is purely my own- it is based on the actions of the plants and their resonance with the season. Goldenrod is unjustly blamed for allergies in October and November. Matthew Wood speaks to its strength- “It has long been recognized that Solidago is a kidney medicine. The Goldenrod problem begins with a lack of endurance, a lack of strength to persevere through difficulty, an inability to process what is necessary to get to the end.” See The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines: Berkeley, North Atlantic Press (1997).

[xi] The ‘messenger of Heaven’ is another addition based on personal observation of Nature. Birds are chosen by their arrival times, characteristics and resonance with the season. Tom Brown says, “We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit.”

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