2nd Month of Winter

  1. In the second 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 Greater Snow, starlings cease singing, wolves begin to mate and cattails grow. In the period of Winter Solstice, earthworms congeal, white-tail deer shed their antlers and aquifers churn.[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. The Son of Heaven orders his leaders to speak with the people, saying “If anyone opens up what has been shut away by Heaven and Earth, then all hibernating creatures will die; the people will surely suffer illness and pestilence, and in the wake of this will come destruction.” At this time, door, gates and prison walls may be repaired thus assisting Heaven and Earth in its closing-up.
  10. The hexagram of this month is Fu, The Return. “Thunder within the earth: The image of The Turning Point. Thus the kings of antiquity closed the passes at the time of solstice. Merchants and strangers did not go about, and the ruler did not travel through the provinces.”[vi]
  11. In this month, trees are felled for wood and arrow-shafts. All items which are no longer needed or used are let go of. Thieves are arrested immediately; those with dubious morals are punished. This is resonant with the character of this month.
  12. If at this time there are crops left unharvested or animals roaming free, they may be taken without punishment. Those who eat of the wild are protected in their hunting and gathering.
  13. In this month, the shortest day arrives; Yin and Yang contend. At this time, the sage practices austerities. The orifices are closed; both within and without are quiet and peaceful. The Son of Heaven commands those in authority to pray to the Four Seas, the Mighty Rivers and Great Lakes and the Illustrious Marshes.
  14. If in this second month of winter, the rituals of summer were enacted, the land would experience drought. Fog and mist would come; thunder would be heard out of season. If the rituals of autumn were enacted, there would be great rains and warfare. If the rituals of spring were enacted, the rivers and springs would dry up, insects would cause destruction and the people suffer from ulcerous afflictions.
  15. The tree of the eleventh month is the hemlock.[vii]
  16. Its medicinal plant is elder.[viii]
  17. The messenger of Heaven is the raven.[ix]
  18. This month is governed by the Metropolitan Guards.

[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] I Ching, p.98 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.

[vii] The original texts refer to the jujube.

[viii] The addition of medicinal plants is purely my own- it is based on the actions of the plants and their resonance with the season. Elder is its own medicine chest with different properties ascribed to bark, root, leaf, flower and fruit. Stephen Buhner describes it best- “Among many indigenous and folk peoples it is said that the Elder tree “teaches the plants what to do and how to grow,” and that without its presence the local plant community will become confused. This function is contained within its common name, Elder, which comes from the Old English eldo meaning “old age.” The connotation of the word is that of wisdom and the ability to teach and help the young of the community, to shape their knowledge, behaviors, and relationships to other members of the community…Other indigenous peoples, recognizing the nature and function of keystone species, have said that “the trees are the teachers of the law.” See p.183 of The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth: White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing (2002)

[ix] 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. The raven is sacred within Native American culture and can be heard in the woods at this time.

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