3rd Month of Winter

  1. In the third 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 Lesser Cold, geese head north, magpies begin nest-building and wild turkeys call from the woods. In the period of Greater Cold, hens begin to lay again, birds of prey fly high and swiftly and the rivers and lakes are frozen within.[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 commands his leaders to conduct the Grand Exorcism. Sacrificial beasts are torn apart; the earthen ox is set out to lead away the cold qi. In this month, sacrifices are also made to the hills and streams and to the spirits of Heaven and Earth.
  10. In this month, orders are given to the Master of Fisheries to commence fishing. The Son of Heaven observes the first day of ice-fishing and offers the first fish caught that season to the ancestors. He then eats of this fish himself. The ice is strong and thick now; it is collected and brought to the ice-houses.
  11. The hexagram of this month is Lin, Approach. “The sage is inexhaustible in his readiness to teach mankind, and just as the earth is boundlessly wide, sustaining and caring for all creatures on it, so the sage sustains and cares for all people and excludes no part of humanity.”[vi]
  12. At this time, preparations are made for spring planting. The seeds of the five grains are brought forth from the storehouses; all tools are repaired and readied. The sun has journeyed through all its mansions; the moon has waxed and waned. The old year is ending, the new one is about to begin. Let nothing take the farmers from their preparations.
  13. The Son of Heaven commands the Master of Music to direct a concert of reed-pipes and flutes, thus ending the old year and heralding the approach of spring. The Superintendents of the Four Directions collect kindling and firewood for the sacred fires.
  14. In this month, the Son of Heaven meets with his leaders to discuss both the laws of the land and the seasonal ordinances. Assignments are made so that both the leaders and the people will provide sacrificial offerings in the coming year. “All people under the sky, within the nine provinces must, without exception, do their utmost to contribute to the sacrifices”[vii] to the Heaven and Earth, the spirits of the land, hills, forests and waters.
  15. If in the third month, the ordinances of autumn were observed, the white dews would come, shelled creatures would be misshapen and all peoples on the four frontiers would seek refuge. If the ordinances of spring were observed, women with child and the very young would fall ill, disease would wreak havoc and all would speak of ill fate. If the ordinances of summer were observed, floods would bring ruination, the snow would not fall and the cold would dissipate.
  16. The tree of the twelfth month is the oak.[viii]
  17. Its medicinal plant is teasel root.[ix]
  18. The messenger of Heaven is the cardinal.[x]
  19. This month governs the prisons.

[i] This reference is found in the Yueling.

[ii] While the Yueling refers to the god of the door (the same as in spring), this is a mistranslation of the character. In spring, the character is hu [door], in autumn men [gate]. This is consistent with the association of the Po with doors and Hun with gates hence the sacrificial offerings of lung and liver respectively.

[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.80. 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] Li chi, p.183

[viii] The original tree is the chestnut. The oak and its acorns also feed the ten thousand beings.

[ix] The addition of medicinal plants is purely my own- it is based on the actions of the plants and their resonance with the season. Teasel root supports jing.

[x] 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 cardinal is omnipresent and highly visible in this snowy month.

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