Wheel of the Year - NORTH
NORTH - Winter
The Wheel of the British Year starts at October 31st, Samhain. Not only was this the beginning of
the Celtic New Year, but we know the Celts believed that the start of each new day began at sunset, so night precedes day. This is evidence that the Celts' beliefs connected to a much older
As night precedes day, so also Winter comes before Summer, for Winter starts with the seed. This ancient understanding of dark and light, night and day, emerges from the knowledge that light comes from darkness.
Night is when the body is healing and cleansing itself whilst we sleep. We cannot be active during the day without sleep to replenish us. Nature slumbers in her ‘night’ of Winter and is active in her ‘day’ of Summer. The Universe began in darkness before suns, moons and stars existed, and out of darkness came everything.
So the first quarter of the Wheel of the Year starts with Winter at Samhain, the Celtic New Year, and
encompasses November, December and January, transforming into the next quarter at Imbolc.
NORTH - Air
The element of Winter in the North is Air. Air is the first and last breath and through it, the first word was formed. Air is pure and wild and free. It brings with it the frequency and movement of sound and music.
Air is the animating principle of
Life. Air elevates, filling our bodies with its energy and connecting us to the highest places on earth, the mountaintops, where the air is purest and we are closest to the Spiritual
realms. Air regulates us between our fiery nature of passion and emotions and our airy nature or mental processes and the intellect. Through controlled breathing, we are able to work with
the element of Air and learn to make the most of this primary energy of Life and Spirit.
NORTH - Maiden
Here we meet the Goddess in Her aspect as Maiden. Maidenhood is the first phase of female development, when not yet fulfilling feminine potential. The Maiden, like winter, holds Her power within; ‘potential’ not yet realised. Like the acorn under the soil which contains the potential of a great oak within it, so the Maiden holds the potential of the Goddess-to-be as potent Bride, fertile Mother and Wise Elder. It is all there, just not yet realised.
The Maiden appears in Her ‘landscape’ aspect throughout myth and fairy-tale, as ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping
Beauty’. Even their names are descriptions of the Earth in a Winter landscape. Both these characters fall into a deep slumber (Winter) to be woken by a prince (Shaman), and
then become ’The Bride’ (Spring in the East), the next aspect of the Goddess in the Wheel. These tales are hiding Shamanic knowledge of the Goddess and The Land.
In the Four Branches, the Maiden Goddess is portrayed by Rhiannon, whose name means ‘Maiden’, and Goewin, the
lap-maiden of Math. Rhiannon is the only Goddess archetype who is also portrayed as Bride, Mother and Wise Woman, thus completing the Goddess cycle. Other Maiden Goddesses found in the
texts include Olwen and Creiddylad, both from the tale of ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ also in the Mabinogion, a tale believed to be about 100 years older than the Four Branches. The Maiden sits
opposite the Mother on the wheel, and they are complimentary to each other.
NORTH - Potential, dormant, hidden, possibility, embryonic
In the North and the season of Winter the Land is dormant and the potential for growth lies hidden within the land and under the snow. Like the Maiden, the full potential of transformation is already present, but the powerful spark of fire and the blood of the Bride in Spring has not yet transformed it into Life.
In this quarter, work with the energies of seeds and ideas. Know that everything is within your grasp, it just needs to be planted and nurtured. This is the place to work when you are at the beginning of a project or have the first glimpse of an idea. Here is the starting point. It's good to know that all is complete from the start. This is the magic of the microcosm and the macrocosm, this is how it is possible for a magnificent fully grown oak tree of 130 feet or 40 metres to exist inside an acorn.
NORTH - Horse, Hare, Swan
The animal archetypes associated with this direction may be Horse, Swan or Hare. All of these are associated with The Maiden. When working in the North myself, I frequently invoke Horse. Horse is intimately connected to Rhiannon as her totem animal and appears throughout her story in the First Branch. Britain has strong ancient tribal horse connections, testified by the Uffington White Horse chalk figure.
When invoking this energy, I tend to visualise a white Exmoor pony because it is most similar to the kind of animal our ancestors would have known. The white Horse that stands in my North has a long mane and tail, like a Wind Horse. It carries my questions and requests to the Other-worlds. In Tibetan Shamanism, the Wind Horse stands at the Centre of the Wheel of the directions. It carries the ‘Wish-fulfilling jewel of enlightenment’ and takes our prayers to the heavens.
Hare is white in winter and brown in summer. The ancient Welsh tale of Saint Melangell is about a maiden and Hare. She protects the Hare, founds a sanctuary to God and preserves her maidenhood through her determination. Hare is intimately associated with the Maiden and the Moon. Hare is a strong feminine archetype. Hare is associated with having the strongest connection with humans, he speaks on our behalf with the beings of Spirit. As a symbol of fertility, Hare is like the acorn under the winter landscape, representing the seed, the conception of something to be born.
Swan is associated with maidens too. The Irish Lir (Llyr) has a wife who turns his children into swans, and
their sister, the maiden, works to transform them back. Swan connects us to two elements, Air and Water. Swan represents fidelity and compassion, purity, beauty and truth.
There are no hard and fast rules about which animal archetypes you must invoke in each quarter. Invoke whichever animal archetype you feel sits well in each of the directions for you.