Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Happy Winter Solstice, friends and witches! On this darkest day of the year, when the night rules the northern hemisphere, we light fires in hearths and wrap cold hands around warm mugs and take comfort in the closeness of loved ones.
But tonight we are asked to not fear the night and instead to welcome it, to thrill in its secrets, to swim in the depths of intuition, to listen to what stirs in our dark places and perhaps asks to be brought into the light.
This is also the turn of the seasons, a spoke on the wheel of the year. Tomorrow the northern hemisphere will tip back towards the sun, the days growing slowly longer once again. Tonight, we reflect on the autumn season behind us and what wisdom we have learned from the dying days. We also look forward to the returning sun through these cold months and what hidden things it may illuminate. So, while this may be the longest night of the year, it also holds within it a promise of light.
It felt right to me to focus on this aspect of the shifting dark tonight, so I offer this solstice spread to you in the hopes that it can help you dip into your intuition and find what asks to be brought forth, and what asks, for now, to stay shadowed.
WINTER SOLSTICE SPREAD
What lesson have I learned or what medicine have I received from this past season of fading light?
What lesson or what medicine does the coming season of winter hold for me as the light grows?
On this longest night of the year, what does the moon, the queen of intuition, want me to understand?
What has been hidden in the dark, or gestating there, that is ready to be brought forth into the light as the days grow longer?
Guidance for bringing this forth.
Possible outcome by the turn of the next season.
What has been hidden in the dark that is not yet ready for the sun, but asks to be seen only by me, for me to work on, to heal, to nourish?
Here’s my personal Winter Solstice reading.
XI The Woodward
Queen of Stones
XXI The World Tree
3 of Bows
King of Vessels
7 of Bows
6 of Arrows
What have I learned from the season coming to a close? The Woodward in the Wildwood Tarot corresponds with Strength in traditional decks, but in this version the artist, Will Worthington, brings a wilder quality to the card. The Woodward is dressed in furs and rags, his animal familiar the lynx at his side, the cup of the waters of life in one hand and a bloodied spear in the other. The Strength card often speaks to nonviolence, compassion, courage, taming the wild beast with a firm yet gentle touch. But here, that blood-tipped spear hints at battles past. It speaks to overcoming adversity and acknowledges that sometimes we have to defend ourselves, have to get our hands dirty, have to find the strength to confront difficult situations head-on. Strength is not all taming lions. Sometimes it’s pushing through tough times, facing fears, working yourself to the bone, protecting yourself, doing your goddamn best, fucking up and soldiering on, making hard decisions, eating your words, metaphorically cutting a b*itch, and doing it all with as much inner calm, grace, compassion, and alignment as humanly possible.
At the end of August, the day before the solar eclipse, my partner and I arrived in Portland to make our home here. We had no jobs, nowhere to live, very few possessions, and no friends, family, or connections (that we knew of). Since then, through hard work, stubbornness, creative thinking, luck, and a good bit of help from unexpected friends, we’ve created a home, found jobs (perhaps even careers), and have been welcomed into a beautiful community of friends. It was hard, though. It was incredibly exciting to build a life anew, and so many wonderful things happened in those autumn months that it’s easy to look back and forget how difficult it was, how frightening, how bone-achingly weary it made me at times. I think it’s fair to say my spear got a little bloodied. But in all that chaos and uncertainty, what kept me going, what kept me sane, was a hard-earned inner calm and faith in myself, and the steadfast bedrock of my relationship with my partner. And a whole lot of stubbornness. I certainly came to know a lot more about what Strength means to me.
What does the coming winter season have to teach me? The Queen of Stones (pentacles, coins, or discs in traditional systems) is all about connection to the earth, about protecting and cultivating her land and her home and her family. She’s pragmatic, steady, and wise. Here she is pictured as a cave bear, drawing forth her characteristics of strength and ferocity.
This is a welcome message for me, hinting at doing the work of deepening my connection to this new city I live in and the relationships I’m fostering here, and maybe also to finally getting my finances sorted out.
On this longest night, what is my intuition trying to tell me? I gasped when I pulled The World Tree in this position. This corresponds to The World in traditional systems, the final card in the major arcana, the completion of the Fool’s journey. This is completion, culmination, the closing of a major life cycle. It’s also unity through change, wholeness through difference. The tree pictured here contains all four seasons at once, and the labyrinth before it is the journey we’ve finally completed to arrive at the door. Past that door, another cycle will begin. I’ll be keeping the personal significance of this private, but let’s just say I got a major case of the feels with this pull.
Interestingly, perhaps fittingly, my Saturn return also just ended, two days before the solstice. And what a return it was. (I’m planning to write more about this soon, with a Saturn return spread to share.)
What is ready to be brought from the darkness into the light? In the 3 of Bows (corresponding to Wands), a figure stands between two unfinished bows, a third completed bow in one hand and the other raised. The Wildwood text instructs that this gesture is in blessing, but I can’t help but intuit a feeling of warning in the open hand, almost as if signaling the approaching viewer to halt, especially paired with the figure’s hooded visage. On her robes are two entwined snakes representing balance and harmony of opposites, and the path forks where she stands. This card traditionally speaks to planning, opportunity, vision, enterprise. It appears when you’re pursuing a passion and things are falling into place. I love this imagery because it complicates that reading. It does not show a straight path but a fork, and we stand at the threshold. Perhaps the figure with her shadowed eyes and raised hand asks us to pause before sprinting forward, to consider carefully our next steps as we work toward our goal. Our projects are underway, but important decisions still lie before us. The 3 of Bows is a moment of great potential and great excitement, and we must be sure to keep our pace steady and our vision clear so we don’t get carried away with ourselves.
For me personally, this speaks to the launching of this website and to my baby steps toward establishing a tarot practice in Portland. In a larger way, it applies to all of the ways I’m still forming my life in this new city, all of the exciting things that are in the works for me presently. Position 3 was The World Tree, the completion of a cycle. Position 4 is the 3 of Bows, a card that sits in the beginning stages of a process. And here, with beautiful symmetry, we return to that core truth at the center of the Tarot: when one cycle ends, another always begins.
Guidance for bringing this forth: The King of Vessels (cups in traditional decks) is all about emotional maturity, about feeling the feels but not letting them rule your whole being. It’s about staying responsibly in touch with intuition and leading through it. The King is the ruler of the suit of water in this patriarchal system the Tarot so often employs (gag, I’ll be writing plenty about that elsewhere, believe me). My distaste for patriarchy aside, the King provides guidance, and the King of Cups is my personal favorite iteration of that: ruling with a mature heart. The suit of Vessels, or cups, is the dominion of emotion, intuition, imagination, creativity, and the King is the responsible and balanced master of his domain. In Celtic symbolism, the heron pictured here is the gatekeeper of the world beyond, guiding souls to the next life. He tells me that the best way to move forward on the path initiated by the 3 of Bows is through staying in touch with that water realm, delving deep and being unafraid of the journey, staying honest with and supportive of myself, and striving for integrity throughout.
Possible outcome by the next turn of the seasons: The 7 of Bows in the Wildwood Tarot carries the keyword “Clearance.” This is one of the cases in which the Wildwood departs from the established meaning in traditional Tarot systems. In this imagery, we see six bows-in-progress leaned against an elder tree. On the ground, a seventh bow lies with loose string, worn out, and a bonfire in the background burns waste from the making of the new bows. This card speaks to the process of creation and to the continual necessity of clearing out the old to allow growth of the new. It’s about rethinking, relearning, and adapting to the challenges that always appear when pursuing our goals. It supports us in allowing what is no longer useful to fall away and return to the earth so we may focus on what works, what excites, what fuels. It encourages us to embrace the ever-turning cycle of renewal.
Looking at this line of the spread as a whole, Position 4 showed three bows while this position shows seven, signaling an advance along this path while at the same time reminding me that we are always works in progress, no matter what stage we’re at in our projects or our lives. Furthermore, notice the trees that feature in Positions 3 through 6. The image of a mature, gnarled tree begins with The World Tree and appears in the background of each of the proceeding cards. The continuity here is striking and, frankly, spooky. There’s something important happening here, a branch of The World Tree stretching into the future and calling me back to ponder cycles, spirals, seasons, the continual journey through the labyrinth as we learn, unlearn, relearn, grow, die, renew.
What asks to stay in the dark for now, to be seen only by me, to be worked on, healed, nourished? The 6 of Arrows: Transition. I won’t be sharing this one. The position asks to be held private, after all.
I sincerely hope that this spread serves any of you who use it, which can be done at any time surrounding the solstice, or any turn of the seasons with slight adaptation. Make it yours, personalize the positions, draw extra cards to flesh out position 7 and how you can privately nurture what that card reveals. If you do use it, I would love it if you let me know in the comments, through instagram, or through the contact tab of this website, if you’re comfortable doing so. I hope this longest night brings illumination. ♥