The Diviner's Tide: This Folk Witch's Winter Ways

The Diviner’s Tide
This Folk Witch's Winter Ways

The land stretches even under the stiff soil; can’t you hear her great sigh?  Restless in the dark cold earth, undulating with the change of the tides.  It smells like rain and damp earth outside; a little sweet and tangy where the pines and spruce needles are falling; muddy and dank where the birch leaves decay in the puddles.  The sun rises just before 8am and sets just before 5pm.  Crows caw and huddle in mass murders along the grass, picking it apart to forage for beetles and worms.  I do not love winter.  I am a daughter of sun and spring and warm green. Miss me with this bitter noise, I want my sunlight back.  Such a boring, lifeless time, with nowhere to go, nothing to do and worry as a constant companion.

Back before the pandemic, in the long, long ago, I had written a little bit about my changing warmth towards the winter holidays. I wrote a bit on apples, eggs, wassailing, divination and opening my mind to the secular folk magics of the season.  I maintain that Christmas is a garbage holiday; I still don’t like what it brings out of people, how it ravages relationships and brings financial misery to so many poor people.  But I have been able to find my peace with the season by ignoring Christmas itself and focusing on the traditions of magic that appear between Hag’s Night, the Halcyon Days, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany.  These are diviners' days, but then again… aren’t all of the holy days of the calendar used for divination… and I've taken a particular interest in reinterpreting Winter’s-tide and all that comes with it as a holiday of divination and home protection.

Cedar "rose" cones that were cured with olibanum oil and cinnamon for about 7 months.

And so, I set aside the notion of presents and stockings and trees and bring out the folk magic; the foods of prediction, the yule-candles and strings of cranberry garland.  I turn my face away from the celebration of a miracle that I don’t believe in and turn my face towards the miracle of the great god some call the Sun.  With the rise of the Sun’s renewal comes an awakening of the land, a stirring in the fruit trees, a weakening in the frost.  The Sun is the old god, you know.  The herald of evolution, the balancer of our world, he who sustains us always and consumes us in time… All these sabbats are his, and yet, what time do we yearn for his power more than winter?  It brings me peace of mind to take the time to find a place of joy-- a space to live in the moment and appreciate the temporary nature of all that surrounds us, and bringing magic into any and every aspect of life has been a therapeutic way to cope with life and death and the things in between.

The Yule Candle

When the Hag’s Night begins, I begin my Diviner’s Days; prepping my home to let the spirits make their changes, focusing on feeding my household deities and the domestic spirits who dwell with me.  This has now become my time to perform daily and nightly offerings of service to the spirits of the land, the dead and the living.  Why?  Because you have to find and make meaning in life, you have to strive to finding ways to move your mind in all directions, because atrophy is the end.  I do this by attuning myself to the constancy of the changing seasons, filling the seasons with spiritual expression.  What does this look like?  It looks like the daily lighting of the Yule candle and the sharing of meals with the dead; giving apotropaic charms and sharing fortune-dinners with the living; drinking, caroling, speaking to the land.

Winter Solstice/Yuletide

“The wish that is spoken at Yuletide
shall not be crossed nor yet denied.”

Also called St. Thomas Night or Yule, I call it Midwinter or Long Night.  This is when the Sun seems to have the least rulership over the land, and with the darkness rises the otherworldly things who love to haunt cold and dark spaces.  I honor this darkness, and light a candle from sundown to sun up; for luck, for protection, for the honor of the Sun, the great Luminary. Some practices that have found their way into my Midwinter:

  • Leave a heap of flour and a little ale or wine outside for the passing fairies, witches and spirits, and a small bowl of porridge by the doorway or fireplace for the household entities who watch over the dwelling.  Give them a warm place to be honored by the fire, and keep them happy.
  • Bring a sprig of holly into the home and hang beside the door.  For every berry that withers and drops before New Year, a bit of luck will go with it.
  • With a partner, cut a large apple in two; whoever gets the larger half, or, counts the most seeds in their half, has good luck and should make a wish while eating the apple.


"gilded nutmeg"- for good fortune and health.

I don’t do much with Christmas; magic didn’t seed in this holiday and folk charms were not part of my family way for this holiday-- no mistletoe hung over our door, no taboos against ivy and yew; it was all about gifts, stress and awkward feelings, and honestly, that’s all Christmas is to me.  Luckily, my in-laws have long supported my pagan ways, and this Christmas we will be focusing on crafts, not gifts.  I look forward to stringing cranberries and popcorn, drying orange and apple slices, and caroling around the blue spruce in the yard while the kids and I decorate it and take joy in being together.  I have managed to squeeze some magic into Christmas where there once only stood boredom and consumerism:

  • Baking boar’s bread (a loaf in the shape of a boar) -- this one is brand new to me and was introduced to me by a sister-in-the-craft who has been teaching me how to bake.  Thanks Meryl!
  • Give “gilded” nutmegs on strings to the kids. These nutmegs were supposed to give good luck and blessings to those who were gifted them. I use gilding leaf, and string them on red thread so it can be worn or hung from trees as an ornament or talisman.

  • Leave a cup of tea and a saucer for the dead on Christmas eve to drink.
  • Set a glass of water outside of your window on Christmas day.  When it freezes over, portents of the future will form shapes in the ice.

New Year’s Eve

 On New Year's Eve, I divine the way ahead and make merriment-- after all, in my culture, New Years is a big deal and a second chance for us all, and despite its secular nature it’s actually fairly spiritual.  When we celebrate New Year’s, at least where I’m from, there is really a magic to it.  I can’t count now many superstitions I grew up with about needing to bathe on NYE, eating the right food, opening the doors before midnight to let the evil out and closing them before the last stroke to keep the good tidings in, and most importantly, sealing the magic with a kiss.  Fireworks are a modern luck omen; watching them go off at midnight and singing in good cheer is like some national ritual of renewal and relief.  You drink libations that open the heart, sing a song of incantation (Auld Lang Syne) that binds feelings of love and community between peoples, and play little games that spawn curiosity and good-will.  I wish we'd make magic a more prominent perspective for this time of year, as a country.  There is a power to the cheer and expectations of this season that make for a healthy brew of optimism and mysticism.  We should channel this into reviving divination as a normal part of Winterside ritual and celebration.
                Over the last decade, I’ve introduced all kinds of folk charms into my New Year’s Eve and Day celebrations; ones that have crept in as I’ve made new friends, as I’ve read new books, as I’ve walked with new spirits, maybe some of them will speak to you and your work:

  • On New Year's Eve, place a horseshoe under your pillow to have prophetic dreams.
  • Place a spring of young green ivy in a dish of water on New Year’s Eve.  If it wilts before epiphany, bad luck is coming, but if it remains green, good luck will grow.
  • Holly leaves are used in telling fortunes.  Ask a question out loud as you hold a multi-pointed holly leaf. Follow from point to point using this counting rhyme: "This year, next year, now, never."
  • Remove all evergreens after New Year’s and burn them on Epiphany, to warm the fields and honor the death of the evergreen gods.
  • On New Year’s Day, cut an apple in two and whoever eats the bigger half will have better luck.
  • Money left on a windowsill on New Year’s Eve will bring fortune and good luck to the keeper.


Now, I know it seems odd, but ever since my, ehem, epiphany with the Mother of Apples.  I have become enamored with this tide as my moment to honor the orchard; a realm in which I do a lot of my work year-round.  Does sound counterintuitive since there are no blossoms, greens or fruit on the tree, but it’s sort of perfect for me; the apple trees always have a few decaying remnants on their boughs; fermented by frost and time, swinging stubbornly on brittle black branches.  There is the power of life deep beneath this layer of death, and it’s in this green heart I find a connection.  She’s sleepy, and wants coaxing.  I hear it…

Washington is known for our vast array of apple trees and variety of the malus fruits, and so fruit-bearing trees-- especially apples-- play a unique and deeply spiritual role in my practice as a witch.  It is in the orchard one finds so much ripening life and rotting death.  It is in the orchards I find my favorite meadow-spirits, and it is along the pomme trellis hedges I wander to and from worlds on occasion.  Why the apple?  It’s like a heart.  It’s this trophy of the land, this beautiful, symmetrical, useful entity that has traveled the world bringing endless joy and nurturing. Mater Malus has a sweet and spicy smell when she holds you, and is ever warm and yielding.  I think I’m in love.  I think she reciprocates.

Because I work with apples so regularly in my witching and because they are symbolic of the Witch Queen herself as she moves through the seasons changing shapes, I find a spiritual center in the high grass of the orchards.  And so, what is typically a Holy day for Christians, has become my own personal day of exploration of personal gnosis, meditating on the power of this liminal god who has long grown with me and long helped me grow.

I take those old charms to heart and put them to work for me as a witch; the Apple Mother calls on me to sing, to sacrifice, to warm her branches and shake the rot from her roots.  She calls on me to awaken the land with song, circle, cider and service:

  • Take all the Yuletide greens from the home and burn them in the bonfire outside, to purify the garden.
  • Sprinkle the ashes of the Yule log around the orchard for blessing and to drive away impure or restless spirits.
  • Shake the frost and rot off the apple trees while imploring them to give you good fruit come summer.
  • Place lucky stones on the branches of the orchard trees to encourage a bountiful year.
  • Christian folk magicians may mark their doors in three crosses to banish other witches (at least, those with evil intent).
  • Pour warmed cider or good ale at the roots of the apple trees in thanks, and to encourage them to grow.  A few sun-wheel cakes go a long way in sweetening up relations between witches and apple gods.

“Oh, here we go a-wassailing among the leaves so green

and here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen--

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too,

and god bless you and send you a happy New Year,

the god send you a happy New Year.”

1 comment

  1. What lovely traditions and rituals! I too use to see Christmas as nothing more than a time for consumerism and pointless stress. But now that I am researching pagan origins and folk traditions, I look forward to try to make it more spiritual for me. Thank you for such an inspiring post!


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