One Christmas Eve when I was a kid, we had a deep snowfall just in time for the Big Day. After dark, our family took a walk around the neighbourhood to admire the holiday lights. On every tree and shrub, puffs of fluffy white icing were illuminated from within, creating a wondrous fairyland of softly glowing, ethereal colour and light. I don’t recall such a perfect and perfectly-timed snowfall happening since, so it stays in my memory as a truly charmed experience.
In this part of the world – and probably in many, many others – we don’t get the snowfalls we used to. Oh yes, we still get a couple of good wallops a year, but you can no longer count on snow for Christmas – or for much of the winter. I can usually get away with wearing shoes or sneakers (and a light jacket; my friends and family think I’m crazy) all season long!
I love snow. I used to ski on it and make angels in it. I adore watching the gentle drift of a silent snowfall on a lazy afternoon, and the crunch it makes underfoot is delightful. I admire how snow muffles sound in a sleeping forest, and the colours of a shadowed snowdrift are many: pale blue, lavender, indigo, slate. I look at snow closely to pick out the miracle of one-of-a-kind flakes. I’ve been known to collect and bottle snow as a magickal winter talisman.
Water and snow possess feminine energy and are associated with healing, cleansing, purification and transformation. Snow is the insulating blanket of winter’s dark slumber which inevitably gives way to light, fertility and new life. This could be the reason so many ancient winter deities are female.
Boreas is the Greek god of the cold north wind (hence: boreal) and the bringer of winter. His daughter, Chione, is the goddess of snow.
Hulda, Hlodyn or Frau Holle is a Scandinavian/Germanic woodland winter spirit whose feast day is December 25. Sometimes appearing as a young, fertile maiden and sometimes as a toothless crone, she holds dominion over the coldest, darkest months. Her symbols are the evergreens which appear around Yule, including holly and mistletoe, and she is associated with women and the domestic tasks performed around the hearth in winter such as spinning, weaving and sewing. Her connection with snow comes from Norse mythology; snow is said to be the white feathers which fall to earth when Hulda shakes out her mattress.
Morana is the Slavic goddess of winter and death. When she arrives in the guise of an ugly hag, she is greeted with fear. (For those who aren’t afraid, however, she takes the form of a beautiful young girl.) Her departure at the spring equinox is still celebrated with song, processions and feasting.
Snow, like water, is considered yin, or feminine, in Japan. The Yuki-onna is a terrifying, mountain-dwelling female snow spirit whose pale, almost translucent skin and white kimono allow her to blend into the wintry landscape. Able to transform into a cloud of mist and float across the snow, she preys upon hapless travelers with her icy breath, or leads them astray to tumble down valley slopes. She also tries, through the use of various tricks, to steal children away into the snowy night.
In Gaelic mythology, the Cailleach is a weather deity who rules the land between Samhain (October 31-November 1) and Beltane (May 1). A hag whose staff freezes the ground, she is known as the bringer of storms. On February 1, when the land is still deep in snow, the Cailleach ventures out to gather firewood. If the day is fine, it means she’s able to collect lots of wood to keep her warm, so the winter will last longer. If the day is foul, she’s still asleep and unable to find wood, meaning spring will soon arrive. (This legend is probably the origin of Groundhog Day.)
Harnessing Snow Power
The conditions in which snow is collected are thought to affect its qualities: a raging blizzard gives it high energy and power; a gentle snowfall imbues a quiet, peaceful calm. Whether kept frozen or left to melt, snow water is a powerful element. Here are a few ways to use snow’s power:
• Be a kid again and make a snow angel. When the seasonal blues are getting you down, bundle up, get outside and snow angel the heck out of Mean Ol’ Man (or Woman) Winter!
• Draw a sigil in the snow anywhere you wish to evoke power or mark your intent; a symbol drawn in melting snow helps banish or release negativity.
• Before driving in dangerous winter conditions, sketch a safe travel bindrune on your car’s frosty windshield.
• A snowman is an oversized poppet – a doll-like symbol that can protect your home. Build one in your garden, at the border of your property or near your front door as a household guardian. (Don’t forget to dress him up!) Even a tiny one set on a fence or wall is a magickal way to harness snow’s sheltering power.
• Freeze a negative thought, emotion or situation in its tracks by writing its name in the snow.
• Pack up frustration, stress or worry into a snowball and throw it far away! (Just don’t aim at anyone.)
• Make a snölykta, a traditional Scandinavian snow lantern – a pyramid of snowballs into which a light is inserted.
• Symbolically cleanse your body or wake it up with a rubbing of fresh-fallen snow (brrr!).
• Take a walk in the woods during a gentle snowfall or after a storm. In the quiet tranquility, listen carefully to what the whispering trees have to tell you. I always take a pocket of wild bird seed with me for our winged friends; feeding birds from the hand is a beautiful experience!
• If you don’t have access to snow, carry or wear a piece of snow quartz. This milky white quartz with microscopic water bubbles is associated with dispelling negativity and destroying boundaries, improving clarity of mind, and fulfilling hopes and dreams. With its soft, feminine energy and yin-yang balancing properties, snow quartz is said to help thaw icy relationships.
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