Of them all, the Winter Solstice, and all its concurrent holidays, may take the cake for contradictions. Here and now feast and famine join as one. The commerce of critters peaks through the last harvest as the land beneath our scritchy feets winds down. It’s a time of industry, inventory, revelry, and rationing all at once.
No time is more spiritual. No time is more superficial. No time is more giving. No time is more greedy. No time is more social. No time is more lonely. Ceaseless tidings of others’ comfort and joy can leave us feeling disconnected and deficient. Our own comforts and joys may trigger hangovers and regrets.
The nights are crisp and still, and ripe with mystery. The days are buzzy and cloying—equal parts festive and fucking inconvenient. We gather our loved ones close; we patch, batten down, and twinkle and feather up our nests; we utter protective prayers and spells; and we indulge in our last hurrahs as we prepare for the longest, harshest stretch of months in the year.
Astronomically, the solstices and equinoxes come from our orientation toward the sun—the ebbs and flows in our access to light and heat. Personal associations with these turning points vary widely depending on the latitude and local climate of your residence. The most common public imagery around them centers on Northern European climates, and breaks down if you live somewhere less seasonal, or less temperate.
I live in New England, so while all the snow and pine needles fit, the whole “Hark! The light returns!” part of the solstice doesn’t vibe for me. Winter can last anywhere from October through May in Massachusetts, but it usually doesn’t peak until January or February at the earliest. As the light returns, the cloud cover descends such that you can’t tell spring is coming, and buckets of ice and snow dump forth. This time of year, I know in my bones the season is only starting to get ideas.
Another method for connecting to these turning points is to correspond them to times of day, which we experience directly no matter what the weather’s doing. Spring is the dawn, summer’s high noon, autumn’s the evening, and winter’s the night. I’ve felt those “here comes the night” vibes hard each autumn, in SoCal, the Pacific Northwest, and beloved New England. It doesn’t matter what temperature the night is, or what the local flora have to say about it, come late-December, the night has arrived. Our solstice symbolism connects deeply to how the night feels and what it does.
With all that imagery in mind, I’ve cooked up a tarot spread for tempering your contradictions and claiming your place at the table of the night.
The Winter Solstice Tarot Spread
2. WARMTH: How best to warm it?
What within or about me has slowed, stilled, hardened, cooled, stagnated, or isolated past the point of comfort? What can I do to bring that person, quality, or pattern back into motion, softness, warmth, vitality, attention, care, or love?
3. HUNGER: What is hungry?
4. CARE: How best to feed it?
What or who within or about me isn’t getting enough resources, attention, or care? Show me a point of need. What can I do to help feed, witness, or care for this quality, need, or person?
5. SATIETY: What is sated and full?
6. JOY: How best to enjoy it?
What cups within or about me runneth over? How can I best appreciate, count, and partake of these good things?
7. QUIET: What is quiet and still?
8. STILLNESS: How best to sit with it?
What within or about me is in stillness, slowness, or peace? How can I hold my center to sit with this quality or pattern in peace, to witness what needs witnessing, and learn what needs learning from this moment?
9. MYSTERY: What is in mystery?
10. GNOSIS: How best to know it?
What within or about me retains its mystery in a fashion that I need on my radar? How can I sit with this mystery? How can I come to understand it? Tell me something I don’t know.
Note that knowing mystery in these last two cards could mean either recognizing mystery, i.e. acknowledging that you don’t know or understand something, or teasing apart mystery, i.e. puzzling out a tricky question and accessing some of its hidden secrets. Which side activates for you, the recognition or the teasing apart, will depend on your needs, goals, and context. It could be both at once.
You can direct this spread inward, towards contradictions and imbalances within your inner landscape, or outward towards relations with your friends, family, community, or society. Directed inward, it’s a potent tool for self-care, shadow work, and taking stock of what you have, what you need, and what you can give yourself. Directed outward, it explores accountability, community, sharing, care-taking, and boundary-setting.
This spread may veer deeply spiritual and philosophical, or it may stick to practical surface matters, depending on your most pressing needs. You may find your stillness and mystery cards singing O Magnum Mysterium, or they may speak to mundane stalemates and points of confusion. Pay attention to majors vs. minors and uprights vs. reversals. For instance, I’m fielding a lot of practical, worldly stressors at the moment. When I drew this spread for myself, I drew 70% minor cards—mostly pips and mostly reversed, with only a few majors.
This is not a lightweight spread, so watch out if you’re carrying a lot. This one has the capacity to cut to the quick and get raw. Its dominant tone is contemplative, but many of these tensions lend themselves to shadow work. You may wish to take each point on the star one day at a time. You may skip some points altogether. Modifications should do fine.
For something more light, relaxing, and festive, I recommend the Summer Solstice spread. It’s that time for the Southern hemisphere folks anyway, and since it’s R&R themed, it pairs quite well with the holidays at any latitude. You can use it to boost your rest & relaxation game any time of year. You may also enjoy the Self-love tarot spread directed towards self-care. There’s a whole write about about that in Eight Useful Tarot Spreads.
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