Winter and the Water element


I call on the North , the Water element, the Zhi – our Will to live, our ambition & courage. Water shows us how our life will unfold. It is Wisdom – the knowing of our bones. It is the time of greatest darkness turning into golden light. Welcome Water.

This is how I might invoke the Water element when casting a circle. I am Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner and a Witch. A few years ago, I started calling the Five elements and incorporating spiritual acupuncture points in ritual as a way to deepen my knowledge and practice of both. I also began teaching my coven mates in Circle of Cerridwen about TCM by doing rituals for each element during its appropriate season.

This post will focus on the Water element in Chinese Medicine. (For a general overview of the 5 elements, click here. For a chart of the 5 element associations, click here. And for a visual, here is a chart that shows the five element pentagram and how each element balances the others.)

Wait a minute – right before the Spring Equinox, I’m posting about Winter? I wanted to complete the circle, the wheel of the year from Spring to Winter. Life got in the way of me posting this a bit earlier than I had intended. Ok, let’s begin.

  • Close your eyes, picture the colors dark blue or black. Say the sound “Choooooo” (As in, “Chewie, we’re home.”) This is the healing sound for the Water element, which is associated with Winter in Chinese Medicine.

Winter is the most yin time of the year, the time of greatest stillness. It is the time of darkness turning into golden light. It’s when we plant the seeds or ideas that will sprout in the Spring. You can also think of it as navel-gazing time. Perhaps this is why at the end of the year, people reflect on their lives and figure out what they want to accomplish in the new one.

The Water element is also ruled by the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder. The colors associated with the Water element are dark blue and black. In Traditional Chinese Medicine terms, the Kidneys store the “Ming Men” or Life gate. They are in charge of our reproductive health, urination, bones, hair, teeth, and the balancing our yin and yang.

The spirit of the Water element is called Zhi and as Lorie Dechar explains, it is our “will to live, the unknowable mystery of quickening life . . . not the ego driven control of Western “willpower” 1  Winter and Spring are connected, of course:

“The character for zhi shows us the picture of the open bowl of the heart. Above it is the radical indicating a new green plant ascending upward from the depths of the dark earth toward the sunlight of heaven.” 2

How do we access this connection through acupuncture? I’ll discuss two points here: Kidney 24 and Bladder 64.

Kidney 24: “Spirit Burial Ground”

Kidney 24 can be used for cough, asthma and wheezing. It can also be used for vomiting and when someone has no pleasure in eating. I often use this point on women in their first trimester to help stop morning sickness. But Kidney 24 also has another function:

Kidney 24 from A Manual of Acupuncture by Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker
Kidney 24 from A Manual of Acupuncture by Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker

Kidney 24, is the point of resurrection, located at the level of the heart, two inches on either side of the midline. In stimulating this point, the healer calls the spirit back from its sleep in the underworld. 3

For this purpose, I have used Kidney 24 to help people who are living too much in their heads and not enough in their body. And I’ve used it to help ‘wake’ people up who are emotionally stuck or depressed. If Winter is when darkness turns into light, this point can guide people out of their own darkness.

Bladder 64 “Capital Bone”

This point, located on the outside of the foot, in front of (closer to the toe side) of the tuberosity – or bump – of the fifth metatarsal bone.

Bladder 64 can be used for splitting headache, nosebleed, dizziness, palpitations, manic-depression, and epilepsy. Wow, that’s a pretty useful point. In another sense, it can be used to tap into your inner reserves. I think of it as replenishing the candle if you’ve burnt it at both ends:

Bladder 64 from A Manual of Acupuncture by Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker
Bladder 64 from A Manual of Acupuncture by Deadman, Al-Khafaji and Baker

As the source point associated with the bladder official, Bl-64 can ground the entire course of the meridian and its associated functions. This is particularly important because the bladder official empowers access to our inner reserves . .  that provide access to the deepest level of each organ’s functional reserve of qi. 4


How do I use these points ritually?

Last year I put press tacks (tiny stick-on acupuncture needles) and/or an essential oil blend on myself and my coven mates at these points during ritual. I guided them through a meditation on the Kidney and Urinary Bladder channels. I also talked about the Zhi, our Will, as I mentioned above. The time of Water is the time when endings become beginnings, when dark turns into light.

Foods that are good for the Kidneys and Bladder are dark foods like black rice (also called “forbidden rice“) and dark berries and fruits. For “cakes and ale”, I made a yummy black rice cake recipe from here. I modified it with cinnamon which warms the Kidneys, and with blueberry instead of mango. An alternative would be Black rice salad with butternut squash and pomegranate seeds. I used pure Icelandic water for the “ale” during this ritual.

Salty is the flavor associated with them but, as with everything, moderation is key. This isn’t a license to add a lot of salt to everything you cook. (But if you crave salt, this may indicate an imbalance in the Kidney system.)

Winter is a time of reflection about how you want your life to unfold. What goals do you have for the new year? I like to think of them as goals rather than ‘resolutions’ because often people break resolutions and then feel bad about themselves. How can you make your goals a positive force of change in your life?

This January I embarked upon a year-long mentorship in New York and Maine studying Alchemical Healing with Lorie Dechar and Benjamin Fox. It started the weekend of the big blizzard that shut down parts of New York – I took the snowy above picture then. For me, the mentorship is about deepening my understanding of the more spiritual aspects of acupuncture and how to apply them to help people heal and thrive. Over the next year, watch this space for more insights about what I’ve learned.

You may also want to check out my posts on Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.

1Dechar, Lorie Eve, Five Spirits, Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing, p. 275
2 Dechar, Lorie Eve, p. 276
3 Dechar, Lorie Eve, p. 292

4 Jarrett, Lonny, The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine, p.420