Building Relationship with North, Earth, and Your Ancestors
On the sacred wheel, the North encompasses the realm of earth, winter, death, rebirth, and your ancestors. The North is the still and sacred portal where we’re allowed to break down and shed to rebuild for a new cycle. It is the seat of deep wisdom where the ancestral knowledge from all of those who’ve come before you resides. The North encompasses endings, new beginnings, and the space in between.
I’ve been wanting to dedicate a post to each of the four elements and decided that honoring them through the cardinal directions on our seasonal wheel throughout the year would be the most fluid and meaningful way to do so. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re amidst winter, so it’s the ideal time to dive into the themes of the North and the element of earth. I will explore the realm of the East and the element of air at Springtime, South and the element of fire at summertime, and West and the element of water in the autumn.
In this post, we’ll explore the wisdom of the North and all that it encompasses. You’ll also learn common correspondences and ways to build relationship with the North. Because this is the first in a series of posts, I’ll also spend some time discussing sacred circles and wheels in various cultures and how they’re used with the directions and elements.
Listen to this episode here.
I started working with the cardinal directions in my practice regularly about five or six years ago, primarily as a way to cast a circle and create sacred space. My work with the wheel has evolved, and working with the directions and wheel has become an intrinsic part of my practice. I use the wheel as a tool to connect with the seasons, the cardinal directions, the elements, and all of the wisdom each section encompasses. Circles similar to the seasonal wheel used by many Celtic, Druidic, and Wiccan spiritual practices are sacred across many cultures and have a lot of overlap in meaning.
If you’d like a frame of reference for the sort of wheel I’ll be referring to throughout this share and series, you can find one in my book “Understanding the Wheel of the Year.” The wheel I created for the book shows each season’s color, direction, elemental, lunar, and zodiac alignments. If you don’t have the book, I’ve shared an image below, and if you’re listening, feel free to pause and look up this share on my blog.
It’s a common framework used by cultures worldwide, though you will find subtle differences from practice to practice. Let’s start there and look at how other cultures work with sacred wheels.
Sacred Wheels Across Cultures
The medicine wheel or sacred hoop is a tool and symbol used by many First Nations and Indigenous cultures from the land referred to as Canada and North America. Stone structures that have been used for ceremonial purposes dating back as early as 3200 BCE have been found in Canada. Though stone structure dates back far into the past, medicine wheels and sacred hoops are still alive today with many Indigenous people and communities. They can be used for ceremony, ritual, and to connect with the four directions, elements, animals, and more.
In Mongolian Cosmology, the ger often referred to as a yurt here in the West represents a sacred wheel. The ger is viewed as a microcosm, or a map, of the universe. Each direction has a unique significance related to who and what resides in that location and what takes place. For example, the entrance of the ger always faces North, the fire is always at the center, women sit on Eastside, and men on the West.
In yogic practices, the directions hold significance as well. It is not uncommon to face specific directions for specific asanas and meditations. There are myths, Gods, and Goddesses associated with each direction which each share insights about the significance of each direction in yogic philosophy. I’m always intrigued by the overlap in different cultures around common spiritual tools and symbols. Here, in an article from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait of Yoga International, he shares a bit about the direction of the North in Yogic tradition, “The North is determined by the polar star, the symbol of stability; it is the fixed goal that never wavers. It represents unshakable conviction.” I love this because it’s similar to my understanding and relationship with the North.
Of course, these are just little snippets of each of these sacred practices.
There are symbols and practices throughout Europe that use sacred wheels, although, as usual, with little historical reference. The sun cross or solar wheel, a circle with a cross in the middle, is a common symbol found throughout prehistoric Europe. However, even the name that was given to this symbol, the “sun cross,” is relatively new, which shows how little we truly know about its true significance. Between the sun cross and circular structures like Stonehenge and Woodhenge, it’s not difficult to see that wheels were sacred to many throughout Europe.
Today many practices like Wicca and Druidry use the wheel in different ways like connecting with the seasons, elements, cardinal directions, creating sacred space, and more. This is how I connect with the wheel in my practice and the lens through which I’ll be sharing from here.
Before we dive into the bulk of this share, I want to give you a little bit of a reference of my process for this share and how I intend to craft future shares in this series. The North is an important topic because it encompasses many other significant issues like the element of earth, Wintertime, our ancestors, and more. My goal with this share, and the future directions, is to give you a framework to begin building a relationship with the North and its many facets. Much of what I share will be from my personal experiences building a relationship with the North. As always, remember that your experiences may differ based on your cultural background and personal gnosis.
I’ve been spending a lot of time connecting with my local nature spirits and journeying about the topic for this post. This share has not come easily to me. I have a deep sense of reverence for the North and a feeling of not wanting to get it wrong. The North and the earth element are our sacred foundation and the home of our ancestors, and it feels relevant that I stress the importance and sacredness of the North.
Let’s begin exploring wisdom from the North.
The North is the cauldron of creation that encompasses death, birth, and the space between these two realms. It is the simultaneous end and beginning and the dark moon phase. I think our linear human minds sometimes struggle with this. We’re so used to endings and beginnings that a pause between the two, or the idea that endings and beginnings live in the same space, seems somewhat foreign. But, of course, we can always find glimpses of this in nature.
Even here in the desert, I find subtle reminders of the wisdom of the North and those in-between spaces. There’s an oleander plant I often notice on my walks. It seems to be always blooming. However, since around the time of the Winter Solstice, it’s dropped its flower and, as of recently, has formed tiny buds. I’ve enjoyed noticing how long the buds have been there, waiting, as the plant rebuilds and absorbs more nutrients to bloom again. I’ve used it as a bit of a marker for myself as I find myself in a similar space of rebuilding. It’s been a comforting reminder to pay more attention to plants in their death and “in-between” phases this winter season. People often ask how I connect with the seasons being in the desert, and I’m here to tell you that the seasons are very much alive, even in the desert, albeit on a smaller scale.
Wintertime, the season of the North, also coincides with our shift into Capricorn season. It makes my heart sing when these seasons overlap so perfectly. Capricorn is a cardinal earth sign and corresponds with the planet of Saturn. The cardinal earthy energy signals a time to build a solid foundation upon which we can build. The Saturn correspondence invites in structure. These themes fit perfectly into the realm of the North and the element of earth.
Understanding what tools you need to build a strong foundation requires time and introspection. I’d say there’s even a thread of shadow work that weaves through this space. To create a solid foundation, you’ll need to take stock of what’s working and what’s not working in your life, assess where you need to set different boundaries and notice where you may need to ask for help or call in reinforcements. Deep processing, shedding, and collecting happen in the North.
Your body and physical wellbeing correspond with the North and this season as well. You are the earth of the North. We often forget that our bodies are nature itself. This space is an invitation to notice how you’re tending to your body or your physical foundation. The North is where we address the physical body’s needs, so you feel safe and supported during this incarnation. The earth and all its inhabitants live within the realm of the North. Everything comes from the earth and will decompose back into the earth. The earth is the foundation for all life.
This is where your ancestors come in. You have centuries of ancestral knowledge living within your blood, bones, and DNA. Outside of your physical body, there’s ancestral knowledge within the soil, stones, and water as well. Of course, not all of our ancestors have left positive influences that will be for you to parse out, work with, and hea. But there’s wisdom and learning nonetheless. On a very physical level, the earth below your feet holds the wisdom of every ancestor who’s come before you. When you connect with the power of the North, you connect with this wisdom and knowledge.
We often think of connecting with those on the other side as somewhere outside of us or up in a heaven of sorts. While it may be that the spirits of our ancestors are in a different realm, their blood, bones, and all of the wisdom therein have been absorbed back into the earth. This is why we connect with the ancestors in the earth and the wisdom of the North on a very physical level. That is where their wisdom lives.
Are you’re starting to see and feel the layers of this sacred space emerge?
Correspondences of the North
You could probably pick up on quite a few correspondences from what I shared above. Here are a few more common energetic connections for the North. A quick note before I dive in, as I shared earlier, the cardinal directions and the elements are spiritual practices that show up across cultures. It’s also important to keep in mind that you may have unique connections to the directions and their correspondences. Suppose the way you connect with each direction varies from what I share here. That is normal and certainly not a reason to discount your connections or mine, whether it be from another culture or a personal connection.
Correspondences for the North
Time of day: Midnight
Moon Phase: Dark moon
Colors: black, brown, green, white
Animal: bear or any other earthy animal you connect to the North
Other: dirt, stones, plants, bones, clay
Working with corresponding tools is one way to help honor and connect with the energy associated with the North. Tools and symbols can draw our awareness to where we are trying to focus. I will also share ways to use these correspondences in the following section.
3 Ways to Build Relationship with the North
Now my favorite section! You hear me say this often because it’s been so true for my practice. For there to be a connection or learning to happen, there must be relationship. So before any deep work can be done within the North and its many corresponding energies, I encourage you to build a relationship with the North.
Understanding each direction on the wheel has far less to do with what I share here and much more to do with how you experience them.
There are so many ways to begin building a relationship with the North and the earth, and I find it is a beautiful starting point because it is a place of foundations. The North is the infrastructure for the rest of the wheel and your spiritual practice and an ever-present touchpoint you can come back to at any time to feel supported and to tap into a deep well of wisdom. That said, there are many who also like to start in the East as it is a place of new beginnings. For example, when I cast a circle, I begin with the East and end with the North. I’ll leave it up to you, but in my opinion, there are no strict rules about this, especially when deciding where to begin forming a deeper relationship.
If you are looking for more personal guidance, as I mentioned earlier in this share, I am offering my “Journey to the Ancestors,” which will provide a more robust look at connecting with the North with even more tools, including journal prompts a card spread, and guided journey meditation.
Here we’ll focus on connecting with the earth and your local natural environment, tuning into your physical body, and journeying or meditating on the North.
1. Connecting with the earth
Because the North encompasses the element of earth, connecting with the earth is a powerful portal to experience the North and its wisdom. There are so many ways to connect with the earth, and you likely already have some beautiful practices to help you do this. For me, the most powerful way I’ve found to connect with the earth is through regular connection with my natural environment. I do this by going on regular walking meditations, usually 15-30 minutes 4-5 times a week. As always, I encourage you to try whatever feels like a doable and sustainable amount of time for you and your unique schedule.
When I walk, I try to focus my full attention on the environment around me. I say try because, just like sitting meditation, my mind tries to remind me of all of my to-do’s and interject with other random thoughts. To help me stay present and aware, I have a process to become more engrossed in my surroundings. I do this by noticing the temperature, the speed of the wind, the warmth and location of the sun, how the ground feels beneath my feet, how the air feels in my mouth and lungs, varying sounds of the animals, and any changes in different trees and plants.
I’ve found that connecting with nature regularly and intentionally creates a very natural pathway to forming a deep relationship with the earth and your environment. You’ll soon see patterns and cycles of death and rebirth all around you, perhaps in ways that you hadn’t previously noticed. You’ll begin to feel more connected to the plants, animals, and soil. These relationships can then initiate a more profound unfolding and help you to form a deeper relationship with the element of earth, your ancestors, and the realm of the North.
2. Connecting with the physical body
Another way I enjoy connecting with the realm of the North and the element of earth is by focusing on my physical body. Your body is a deep well of wisdom. Sometimes we discount this wisdom, especially when our physical bodies do not feel or perform the way we want them to or think they should.
The North reminds us that the body is a living vessel of cyclical wisdom, just like nature. Just like the oleander plant I mentioned earlier, you are not intended to bloom at all times either, nor are you intended to be a picture of perfect health at all times. Like nature, our bodies encounter seasons of sickness, decay, and growth. There is not one stage that is more spiritual than another, and you are not less spiritual if your body or mind experiences temporary or long-term illness. Have you ever looked at a tree losing its leaves and thought, “what a stupid tree? It must not have absorbed enough of the right kind of nutrients. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be losing its leaves.” I gather you probably haven’t, but how often have you had thoughts like this about yourself or another person?
It might seem like an unusual concept to build a relationship with your body, the very vessel you reside in, but I think, much like the earth, it’s something we often take for granted. Our bodies always give us signs and nudges about what we need and don’t need, but we don’t always listen. When you permit yourself to connect with the body more regularly, you create a pathway to build a relationship with it and learn from its wisdom.
Connecting with my body in a very intentional way is something I usually do before any meditation. You can add another layer of energy to this practice by facing North for a body meditation, either lying down with your head pointing towards the North or by sitting up and facing the North. I like to start at my feet and work my way up through the body. I try to notice each area, how it feels, and what the energy of each space is bringing up.
I’ll never forget when I started doing this. It was a suggestion from my now mentor, Robin Afinowich, years ago when I saw her for energy work. I remember sitting in meditation, focusing on my body, and noticing that I had a lot of pain in my body that I was unaware of and had become completely used to. I began breathing into these spaces and found that the pain would slowly dissipate as I noticed it, allowed it, and breathed.
My body had been trying to communicate with me through physical pain for who knows how long, and it wasn’t until I sat down and really felt into my body that I even noticed it! I think a lot of us become accustomed to certain sensations so much so that we don’t even notice when our body is trying to tell us it’s time to pause or try something different. I’d also like to point out that I’m 100% not implying here that meditation can be a cure-all for all physical ailments. Nope, sometimes the sensations you tune into may indicate that it’s time to see a doctor. But, in this instance, it helped me draw my attention back to my body to start using some tools to tend to my nervous system and body in ways that I previously hadn’t been doing.
The wisdom from the North here is that when we tune into the body, it will often tell us what it needs to feel better supported. Sometimes this looks like allowing more time for rest, eating nourishing foods, moving the body more, or reaching out for support from a doctor. Our bodies are wise beyond what our human brains can even fathom.
If you’d like to explore a body-focused meditation, my “Meditate with the Moon” guided meditation package offers a body scan meditation for the dark moon phase that is a great way to tune into your body and connect with the North.
3. Journeying and meditation
Another way to deepen your relationship is to journey to the North or meditate on the North. This can be a really powerful way to deepen your relationship with the North. The previous invitations can also help pave the way to connecting through meditation and journeying. This technique can be especially helpful when you want to connect with your ancestors.
First, a bit about meditation vs. journeying, because they are different and often interchangeably, even by myself. I’ve mentioned journeying here in this space, but I haven’t spent much time going into detail about what it is.
There are likely others who will have a different opinion than I do, but these are my thoughts. I think of meditation as an umbrella term for training the mind to be more present and aware. However, there are many different kinds of meditation. I think of journeying as one kind of meditation. Journeying is akin to astral travel in that you focus your awareness on journeying to somewhere in the astral plane. Though it can be like an out-of-body experience, it often occurs within the mind’s eye.
This is a brief introduction to journeying, I could spend an entire post on what journeying is and different techniques, and I probably will someday. I think the best place to get started when wanting to learn how to journey is to meditate regularly and begin building your anchor point or the location within the astral realm that’s your home. The better you visualize and hold the visualization, the more natural journeying will come to you over time. You can also get a taste for journeying in my free guided mediation to meet your spirit guides. That’s a free offering for joining my email list, which you can find here. Or join me in my monthly journey, which this month is to your Ancestors in the North.
If journeying is a part of your practice, I encourage you to try this method for connecting with the North. If journeying is new to you, I encourage you to try a meditation on the North. There’s still deep wisdom there as well. To do a meditation to the North, I’d invite you to bring in some physical elements representing the North, like a black/brown candle or a stone, and to face the North. I’d also suggest stating aloud or in your mind that you desire to connect with the North. Then, close your eyes, connect with your breath and body and see where your mind takes you. How do you feel, what do you see in your mind’s eye, and do any messages come through? This may take more than one go, and that’s okay. Remember, building a relationship takes time.
Meditating or journeying to the North can be a powerful tool when you need wisdom around matters of the North, like death, birth, the physical body, and ancestral healing.
I hope in reading this you already feel more connected with the North and all its wisdom and that it’s encouraged you to start building a deeper relationship with this “space.” Getting this share out feels like a birth for me. It took me a long time to gather my thoughts around this big topic, so I hope you enjoyed it! I plan to explore the East around the equinox when our wheel shifts to the Spring.
The Ger and the Sacred Circle: http://buryatmongol.org/a-course-in-mongolian-shamanism/mongolian-cosmology/the-ger-and-the-sacred-circle/
Four Elements, Four Directions: Is that Celtic or Druidic:
The Significance of the four directions in practice:
Lakota Medicine Wheel:
Categorised in: Cassie Uhl, Dark moon, Elements, Rituals, Seasonal magick, Symbolism, Witchcraft, Yule
Cassie Uhl is the author of five books and two card decks, an artist, intuitive energy healer, and death doula. Her lineage and practices are rooted in pagan earth-based spiritual practices of Northern Europe. She approaches her work and clients with trauma-informed support through all phases of life. She currently resides on the land of the Myaamia people in so-called Indiana of the US.