The Wolf Month

As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens, as the old saying goes. January is a time of ice and snow, sleet and hail, bitter winds and biting rain. It is such a wild and threatening month that in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, January was called the Wul-manoth (‘wolf month’) and in Scots Gaelic it was faoilteach or faoilleach, which means both ‘wild’ and ‘wolf’. For the Lakota Sioux of the Eastern USA, the month of January was the period of ‘the hardship moon’, and the Germans once called it ‘the hard month’. [1] It was a cruel month for our ancestors, with short hours of daylight, frozen, unyielding ground, no fresh food, and the weather preventing both work and travel. It is still a hard month for wildlife, and for many creatures, especially small birds, finding enough food to survive takes up almost every hour of daylight.

In January, we are deep in the winter season of the Crone Goddess, who comes into her full power during the Twelve Days of Yule, accompanied by various spiteful winter spirits.  In some German speaking regions, in the spirit of Yuletide misrule, guisers dress up as the host of Perchta, the winter crone, in horned wooden masks with snouts and beaks, black sheepskins or hoods of badger or bear fur. They take part on in processions and ecstatic dances, blowing horns, clashing symbols and bells, threatening bad children and rewarding good ones. The Perchten run through the streets with glowing embers in their mouths, as if breathing fire. They rush into houses to ‘clean’ them and chase the shrieking children. The guisers claim the offerings which have been set out for Perchta.[2]  They appear alone or in groups, especially on three specific winter nights, called the ‘rough nights’ (the Eve of St. Nicholas, the Eve of the Winter Solstice and before Epiphany). They carry bells and other loud instruments to dispel the winter. It is believed that the quality and abundance of the next harvest, as well as the well-being of the people, are dependent on the performances of the Perchten.

Our modern calendar is based on the old Roman one, which ordered the months from January to December from about 700 BCE.  The Romans called the first month Januarius after the god Janus (‘Door’), [3] the two-faced god who simultaneously looked back to the past and forward to the future, and presided over all beginnings and endings, movement and change. [4] He was considered the initiator of all things, [5] and was worshipped not just at the new year, but at the beginning of any enterprise, such as the harvest and planting times, marriages, deaths and other commencements. In Rome, any rite or religious act began with an invocation of Janus first, and finished with an invocation to Vesta, the hearth goddess. [6]

Though the days are cold and dark, we passed the shortest day in December, with the rebirth of the Sun at Yule, and though we know that though January and February will be the coldest, wettest and windiest of the year, we can comfort ourselves that, inch by inch, minute by precious minute, the days are gradually getting longer. This is not really very noticeable until Imbolc, but it is happening. The Sun Child, born at Yule, is growing and gaining strength.

January is the time for the comfort of the hearth fire, warmth and hearty food, curtains shut tight against the cold and dark. A time to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the busy warmer months and let the direction of the coming year emerge. January brings a whole new year, yet to unfold, full of possibilities for the next twelve months. The rituals of January are concerned with setting the tone for the coming year with acts of sympathetic magic, banishing the baneful spirits of the darkest days, and waking up the land, ready for the return to work on it.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021

Illustration © Anna Franklin

[1] Martin P. Nilsson , Primitive Time-Reckoning, A Study in the Origins and First Development of the Art of Counting Time among the Primitive and Early Culture Peoples, Gleerup, 1920

[2] Max Dashu

[3] F. Altheim, History of Roman Religion, London, 1938

[4] Macrobius Saturnalia I 9 7:

[5] Macrobius. Saturnalia, I, 9, 16.

[6] Ovid Fasti I 173-4.


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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