Season of the Witch

I’m always happy to celebrate the old New Year because it means that October is done. Don’t get me wrong–I love October and always have. But as a public Witch and a Wiccan priestess and a writer and all that jazz, October becomes a very demanding month.

Lots of people want to talk to a “real” Witch, even if they don’t know exactly what to say or how to say it. Case in point was an article in our free alt weekly, the Mountain Xpress. It appeared last week and it was written by the paper’s food editor. She was going for the foodie angle with three local Witches.

She was nice to talk to and the article turned out okay. But there were these odd things like she thought I wouldn’t drink coffee because I’m a Witch. She described my scarf (an orange and black keffiyah) in great detail as a Hallowe’en-themed scarf. Things like that, nonsensical things that had everything to do with a stereotype that persists in this season of the Witch.

We balance it every year–wearing “witch” hats for photos, while attending to the work that we do all year long. We are marrying people and burying them. We are counseling and creating rituals. We are honoring the Divines we serve, as we sew Hallowe’en costumes for our kids.

We are Witches all year long and I am always curiously relieved when the annual Season is finally over.

A Poem for Samhain



In the Forests of the Night, part 1

The boundaries were so frail that we parted them with our breath,
chanting the fierce sounds of old and drear goddesses,
names lost from time out of time.
This thing that we fancy separates us
from the spirits that stalk the corners
has been too long rent and
the vulnerable amongst us welcome
the company of this unseen yet wholesome host.
A fiddler is always a danger in these times.
The shrillness of the tone,
the scrape of bow across string is
as potent an act as striking fire from steel.
And yet I caused it to be done,
this silhouette of a fiddler above us in the shadows
of the balcony.
And when my eye
would drift past
the solemn altar to where our fiddler stood,

there were always a few more shadows
in that place of storage and disuse.
A fiddler at the ready
and two stand by.
A fiddler plays a ballad
and now there were five.
Two shadows neared the very edge
as though drawn to the tears and movement below.
Will they jump, I thought once.
And if they do, will they float down to the wooden floors
or crash as in life?
Or will they
descend on staircases as unseen as they,
making an entrance as a host of old,
greeting us as they came.

Copyright 2012 H. Byron Ballard
all rights reserved

Bread-and-Butter with My Ancestors

I got a couple of big projects done today and am now getting myself re-focused on my Samhain prep. There was also a little drama today about a little piece in the food section of our local alt weekly.

No matter.

The cat is sleeping on top of the printer, the soul cakes are on the cooling rack and I’m looking over the ritual for tomorrow night. Earlier today, I got a couple of warm loaves of bread at a local store. While I was baking this evening, I buttered a couple of slices and put them on my Ancestor altar.

Soft butter, terrific bread. I also opened a beer and left it nearby. And while I was inventing these little soul cakes for tomorrow, I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who lived down the hill from here. And about my grandmother, who lived in the grey house that is even closer.

I thought about them baking on wood stoves and what their lives must’ve been like when they got an electric stove and didn’t have to worry about kindling and wood for the stove. Were they happy or did they find the new stoves unsatisfactory–not getting hot enough or maybe getting too hot? I wondered if they burned the first batch of biscuits.

And I remembered to be grateful for all I have and for how easy my life is. Gratitude. All gratitude.


This is my great-grandmother with her mother.


To Sleep–Perchance to Dream

my bower at the herb conference

My clients, friends and co-religionists are reporting an onslaught of vivid dreams.  They are visiting with distant relatives and friends.  They are traveling to far-flung places. They are waking as tired as they were when they went to sleep the night before.

It is not unusual to have particularly vivid dreams in the months that precede the Winter Solstice.  It could be that it is physically darker then and it is easier to get to a deep dream state.

Or it might be that the veil between the worlds of matter and spirit is ragged-ass thin and all sorts of spiritual earwings get involved in our REM cycles.

It may also be that the world–even our fat First World–is fraught and complex right now and our brains are working things out when we are the least distracted.  Or it could be a bit of all of these, with a dash of other things I don’t even ken.

Mugwort is my herb-o-choice for dreams and dreaming.  I do a sachet pillow for the inside of the pillowcase and it seems to even out dreams–make the night terrors gentler and bring the dull dreams to a technicolor brilliance. Many of us work through things in our dreams and wake with our cuppa tea in the morning to discover that the sticky problem has a simple and elegant solution. Thanks, Sub-conscious! If you are having troubling dreams, I encourage a little sachet of mugwort.

But I also encourage the keeping of dream diaries–places to jot down those fragments of memory as you wake and see if you can spin them into a web of meaning. These are the times when the Ancestral voices have much to tell us–but we often need to have some quiet to hear them.

Speaking of the Dead

Last night, Accent on Books–my favorite indie bookstore–played host to me doing the Turnip Show, AKA the Ancient Secrets of Hallowe’en. Yes, I carved a turnip into a jack-o-lantern and a helpful young man had matches so we could light the wee candle. I talked about ghosts and Ancestors, about Irish-Anglo politics and the European Inquisitions. We even counted to 10 in Irish Gaeilge.

This afternoon was a different story, though it was about the Dead. I was grateful to be part of a truly interfaith panel for a conference at Lutheridge. We were asked to spend 3 minutes talking about our traditions and what our tradition’s customs are concerning healing and death work.

It was a terrific experience, including the drive down there on this lovely day. The audience consisted of music therapy professionals and we talked as colleagues about the needs of Earth religions-associated patients in those dark, intense hours.

There was a sweet and funny moment after I had spoken of the idea of Deity as plural and many-gendered. I referred to myself as a polytheist and a couple of speakers later, a Presbyterian pastor remarked–I don’t think I’ve ever been on a panel where I got to say “I am a monotheist.” We joked afterwards that we could have a radio show.

I kind of think that’s a good idea.

in which I paraphrase a psalm

I posted this on Facebook this morning, in honor of this rapidly-approaching Samhain season–Today is the day the Ancestors have made. Rejoice in it and be glad!

It’s a rip-off of Psalm 118, of course, but came to me as I meditated on the season and the day ahead. We are living in a place of such doubt and confusion, it seemed as if it was time to engage a different sort of energy.

Here in the US, we are again electing a president–one of the longest, most expensive and most annoying processes in the world. Since this decision is made on the first Tuesday of November, every four years we spend this solemn and sacred season in the midst of liars, frauds and idiots.

So, we must always find ways around the frustration and the fear, so that we can listen to our Ancestral voices and find our own ways to stay grounded and focused.

We’re in the midst of the debate mini-season now–a fashion show of desperation and inadequacy, as far as I can tell. The careful parsing of the weasel words from idea to idea–talking around major issues and never truly engaging on any one issue. It would be distressing except it is so expected. They have to be so careful that they don’t say something that will offend–who? The advertisers? The sponsors? Their corporate masters?

No way of knowing, really. But what we can know is that the harvest is in, the season of the Ancestors is upon us and we can anchor ourselves in the lives that came before ours, learning from the people who struggled more than we have and found ways to triumph within and in spite of their challenges and disappointments,

They can show us the way to stand strong and work hard, to find compassion for those less fortunate, to strive for something greater than ourselves.

Long day, friends. A long day in a long and frustrating season. Best we grasp for the joy we can, to share that with those we love, to comfort the stranger and practice radical hospitality.

Today is the day the Ancestors have made. Rejoice in it and be glad!

Women’s Herbal Conference–the Long Black Veil

I spent the weekend at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference where I taught a couple of classes and attended several taught by some wonderful teachers. I networked with new women, spent short but glorious time with old friends and tried to get some rest in between all the fun and learning.

The teachers mostly stay together in a large bunkhouse with a great room and kitchen. Yes, there are bunkbeds and there isn’t heat. We somehow manage to sleep on plastic camp mattresses and to stay warm–and even get up early enough to walk across the camp to have breakfast in the dining hall.

There is something rare and wonderful (and also sad) about being outside on a cool clear night, in a place where there is little ambient light. The stars! The stars! I live in a place where there’s too much “extra” light and the stars seem cold and distant. (And it’ll no doubt get worse as Asheville grows–will New Belgium be dark as night at night? Unlikely.)

I left before the conference ended because I had a commitment in town. The good-byes are always sad and sweet, knowing that I won’t see some of those women until this time next year and some I’ll never see again.

My first class was on Friday afternoon and it was called “The Long Black Veil,” It was the first time I’d presented it and was gratified that the people attending it seemed to get something out of it. It was about death and dying, and is my first exploration through workshop of death midwifery–the other midwifery. I talked to three women during the course of the weekend who are also doing this particular and peculiar work and we plan to stay in touch and develop our work in this area.

So, it was good. I still haven’t unpacked because I hit the ground running this morning. Maybe tomorrow…