Sitting At an Altar, Somewhere Between Night and Morning

In my personal calendar, this is the last day of the old year. I woke too early for the day ahead, when there can be no nap to refresh me and I need to be sharp, alert, at my best. I’m doing a wedding later today for a family of whom I am very fond and, as you may have heard, it is the last day of the old year.

Last night, I facilitated a short Pagan ritual in honor of the days. We cut the ritual short and started earlier than the announced time because there is an on-going police investigation along the river and we thought it best to leave the area as near dark as possible. That was disappointing–shortening the ritual, making the event smaller than planned–but the ritual went pretty well. We’ve done ritual in that park off and on for many years so it is familiar ground, at a point where two rivers flow northward and away.

(The investigation involves the disappearance of two young women, which may or may not have connections to a murder earlier in the week. Information is sketchy at this point and we don’t know what to think or how to hope. So we wait and listen, and wonder.)

We invoked the Bone Queens and welcomed the new year. Though we had cut it due to time constraints, we added back a sweet spiral dance on the soft and leaf-strewn ground. Round and round in the darkness, chanting

We all come from the Goddess.

And to Her we shall return

Like a drop of rain

Flowing to the ocean.

Round and round, never fast enough for Snap the Whip, but fast enough to feel the energy rise around us and moving past us, flowing to the rivers and up the banksides.  Through us and away, taking bits of us with it, freeing us, clearing us.

It has been a long year, a hard year for many, eye-opening in its lessons, heart-breaking in its revelations.  We stand in this place of too much information and not enough wisdom, grasping to understand the level of change the old world is undergoing.  We try to discern the whys when we can barely grasp the whats.  The “news” is filled with old information, presented in  a new way, as though we had never heard it before. There is a species-wide forgetting, it seems, as we find it difficult to pass information from generation to generation, each group having to deal with the gob-smacking of living that others have been trying to explain for years.

I reckon we all have to feel the knife-edge of the betrayals, the anguish, the loss of innocence, the roiling grief for ourselves but must the basic information be lost and set aside as though it never was?

There is a bit of lightness in the east. “Selected Shorts” is on the radio. The last day of the old year has begun and we are in it, up to our necks.

Let the new year find us strong and worthy, and may the new year bring us some joy with all our confusing lessons, our rare delights, our spotty humanity.

Giving a Talk at UNCA Next Tuesday

It’s called “A Ramble Through Appalachian Folk Magic with Village Witch and UNCA Alumna, Byron Ballard.”

Tuesday, 10/27 at 7PM

I’ll be on campus in Laurel Forum to present my latest research on the origins of these intriguing Appalachian folkways and discuss the second book on folk magic. This event is free and open to the public. The new book “Asfidity and Mad-Stones” will be available for purchase.

A Pagan Community Dialogue on Abuse and Rape Culture

Sunday, November 22, 2-4PM

Asheville Raven and Crone, 555 Merrimon Ave.

This will be a open and safe space for discussion and conversation on the abuse and rape culture we live in. I’m facilitating the discussion. We will focus on the Pagan community, in light of the recent Waking Life revelations.

For years, we’ve talked around abuse in the Pagan community and only dealt when it when there was no way not to do that. I invite all of you to sit in this council and share your stories and brainstorm ways to be affective in both communications and healing.

We gladly accept donations in any amount and they will go the further the work of Our Voice, the Asheville area rape crisis center. You may also bring non-perishable food items for The Mother Grove Goddess Temple’s food pantry.

Viva! in the time of the Dead

We began a discussion on Facebook, as one does, about the nature of societal change and the onset of the much-discussed revolution.  I had just gotten up from a long nap and gathered my haunted thoughts and replied:

I talk about Tower Time rather a lot and people always ask–when is that going to happen? It is happening now and I think Tower Time and the elusive revolution we’ve all been longing for (but are also a little afraid of) is also ongoing. I take much of my information about how to be in the world from nature ( not surprising since I’m a Pagan) and this time we are in will have earthquakes and tremours and landslips and landslides. We need to reenvision what “revolution” looks like because it won’t be several “important ” actions, then skirmishes until the goal is achieved. This is tectonic and will take time.

Natural, incremental.


It’s here, we’re in it. Time for deep thinking, lateral thinking, vision.


The Ancestor Vigil for 2015

The Ancestor Vigil ends with a benediction that I’ve done a bajillion times. But last night, as we reviewed the ritual before we started, I told the rest of the clergy team that I wanted to say something between the Charge and the benediction. And I added the phrase I have written and read almost as many times in this last hard year of death–Hail, the Traveler! What is remembered, and honored, lives.

In the season of honor and love, of forgiveness and hauntings, give a thought to those who are still traveling the shadowed road of grief. Tend them as you can and tend your own grief as you travel with them. May the road be traveled with some little light.


I am trying not to be jealous

because I don’t have any reason to be.  Let me share the backstory.

Years ago–two Parliaments ago, I reckon–I promised myself that if the Parliament of the World’s Religions was ever in a place I could get to, I would go.  And this week it is going to be in Salt Lake City.

This week–the heart of the Samhain season.

Months ago, I thought long and hard about that earlier promise.  My finances were such that it was possible to get there.  So possible.

But it is this week, in the heart of Samhaintide.

I talked to friends who were going, who encouraged me. (Thanks to Macha Nightmare and Peter Dybing and Heather Greene and more more more.) I swear I thought so long on it and the possibility of it.

And then I prayed.  Truly.  Asked for clarity and truth and the sort of wisdom that can be tricky to acquire. The answer was clear-ish–do your work.

That seemed like confirmation–Parliament, here I come! But it became clear that that isn’t really my work right now, here in the heart of the Samhain season. My ego would love to wear some pretty robes and hang with interesting people and help Macha with the really cool play she’s doing.

Yep, my ego would love that so much. And she’d dine out on that for months, maybe years, to come.

So I decided to stay home and do my work.  And I’m not really jealous so much as I am sad to miss seeing all the wonders and beauties of a huge group of people coming together firmly in their own spiritual traditions and sharing what they do and who they are.

It is the best of us–loving, sharing, connecting, weaving community. It will be extraordinary.

But my work is here, amongst my people, in the heart of the Samhain season.


The Promise of the Cloutie Branch, Part One


so many clouties

Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference

This will be in a few more parts–maybe two, maybe three, maybe more.

Three Hours

I like to arrive on Thursday before the conference so I can settle in. I was pretty proud of myself this time that I wasn’t also dragging three bags of show-and-tell for my classes, as is my wont. I had a couple of clouties branches and two bunches of drying herbs. And a small basket filled with clouties—and all the other clothes, bedding, et all that one must have to make the time comfortable.

I unpacked almost everything. My roommate, Monika, had already unpacked but was not in the room, so I had a while to make my bed and hang up my clothes and get the lay of the land. Good. Very good.

I didn’t have any evening obligations and most of my friends hadn’t arrived yet so I ate some of the food I brought, went upstairs to the teachers’ kitchen and made some tea and prepared to settle in for the evening.

My world is very time-crunchy and never more so than when a new book is coming out and I am looking down the long tunnel of Samhain tide. So the notion that I could stay inside for a whole evening, with no social media, no email, no phone calls—that was a beautiful prospect to consider.

I do these things that are cut-outs of small hands and a copy of my business card or a strip of paper with info on a new book or workshop is glued into the center. I call it my “hand-out” and people like the joke and often take the little hand with them when they might not take a business card. I had traced a bunch of those onto heavy paper and they needed to be cut out and their little message taped on. I had three lovely hours of mostly silence, hot tea and the peaceful and mindless work of trimming, cutting and taping. It became a meditation as my mind cleared and I kept breathing deeply, deeply. The little hands all got finished, ready for the next day’s class.

Meeting Monika

Monika arrived as I was getting ready for an early night and we hit it off instantly. She is Taino and German, and I was delighted to hear the former. I asked her to repeat it when she said she was Taino. She started explaining what that meant but I smiled and said—I’m just so relieved. I didn’t think there were Taino people left, that slavery and disease had all but wiped them out. She said she gets that sometimes and went on to tell me about her people and her family, and we discovered we had some mutual friends in the Cherokee Nation. Her husband is Cherokee and they spend lots of time up on Qualla Boundary. It didn’t hurt that she also looks a lot like my cousin Dena, whom I adore.

We wished each other a good night, hoped we didn’t snore, laughed when we both said we’d get up in the night to go pee and we went to sleep.

Not Patty but Mz Amy

First thing the next morning was the Teacher Mingle. The rain had been heavy in the night but lightened up for the walk across the site to the Round House (which I often call the Stone House—and I may have those backwards even now).

I immediately saw a dear face that I knew and I threw my hand up in the air and smiled. Patty Grant! The woman looked at me in a friendly blank way and even as she did I realized she looked like Patty but was older. Turns out she was Patty’s sister Amy Walker and I introduced myself and apologized for mistaking her. Then I saw Monika on the couch and we all chatted as other folks arrived. Turned out Patty was not going to be at the conference this year and Amy—I called her Mz Amy—was going to be part of the Opening Ceremony.

There was hot tea and snacks and comfy seats and benches. Teachers and staff kept flowing in and our circle got wider and wider. Corinna welcomed everyone and we stood together holding hands, making an intentional circle of support as we wove in our community.

Meeting Crystal

As is the usual thing, we went round in a circle and spoke our names and said which classes or events we were doing. I always like to hear people’s voices as they identify themselves and talk about their work. You can tell an awful lot about people in those few moments. Some are shy but proud of their work. Some are nervous and not sure what to say. Some have a lot of big talk. Some make everyone feel at ease with a little story. A little bit of all that was there.

Across the circle from me was a woman named Crystal and as soon as I heard her accent, my ears perked up. She said she was going to try not to cry and she introduced her daughter. She told us her mother had died five months before and this was her first time at this conference. And then she did cry and we loved her up. And then she said something about being a proud Appalachian woman (or maybe she said native to the mountains, I can’t quite remember) and then I burst into tears and I waved at her and pointed at her and did the gesture that means me-and-you at her. When the meeting was finished I was supposed to run into the dining hall and leave my little bento box so I could have lunch and then run off to the opening fire ceremony.

But first I had to hug Crystal’s neck and introduce myself. And we both hugged hard and cried like little babies and her daughter just shook her head like it wasn’t even a thing. We promised to scratch out some time to talk over the weekend and we talked about corn liquor and then I ran into the dining hall and gave my lunch box to the Amazing Paula (who has people in West Virginia) and told her she had to meet Crystal. Then I squished through the rain to the tent for the ceremony. I was already 15 minutes late and NikiAnne had already sent me a text to get my butt over there (really she was very polite and nice about it) and so I did.