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East of the Sun and West of the Moon






In preparing for my appearance at FaerieCon this weekend, I have been spending some time with the beautiful and difficult fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I fell in love with this story many years ago because it was richer, denser, more textured than most of the fairy tales I knew. It was longer and the hero—the Jack of the story—was a girl.  It could have ended with the White Bear/Prince going back to his mother’s castle and the youngest daughter returning to her father’s house and marrying a nice butcher in the village. But she goes after him—impossibly, courageously--determined to show what she’s really made of.

That one, along with the Goose Girl (“O, Falada, tis you hang there.” “If your mother only knew, her heart would surely break in two”), were stories of travel and brave girls.  I was a brave girl when I was growing up and I wanted to travel and see the broad world. And I spent much of my childhood living in fae and eldritch lands where I walked as a magical being, at home in the strangeness of the world. A place I often reside, down to this present day.

Last night was our community’s public Samhain ritual. We held it in a city park near my house. A small groundling altar was set in the center of an imaginary circle on a little hill there. We circled up, some of us peering into the westering Sun.  The quarters were called, the drear and darksome Goddesses (the Cailleach, Hel, Hekate and Baba Yaga) were invoked and welcomed, as were the Ancestors and the Beloved Long Dead. 

When I invoked Baba Yaga, I circled inside the circle and found myself slipping into trance. In and out, but finished with my feet firmly on the ground. 

And then there was dancing.  This year, I have refrained from dancing since Mabon and chose to add that “fast” to a couple days of fasting from food to honor my Ancestors (something I do most years).  I was very tempted to dance during Mountain Moral Monday last week but reminded myself of my commitment. I wanted to wait until Samhain and to dance for and with the Dead.

Here we are on the eve of Samhain, with the new year just around the corner. Sabra brought her drum and we got to the place in the ceremony that stated flatly—Spiral Dance.

Time to fly.

We stepped into the circle. Given the intention and the season, we stepped widdershins and began. It was exhilarating to be moving in one and then two revolving circles. It was a gentle but steady measure and one we felt with each other.  There was little of the awkward jangling of strangers holding hands on unfamiliar and unsteady ground. Turn and turn and turn. Like the great and terrible Wheel itself.

When we were finished and the Grandmothers returned to their forests and plateaus and lakes, we help hands again, in the world between worlds and sang the familiar Merry Part. And I spoke to my tribe in words I no longer clearly remember. They were words of release and grace and infinite power. Words to provoke courage and freedom. They were words of simple prophecy from the village witch.

The circle of this old year is open, broken. May the courage and wisdom we need rise up in every soul. Merry shall we meet and when parting, merry be. Until by the grace of the Divines, may we meet again.

Happy New Year, kindred. And blessed Samhain.




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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


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