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Caught Between the Dead and the Dying Year

We take Samhaintide seriously here in the southern highlands of Appalachia.  There are rituals and ceremonies, discussions and interviews.  I am blessed to live in the land where my Ancestors lie buried and so I also have the sacred duty of tending their graves in the Darkening of the year.

Then there is the garden to put to bed and there were festivals and cons to attend and so I have been called away from here for some time. I will try to be more faithful to this writing as the Solstice vigil fires are set and fed, and as the winter lingers in the land.

This season, these days that are our days--I sometimes wonder how we manage to hold our weary heads up or keep our tear-red eyes open. Though I talk often and loudly about this Tower Time we are enduring, I am still sometimes roiled by the level of change that is becoming so much a part of day-to-day life in the old world. But I feel the surging of anger and determination in the direct actions connected to the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the people who are sworn to protect them. A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I was proud and blessed to be part of a candlelight vigil that brought together hundreds of Ashevilleans to the town square, with signs and chants...and so much love wrapped in anger and deep sadness.

Did your community do a vigil? Asheville is a place where we often take to the Square, to stand in solidarity around the Vance Monument, holding candles and homemade signs. There's probably one happening right now, as I write this update.

Will all these actions change hearts and minds?  It's too early to say, I think. We can plan for change, though, and pray for it, in whatever ways our diverse community does that sacred obligation.

The season of Samhain can be used for deep internal work, for a mad dance with the Winter Queen, for healing for oneself and the sick, weary human community.  I encourage you to use these last days before the Winter Solstice to consider the work of healing, as well as the work of advocacy, which may be the same thing.  As we stand in the season of death and look to the returning light, may we all find the strength to continue the hard work and the grace to return hate with empathy, if not love.

These last short days are a call to all of us to remember the duty we owe the Divines, the one we owe our Ancestors...and the one we owe our sisters and brothers in these deep and solemn days.

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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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