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The Terrible Season of Samhain

the Brigid altar at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology conference, 2010


We entered the season of Samhain in my community with the annual observance of the Ancestor Vigil, a ritual we've been doing here since the 1990s. We observe Samhain--and all the holy days--as a season, giving us time to work deeply with the energies that present themselves at each of these uniquely powerful times.

There has been no rest these long weeks in preparation for Samhain.  We have laughed together when we use euphemisms like "as the veil between the worlds of matter and spirit thins" because we have not felt it to be even present for several seasons now. The Beloved Long Dead and the Ancestors seem to dog our every step and the spirits of the land seem bent on their persistent and rustic communication.

We enter this drear and holy season with expectation, planning our reserves of both energy and foodstuff.  The last weeks of the old agricultural year--as well as the return of Eastern Standard Time--bring us early dark evenings and the bright stars of the early winter. We have spoken the names of our Recent Dead and set up Ancestor Altars for our beloveds who are no longer living in this rich and grieving world of matter.

Each year, after the Samhain rites are concluded and the ancient New Year welcomed in, I set aside the dog-eared page that is the Samhain list. Soon enough, I will be fetching a clean sheet of paper, scratching the year at the top and adding the First Name.

Today is that day, only days into the terrible season. Today Patricia Monaghan--beloved teacher, writer, wiseass and friend--died.  She has gone across the crystal water, secure in her perfect ship, to the Land of Young, to blessed Tir Nan Og.

I have located a nice sheet of paper and am grieved to put her name at the top of this Year's Samhain list. Grieved and angry and a little lost. As many people who knew her and her work probably feel tonight. It is certain, I am not alone in my sadness.

May your passage be smooth, sister, and your way strewn with fragrant herbs.  And may your Ancestors greet you as the jewel of your ancient line.

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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,


  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Monday, 12 November 2012

    So very sad to hear this.

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