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Face To Face with Neglected Ancestors

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

And they are kind of cranky.  Let me give you the backstory, if I may.

About once a month, a small group of us get together for some trance work.  Sometimes we hold trance postures, sometimes we dance.  We crank up the "tunes" and turn off the lights.  Some of us cover our eyes.  We have a separate room where we can sit it out for a bit--or write what's coming in for us.  Then we can choose to return or not.  When we are all in the separate room and sitting quietly for a bit, someone will ask if we've all returned and we do a self-check to make sure we're fully present.

Fairly standard for this sort of thing.

Last night was such a night. We'd missed a few months what with travel schedules and summer and whatever so it felt good to come back into that space together. It was a trance dance night and we figured we had enough recorded music for about three hours--probably as much as any of us wanted to do.

It is not unusual--especially this time of year--to hang out with the Beloved Dead.  It doesn't hurt that we also have a big Ancestor altar in the room with us.

My folks were there and I greeted the ones I knew. It was the ones I didn't know that turned out to be the issue.  My paternal grandmother and my maternal great-great gran.

I didn't remember my grandmother's first name--we always called her Granny Ballard--and I was ashamed of that. And my great-great-gran was this shadowy figure that I barely recalled. They stood together in my vision, literally shaking their finger at me and tapping their feet.

And then there was the terribly-unknown line of my maternal grandfather, a line whose graves I tend every Samhain but who are unknown to me.  They were even less jovial than the two grans...they were shadows filled with sadness and longing and regret.

So...I came home from the trance dance and looked through my genealogical research. I found the name I couldn't remember and then I turned on the computer and went down the rabbit hole that is Ancestrydotcom.

I was up until the wee hours and found many, many people who have joined the long line of my Forebears to whom I make offering and for whom I hold space. My eyes are still a little itchy and tired and I should probably get some more sleep tonight.  But the temptation is almost too great to find out the name of my great-great-great-great-great grandmother who must have been born in the middle of the 18th century, somewhere in North Carolina.

Ancestor veneration is not for the weak. And, yes, I have given them drink and set out some food. I like to think they are not quite so sour as they were this time yesterday.

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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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