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Keeper of the Samhain List

Each year, sometime in the early part of November, a scrap of paper appears on my home altar.  On it is a single name of someone I know--or the parent or partner or child or sibling of someone I know. It's the first and last name, usually. 

That's the beginning of the Samhain list.

The slip of paper stays on the altar and the single name is always joined by others.  These aren't just names, of course. There are stories with them. Stories of lives lived, of death bravely fought, of the welcome relief of the last breath, of the shock and shrieking of a death too soon and too sudden. The Samhain list is a books of tales, really.  An unwritten book of stories and characters.

There aren't famous people on my list, unless I knew them.  I was both sad and angry to put Pat Monaghan's name on the slip of paper on last year's list. And this year's list has Margot, of course. It also holds a woman named Laurey Masterton, a chef and author and beekeeper and friend who is at least locally famous and terribly missed.

I've taken the list off the altar this morning to add the name of a friend's partner who has died in the Southwest. But the list goes back on the altar until our annual Ancestor Vigil on 23 October when the names will be read aloud, one by one.  Then the list will return to the altar until 1 November, when an empty space will appear near the statue of Brigid. Waiting for the new Samhain list.

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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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