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Making Up the Samhain List

Every year I keep a piece of paper on my home altar and after November 1st, I write down the names of people who die during the course of the year. And by people, I mean the beings that touch my life in ways profound and/or familial.

Generally they are the names of folks I know or the loved ones of folks I know. Sometimes they are people that I don’t actually know but whose lives have intersected with mine. For example, Wangari Maathai went on the Samhain list because of her amazing work and because of my deep admiration for her courage and strength.

Our little cat, Luka Jones, is on this year’s list, along with my father-in-law, my friend Donna’s husband, my cousin Wanda and so many, many more.

It has been a busy year for Death near the circles of my acquaintance. Death has come in swift and gentle ways and Death has come with suffering and pain.  Death always serves as a great teacher, even when the lessons are almost too hard to bear.

So I keep a list and I read this list at the Ancestor Vigil,  speaking their beloved names once more. The lists usually end up in my prayerbook and I look at them years later, remembering the year we lost that friend or this family member. Trying to remember the story of that death and the family it most deeply touched.

It is a sweet grief to tend those memories.

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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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