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On Saturday, We Moved the Ancestor Altar


At Asheville's Mother Grove Goddess Temple, there is a small chapel room. It is permanently set with a main altar in the North, three other directional altars and a niche (which is actually an unused doorway) that holds a tiered Ancestor altar.

I confess I had a kind of wild-hair idea and shared it with our clergy team, who had no real objection.  So, Saturday--following our six-hour fundraising event--Angela and I stripped the main altar and took out the enormous stack of black fabric.

We covered the heavy desk that serves as the altar and we carefully moved our cob Goddess (Mom) onto a safe place. Then we took all the pieces of the Ancestor altar off the shelves and carefully dispersed them onto the temple's chairs.

There was a scary moment when we weren't sure if the tall rack would fit on top of the altar, but it did.  Then we started draping more black fabric and got out the plastic tub marked "Samhain."

We draped and displayed, stood back and tweaked what was there.  We both laughed when we found some fake crows and added them to the silver vase of flowers, the basket containing the ashes of one of our priestesses, the skull masks, the porcelain bust of the Blessed Virgin and the plaque of Cerridwen and her Cauldron.

Tall Muerte candles were added, as well as jet beads and a candle inside the small cast-iron cauldron.

Mom went into mourning, occupying the niche where the Ancestors have stood all this time.  The entire alcove is draped in black lace--the Long Black Veil. It covers her stout reddish body and reminds us that grief and sorrow also belong to the Divines.

It is a very tall altar and we are being perfectly careful about fire around that fabric. It was a beautiful setting for Sunday morning's devotional--where we talked about Death and Dying.

And now I'm thinking I may drape the other altars in black, too. In the spirit of this dark and fateful season.


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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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