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The Ragged Curtain




So many folks in our communities are new to all this being a Pagan business. I know that because they tell me that they are. They have left the religions of their childhoods due to disagreements, boredom, even abuse. Perhaps they tried some other more mainstream religions—I hear Quakers/Society of Friends, Unitarian Universalism, Buddhism most often—and they’ve drifted a while, saying they are spiritual but not religious.

Now these seekers have settled in the catchall basket called modern Paganism.

I am a person who likes to define terms so that we all know what we’re actually discussing. Your mileage, as well as your terminology, may vary. I’m not interested in arguing with you about terms so if you believe something different or call it by another name, feel free to do so.

We’re enjoying a renaissance of Ancestor veneration in the West. Thank goodness for that. Any student of either history, literature or archaeology knows we used to be tribal people who did all those tribal things, like honoring the people whose procreative powers brought us here. We are looking at ancient cultures as well as modern cultures and we are both inventing and re-inventing the ways we honor our Dead.

In my practice, the Ancestors are lumped into convenient categories though my honoring of each group is very similar. I consider the people in my family who have died to be my Beloved Dead. These are the people who are immediate Ancestors, fairly recent, many were Elders I actually knew.  The Ballards (and all the other families) that came over from The Old Countries and the ones who lived and died back there are the ones I refer to as the Beloved Long Dead. These are dead people to whom I am bound by blood but never could have known. There are inspiring people who have guided my growth and inspired me, people whose lives and deeds made me, in part, who I am today. These are my chosen Ancestors, the Mighty Dead. This group continues to grow in my esteem and upon my Ancestor altar.

One of the many blessings of my deeply-rooted life is that I live in an area where many of my people lie buried. Spring and fall, I visit these Beloved Dead and reconnect to the diverse rootstock that came together in the double helix wonderland of my DNA.

They made me who I am. They made you who you are. We owe them—and they owe us. 

This isn’t only an October activity, though we tend to talk about it more in the autumn of the year. I invite you to swim past the juicy Hallowe’en/Samhain fishhook and to spend time and give good attention to coming into a genuine relationship with the members of your family that have passed through the ragged curtain between the world of the living and the worlds of the Dead.







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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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