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These Days of Dark and Light



These are the perfect mornings of the season, here in the southern highlands of Appalachia. The sky is softly clouded and a misty almost-rain leaves diamonds on the changing leaves. From the window, there are scarlets, yellows, but still so much green--unusual for this time of year when "peak season" brings visitors in their leisurely vehicles, slowing us all down to a livable pace as they point and gasp through the back roads of the western counties.

My community sets quietly between the passage to grief that is our annual Ancestor Vigil and the drama that is the public Samhain ritual at the end of the month.  We are sharing ideas for our memorial altars, visiting the burial places of our dead, even drinking pumpkin ale in this town that has become Beer City. Mother Grove Goddess Temple is even doing a mainstream "churchy" thing on October 31st--Trunk of Treat. In the last few months, it seems, our little Goddess temple--with its food pantry, support group, Crop Walk team and children's programming--has stepped more fully into that community role, that anchor that is what a church is at its best.

The nights are soft, too, now, as the boundary between night and day is pushed back, limiting the Sun's effect a little more every day. In our lives, we are stripping away the boundaries between the material and the spiritual worlds and we are listening, we are quiet, we are waiting for tales of glory and whispers of faded love.

It is Samhaintide here and we reflect what is happening in the natural world around us. These old mountains fold in for the winter, small insistent lights twinkling in the creases of the hollers and coves.  We are preparing the apple butter and chow chow, fixing that sewer pipe, harvesting the drooping peppers, preparing.

This final harvest carries so much cultural baggage, so many broken expectations. It is weighted with our family lore, the depths of our religious culture and the overall creeping dread that is Hallowe'en in America. It is so much to carry in this turning season--the beauty, grief, fear, delight. The carved turnips, the pumpkin ale, the perfume of perfect apples.

Let Samhain flow over and through you, friends, as we stretch into the energies of this old and new season. It is neither the one thing nor the other, this season.  It is culmination and genesis. It is fear as well as hope. The color of sky and river, the tap of leaves as they fall--all of these inform our experience of this haunted time.



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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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