Byron Ballard has called western North Carolina home since her birth at the local Seventh Day Adventist tb sanitarium. Her education includes a BA in theatre and a Master of Fine Arts in the same field. She studies and practices Appalachian folk magic, a traditional folkway that she’s dubbed “hillfolks’ hoodoo.” Her research in its origins has led her to field-work throughout the British Isles. Her books on the subject include “Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo” (Silver Rings Press) and “Asfidity and Mad-Stones” (Smith Bridge Press). “Embracing Willendorf: a Witch’s Way of Loving Your Body to Health and Fitness” (Smith Bridge Press) debuted in 2017. “Earth Works: Ceremonies in Tower Time” (Smith Bridge Press) was released in June 2018. She is currently working on “The Ragged Wound: Tending the Soul of Appalachia.”
She has served as a featured speaker and teacher at festivals and conferences that include Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Spirit Gathering, Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference, Glastonbury Goddess Conference, the Scottish Pagan Federation Conference and Mystic South. A member of the Appalachian Studies Association, she recently presented the paper “The Ragged Wound”, which has become the core of her current work-in-progress.
Byron serves as senior priestess and co-founder of Mother Grove Goddess Temple in Asheville. She is also one of the founders of the Coalition of Earth Religions/CERES, a Pagan non-profit and she does interfaith work locally and regionally. She is a folklorist, a playwright, a gardener, and a tai chi student who blogs irregularly and talks about Tower Time far too often. You can find her at her website www.myvillagewitch.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
How did you get involved with performing magick and how has that journey shifted since your entry into it?
I grew up in a family where magic and nature were a part of growing up. I was a free-range child– climbing trees, wandering on the mountain, gardening, riding ponies. Everything was magic, and everything still is. I started reading cards at 12 and moved to tarot a couple of years later. I don’t think of myself as “performing” magic. It is something I’ve done for a very long time. Though, when I teach, I sometimes have to reverse engineer what I’m teaching to figure out how I do it so that I can explain it in a way that is helpful and understandable. My magical practice gets simpler and more effective with continued study and application. That’s why we call it “practicing magic.”
What are some situations that stick out in your mind that proved without a shadow of a doubt that magick works? What has cemented your faith in what you do?
“Faith” is a loaded word, isn’t it? I encourage people to find simple magics that they need—parking, headache relief, fertility, creative inspiration—and practice them until they are very good, are adept. I find many people who consider themselves magicworkers of some sort who rarely practice or use magic. Sometimes they are fearful, unsure that they know enough to do it “right.” Sometimes they prefer to play Pagan. Sometimes they are too scattered and don’t have some basic methods to help them through the challenges—grounding, shielding. More and more I am teaching basic practical magic and am astounded at the people who tell me they never realized it could be so easy.
“Hillfolks Hoodoo” is a term you’ve coined for your magickal practices. Can you explain why you chose this and how it differs from other forms of Hoodoo or magick?
The Appalachian folk magic that I practice has no name, despite what some people will tell you about “granny magic.” It comes to us through a Protestant Christian filter and is earthy and practical. I was raised unchurched so my practice is removed from those early roots. I object to people outside the region using the word “hillbilly” because it is almost always used pejoratively. So I chose “hillfolks.” I first used the phrase “Hillfolks Hoodoo” in a paper I gave at the Forging Folklore colloquium at Harvard in 2008—Hillfolks Hoodoo and the Question of Cultural Stripmining,” which is included in my first book on the subject “Staubs and Ditchwater.”
It’s my understanding that you’re a goddess worshiper. Can someone who is not of the Abrahamic faith or background work with Bible magick with success? Why or why not?
My spirituality is Wiccan—an offshoot of MacFarland Dianic called American Tribal. Non-lineaged, deeply focused on the Divines as feminine. I consider myself a polytheist, an animist and a witch. I am also a High Priestess and have served in that capacity in both covens and at Mother Grove Goddess Temple, where I am one of the founders. I don’t work with the Bible.
You’ve written and spoken about a fascinating topic over the years, almost prophetically, the Time of Towers. For those completely unfamiliar can you explain what you mean by this and why it’s important?
I have always gotten a strong sense of humility, confidence, and strength from you. How importance is humility to
effective magick and how is that balanced with the confidence in your magick actually working?
A good question! It is a trope within Appalachian folk magic that the practitioner acknowledges that the power for healing and working comes through the practitioner. I’ve learned that from the big-hearted teachers I’ve had the honor to study under. And I am confident because I’ve been doing this for many years and because my connection to the southern highlands of Appalachia is deep, multi-generational and abiding. We have a hashtag that has grown out of all that Appalachia has endured (and continues to endure)–#mountainstrong. Two years ago, we suffered devastating wildfires here and I created a fundraising candle to raise money for children in Gatlinburg (organized by the amazing Tesea Dawson of Tuatha Dea). I wrote this prayer/spell/call to action that was on the candle (and some t-shirts, now that I think of it)— It’s called “Appalachia Rise!”
Let Appalachia rise.
I believe in the justice of the ancestors.
I believe in the wisdom of the hills and hollers.
I believe in the strength of the mountaineers.
Let Appalachia rise!
I swear by my granny’s apron.
I swear by the cool sweet water.
I swear by the blood of my people.
Let Appalachia rise.
Let Appalachia rise!
What do you feel is the most important spiritual or magickal practice of yours?
Regular altar time, teaching, gardening, being present and attentive to the land, Ancestors and spirit-folk all around me here.
As an elder who has been active and observant of the magickal communities for many years, is there any new trends of thinking that worry you with newer generations that are entering into the community? Anything that makes you hopeful about the future of the magickal communities?
I listen to all sorts of people. I really listen. I’m a working class woman and always will be, so I want to hear the voices and ideas and dreams of people along the edges, people who know how to work hard. I think we focus too much on “young versus old” and renew the old trap of the generation gap. It might be more helpful to think in terms of experience—what’s new and fresh, regardless of the age of the person. What’s wise and helpful, even if it comes from a child. Listening reminds me that there is much to do and it is so important that we stop talking about it and do it. Grow gardens, help neighbors, truly weave community. My dream for my tribe is that we stop thinking in terms of the “mundane” world and live every moment as our fully magic and Pagan selves.
Any other projects you’re working on that we can look forward to?
Working on an Appalachia book tentatively called The Ragged Wound: Tending the Soul of Appalachia. I’m doing several festivals this summer and traveling and teaching. Webinars and podcasts are in my future. My research now is tracking Appalachian folk magic back to its roots—I call myself a “spellcatcher.” That means I do field research in Britain and Ireland, and here at home with the Cherokee and the Deitsch of Pennsylvania.
But mostly I’ll continue being the village witch and doing the work I’m called to do—farming, spinning, cider-making,
being a mom and a writer.
Patreon Exclusive Bonus
Byron Ballard shares her Jewel Case technique, which is her quick simple method to ground, center, shield, regroup, strategize, and emerge. It’s perfect for when you’re in a lull in the energy storm of your day-to-day life and when you need respite. This is available for Patreon supporters with the tier “In The Know Jackalope” and higher.