Back to the Garden

This morning I received an email from a dear Anglican friend with whom I have done interfaith work in my community for many years. She and her husband have moved to a retirement community south of the city and we don’t see her much anymore. She was drawing my attention to an interfaith forum that was televised a couple of nights ago at Elon College. She thought it was excellent but was wistful that there was no voice to speak for “Nature religions”, as she put it. And she said some kind words about my voice being that voice here in this little town. It was a perfect beginning to the day in which I post my first essay on this new forum.

I came to interfaith work through self-interest and self-preservation. I belong to a minority religion (I am Wiccan) in a majority culture that is Protestant Christian. In the 1990s, my spiritual community faced challenges that included direct threats of physical violence, protesters at public rituals who read Bible verses loudly enough to wake the Ancestors and shrines on private property desecrated by unknown perpetrators who were probably neighbors.

A frightening and infuriating situation involving a young Pagan girl and a public school “Christmas” concert was the tipping point for me. I appealed to Christian clergy colleagues to speak out and to influence their violence-prone co-religionists. There was a media frenzy and ultimately my Christian contacts could do little to calm the turbulent waters. I learned much about the command structure of many Abrahamic religions as I was told privately what could not be said publicly.

So, I suppose you could say it was self-defense that pulled me into interfaith work, and that was fortunate when we came to late September of 2001. I joined with clergy and laity from many traditions to offer solace after the towers fell–a Wiccan priestess sitting at the table with Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims. We sometimes refer to western North Carolina as the “buckle of the Bible belt” but this little group worked earnestly for the good of the larger community. The congregations with deeper pockets arranged for a banquet room at a local hotel and the Muslim Call to Prayer was followed–quite beautifully, if I do say so myself–by the Charge of the Goddess. Prayer after prayer, meditation after meditation, as we knitted together for that one moment in time a tapestry of comfort and… joy.

For several years, our group was a Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative (uri.org), based in San Francisco. We met regularly and presented programs and events from a multi-faith perspective. One of the things of which I am proudest from those days was the creation of a truly multi-faith National Day of Prayer celebration in one of our downtown public squares.

And as a part of that larger group, I attended the North America Summit of the global United Religions Initiative in Salt Lake City. And that is where I will take up the story… next time.

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About Byron Ballard

H. Byron Ballard, BA, MFA, is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has served as a featured speaker and teacher at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference and other gatherings. Earlier this year, she presented “Gnarly Roots: Exploring the British Sources of Appalachian Folk Magic” at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference and will facilitate a workshop on Deep Grounding at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference in August. Her writings have appeared in print and electronic media. 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). She blogs as “Asheville’s Village Witch” (myvillagewitch.wordpress.com) and as The Village Witch for Witches and Pagans Magazine (witchesandpagans.com/The-Village-Witch). Her pamphlet “Back to the Garden: a Handbook for New Pagans“ has been widely distributed and her first 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”. She facilitates the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum in Asheville, NC and was active for many years in the United Religions Initiative.


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