We Are All Travellers Along Life’s Tricksy Ways


sol invictus

This season of ice and rime, of greeting cards and indoor trees–it can be the hardest of seasons in our multi-faith world. In this country, the season is dominated by the curious and often-repellent observation of Christmas. We have been celebrating it in the wider culture since October and it will not end until the last discount store has rid its shelves of marshmallows shaped like snowfolk and plastic tablecloths sporting imitation patchwork in red and white and green.

In my talk at our Mother Grove Goddess temple Winter Solstice ritual, I pondered which was more onerous–having Christmas shoved down the throats of non-Christians or seeing your cherished holy days twisted by a dominant culture that is only nominally Christian.

Both are intolerable, painful, misery-making. The fights about public religious displays, the “War on Christmas,” even the outrage about a mythological character’s racial characteristics–what do these really have to do with the season of greatest shadow?

The Winter Solstice can be a time of deep healing, of contemplation, a spiritual journey into Other Realms that transcends our differing cultural stories. But we have made it into this public orgy commercialism, of ownership, of meaningless acquisition. In so many places and in so many ways, we have all lost the “reason for the season” and have blinded ourselves to the wisdom found in the darkest longest nights of the agricultural year.

But we do have every excuse (if the weather cooperates) to be out in the world, seeing the people who are our neighbors, our community. We often see them at their frenzied best–balancing the kids’ school concerts with cookie baking, making time for visiting the homebound and the sick, scraping together a little extra to donate to food pantries and struggling non-profits.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been hugged and smooched by friends who are Baptists and Lutherans, Druids,  Jews (both practicing and non), atheists and Wiccans, Catholics and ethical humanists. Mother Grove held the afore-mentioned Winter Solstice celebration in the parish hall of a local Episcopal church, where a friend who is a deacon-and-almost-priest wished us a merry Solstice and hugged me hard. I attended a funeral a few weeks ago where I watched another Episcopal priest friend “draw down the Moon.”

Living in an interfaith world can be complicated and infuriating and terrifying. But here’s what I have found to be consistent at this time of year–we are all tired and emotionally wrung-out and we forget to breathe and to ground. But we can reach out with soft arms and cookies and cups of coffee, and can acknowledge that we all need a little more than half-off the latest electronic gadget to make it through these dark and fraught times.

We need to remember that we are all walking paths of wonder and beauty and occasional terror… and sometimes the best thing we can do is hold hands across the wild verges that seem to separate those little roadways, one from the other. In these times of deep velvet skies and endless wonder, it may be best to peer into the Mystery together.

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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.