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A Find Amongst the Documents

I’m working on the Mother Grove Solstice ritual and ran across this poem. I’m not much of a poet, in spite of my name, but sometimes I can’t resist.  So, here’s this–


By Byron Ballard


I peel the myth away,

smelling the acid in the air,

feeling the oily leavings of the peel.


It is easy—the work of a moment.


They lie in my open palm,

            the segments of story and lore

that guide the culture’s heart

into this

darkening season.


I poke the cold segments with my fingernail

and see here a Baby move

            there a Winter Queen

                        yonder the oak and holly fret

as my Ancestors cut the sycophant mistletoe from

            the tender apple branches.


In the middle of this mess of legend

there lies a curled and spiky ball.

When it is gently prodded, it

kicks free of the sickly sweet pieces

and shows itself to be a star.


The star.

Not only in the East but certainly now

returning there.


The star.

Leading us into ourselves and out again.

Dancing the carol.


The star of wonder. The star of renewal.

Sol Invictus!


The reason, long-known and sometimes forgotten,

For the season.


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The Rime Moon

Today was the perfect day for garden clean up. Sunny and warm but not hot. Bright enough to give me a headache, by the way. We cleaned the little kitchen garden and then tackled the Italian garden.  Cleaned and renovated the beds. I watered the raise bed with its delicious spinach, carrots and radishes–I ate a sweet little French Breakfast radish.

And the whole time I was feeling the rise of energy from that waxing Moon. Mercury has gone retrograde, too, so there’s all that and the other astrological stuff that’s going on. Plus we’re in the last weeks before the Winter Solstice. Plus the Republic is in freefall. 

Add to that a nice thick layer of Tower Time and set the whole thing on a big pile of Patriarchy and you have a weekend fraught with drama, tears and a kind of mad twirling desperation. 

But tonight, at Mother Grove, the chapel was full of people who had come for companionship, for time spent with like-minded folk.  The North altar was set with Goddess figures and candles, and the circle of people faced the soft glow of it.

We sang to Hekate and talked about the uses of power and the strength of community.  We walked outside and sang the Moon into the Sky. And then I took them on a guided meditation that began with Bob Nagan driving the Cat Bus and all of us lying on the top of Mount Mitchell, pouring the power out of our hands and into the world.

It smoothed out the scritchy energy of the day and offered us all a chance to breathe and consider how the world is and how we can weather the storm. 

And that’s what we all need right now, I think. A sturdy layer of resilience, a dash of a sense of humor and a vision of how we can move forward, to survive, to thrive.

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A Circle Cast for the Winter Solstice

I just submitted this to our newsletter and thought I’d share it here, too.  I am trying valiantly to avoid talking about politics–is it obvious?

This is particular to where I live in the southern highlands of Appalachia, so you may have to tweak it a bit if you decide to use it.

Here you go–

A Circle Cast for the Winter Solstice

Because we are “inviting back” the Sun, we began this circle cast in the fiery South. Feel free to add in the geographical elements that are in your part of the world.

Invocation of the Directions

South–I call out to the living fire of the South and invoke its power in bonfires and cookfires, in soft candlelight and fierce conflagration. Bearing both heat and light, contained in the woodstove, feral on the dry autumn hills. Warm fires of the South, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!

West–I call out to the liquid West and invoke its power in the oils that feed fire. Coal oil pulled from the face of the mountains, kerosene lamps to read in the evening, tallow of slaughters to light the way. Western flame of lamp and heater, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!

North–I call out to the solid North and invoke its power in the hot springs of far Madison. A micro-climate sweetened by the fiery heart of the Earth herself. Steam and wrinkled fingers, cares are left in the healing waters of the hot springs. Beautiful north, we honor you this solstice night. Be welcome!

East–I call out to the mists of the Smoky Mountains and invoke the power of the smoke of campfire and burning leaves. The wind carries the smells to us from miles away, gathering all the scents–of wet earth and skunk and incense on the altar. Deep breath of East, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!


Circle release

East–We watch the woodsmoke move along the valley, always following beauty. Grandmothers of the East, go if you must. But lend us your scent of freedom a while longer, if you will. So may it be.

North–We feel the hot water sooth our aching feet and backs and soothe our anxious souls. Grandmothers of the North, go if you must. But lend us a moment longer in the hot tubs, if you will. So may it be.

West–We wind down the wick and extinguish the flame. Grandmothers of the West, go if you must. But lend us your light a while longer, if you will. So may it be.

South–We stir the coals and bank down the hearthfire. Grandmothers of the South, go if you must. But lend us your warmth on this cold night while longer, if you will. So may it be.


Sol invictus


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The Land Grows Cold

I am home from the road. For now. The grounding of my life is the land here in the southern highlands of the old Appalachian mountains but the road is always tempting me to go farther, to travel more, to be compact and joyful as a rambling woman.

A rambling woman. A merry passenger. Wondering as I wander.

Like a sailor, I have friends in many ports. Colleagues with far-ranging ideas and generous spirits seem to always be just around the bend in the path. I am ever-blessed in the company I keep, whether at home or abroad, across the wine-dark seas.

The land here is still redolent of autumn—damp soil, cool mornings, bright days. I harvested tomatoes today—tomatoes so far into the Samhain season! Chard, spinach, radishes—all made a good meal tonight.

But I thought I smelt some winter in the air tonight. I wrapped myself in scarf and flat cap against the coming night and filled my pockets with little tomatoes. As I straightened up, I looked toward the western hills and sniffed the air, filling my lungs slowly, digging my heels into the mulch.

Wood smoke.


Bruised marigolds.


Sharp and metallic.

Winter begins her dance around the hollers. Her nails are sharp and her smile is cold, but in her pockets are the seeds of next year’s gardens, next year’s tonics, next year’s abundance.

I hope her pockets are both deep and wide, and that her apron strings are sturdy.


beautiful nettles


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One With The Infinite Sun


For the first time in decades, I rose early (though the cat did, too) and sang the Sun up alone. My singing companion now lives a rich full life in the Queen City and I imagine she slept in this morning.

And you know what? It was okay, more than okay. Daily practice is something I’m struggling with these days and the rising in the dark, the searching for the Big Gold Rattle, the brewing of the Sacred Black Beverage felt both solemn and joyous.

Just like all my interactions with the Divines.

The exact time of the Solstice occurs later today–Science! as I told the gathered folks at our Solstice ritual on Friday night–so I’m planning a fairly quiet day today. The experiment in deep and intentional rest this year has been an effective way of getting back in touch with my own natural rhythms and with my wise body. (I don’t like the idea of separating my “self” from my “body,” by the way–one with the infinite Sun as well as one with the finite Byron.)

This year has seen me in a clearer relationship to the land here, to the sisterhood that sustains me in all things and to the vision of great change with which we are currently engaged.

As the light grew this morning, I mustered my songage and faced the little Italian garden which sets roughly east. For some reason, “Lord of the Dance” came into my head. I like the old tune but the words don’t really match my thealogy, as you might imagine, so it easily changed itself to “Maid of the Dance.” Listen–

Dance, then, wherever you may be!
For I am the Maid of the Dance, said She.
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said She.

I danced in the morning when the world was young.
I danced in the Moon and the Stars & the Sun
I came in the Heavens and I danced on Earth.
I dance in mourning and I dance in mirth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be!
For I am the Maid of the Dance, said She.
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said She.

I went on to Schiller/Beethoven/Ballard’s “Ode to Joy” and finished with our old favorite “Here Comes the Sun.” Then I chanted “We are one with the Infinite Sun, forever and ever and ever.” I thought about Newgrange and Stonehenge and the knoll on the mountain where I grew up.

I can smell the coffee and am considering a decadent breakfast.

May this Turning of the Great Wheel treat you with kindness and generosity, and may the new agricultural year bring fertility to your fields and prosperity to your table–however you choose to interpret that.

Gud Jul! Blessed Solstice! Was hael!