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Seasons of a Magical Life, by H. Byron Ballard

Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living, by H. Byron Ballard
Weiser Books, 987-1578637232, 197 pages, August 2021

Take a breath, pause, and gift yourself the time to delve into Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living by H. Byron Ballard. In doing so, use the wisdom shared in this book to create a guide to a more connected way of living and co-existing. As Ballard writes, “this book is an invitation to modern Pagans to return to a simpler and quieter time, either literally or virtually, through letters from a small forest-farm in the southern highlands of the Appalachian Mountains.”3

The educationally credentialed author, H. Byron Ballard (BA, MFA), is a teacher and folklorist as well as a senior priestess. Her life and work are centered in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is a co-founder of Mother Grove Goddess Temple and the Coalition of Earth Religions. 

As I read, I felt as if I was accompanying Ballard around her farm. I could smell the air, feel the weather, and taste the food offerings. I was afforded the experience of spending time with her and the life force that surrounds her in her mountain setting and, by extension, the life force that surrounds me in my setting. 

As the cover indicates, the book focuses on the celebrations, festivals, and rituals for the Wheel of the Year. It is divided into three parts. Part One is a five-chapter section that offers background essays “Animism, Mutual Aid, and Permaculture”, “Tower Time and the Conceit of the Ever-Turning Wheel”, “A Different Means to Reckon Time”, “Re-enchantment and the Uses of Magic”, and “the Good Neighbors, the Land Spirits”.

Part Two is comprised of two chapters, focusing on the Wheel of the Agricultural Year: “Winter, The Waxing Year” and “Summer, the Waning Year”. Within those chapters are the equinoxes of spring and fall. “The chapters are broken into the four seasons, with the Quarter Days a highlight within each, and include simple skills that accompany each marker of the year.”4

Part Three wraps up with “Hearth”, a “chapter on the spiritual and physical immersion into these seasons”5 no matter where one lives, rural, urban, or suburban. 

The essays offered in Part One are intended to “not only give the reader a map of (the) journey but also to introduce some ideas to better inform the journey.”6 Some essays were written as if Ballard was talking to a friend as they climbed a hill, while others unfold in a more informational manner, such as the sections on Ember Days and Embertide and Rogation Days.

As one who communicates daily with the trees and rocks that surround my house, I loved the writings on animism and permaculture. Re-enchantment? Yes, please; I could use a healthy dose of that. However, I recommend taking time to sit with what is being offered in these essays as some are more “heady” than others.

I liked how Ballard did not write about these topics in a clinical, detached manner. She walks the reader around her property as she delves into these subjects; the reader is invited to sit at her kitchen table as she prepares meals. Living seasonally, living and working by the natural light, living with the rhythms of nature. 

Wanting to not only read the book but also practice the activities offered, when I finished the section on the essays and moved to Part Two, the “Wheel of the Year”, I began reading the final chapter first, Chapter 7, “Summer: The Waning Year,” as I received the book a few days before Lammas, the Season of the First Harvest.

As with all of the sections on the Wheel of the Year, Ballard offers a letter from her forest-farm, skills to use, chores to be completed, foods for the season, traditions and celebrations, activities to do with children and other friends, an icon of the season and a concluding paragraph on season’s end.

For Lammas, in her letter from her forest-farm, she writes about how hot and dry the farm now is and surveys what is happening in the garden – an abundance of squash and tomatoes, days of “sweat and effort.”7 She offers a lesson on bread-making including the “philosophy” of kneading and sour dough. Chores such as canning and pickling are covered. Traditions and celebrations such as the blessed loaf and the ceremony of cakes and ale are introduced.

The Lammas section continues with recommended activities for Children and Other Friends, including shaping a loaf person and making corn dollies. The icon written about is Wheat as Lammas is “the first in a series of three harvest festivals that is usually dominated by bread – making it, shaping it, and eating it.”8

It concludes with a paragraph on Season’s End that encapsulates the essence of the season, for Lammas, namely looking to the “symbol of the harvest and what that means about gratitude in your life – how you express it, how you use it.”9

She asks the reader to look at the intention that was planted in the Spring — both literally and symbolically and see if the reader tended to this intention — and if it’s ready to “feed you now, that thing that you imagined planting?”10

The book’s final section delves into the aspects of hearth and homely life. She praises homeliness – simplicity in one’s home, comfort, pleasant but ordinary. She invites the reader to view the kitchen as living space for nurturing physically and emotionally. Home altars both indoors and outdoors are discussed as spiritual anchors. Ironically, while I have a home altar, I hadn’t thought of creating an outdoor altar until reading this book. She writes of – are you ready? – laundry as a meditative practice, which after reading I now understand. 

I especially love the book’s concluding lines, offered as a friend waving as you depart their home and sending you off with love:

“There is so much to do, every day, to tuck in the ends of this weaving we are creating: to observe and really see, to listen and really hear, to integrate our intuition and our Ancestral memory into a practice so practiced it no longer feels artificial. It only feels like living a good life and a full one.”11

I highly recommend not only reading Seasons of a Magical Life – but living it. For those who are looking to deepen their connection to the natural cycles of the year, this is a great book to have in one’s library. It offers simple, practical ways to engage with the seasonal energy of the year as it makes its way around the wheel of time. Many of these small practices are certain to enchant one’s life and bring a deeper sense of purpose to the small actions we do daily, fostering an appreciation of the current moment in time that is grounded yet extraordinarily magical.

Celebrating the Yuletide with Downhome Mystic

🌲 The season of Yule is upon us! 🌲

Quick History Lesson

This yearly celebration has roots in the Germanic Paganism culture and is usually celebrated for 12 days beginning on the winter solstice. This year Yule begins on Monday, December 21st and ends on Friday, January 1st, 2021. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, but it simultaneously marks the return of daylight. Often associated with honoring a variety of God and Goddesses, this was a time to be joyful, dance, sing, and connect with nature.

This Pagan celebration was natural for our ancestors, as they were so deeply connected to the Great Mother. They felt sense of connection to the natural world; the direct reciprocity people felt with the Earth was ingrained in daily life. Unfortunately, many of us have become disconnected from nature, from the Great Mother, and finding our way back has been an integral part of our spiritual path. Creating celebration and honoring nature’s cycles helps connect us to our past, deepen our connection to the Earth, and ultimately connect back to ourselves. 

How Do I Celebrate Yule?

This is the fun part! Now is the time to get creative, consider what is meaningful to you (and your family), and create a celebration that best fits your needs and wants. A Yuletide celebration can range from an elaborate gathering to a bath time ritual to a simple altar created at the foot of a pine tree. Here are some of my suggestions:

Connect or Reconnect with Nature

When was the last time you stood barefoot on the earth? If you live in an area that is not too cold or snow-covered, find an area to stand soul (of your foot) to soul on the earth. Feel the soil on your feet, feel the connection of the earth move up your body. If you are unable to be barefoot in your area, take a walk out in nature. Look for signs of winter and reflect on the changes in your life that have taken place over the course of the year.

Build an Altar

This can be done either outside during your nature walk or in your home. If you choose to build an altar at home, gather a few items from outside and bring them home with you, placing each item on your altar while giving thanks and honoring each beautiful item. You could gather evergreen branches, berries, sticks, pinecones, a vile of snow or natural water (ocean, stream, river, rain), brown leaves, feathers, any items that call to you. You might be surprised by what you find! If you choose to create an altar outside, find a special location such as the foot of a tree, in a meadow, or alongside a stream. Lovingly place a few natural items with intent onto the altar while speaking what you are thankful for. 

Dance in the Sunlight or Moonlight

Dancing is a lovely way to reconnect to our bodies and spirit, and it can be especially satisfying if you are outdoors and with others. When we dance, we seem to come alive! We feel the blood move through our bodies, we feel our hearts pump, and our breath deepens; we become embodied. Try dancing with a scarf, moving it through the air and across the ground, further connecting you to the earth.

Build a Fire

You may have heard the term Yule-log. The tradition of a Yule-log varies among different regions and religions, but the basics are burning a log to entice the sun to return to longer days. Often a portion of the log is kept and used to start the fire for the next year’s Yule-log. The ashes were also believed to be good luck and could be used in the garden or kept in an area of the house for protection.  As the Yule-log burns, you can watch the flames, dance, and feel the warmth on your face. This is also a good time to tell stories or hold hands with a loved one basking in the fire’s glow.

Sing Songs

Many of our favorite holiday songs are versions of Yule songs, such as Deck the Halls and the Holly and the Ivy. Singing opens our throat chakra and clears away energetic debris. Singing with others can be an uplifting experience, as a single voice becomes a choir. 

Get Witchy in the Kitchen

Whip up a batch of holiday cookies, bake some rosemary bread, or craft a warm seasonal soup. Try adding an herb that you have never worked with or check out the seasonal farmers market for some wholesome root vegetables. Depending on what you make, you can always place an offering on your altar or out in nature, thanking the Great Mother or God or Goddess of your choice. 

There are many beautiful ways to celebrate the season of Yule; these are a few of my favorites. I would love to hear which one you like best or if you have anything to add. Comment below if you decide to try any of these suggestions.

Year of the Witch, by Temperance Alden

Year of the Witch: Connecting with Nature’s Seasons through Intuitive Magick, by Temperance Alden
Weiser Books, 9781633411876, 224 pages, 2020

Year of the Witch: Connecting with Nature’s Seasons through Intuitive Magick by Temperance Alden is a charming yet quirky little book.  I say little because the book itself is a comfortable, hand-held size with wide pages and margins roomy for note-taking.  It makes the experience of reading it more pleasurable.  I selected it thinking it would be a guide to practicing with the pagan sabbat days, like Beltane and Yule.  It is, but it takes a meandrous journey getting there.  The author’s thesis is that a witch can customize their experience of “the witch’s year” to be an authentic communion with the Earth and not limited to a conceptual celebration of holidays reflecting seasons that do not align with lived experience in one’s locale. 

For example, the author resides in South Florida, and moved there after living in Montana – so her experience of autumn has varied widely.  She wants witches and people exploring a witchcraft practice to feel empowered to claim their own sacred Earth holidays.  Therefore, her personal annual celebration of seasons includes “Shark Season” and “Avocado Harvest.”. 1

Alden makes it clear from the get-go that her aim is for fledgling witches to develop a connection to the Earth and an appreciation for local nature spirits. She goes into great detail towards what this practice entails, beginning with what I found to be the very best explanation of what intuition is that I’ve ever come by (and a message I very much needed to hear):

“The most common questions asked by those beginning their paths of witchcraft usually boil down to a variation on ‘Am I doing this right?’…. These questions often indicate that someone is going too fast down the path…and trying to run before they learn to walk’…. It is necessary to first learn how to distinguish between the voices of anxiety, ego and intuition…. Intuition is the literal gaining of knowledge without any conscious thinking or reasoning.  Intuition hardly ever comes in the form of an impulse. More often it feels like a lazy afternoon breeze flowing through our lives without any effort.”2

In Chapter 2, “Cycles, Seasons, Death and Rebirth,” she talks about hormonal cycles, the cycle of the seasons, cycles in climate, and astrological cycles as well.  Here, the book takes a sharp and unexpected twist when [TRIGGER WARNING] Alden reveals that she does not believe in climate change and cites some academic sources to back up her point of view!!!  This is not what most readers seeking guidance on how to work with earth-based witchcraft are going to expect, and frankly I don’t know what to say about this.  We are all entitled to our opinion on whether the science supporting the actuality of climate change is accurate, but in this book, her opinion stands out like a big yellow caution sign.  Everything else in this book is wonderful (if not a bit divergent at times), but throwing climate change denial at an unsuspecting reader bites a bit.

From there in Chapter 3, “Elemental Magick,” Alden goes on to explain the elements — earth, air, fire, water and spirit — and their role in magic work. In Chapter 4, “Sheparding the Land,” she comes across as a true eco-activist, insisting that students of her magical-methods make it part of their spiritual work to create ways of reducing their footprint on the earth, such as not using single-use plastic water bottles, and buying seasonal produce from farmers instead of shopping big box grocery stores. 3

My only other criticism of Year of the Witch, is that in Chapter 5, “At the Gates of Witchcraft,” Alden deep dives into a rant about being called a “plastic witch.”  She accuses witches who use this term insultingly as spiritually bypassing their privilege.

“I believe the term plastic witchcraft is twofold in its meaning. First ‘being plastic’ refers to being superficial and fake. Second, [it] refers to using plastic products. However, the term itself is very condescending and shows an aggressive amount of spiritual bypassing. [It] allows for more privileged witches to ridicule and scorn less fortunate witches.” 4

For a moment, I forgot I am a 46-year-old woman reading a spiritual book of my chosen belief-system from the comfort of my favorite armchair, and I was transported into my 16-year-old-self up in my bedroom flipping through the latest issue of Sassy Magazine and reading an essay written by the staff intern who just passed Psych 101 with a B+.  All I have to say about that is I think this book aims at a younger audience….

Finally! After all that drama, and through some delightful ideas about creating altars and building spiritual gardens outside, we get to the end of the book where Alden presents the traditional “year of the witch” and explains the eight sacred sabbaths: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, and Mabon.  For each holiday she goes into traditional lore and a suggested practice for celebrating.  The chapters are brief, but they are well referenced and offer some fun ideas, such as bread-baking recipes to celebrate the harvest feast at Lughnasadh (also called Lammas).

Alden’s ending conclusion in Year of the Witch is that if you are a witch living in a region with a climate differing from the classical four-season year, you can make your own holidays and create your own personalized “year of the witch” to follow.  Adding to the overall charm, she put in a recipe to make your own Florida Water and also for cascarilla powder in the appendix, along with a calendar of all pagan holidays celebrated in different countries around the world.  Overall, this is a fun book!