H. Byron Ballad exhorts readers of her new book, Earth Works: Ceremonies in Tower Time, not to succumb to fear in this turbulent time of transition we are living in as the hierarchical, top-down system of patriarchy collapses.
The book reads as a compendium of practical strategies for surviving the death throes of an ancient and toxic system that “will die as it has lived — in violence and oppression and injustice and death,” the local rootworker, energy consultant and author writes. On Friday, Aug. 17, at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Ballard will read from her book and discuss the process of writing it, including working with an indie press. A question-and-answer session and book signing will follow.
Ballard, who is a ritualist and teacher for Mother Grove Goddess Temple and is known as Asheville’s village witch, has been reading tarot cards for nearly 50 years. She says she used the imagery of the Tower card for the book because it is so familiar to her. Unlike some of the other tarot cards that look scary but have manageable meanings, such as Death or the Devil, she explains, the Tower card “should draw you up short. … It can mean anything from total calamity to change on such a drastic level that there feels no way to either stop it or modify it.”
The book has been 10 years in the making, she says, but “it’s been a lot of thought and gnashing of teeth and wondering about my own sanity and wondering why I can’t drink enough Irish whiskey to just stop thinking about it — but I couldn’t.”
When Ballard started writing the book, she says, she wasn’t thinking about Tower Time (a term she coined) but “more about sustainable community and weaving webs, especially within my spiritual world, across boundaries.” The book, whose original title was Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet, was intended primarily as a book of rituals and ceremonies for Earth religionists to use in their communities, she notes.
The second part of the book fulfills that promise, containing ceremonies for honoring the Earth, marking life transitions and observing seasonal changes. Ballard calls these ceremonies “Earth Works” because, like the bank-and-ditch berms of Neolithic Europe, often used for defense, they serve as a bulwark against perceived destructive forces at work in the culture and give people a place to rest and gather energy to go on.
But the book morphed into its current form, Ballard explains, as she felt increasingly compelled to write about the changes she was seeing in the larger culture, “like Cassandra or John the Baptist crying in the wilderness.” After establishing herself in social media five years ago, she received “a kind of consensus from a lot of different kinds of people, all the way from Catholic priests to atheists … that the American empire is at the end of its days, but also that we’re seeing something larger than that.” With that kind of validation, she says, she started writing about Tower Time and put the two books together.
It’s incumbent on us, Ballard says, to create a new system in the face of the old one that’s falling apart (namely the systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia that often dominate current conversation, as well as issues of environmental degradation and political unrest). “We have to figure out what governance looks like. … Nothing is as elegant — and pardon the use of that word — as a top-down hierarchy. It’s clean and clear, and everybody knows where they stand. But it doesn’t work really well for the majority of people.” She acknowledges that trying to develop a new system of governance without clear, clean models “is very, very difficult, and it’s what led me to write the book.”
The sustainability model no longer works, Ballard says, because the system is in free fall. Instead, we need to “move from the relative safety of sustainability to the more practical place of resilience.” Ten, even 20 years ago, she explains, “It was all about sustainability and keeping it going. But what you have to look at now is how resilient you are in the face of all the changes that are happening.”
For example, with climate change, Ballard continues, some species that are not resilient will become extinct. “I look at nature as our model,” Ballard explains. “What is survivable, and how do we make our chances of surviving better?”
As the tower falls, the author says, we need to create “circles on the ground,” as she calls them, to increase our resilience. Such circles, she says, involve weaving new connections and redefining who our tribe is — “relocalizing everything, reaching past things that we perceive as walls that keep us from being able to deal with each other,” whether those walls are cultural, racial, religious or economic. Ballard stresses that we need to know who our neighbors are: “I mean that very literally. … To know the people who live around you is really important.” Neighbors may have different skills and can help each other survive, she points out.
In these calamitous times, Ballard advises her readers to pluck up their courage and creativity, for “time’s a-wasting.” But she adds that these are the times not only to pull together with hard work and determination but also “to live our big, juicy lives and not postpone them until it’s safer and more sensible.”
As the tower falls, she writes, “We need you to be brave and silly. We need you to sing us — and dance us — home.”
WHAT: Byron Ballard presents Earth Works: Ceremonies in Tower Time
WHERE: Malaprop’s, 55 Haywood St., malaprops.com
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 17, 6 p.m. Free