Monday, August 23, 2021

Book Review: Seasons of a Magical Life by H. Byron Ballard

book review, pagan, neopagan, witchcraft, witchy, book, wheel of the year, seasons, witch life

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The school year here in Georgia is well underway and already incredibly stressful. Every day there are changing demands, new policies, and schedule changes as COVID numbers here in Georgia rise as the Delta variant travels quickly through the population. I am concerned we may shut down again, despite our best intentions, simply because our hospitals are filling faster than we can care for people. I'm tired...all. the. time. I'm anxious, and honestly, angry and frustrated. As you all know, I am very much a scientist. I have a degree in biology and paleontology with a focus on evolutionary biology and functional morphology. My point is, I am learned enough to understand the basic science behind this pandemic, especially the evolutionary aspect of it, and the fact that science changes as we learn more, but not knowledgeable enough to consider myself an expert in any capacity. Therefore, I rely on experts. I'm frustrated and angry that so many people are ignoring scientists and acting like we are purposely trying to deceive the public to make a quick buck or, worse, mind control them. I'm frustrated and angry that I did everything requested of me to slow the spread and keep my neighbors safe. I am still doing everything requested of me so when I see the numbers soar again, Mississippi open extensions of their children's hospitals in parking garages in the middle of an August heatwave, and Texas admit there are no ICU beds left in the state, that anger and frustration turns tears that eventually turn to numbness. I'm not sure what to do anymore or if there is anything more I can do. With all the being said, I derived incredible comfort recently from reading Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living by H. Byron Ballard. (What a way to start a book review, I know.)

Ballard's book will leave you longing for a simpler time in the country, watching the garden grow until its able to provide your family with an abundance of ripe fruits and vegetables to be feasted upon, jammed, and canned, the leaves later slowly turning red and orange before the long night's rest, just for a couple months later to blossom again in the early Spring months. This book is a practical poetic masterpiece on how to live in harmony with the changing seasons, however that may manifest where you live. This book is by no means a traditional witch book, but instead a sweet serenade to the Earth and how we, as pagans and witches, can live more in tune with the Earth. We are its stewards, after all.

The first several chapters of the book are a series of 'essays' discussing various ideas about the Earth, our place in it, how we can live an abundant life using the Earth's natural cycles, and the basics of the Wheel of the Year as outlined in the book. The first part of the book reads like a lullaby, lulling you into a sense of security despite what is going on in the rest of the world. I am honestly jealous of Ballard's small farm outside of Asheville, North Carolina, but recognize I am blessed enough to have my own 'cottage farm;' I just need to do the work to turn it into the amazing farm she has. I have a lot of work to do! These chapters, as well as the entire book, are filled with personal stories, which I found incredibly comforting. I swear it felt like coming home reading this book and I couldn't wait to snuggle up on my antique couch to read more after a long day's work. Furthermore, Ballard offers a slew of practical advice. In one essay, she suggests changing your mindset from sleep being the end of the day to the beginning, something I found myself taking too quickly. I already changed my nightly routine to better suit my idea of starting the day with rest. What a wonderful way to begin a day, and if you think about it, technically the day begins at midnight, so it's not a far-fetched notion. She also discusses the basics of spells, suggesting that just like a scientist, you should test your spells and practices to find what really works for you, instead of trying to fit into some mold because you saw another witch do it that way once. She encourages the use of folklore and mythology as the basis of your craft as these stories ring with truth and practice advice, such as not eating or drinking anything from the Otherworld and not giving up your name to just anyone. This idea of using myths and folklore as a way to learn witchcraft is something I use within my own practice and highly encourage others to do the same.

The second part of the book covers each of the eight sabbats, as well as Ember Days and Rogation Days. Ballard repurposes Ember and Rogation days to fit the pagan calendar, and honestly, I absolutely loved their inclusion and can't wait to make it part of my own Wheel of the Year. Within each sabbat, Ballard includes a letter from her farm, skills to learn and hone, chores to complete, traditions and celebrations, foraging, activities, and an icon of the season. She takes an incredibly practical approach to the Wheel of the Year, turning the mundane into pure magic. The point is not to create elaborate celebrations and altars, but instead to live in tandem with the Earth as our ancestors once did. I love this approach and feel that we are losing skills and a mindset that will not only benefit ourselves but our planet as well. At Samhain, Ballard discusses preplanning your funeral and taking care of your last will and testament. As the ex-wife of a funeral director, I cannot stress how wonderful this advice is and I am thankful she included it in the book. So many people do not take care of their end-of-life care and needs, leaving their families to figure out their wishes while also grieving. Please don't do this to your family; take care of your funeral and will, even if you expect to live for many more years. Your family will appreciate it when the time comes. I loved each sabbat chapter, soaking in the basic skills and ideas Ballard beautifully outlines for her readers. This is not a spell book, nor a traditional book about the sabbats. There are no outwardly witchy rituals and spells to be done for each sabbat, instead, Ballard discusses a homesteading life rooted in practicality. She is also abundantly aware her situation is not common and offers some advice for living with the seasons no matter where you are, encouraging her readers to find magic anywhere and everywhere. Furthermore, there are no set days for any of these celebrations, leaving it up to the reader to decide when they wish to celebrate. I really liked this, and it makes the book more accessible to those living in the Southern Hemisphere or a place that does not have four seasons.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was in the chapter on Imbolc. Under Foraging, Ballard says, "There might be a little dandelion action. Eat them up!" For a book that is touting living with the Earth and being Her steward, this is not great advice. The first dandelions of the season are also the first food for many pollinators. Leave them for the insects and collect your dandelion later in the season when more flowers are blooming. Trust me, there will be plenty in the upcoming months.

I greatly enjoyed this book and the comfort it brought in times of stress, anxiety, and frustration. Again, this is not a typical witchy book, and some of you may be disappointed by the lack of spells, rituals, and folklore. However, if you are looking for a book to encourage you to go back to your roots, live within your means, be a good steward of the Earth, and live with the cycles and seasons, I highly encourage you to pick up Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living by H. Byron Ballard. It will not disappoint! Seasons of a Magical Life: A Pagan Path of Living by H. Byron Ballard is available now.

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  1. You've certainly been on my mind, knowing where you live and your occupation. It's hard to keep doing the right thing while everyone around you behaves "business as usual". I can't do much, but I offer virtual moral support through the internet. I can't fathom being an educator right now (or really any other position so connected to the public).

    On another note, this book sounds delightful and I'll have to add it to me reading list.

    1. Thank you! It has been a trial to say the least. I'm sure you will eat this book up. Its a nice read to break up the mundane for sure.

  2. Thank you so much! Sorry about the dandelions--we have so many (as well as other pollinators favorites) that it seems enough to share.

    1. Of course! Thank you for writing such an amazing book. I was not exaggerating when I said it brought me a lot of comfort. I know it will do the same for others. And it's okay about the dandelions. Different plants in different areas, you know?

  3. Sweet soul, I am tremendously sorry about the intense and hugely frustrating challenges, stresses, and difficulties that are a part of your every waking hour at present. I share your belief in the truth and importance of science (I got vaccinated the nanosecond I became eligible for both of my shots) and am shaken to my core to see how many people fail to understand or choose to turn a blind eye to the honest-to-goodness reality of the pandemic. Please know that you are not alone in feeling the way that you do and that I am always just an email away if you ever want to discuss anything on this subject (or otherwise) more in private.

    Thank you for shining the spotlight on this excellent book. I know that I often say this, and it's always true of course, but this title is way up there on my current witchy/Pagan reading wishlist (as in, in the top 25 titles at present) and I was elated to get a better feel for it via your insights and observersations.

    Wishing you immense safety, a rapid return to serenity, and moments of joy amongst the major challenges, dearest Willow.

    Autumn Zenith 🎃 Witchcrafted Life

    1. Thank you, Autumn. Knowing I am not alone in my feelings and that they are valid helps tremendously. I hope you and your husband are safe and healthy. I think about you often.


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