My Spiritual Journey

I was born into a Christian family. I was raised as what I term “Bapticostal”. My parents divorced when I was four and I spent one weekend with my father in the Church of God, and the other weekend with my mom’s family in the Baptist church. If you know anything at all about different Christian denominations, you will know what an oxymoron it is to but baptist and pentecostal together. If you are not familiar, rest assured when I say that the two are about as diametrically opposed as you can be between two protetstant Christian denominations. 

 

I grew up with what is known as the protestant work ethic. Work, labor of any kind, was praised, and it was drilled in that if I wanted anything out of life that I would have to work for it. I grew up not expecting handouts and believing that accepting charity was a show of laziness 

 

Above all else, I was raised to believe that Christianity meant believing in the tenets of the church without question. If I had questions I learned not to ask them. It was more important to have faith and believe than it was to understand. Knowing- understanding- was not necessary. All that was necessary was to believe what was taught. 

 

If you know me, then you know that I have always struggled with being a people pleaser. I think part of that stems from my parents’ divorce. It doesn’t really matter what caused it. I have always struggled to live an authentic life because the authentic me doesn’t always lead to approval. I have hid myself and tried to live based on what makes other people happy for so long, and that included blind allegiance to my religion of birth. I had questions, but I never asked them. Asking questions meant that I was “bad” or “didn’t have faith” or “didn’t believe”. For a long time I was fine with this. I pushed aside my doubts and questions. I refused to think for myself and insisted that I believed what I was taught. 

 

In May 2011 my life changed. I came home from work and found that my husband had passed away. I was 31. He was 24. That day changed my life forever. After the initial phases of grief I started to look at my life. I began to have little doubts about my faith. I began to ask myself questions. It wasn’t long after that until I decided that I really wanted to ask these questions. The faith I grew up with was not welcoming of these questions. So I began to look elsewhere. 

 

I had always felt a special connection to Judaism and so that is where I turned to. I began reading everything I could about Judaism and gravitating more and more toward it as a culture and religion. It wasn’t a linear path, but in 2016 I completed my conversion to Judaism when I sat before the beit dein and entered the mikveh. 

 

Part of the process was choosing my Jewish name. A lot of convert women choose names like Devorah or Ruth, but they did not speak to me. I chose my name by looking to my life. One thing that resonated with me was my focus on life. I finally felt that I was living an authentic version of my life. Also, looking at my life after the death of my husband, I was, quite literally, still living. So I chose the name Chaya. But I was torn between life and the moon. I have always loved the moon. It’s feminine energy speaks to me, and the moon has special significance for Jewish women. So I chose to take a second name, Levana. My Jewish name- Chaya Levana- quite literally means Living Moon. 

 

It’s now three years after my conversion. Judaism has been a fitting addition and change to my life. It speaks to me and is where I find the most meaning in my life. I haven’t been static in my spiritual journey, however. Judaism encourages questions, and I still have plenty of those. I love that my faith encourages me to ask questions. While Judaism is my religion, I don’t always practice it in stereotypical Jewish ways. I blend many different religions into my personal practice. I have added many aspects of Buddhism into my walk as well as Celtic spirituality to honor my Scottish heritage. I also infuse a lot of earth based, hoodoo and conjure into my walk as well. I am becoming more and more vocal in my political beliefs, and those are fully fused with my spiritual beliefs as well. Feminism has been a huge recent influence on my spirituality.  

 

Now that I’ve written all of this out I’m pretty amazed. I mean, it’s my life and I know it, but seeing it written out I just feel it all at once. It’s definitely not been a linear path. I haven’t even reached the end of it. That’s what amazes me the most. I have walked an amazing path, and I’m only part way along. I still have more to come. I fully expect that the rest of my spiritual path will be just as amazing as the first part.  

 

Is America Ready for A Female President?

I know it’s kind of early to be making predictions about the 2020 presidential election, but I thought I would go ahead and share my thoughts on the topic of a woman president. 

 

First off, I am sorely vexed in 2019 to have to ask if we are ready for a female president. It just rubs me the wrong way that we are still questioning whether or not a person’s gender has anything to do with their ability to get a job done. Women have come so far outside of their previously designated separate sphere of the home, yet, we still have not had a woman hold the highest office in the land. I find it ironic that women have been deemed unfit for the presidency due to lack of military experience (prior to women being in the military), yet, we now have our fourteenth president who entered office with no military experience. 

 

I personally do not think a person’s gender should have any bearing on their ability to serve as President of the United States. It does not matter to me. What does matter is the person’s ability to lead this nation. With that being said, I would love to see a female President. But, I would not vote for a woman simply for the sake of having her in office. 

 

In the end, I don’t think America is ready for a female President. Sadly, if we are still discussing the “readiness” or if a “woman can handle it” we aren’t there yet. America has a lot of growing up left to do. I do see a day when we will have a female President. I just don’t think it will be 2020.    

 

Remembering Destruction

One thing I have learned in life is that is is crucial that we take time to remember and honor the destruction in our lives. Remembering the traumas in our past allows us to grieve in a healthy manner and ensures that we never forget the things that have made us what we are. We can never get away from our shadow, and we shouldn’t want to. We need not dwell on the darkness. It is unhealthy to do so. However, it is equally unhealthy to pretend that we have no shadow. Integration is key. Integration is balance. There is dark to every aspect of life. 

 

In Judaism, there is a day for remembering destruction. Tish B’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, is a day of destruction in Jewish history. Many terrible acts destruction have happened on this day, including the destruction of both temples. The 9th of Av is a day of mourning and fasting to mark and remember the terrible things in our past. If you want to read about the history of destruction on this day, you can do so here.

 

Because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the date varies on the Gregorian calendar each year. In 2019, the day fell on Saturday August 10. However, because the day fell on the Sabbath, it is observed on Sunday August 11. The Sabbath is a day of supreme joy and beauty, and we do not fast on the Sabbath. Traditionally, the day is observed through fasting, prayer, reading Lamentations, and general sadness. 

 

I, personally, do not fast on Tish B’Av. I do tend to spend the day in solemness and reading of Lamentations. I take time to remember the destruction that has happened on this day and I try to find parallels in my own life and not just dwell on the world as a whole. I find it quite interesting, but not coincidental, that the day always falls around the time of Lughnassadh. It is the beginning of the shadow season. It’s still summer, but we are reaching the time of harvest and drawing closer to the time of death. What better time to take a day to observe and remember our past traumas?  

 

Lammas Traditions

This past week on August 1, we celebrated Lammas or Lughnasadh (luna-sa), the first of several harvest festivals. Although I am Jewish, I come from Scottish heritage, so I do observe Gaelic/Celtic holidays such as this one. There are many ways to celebrate Lughnasadh, as well as many myths and legends that surround it. Like everything else, I pick and choose what I do in my celebrations surrounding the wheel of the year. 

 

As Lughnasadh is a harvest festival, my celebration mainly surrounds the foods that I eat. My Lammas meal is pretty simple. I make sure to eat from the Native American Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) as well as a loaf of bread- namely Challah. This Jewish braided bread traditionally was just bread and the word challah referred to the pinch of dough that was offered to the Queen of Heaven in the fire. You would literally pinch off a piece of dough and burn it in the fire as an offering to Asherah. However, the term challah has come to mean the loaf itself. I generally don’t make my own challah (although on occasion I do), so at Lughnasadh I make sure to take a pinch of the already baked bread and save it to burn on my altar for the Queen of Heaven. Then, I eat the remainder of the Challah with the Three Sisters.

My Lammas meal is the majority of my observance of this holiday. I also like to have a corn dolly on my altar from now until Mabon. That’s about it, though. I’m rather simple in my observances and that works for me. What are your favorite ways to observe Lughnasadh? 

~Chaya Levana

 

39 Things I’ve Never Told You

I’ve been blogging for awhile now, and most of my dear readers are not personal connections (yet!). You may or may not have explored more of this website and read my brief bio on here. So while staring at my blank screen trying to come up with something to write (yes it happens, a lot!), I decided it’s high time to give you a behind the scenes peek into my life. Why 39 things? Because I’m 39 years old. So, without further ado, here are the things I’ve not told you about myself. 

  1. I was raised in a single parent home- by my dad. My parents divorced when I was four years old. My father ended up with custody of me and my sisters. As a result, I grew up with a distinctly masculine outlook on life. 
  2. I wasn’t born Jewish. I was actually raised what I term Bapticostal. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a mix of Baptist and Pentacostal. I went to the Baptist church every other Sunday with my mom’s family and the other Sundays I attended the Church of God with my dad. I converted to Judaism as an adult with the formal conversion process ending when I was 36. 
  3. I tried to walk away from being an empath. I didn’t know I was an empath- or even what that term was- at the time, but as a child I was highly sensitive. As a teenager I pushed the sensitivity away through hardening myself. It didn’t really work and I was miserable for a long time. When I was introduced to what an empath is I turned back to my natural self. 
  4. I’ve been married three times. Yes, you read that right. I’m 39 years old and I’m on my third marriage. The first ended in divorce, and I was widowed with the second. 
  5. I have no preferred partner type. Between my husbands and other significant relationships, it’s easy to tell that I have a wide variety of things I am attracted to. I definitely don’t have a “type” that I’m drawn to. Age, looks, personality- they’ve all been extremely different from one another. 
  6. My friends range in age from 20s to 60s. I love people with experiences and don’t congregate with just those around my own age. I do, however, have friends close to my own age as well. 
  7. I love clothes, but I’m not that into shoes. I love having new clothes and wearing lots of funky things, but when it comes to shoes, I could be in flip flops all the time and be fine. I actually prefer no shoes at all and I even walk around my office barefoot when we aren’t open to the public. 
  8. I have a 9-5 job in addition to working as a healer and transformation life coach. I’m actually a librarian by trade. As in I have a MS in Library and Information Science. I’m the Director of a small public library in central Pennsylvania. 
  9. If I could make a living from higher education I would. I don’t mean working for a university. I mean as in making a living from being a student. I absolutely love learning. There are so many things I want to study. Alas, I can’t be a professional student. 
  10. I have a very dry sense of humor. 
  11. I’m extremely literal. I often don’t get it when people are joking around. I’m a say what you mean and mean what you say kind of girl. 
  12. I can be more than a little juvenile. I enjoy sophomoric humor. My mind lives in the gutter. 
  13. I broke my arm roller skating when I was four. I was convinced that I didn’t need my parents to hold my hand and that I could skate like my big sister. Whichever parent I was with actually let me try (probably to get me to stop whining) and I went down on my left arm breaking it. 
  14. Although I didn’t have the traditional experience, I’m a sorority girl. Yes, your girl is an Alpha Phi. 
  15. At one time I had dreams of being an actress. I don’t know how that would have worked out considering I have extreme anxiety from being in front of people. 
  16. My husband and I met on Facebook. 
  17. I quit my job and moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to get married in 2017. 
  18. Despite being happy in Pennsylvania I am extremely homesick and miss North Carolina with a passion. 
  19. My favorite movie ever is Gone With the Wind. By the time I was 10 I could recite all the lines while watching it. 
  20. I secretly wanted to grow up and be Scarlett O’Hara. 
  21. I’m a fat activist. I believe all people deserve basic human rights and fat people shouldn’t be discriminated against. Also, you can’t tell a fat person’s health just by looking at them. 
  22. I am not liberal or conservative. I’m a Libertarian by political affiliation. I adhere to a live and let live philosophy. 
  23. I am not ashamed to believe in the basic and inherent goodness in people. 
  24. I believe our society can not be changed through legislation but only through education and changed minds/hearts. 
  25. My favorite fiction is dystopian literature. 
  26. I love to sing but I’m really really bad at it. My husband loves to sing and is quite talented. He didn’t believe me when I said I can’t sing. One day I made him turn his back to me while I sang him a song (I was too nervous to have him look at me). When I was finished he turned around and said, “Well, that took a lot of courage.”
  27. While I’m Jewish by religion and identify as such, I don’t adhere to a strictly Jewish spirituality. Ok, you probably could figure that one out, but I do blend a lot of various practices from different traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American practices, and HooDoo. 
  28. I was Senior Class President of my high school. Not that I was popular enough to be elected to anything like that. In fact, I won solely because no one ran against me. When it was announced that I won, some students tried to have me removed by circulating a petition to have me replaced. 
  29. I’m an anomaly in my immediate family. My parents had three children as did both of my sisters. I’m the only childless one in the bunch.   
  30. I can tap my second toe, but only on my right foot. When I have my feet resting on the floor with all my toes still I can make my second toe tap the floor. I can’t do this on my left foot, though. 
  31. I can curl my tongue. 
  32. Despite trying to conform to my family’s ultra conservative worldview, I have always been a feminist. In third grade when all my friends were absent, I spent my play period on the playground alone giving a lecture to an imaginary audience about the urgency of America electing a female President. 
  33. I read everything in museums. Every single word on every single sign in every single exhibit. Take me to a museum and we are guaranteed to be there for hours. 
  34. When I was five years old I wanted to marry Spider Man. 
  35. Sadly I still struggle with worrying about what other people think about me. It’s not as bad as when I was younger, but I do still struggle with this. 
  36. My absolute favorite thing in the entire world to eat is a tomato sandwich. White bread. Duke’s mayonnaise, thick slices of juicy red tomatoes, salt, pepper. It doesn’t get better than that. Yes, I’m Southern. 
  37. I’m proud of my roots. Every single experience I’ve had has made me the medicine woman I am today. 
  38. I have two best friends: my Rebel BFF and my Yankee BFF. Both women mean the world to me. 
  39. My life at 39 is nothing like I thought it would be, but I love it. I can’t say I wouldn’t change anything, because let’s be honest, I totally would. However, I love who I am and where I am. I am content. 

There you have it. Thirty nine random facts about me and my life. I hope you learned something. Feel free to leave a comment on what surprised you the most. 

The Gift of Mercury Retrograde

Mercury is in retrograde from July 7 – July 31, 2019. What does this mean? In simple terms, it means that Mercury is travelling backwards from it’s normal path. In reality, this isn’t possible. So why do we say Mercury is in retrograde? Because Mercury is closer to the sun than Earth it has a shorter orbit time (88 days compared to Earth’s 365). In other words, Mercury wizzes by Earth several times in our year, But, like the story of the tortoise and the hare, at some point, Earth, in her steady circle, will catch up to and then pass Mercury. When Earth passes Mercury it appears that Mercury is moving backwards. This is Mercury retrograde and it happens three times each year. 

In astrology, Mercury rules communication, coordination, travel, commerce, and finances. So, when Mercury is in retrograde we tend to experience communication snafus and things just tend to not go well in these areas. Oftentimes, we tend to expect awful things to start happening as soon as Mercury goes retrograde or when we start experiencing these things we wonder if Mercury has gone retrograde. 

Instead, we should look at this period as a gift. In modern society we tend to go full steam ahead with plans and projects. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but sometimes we forget to sit back and take stock of what we have going on and what we need to accomplish. Mercury retrograde is the perfect time for this. We can’t really stop everything for several weeks three times per year, but we can take these weeks to slow down and think about what we are doing. When we do so we are being mindful in all that we do. Instead of expecting bad things to happen and accepting that you will have a bad attitude about it, plan to use this time to look inward and take stock of what’s going on with you and how you interact with the universe. Make plans, but don’t make final decisions until Mercury is direct again. If you plan to travel, double, and even triple check, your travel plans prior to heading out. Be sure to have a back up plan. When things go wrong (because let’s face it, it happens during Mercury retrograde) take a deep breath and ask what you need to learn from the experience. 

Like everything else in life, Mercury retrograde is what you make of it. If you expect all bad things and a bad attitude, that’s exactly what you will get. Instead, expect to learn some lessons about yourself and you most certainly will.  

~Chaya Levana

Ritualized Self Care for Jewish Women

Self care. It’s something that you hear witchy and holistic types talking about a lot. Self care is critical because if we don’t care for our own needs we soon run out of steam when caring for others. What exactly is self care? It’s anything you do for yourself in order to recharge your physical, mental, and/or emotional health. Self care is something that you actually enjoy doing, not something you feel like you have to do. 

Judaism has self care built right into it in the form of the mikveh. If you don’t know what the mikveh is you can read about it here. 

I can hear many of you right now wanting to argue about how I can refer to the mikveh as self care. The mikveh? The ritual bath for women to make themselves clean after the impurity of menstruation and childbirth? Feminists have long argued about the archaic idea of the patriarchy seeing women as unclean due to biological functions. 

I argue here, however, that the mikveh has nothing to do with physical cleanliness and everything to do with spiritual ascension. Does a woman’s blood make her spiritually unclean? No. It does, however, result in a groundedness that makes it more difficult to tune in to our inherent intuition. 

When looking at the chakra system we notice that there are seven centers within each of us. Within our center we find the heart chakra. Below this we have the three lower chakras – root, sacral, and solar plexus. Above the heart are the three higher chakras – throat, third eye, and crown. Each one of our chakras are important for proper balance within our physical, emotional, and mental self. The lower chakras, however, are tuned into our physical needs – groundedness, physical pleasure, and sense of self worth. The upper chakras are concerned with our ability to speak our truth, intuition, and our relationship with or merging with our higher Spirit. These upper chakras are what are viewed as the spiritual self. The heart chakra is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras. It focuses on love for self and others as well as love for humanity and all things. 

Women are generally more intuitive and spiritually minded than men. When women bleed, however, they come out of the higher realm and into a more grounded state. There is nothing wrong with being grounded, and bleeding is the way in which women bring life into the world. Both are necessary. We must be grounded at times to ensure that we can function in this life. But just as we don’t bleed continuously, we are not meant to be grounded continuously. Ascension is the process of reaching for the divine and being grounded is a state of not being there. Bringing life into the world and bleeding are sacred acts, but when we are not doing this we are supposed to be seeking higher states of ascension. 

The mikveh provides an opportunity for women to delineate between the bleeding time and the time they return to higher states of intuition. It provides women a time to be alone and contemplate our spiritual selves. Preparing for the mikveh allows women to care for their bodies in a deeper and more ritualized way than normal. Immersing in the mikveh is a ritual that allows women to focus on their own needs and serves as built in time for meditation. 

Going to the mikveh after menstruation and before resuming sexual activity with a spouse provides women the opportunity to prepare for the ascended sacred act of sexual intercourse. When we see the Divine as both masculine and feminine then we see the marriage of male and female as the coming together of the two divine halves. Sexual intercourse is the physical act of the divine halves merging. Women need the mikveh after menstruation and childbirth in order to bring them back into the higher realm prior to engaging in this sacred union. The mikveh isn’t needed prior to all sexual acts because women are already in the higher realm. It is only after the grounding nature that results from bleeding that we need to bring ourselves back to our naturally intuitive state. 

I truly believe that the mikveh is a gift to women from the Divine. Sadly, men have not traditionally understood this and saw a woman’s natural time of bleeding as something dirty and worthy of being ashamed of. As women, it is up to us not to allow a man’s lack of understanding to rob us of the sacred self care that is inherent in going to the mikveh. 

Sometimes you can’t go to the local mikveh. What if you are travelling and there is no mikveh available? What if you’re not Jewish but you are really drawn to the idea of the mikveh? What if you are Jewish and have never been but aren’t thrilled by the idea of going to the local mikveh? No matter what the situation is you can usually find a way to indulge in the self care ritual of the mikveh. A man made mikveh isn’t necessary. All that is required is a natural body of water. If you don’t have access to one or it’s too cold to go outside and immerse in the river (or other natural body), you can collect rainwater and add it to your bath. Ideally, your tub is large enough to allow you to completely immerse yourself in the water. Of course, depending on your level of observance (or if you aren’t Jewish) complete immersion of every hair may not matter to you. If you are Jewish and feel comfortable with reciting blessings, you can recite the mikveh blessings after each immersion. If you are intrigued by the idea of immersing in a natural body of water you can read the kosher aspects regarding just this. Whether you already immerse or are intrigued by the idea, I hope you have at least come to see that the mikveh is not degrading to women. 

Book Recommendations

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, and I really want to try some fiction for a bit. I love all kinds of fiction, but I’m really in the mood for some Jewitchy fiction. It’s hard to find because nothing is really labeled that way. So, I have compiled a list of ten books I recommend if you are looking for some Jewitchy fiction. I’ve read half of this list. The other half have either been recommended to me or I have stumbled across them in looking through Jewish fiction lists. If you’ve read any of these let me know what you think.

  1. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant- This is the story of Dinah- a woman mentioned in passing as the daughter of Jacob. In the Bible she is a footnote in the story of her violent rape. Here we see her story, and that of her four mothers.
  2. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish– Historian Helen Watt and student Aaron Levy are on a quest to discover the identity of the mysterious “Aleph”- author of a cache of 17th century Jewish documents discovered in a London home.
  3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker– A golem. A jinni. Both loose in New York City. Need I say more?
  4. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman– Coralie Sardie is forced to perform in her father’s Coney Island freak show. She teams up with Jewish immigrant Eddie Cohen to investigate the disappearance of a young Jewish girl.
  5. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman– Four women find refuge at Masada with other Jews fleeing Roman oppression. Ninety flee there. Two women and five children survive.
  6. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman– Rachel, a beautiful Jewish girl living in St. Thomas in the early 1800s, has always been a difficult girl. When her husband dies she seizes her own life, and her rebellion has reached new heights.
  7. Henna House by Nomi Eve– Yemen, 1920. Adela is a young Jewish girl facing the prospects of marriage or being torn from her cultural identity. This is the story of a woman, her family, and the rituals that bind them.
  8. Eternal Life by Dara Horn– Rachel made a bargain and 2,000 years later she’s still trying to free herself.
  9. The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen– Catherine is desperately trying to encourage her three granddaughters to learn about their roots. Women seeking their ancestors? Pretty witchy.
  10. The Devil in Jerusalem by Naomi Ragen– Detective Bina Tzedek investigates a horrific accident in Jerusalem and ends up caught up in kabbalah, ancient texts, and cult rituals.

Asherah Rising

Queen of Heaven beside her King

Sacred Tree beside the Temple

Female with Male

Two are One in Divine Harmony.

 

Raisin cakes baked for her

Libations of wine poured out

Women worshipped her

Knowing they were created in her image.

 

But man feared woman’s power

Afraid she would deny him

Could not let her shine

Refused to share the spotlight.

 

He tore down the Sacred Trees

Named her as an idol

Banished her name

Denied her very existence.

 

In all the years since

Woman has been subjugated

A plaything for man to control

Not even her own person.

 

Now Asherah is rising

Air, Fire, Water, Earth

Cyclones, fires, floods, quakes

The Elements are raging.

 

Divinity is broken

We are able to correct it

Restore the Queen to her King

For in this day, Asherah is rising!
~Chaya Levana

Celebrating What Makes Us All Mothers

Today is Mother’s Day, the day we celebrate and honor our mothers and our status as a mother. It is a beautiful day to honor the feminine.

What about those women who aren’t mothers? What does this day mean if your mother has passed away? What about the people who don’t have a good relationship with their mother? What about women whose children have passed away? For many women, Mother’s Day is a day filled with pain, loss, or feelings of just plain being left out or not being good enough.

I’ve heard people tell women who struggle on Mother’s Day to just get over it, that they should just deal with the fact that the women who do so much for us get one day. I am horrified every time I hear this. Not all mothers deserve to be honored, and many women who are not mothers do need to be recognized for their contributions.

While I think it is a great idea to honor the woman who gave you birth if you choose to do that, I think that we all have reason to celebrate and honor the values and nature of women. We need to celebrate what makes women unique. I’ve come to realize that Mother’s Day isn’t just about celebrating mothers. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. It’s a day to celebrate the divinity of women, our natures, and what makes us the creatures that bring life into this world. And all women do bring life into the world- not just those who physically give birth to children. Every woman nurtures something, children (her own or those who are birthed by others), herself, ideas- it doesn’t matter. Women nurture. That is worth celebrating.

What is a mother? A mother is creates, nurtures, builds up, disciplines, and loves her child. If you take out the biological or adoptive factors, being a mother is about a relationship. In this capacity, all women are mothers. Each of us has created something or is in the process of creating something. It doesn’t have to be another human being. We use our feminine nature to provide and gift ideas and project to the world. That’s what makes a mother. So, go out and celebrate the feminine- regardless of your status as a mother or the relationship you have with your mother. You are worthy, and you deserve it!

~Chaya Levana