When you hear someone say “I’m sorry” do you automatically think that they are apologizing for having done something wrong? Does the meaning of what they said depend on the context of the situation? When I’ve done something wrong I do say I’m sorry, but I also say that when I haven’t done anything wrong at all.
Last week I wrote about how witches and Jews (and other groups) are similar in that they are persecuted. In that blog I explained the Jewish holiday of Purim. You can read that post here. That was not the blog I intended to write last week, but it is what my heart needed to write. Well, honestly, the part about Purim was what I planned to write about, but the second half wasn’t. Today, I am sharing what I intended to write last week. I want to discuss the similarities between Purim and Ostara as well as a myriad of other holidays from various traditions. Below I have listed several holidays along with what they originally meant and how they are celebrated today. They are listed in order of when they occur in 2019. All but the last two occurred over this past week.
St. Patrick’s Day
Always celebrated on March 17, this day is the Feast Day of the Catholic Saint Patrick. While he was not Irish, St. Patrick was sent as a missionary to Ireland where he became famous for driving all of the snakes out of the country.. While many people see this as a myth, others see it as reality. In actuality, Ireland never had snakes, so in a literal sense, St. Patrick did not drive them from the land as they were never there. Others, however, say that the snakes St. Patrick drove out were not literal snakes, but were pagans and witches and that he was removing the Old Ways from Ireland in order to bring Catholicism in. Today the day is celebrated not as a religious holiday (except among Catholics), but as a form of Irish nationalism. The day is celebrated with wearing green, drinking, festivity, and general merriment. Many pagans and witches mark the day with green in order to celebrate nature and as a way to show St. Patrick that he didn’t succeed in removing them from Ireland.
Ostara is the pagan celebration of the Spring Equinox, and as a result, always falls around March 21. It is a celebration of the fertility goddess Ostara. The day is celebrated with planting, nature walks, time outside, and various other rituals to welcome Spring. Symbols of the day include fertility imagery such as the rabbit and the egg. A festive meal is generally celebrated with eggs and early spring greens.
Nooroz is the Persian New Year celebrated on the Spring Equinox. This holiday is preceded by a major Spring cleaning to ready the home for the celebration. Nooroz is celebrated with bonfires and a festive meal shared with friends and family. The meal includes various fertility symbols including eggs and spring greens. Many celebrants buy new clothes specifically for Nooroz so that they will look their best for the celebration.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that occurs in late winter or early Spring. It always falls on the same day on the Jewish calendar (Adar 14), however, because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the date varies on our solar Gregorian calendar. Purim commemorates the story of Queen Esther and the victory over Haman and the salvation of the Jewish people. When Esther learns that the Persian King- her husband- had consented to the murder of the Jews (her people) she decides to confront him. She fasts (dies to her flesh and descends within her spirit) for three days and then goes before him without being called for, risking her life to plead her case. The holiday is celebrated with raucous parties, drunkenness, costumes to hide ourselves, charity, and eating triangle shaped cookies known as hamantaschen (Haman’s ears) that have sometimes been seen as a representation of the vagina.
Holi is the Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of Spring. Because the Hindu calendar is lunar (like the Jewish calendar) the day does not always fall on the equinox which is a solar astrological marker. Because the Hindu and Jewish calendars are both lunar, Holi and Purim fall around the same time, often on the same day or within one day of each other. Holi is known as the festival of colors and is celebrated with vivid color pigments being thrown around. There are also bonfires and festive meals to mark the occasion. Holi is sometimes also referred to as the festival of love and is a time when people gather together and forget grievances they have with one another.
Like all Jewish holidays, Passover falls on the same lunar/Jewish date (Nissan 15), but moves dates on our Gregorian/solar calendar. Passover is a seven day festival commemorating the Hebrew slaves Exodus from Egypt. The holiday begins with a festive meal- known as a seder- which includes the retelling of the Exodus story. For seven days the festival is celebrated by not eating leavened bread. This is done in commemoration of the fleeing Hebrews who had to flee at a moment’s notice and did not have time for their bread to rise. At the seder, and for the following seven days, the only baked goods eaten are unleavened bread. The festive seder meal marking the beginning of Passover includes fertility symbology- eggs and early spring greens.
Easter is the Christian celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a moveable holiday- occurring on various dates each year, but the specific date is based on when the first full moon occurs after the Spring equinox. This holiday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, his burial, three day descent into hell, and his resurrection and defeat over death. All of these taken together provide salvation for followers of Christ. In many instances, people buy and wear new clothes in order to look their best for Easter services. In addition to religious services that occur at sunrise in cemeteries, the day is often marked with non-Christian aspects taken from Ostara (rabbits, eggs) when the Catholic church forced conversions and took the pagan day and whitewashed it with their own celebration.
Here I have described seven spring holidays that revolve around or related to the Spring Equinox. These are merely seven- there are many more as most every culture has a celebration around this same time. I hope you are able to see that these celebrations are quite similar to one another, several of them having different figures representing the same theme (salvation) or even the same imagery (fertility symbols).
I find it interesting, but not surprising, that most of these festivals involve raucous celebration and merry-making, and that they each celebrate the fertility of Gaia- whether overtly or through their general meaning. It is no accident, really. We are coming out of the dark cold days of winter that mark a type of spiritual inner death. The Spring equinox is a time when not only the earth, but we, are reborn and face the warmer days of Spring and Summer. No matter what your culture or faith, I hope you celebrate a festival at this time of year, and that your celebrations be enlivening.
We have all heard the saying that when one door closes another one opens. Not only have we heard it, but for the most part, we know from personal experience that it is true. But, knowing something and living it out can be two different things. We can know that better things are coming, but it can still be extremely difficult to give up the old way of doing things. Familiarity breeds comfort. This is something I have been learning this week. (I didn’t start out this blog to talk about what I’m specifically learning, but that’s what it has turned in to the past few weeks!) For the past year and a half I have been working with one of my spiritual teachers. This week I have felt a huge call to stop my classes. This isn’t because I am not learning from her- I am learning so much! Actually, this feeling has been off and on for the past two months and I have continuously talked myself into continuing the program I am taking.
Sometimes perspective is everything. You know, how you see something, how it appears to you when you look at it? Perception is not always reality. Recently I saw a photo that reminded me of this. Actually, it was two photos- both from April 2018. The first is of Prince William flipping off the press after the birth of his son, Prince Louis. The second is of Prince William holding up three fingers. You can view them here. In actuality, both photos are of the same moment, one just happens to be from a different perspective.
I’ve had a hard lesson in this over the past week. I have been dealing with some issues in my life that are less than pleasant. In all honesty, they are things that have left me quite miserable and depressed. I’ve never been one to battle with depression, not even when my late husband passed away. But, this winter I’ve really been dealing with it. I know what the issues are, and sadly they are not things that I can control. Anyway, not only have I been miserable and depressed, but I’ve been angry and lashing out at the person who could do something about it. Earlier this week I was almost at the point of breakdown from extreme frustration and hatred.
And that’s when it hit me. Maybe I am to blame. Wait, what? I’m not the cause of my misery. I can’t control the situation that is making me feel this way. It’s not my fault. But, maybe it is. No, I can’t control or change the situation, but I can control how I react to it. I don’t have to let it get me bitter. I don’t have to let it make me angry. And over the past few days I’ve been trying to do just that and change my attitude. I can’t change my situation, and the person who can change the situation has some issues that they are in need of working through. Perhaps if I’m more patient and understanding this person will be more likely to make the necessary changes in their life. Maybe not. But, my whining and nagging about it will not make things any better.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Our ego gets in the way and we focus on ourselves and our own point of view. But, when the ego is in control we are rarely seeing things as they truly are. I am learning that when I feel slighted and wronged I need to act by taking a step back and getting my ego out of the way before I react and things go sour.
If you happen to live in a community (or ever have in the past) with a Jewish Community Center, then you know what their slogan is: Everyone is welcome at the JCC. That’s what they say, anyway. I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know because I’m afraid to go to the JCC to even see if I’d be welcome. I’m not afraid to go to the JCC because I’m fat and out of shape and need to exercise. No. That’s all true, but it’s not why I’m afraid to go. I’m not afraid to go because I fear being laughed at for being fat and out of shape. That one’s not true. I’m so past that at this point in my life. No. My fear is much more practical. You see, I’m afraid to go to the JCC because I’m afraid I will not be welcome.
Yes, you read that right. I’m afraid to go to the JCC because I’m afraid I won’t be welcome. This fear isn’t completely random and unfounded. My fear is grounded in the fact that I am not welcome in synagogues, and if I’m not welcome in synagogues why would I be welcome at the JCC? You see, my fear is logical.
To be fair, I am welcome in synagogues. My husband, on the other hand, is not. He isn’t welcome because he isn’t the “right kind” of Jew. My husband is messianic.
If you’re a Jew this is where you are probably saying, “Hold it. Stop right there. We agree. Your husband isn’t the right kind of Jew. In fact, he isn’t a Jew at all.”
And this is where I beg to differ. He was born a Jew, so he will always be a Jew. A born Jew can be agnostic and still a Jew. A born Jew can be Buddhist and still be a Jew. A born Jew can be anything and still be a Jew because Judaism is as much an ethnicity as it is a religion- perhaps even more so. However, a born Jew can’t be a Christian and still be a Jew.
First of all, this double standard doesn’t even make sense to me. I mean, I understand all the history and animosity between Christians and Jews. I really do. I just don’t get the complete hatred of an entire group of people- especially when it’s Jews who are doing that hating.
I’m not going to get into the whole messianic thing. What I do want to say is that no matter what your views on it are, in the end, why aren’t Jews and messianics welcomed in synagogues as interfaith families? My husband could be flat out Christian and be welcome. He just can’t be messianic and be welcome.
The thing is, if he isn’t welcome in synagogue then I’m not welcome. I refuse to go if my husband isn’t welcome to go with me. It’s not some anti-feminist thing. It’s a family thing. You know, Jews are supposed to be about family? Well, I just want to worship with my family.
As a convert I don’t have a long family history (not even a short one) of Jewish tradition. My days as a Jew began on May 12, 2016 (not including the study and preparation and lifestyle changes that preceded formal conversion). I would like to be active in my Jewish community, but I won’t. Not unless something changes.
I can’t say he isn’t welcome in any synagogue. The Reform temple where I converted welcomes him, but we now live in a different state now. The synagogues here don’t welcome him.
So, I am a Jew- no one questions that. But I am a Jew who really wants to attend services but doesn’t. All I can think of is Hillel. He is known for summing up the entire Torah by saying, “What is hateful to you, don’t do to your companion”. Aren’t we all companions on this planet? As Jews, don’t we know what it feels like to be marginalized? Why, then, do we do it to others and even ourselves?
As for the JCC, maybe I would be welcome there. Maybe even my husband would be. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be brave and check it out. Somehow I’m not so sure.
Thankfully, as a witch, I can practice my Judaism at home and not feel completely abandoned. Prior to the destruction of the second Temple in 70 AD, Judaism as a religion was practiced at home with certain festivals requiring trips to the Temple. But, aside from those required trips, the religion was practiced in the home with families. It was after the Temple was destroyed and more and more Jews were living in the diaspora that the religious aspects of Judaism began to be focused in the synagogue.
Most witches prefer to celebrate and honor the old ways. I do. So, I am grateful that my chosen religion was founded on worshipping in the home. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that today Jews gather to worship publicly and I would enjoy being able to gather with them. I guess I should just count my blessings. If they were aware that I’m a Jewish witch, then they probably wouldn’t accept me either. Maybe I shouldn’t judge and I should test those waters. I won’t, though.
What I will do is point out that we should all be a lot more tolerant of each other’s spiritual beliefs. In the end, most of our beliefs are the same when they are boiled down to their essential elements. A few days ago I saw a meme which listed the Golden Rule from various religions. If you take the time to study comparative religions you will see that in the end, no matter what deity we invoke, no matter what we call ourselves, no matter where we believe power and change comes from, in the end we all believe that we are the same and are required to love each other. If we all ultimately believe the same thing, why do we focus so much time and energy in trying to tell each other that we are wrong in our beliefs and that if we don’t all believe the exact same thing that some of us will end up suffering for it? I don’t understand.
Perhaps we need to spend some time in some serious soul searching to see if we truly believe what we claim to believe. We have all heard the maxim that actions speak louder than words. Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me. I hope you show me love.
The past few weeks have seen a turn of the wheel of the year. Many of us are still experiencing the depths of winter, but the earth is beginning to stir beneath the snow and frozen ground.
This weekend saw the celebrations of Imbolc, St. Bridgid’s Day, and Groundhog Day. Each of these are different (yet related!) celebrations of the coming of spring. A few weeks ago in January, the Jewish celebration of Tu B’Shevat celebrated the same thing.
Tu B’Shveat, or the New Year of the Trees, falls on a different day of the Gregorian calendar each year. The name literally translates to the fifteenth of Shevat, which is the Hebrew day it falls on each year. This year (2019), the holiday was on January 20/21 and in 2020, it will be on February 9/10.
In biblical times, Tu B’Shevat was a date on the calendar which marked the time when farmers were to take their fruit offerings to the temple in the fourth year after planting. In the 16th century, Kabbalists created a seder (festive meal followed in a certain order) to instruct followers about the meaning of the Tree of Life and the relationship between humans and the Ein Sof. During the rise of Zionism and the birth of the state of Israel, Tu B’Shevat became a time to plant trees in order to build the nation. Today, it is celebrated with seders and tree planting. Those of us who live in areas experiencing harsh winters can still celebrate by planting a tree inside and transplanting it later.
No matter what spiritual tradition you follow, this time of year marks a turning. It is still winter, but late January and early February marks the midway point between Winter and Spring. Sap starts to rise in trees, the earliest flowers start to bloom. There is a general hope and promise of re-birth in the air. May the remaining days of winter pass quickly!
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination center.
Do you know how many people died during the Holocaust? Many people are aware of the six million Jews who died. They were not the only ones. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, a total of approximately 20 million people died. That number includes the approximate 17,303,900 known deaths as well as the undetermined numbers of certain groups of people. Who were all of these people?
- Soviet Civilians
- Soviet prisoners of war
- Polish civilians
- Serb civilians
- disabled individuals
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Repeat criminal offenders
- German political opponents
You can read more about this here.
I’m going to include here a piece I wrote in November 2015. It has been just over three years and we are still no closer to finding an answer to this question. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that we must never forget the horror of what happened to 20 million people. I do know that when we say “Never Again” that it is exactly what we mean. This atrocity can never happen again. We must make sure that it doesn’t. And it doesn’t just apply to Jews. While Jews were the largest single group who died in the Holocaust, there were 14 million non-Jews who perished. Never again means never again…for anyone.
Here is my piece from 2015:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the #Syrianrefugees issue. I can understand both points of view when it comes to deciding if the USA and individual states should admit refugees. I really can. It’s not an easy decision no matter which way you look at it. On one hand you have innocent people trying to flee hellish conditions just to be able to stay alive. On the other hand, you have a real threat of terrorism from a small percentage of those people. Or at least we have a potential threat.
The one thing that weighs heavy on my mind is something that I’m sure many people get tired of hearing. The Holocaust. This has happened before. European refugees attempting to flee to the USA and being denied entrance. Lest we forget, in 1939, 937 refugees fled Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba aboard the MS St. Louis. When they arrived in Havana, only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark and enter Cuba. The remaining passengers were denied entry.
After leaving Cuban waters, the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the passengers could see the lights of Miami. They begged President Roosevelt to grant entry to the US, but he didn’t even respond. The St. Louis was sent back to Europe with 908 passengers. Great Britain admitted 288 refugees and the remainder were admitted to continental European countries. Of those 620 refugees admitted to the European mainland, 532 were trapped when Hitler invaded Western Europe. Ultimately 254 of those people died in the Holocaust.
Two hundred fifty four lives that could have been spared. Think about that. It seems like such a small number compared to the millions of people who died, but 254 more people could have lived. Imagine what their decedents could have done. Decedents who were never born. I know a beautiful woman who lives because her mother was put on the kinder transport to England while her other family members were on the St. Louis. If I remember correctly, they landed in Holland, but were part of those who ultimately died. Just thinking about it makes me cry.
We can not continue to live a life ruled by xenophobia. We have to do our best to make the world a better place. Yes, terrorism is real. Yes, we need to be mindful of those who we allow in our country. But that goes for anyone, not just refugees. 254 people died in the Holocaust because of American antisemitism and xenophobia. Jewish people say “Never Again”. We all should say never again. But we shouldn’t just mean never again for Jews. We should mean never again for all people. I’m not saying we should just admit anyone. But saying refugees should be vetted isn’t enough. We need to have some real dialogue about what can honestly be done, what can truly work. This isn’t the time for ideals. It’s the time for making real choices. Will we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past or will we be better people this time around and do the right thing? I’m not saying what the right thing is. I don’t know. I really don’t. But we have to stop being ruled by fear and start living out compassion and love for our fellow man.
If you want to read more about the tragedy of the St. Louis, please go to this page on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.