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Shema- One God or Many?

Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.

This prayer is the cornerstone of Judaism. It sums up the faith in the belief of one G-d. I’ve been asked how I can call myself a witch and a Jew at the same time. How can I claim to be a witch and believe in only one God? Well, that’s easy. Judaism is a religion (and an ethnicity), and witchcraft is a practice. I wrote a blog post here that explains how witchcraft is not a religion but can be used to practice religion if you choose to do so.

But, specifically, I’ve been asked how I can believe in the one G-d of Judaism and claim to be a witch. Isn’t witchcraft incompatible with Judaism? I don’t think so. There are Jewitches who believe in multiple gods or even no god at all. I am not one of them. I do believe in one G-d. But, my idea/understanding of G-d is not what typical Jews (or non-Jews) hold as their idea/understanding. I believe that G-d is a force, a force of nature, that G-d is everything. G-d is the All. I don’t believe that G-d is a person or like a person, but I do believe that G-d is gendered. But, unlike most humans, I think G-d is both masculine and feminine. Note, I didn’t say male and female. I specifically said masculine and feminine. I think G-d has masculine qualities as well as feminine qualities. And I think that is the reason that we humans are both male and female, yet we all have both masculine and feminine qualities. If we are made in G-d’s image, then we would have to all have both qualities. At the same time, if we are parts of a whole and that two people joining together make one whole person, then we mostly have to be dominated by one gender over the other. That way, when we match with our partner, we each bring a dominate gender to create a G-dlike union.

Like most people, I find it easier to relate to G-d in the form of a human because I am human. So, while I don’t believe G-d is a person, it’s easiest for me to pray and relate to G-d as a person. Most of the time I visualize G-d as a woman. That’s not to say that a female G-d is a separate G-d from a male G-d. It’s just easier for me to see G-d as a woman because of the need to overcome overbearing masculinity from my past.

Anyway, I’m going to stop now because I have no idea if this blog has even made any sense. I hope you understand what I’m saying, but if not, maybe I can explain it better at a later date. It’s just difficult to explain the All. But, yes, I do believe in only one G-d. If G-d is All, then G-d is everything, and you can only have one everything.

~Chaya Levana

The Miracle of Being Yourself

Chanukah is a Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Temple and the miracle of the oil burning 8 days when it was only enough to last one night. For those of you who may not be familiar with the story I will give a brief overview.

Anyone familiar with the Christian Bible knows that there is a span of time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Most people are not familiar with anything that took place during that span of time. There are Bibles that have various books in them that are not part of the current Christian biblical cannon. Two of those books are those of the Maccabees. In the tale of the Maccabees, the Jews were living in part of the Greek empire. The Greeks outlawed Judaism and all forms of Jewish practice and belief were not acceptable. Instead of studying Torah, celebrating Shabbat, worshipping the one God, and anything else to do with being a Jew, they were expected to fully assimilate and focus on the physical aspects of self that were prized by Greek culture. Some Jews did just that. But one family, the Hasmoneans, did not want to assimilate. They did not mind being in Greece so much, but they did mind having to give up Judaism. And, they minded it a lot. One of the sons, Judah, the Maccabee (the hammer) gathered up supporters. Though they were few in number they defeated the Greek army. When they went to rededicate the Temple they found it in ruins. Everything was broken and smashed, and the Greeks had even slaughtered pigs on the altar. They cleansed the temple and when they did they found one small container of oil- just enough to light the menorah for one night. It would take 8 days to get more oil and consecrate it for temple use. But, that did not deter the Hasmoneans et al. They lit the menorah, and they went to get more oil to consecrate it. Miraculously, that one small container of oil, enough for one night, remained burning for all 8 nights until the new oil could be consecrated.

That is the story that is told at Chanukah. Parts of it may not be true, although we don’t really know. The Hellenization of the Jews and the Maccabean Revolt are definitely true. The part about the oil burning for 8 days? We don’t really know. The Temple was rededicated on the 25th of Kislev, and they did celebrate for 8 days, but whether or not the little bit of oil lasted, we don’t really know.  If you want to read more about what really happened during the Maccabean revolt, you can read it here.

The Chanukah story has real life meaning despite the authenticity of some aspects. The Hasmonean family and their supporters fought for what they believed in. They were willing to die to be true to their Jewish identity, and many of them did die.

Many of us as metaphysical practitioners, witches, mystics, whatever you want to call yourself, face judgement and persecution from family and other loved ones. Many of us hide our beliefs and stay in the broom closet so to speak. Many of us tried to change ourselves for so long.

When I was growing up, all the way into my mid thirties, I tried to change who I was. I remember as child I was very empathetic. I could feel the pain of other people. When I saw someone who was experiencing emotional pain it would cause me to hurt in my heart. I was laughed at for that and after awhile I began to shut off that empathy. In my teens I began exploring these mystical beliefs but was chastised because good Christian girls don’t get involved in new age witchcraft. So, after awhile I pushed down my interest in these things. I was also very interested in Judaism in my teens and what little bit of empathy I did still have was felt for the Jewish people. I was told that was all well and good but that it couldn’t mean anything other than I felt bad for all the persecution Jews have faced though the millennia of history. I learned to deny myself and change who I was. I became a very dedicated Christian, moving from the Baptist side of things to extremely Pentecostal. But, while I was a “good Christian”, I was miserable.

In 2011 my then husband died. When that happened I began truly questioning who I was and what I believed. I wasn’t ready to leave Christianity, but I started embracing Judaism more and more. I began studying Judaism and attending a Messianic congregation that blended aspects of Christianity with aspects of Judaism. There are many different types of Messianic beliefs that range from Christianity with a flavoring of Judaism all the way up to full on Judaism but believe that Jesus is Messiah. The congregation I attended for 3 and half years was somewhere in the middle. Then, I started attending a Reform Jewish temple and I felt at home for the first time in my life. I pursued formal conversion and became a Jew in 2016. One thing I love about Judaism is the ability to question. I was never encouraged to question religion or faith until I became a Jew. Since that time I have embraced my mystical leanings to the point that I now refer to myself as Jewitch. You can read about that here.

Becoming my authentic and true self has been a miracle. It has transformed me. Not overnight, mind you. And I still have more growth to come. We all do. But I am a very different person than I was in the past. I am more loving and more accepting of others. I know that there is a light inside of me- a Divine spark- that lights up the world. And every day, as I say yes to being me and not someone else’s idea of me, that spark grows. It sheds even more light into the dark world we live in.

At Chanukah we light the menorah. We start on the first night by lighting one candle. We add a candle each night until on the last night, all eight candles are lit. Every day the light grows a little brighter and sheds more light on the darkness around it. The same is true for me as I become myself. And the same is true for you. If you have been hiding who you are I encourage you to take an honest evaluation of yourself. If it’s not safe to be your authentic self then do what you can. Only you know what you can and can’t do in that regard. I can’t tell you what is safe for you. But, I can tell you, that as you take steps toward becoming your authentic self you will be a more free and kind person. Your light will shine brighter around you. And that is a miracle .

10 Self Care Strategies

Last week I blogged about being thankful for yourself. You can read that here. One way to be thankful for yourself is to practice self care. I used to think of self care in terms of big sweeping measures such as a bubble bath with flowers or a massage. Those are good things and they are acts of self care. In fact, I had a massage yesterday and it was bliss. Massages are an act of self care that I swear by and make them a regular part of my self love routine.

However, I have found that self care does not need to be fancy. Often, the little things that you do for yourself often make a big difference in how you feel. So, I have come up with the following ten ideas for self care that are simple, every day acts. They don’t cost anything, or don’t have to depending on how you incorporate them into your life.

Pick one of these or all of these. Incorporate some of them into your life and see how they make you feel. If you already do some of these pick some more. The more self care you practice the better you will feel.

Focus on the now. 

Don’t live your life in the past or in the future. Take each moment as it comes to you. Worrying about the past or future only robs you of the pleasure that can be found in the current moment. The past can’t be changed. The future is often not nearly as bad as we worry it will be. Live in the now and face each moment and day as it comes.

Spend time in silence. 

Our brains are over stimulated  most of the time. We have televisions, computers, phones, and a plethora of other devices that are constantly streaming information at us. It’s no wonder that we have a difficult time relaxing. Spend time in silence. Yes, I mean time without talking, but I also mean brain silence. Take time away from the constant stream of information. Quieting your mind will lead to a wide range of positive changes in your body and mood.

Move.

Find some type of physical activity that you enjoy. I am the first person to admit that I hate to exercise. But moving your body does wonders to improve your mood and how you feel physically. I have taken up yoga and it has made me feel so good. I’m not good at it- yet. But I do it. Actually, over the past two months I haven’t been able to go to my weekly class because of my husband’s health issues. I miss it. I miss it more than I thought I would. I knew I would miss the people, but I didn’t know I’d miss the physical activity. I can’t wait to go back.

Meditate. 

This goes hand in hand with spending time in silence. When you quiet your mind it makes it easier to meditate. It doesn’t matter how you meditate. You don’t have to sit with your legs crossed and your fingers touching saying “om” over and over. You can, but you don’t have to. Meditation can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. The simplest form of meditation is being mindful of your breathing. Take slow deep breaths and focus on the inhale and exhale. Do this for as long as you like.

Do things that bring you joy. 

It doesn’t really matter what you do for self care. If it’s something you enjoy than it is caring for yourself. I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress lately. On top of all that I’ve started writing a novel this month. It is Work with a capital W. In addition to my full time job, and launching this business I’m writing a freaking novel! But I enjoy it. Yes, it’s difficult. But there is a joy I get from disciplining myself to sit down and write something every day. Sometimes I reach my daily goal and sometimes I don’t. But I write something every day. And that brings me joy. Find something you enjoy doing and then go do it. That is self care.

Eat the “bad” foods. 

There are so many people who cut out foods they love because they are bad for them. Carbs. Fat. Sugar. Cholesterol. Whatever. Constantly trying to change what you eat to fit an ideal- even health- brings misery. I’m not saying not to be mindful of your health. Definitely be mindful of your health. But don’t ban entire food groups. No food is bad. Just eat in moderation. Of course, if you have an allergy you have to not eat it. Or, if you eschew certain foods for religious reasons (I do), then I’m not talking about that either. But if it’s a food you would normally eat but don’t because you think it’s “bad”, go ahead. Eat it. Just be mindful of it.

Forgive. 

We’ve all heard the cliche about not forgiving someone only hurts you, not the one you won’t forgive. Or how harboring un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting on the other person to die. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is some truth in all cliches. I’m not saying it’s easy to forgive. I’m not saying you have to forgive if you’re not ready. I struggle with that one myself. What I am saying is that when you choose to forgive someone it does absolutely nothing for them, but it lightens the burden that you carry. Plus, not forgiving someone is living in the past, clinging to the hurt. So, you can’t live in the now and refuse to forgive.

Do nothing.

Yes, that’s right. Don’t. Do. Anything. Set aside some time, be it a day, a few hours, whatever, and do absolutely nothing. Some religions have an entire day that was designed for this. Some people choose to do it while others don’t. But, if you set aside a regular time to do nothing then it helps you to be more productive when you actually get back to doing something. Besides, doing nothing isn’t actually doing nothing. It’s taking care of yourself. And that’s something.

Be spiritual. 

I don’t care if you practice a religion or not. I don’t care if you believe in a higher power or not. Everyone can, and should, be spiritual. Find something outside of yourself that brings meaning to your life. If you find meaning in helping others then go out of your way to be helpful. That is a spiritual practice. If you’re more traditional and follow a religion, do so in a mindful way. Don’t just blindly follow what your religion dictates. Take time to contemplate the teachings and customs. That is spirituality. Finding meaning outside of yourself and connecting to that meaning will bring you an inner peace beyond measure.

Be yourself. 

Above all else be true to who you are. The worst kind of self loathing is derived from trying to fit your life into someone else’s mold. I spent many years of my life rejecting my true self and I was miserable. I was actually pretty good at living according to other people’s expectations. But deep inside my life was chaos. I have physical and emotional issues that I carry to this day that are the result of trying to fit a mold I wasn’t born for. When I decided to be me no matter what I reached a point where I could heal. It’s not easy, but I’m slowly getting there. And I have found that the absolute best self care is to be who I was meant to be.

~Chaya Levana

Being Thankful for Self

Thanksgiving is a time to acknowledge the things we are grateful for. Whether or not you celebrate an annual day of Thanksgiving, and whether or not you agree with celebrating a day set aside for giving thanks at this time of the year (with all the political ramifications that entails) it is important that we take time in our lives to express gratitude for the things that we have. When we give thanks for the things that we have we are expressing an energy to the Divine that we are ready and able for more blessings and abundance.

The Divine gives us good things and when we verbally express our gratitude for those things we open a channel to receive more of those same things as well as more abundant blessings. When we express thanks for the things that we have we show the Divine that we acknowledge those things and that we are ready for more.

Often during this time we overlook gratitude for ourselves. We express thanks for our health, our life, and other aspects, but not for just being ourselves. It’s so common to compare ourselves to others and to want to change who we are. But do we ever stop to give thanks for who we are?

One of the most radical ways to express gratitude to the Diving for being is to practice self care. When we are thankful for being who we are, just as we are, we need to care for ourselves. This goes beyond taking care of our physical bodies, though that is part of it and should not be overlooked. We need to care for for our emotional and spiritual selves as well. We can do this in many ways.

By taking time for ourselves we are showing thanks and gratitude for who and what we are. Self care rituals do not have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as taking a moment to smell a flower and really inhale and appreciate the aroma. A nice hot bath is an exquisite form of self care and a way to express gratitude for self. Going for a walk, meditating, and reading a book are other simple ways to show appreciation for the abundance of life.

No matter how you celebrate giving thanks, make sure to take time to express thanks for the gift of your self. It doesn’t matter if there are things you want to change. We all need to grow. But take time to be thankful for who you are right now in this moment. Develop a self care ritual or engage in one you already practice. Set the intention of giving thanks for self and enjoy.

~Chaya Levana

Magical Mindset

What is magic? You may have even seen it written as magick. Is there a difference when the k is added at the end? That depends on the person you are talking to. Some people think of magic as sleight of hand tricks like a magician at a child’s birthday party. Those people are usually the ones who use magick as opposed to magic. They want to differentiate between the magick that they practice and seight of hand tricks. I just use the word magic without the k because I prefer it, but it really doesn’t matter.

The reason why magic vs. magick doesn’t matter is because magic is a mindset. It’s what you believe it is. Magic is manipulating your environment to get a desired outcome. But manipulation in this case is not bad. It’s taking what you have and transmuting it into what you want. Magic is neither bad nor good. It’s neither black nor white. It’s neither dark nor light. Magic just is. It’s what you make of it. If you don’t believe in magic then you aren’t magical. If you do believe, then you are.

Magical practitioners often use tools like crystals, herbs, oils, etc. to manipulate the situation or create an intention. But tools aren’t necessary and many practitioners use nothing at all. Magic isn’t a spell. It’s not an incantation, a ritual, or a charm. Magic is energy. Everything is energy, and magic is using your mind to change the frequency and vibration of energy.

You know how people use visualization to help themselves become better at whatever they are working at? Like a basketball player who struggles to make a goal but visualizes herself doing it until she succeeds? That’s magic! Or a person with low self esteem who repeats positive affirmations daily until she starts to believe good things about herself? That’s magic!

We create magic with our minds. We create what we think. It’s impossible to create positive things in our lives when all we think about is the negative. Likewise, it’s impossible to create negative when all we think about is the positive. Yes, bad things happen. That’s life. That’s not magic. Magic comes into play when you take what life gives you and change it into what you want.

It’s often not easy, and no one is successful 100% of the time, but everyone can create magic. If you think you can then you can. It’s all in your mind and what you think.

~Chaya Levana

What’s A Jewitch?

Earlier this week I posted a blog entitled A Jewitch Samhain. So, what exactly is a Jewitch? Basically it’s exactly what it sounds like: a Jewish witch. Yes, it’s possible to be a Jew and a witch. It’s possible to be a Christian and a witch. It’s possible to be a Buddhist and a witch. It’s possible to be any religion and a witch. This is where people ask but aren’t witches Wiccan? Some are. Wicca is a religion, witchcraft isn’t. Witchcraft is a path. It’s how you walk out and practice your religion- if you have a religion. Not all witches have a religion. Because witchcraft is a craft- a path- it can be practiced and followed right along with any religion, or no religion at all. There is not god or goddess of witchcraft. Those are aspects of religions. Some witches devote themselves to following a god or goddess, but that is part of their religion and they use witchcraft to help them in their religious devotion. So, all Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccan. I know. Mind blown for a lot of people.

Let me start by explaining what a witch is not. It’s 2018 and there is still a lot of stigma around the word witch. Witches don’t sell their souls to Satan and dance around naked in fields baying at the full moon. For the most part witches don’t even believe in Satan. Witches aren’t evil. Most witches aren’t out to get you, although there are some witches who practice dark magic and use it for the wrong reasons. That isn’t most witches, though.  Witchcraft isn’t Satanism although I suppose there are some Satanic witches. Again, it boils down to most witches don’t even believe in Satan. 

Before I go into what a witch is, let me tell you if I think of myself as one. Yes, I do. For a long time I was afraid to embrace the word because of the very connotations I mentioned above. I was afraid to say it for fear that someone would tell me I’m going to hell. I’m not afraid of someone telling me that in and of itself. I don’t believe in Satan, and I don’t believe in hell. But, I don’t like confrontation and I hate feeling like I have to explain myself. But, this world loves labels, and if I embrace the Judaism label, I need to embrace the witchcraft label as well.

Now, let me tell you what a witch is. I’m not going to use my own words, because I have come across a beautiful explanation that I feel is worthy of sharing. Several of my spiritual sisters have been sharing this on Facebook. I am not giving credit here (yet) because I’m not 100% positive which one wrote it. Once I confirm I will certainly give her credit. The remainder of this blog are her words. 

A witch is a wise woman, a healer, a wortcunner (herbalist), a grandmother, a bonesetter, a mid-wife. She is a cunning woman — one who knows. She is a woman who understands the powers of the changing seasons and the phases of celestial bodies. She is the woman in your village who will come to your home when you are ailing with a cauldron of herbal tea and sit with her loving and healing hand on your back while you drink it.

A witch is part shaman, part psychologist. She understands not only how to choose the right root for the cure, but what must be healed at the root to make a person whole: a broken heart; an angry liver; lungs full of grief; etc.

These women honed their wisdom and craft not through some dark sorcery, but through quiet lives filled with careful study and communion with the natural world, and they passed down their wisdom in lineages that spanned millennia.

Witches not only facilitated wellness and healing, they advised and assisted in all aspects of life effected by the Turning of the Seasonal Wheel. They knew the right time to plant a seed and the particular moment to cut a leaf or harvest a root for optimum potency. They were effective, humble, and dedicated servants of their communities.

And what did they receive for this service? Gratitude? Accolades? Tragically, no.

For their service to humanity these wise healing women were killed by the millions. (Please read that word again: millions.)

They were tortured on racks, eviscerated, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, boiled alive in pots, and drowned in rivers and in barrels. They were raped and defiled in ways no one should ever have to think about never mind experience. When they hung these poor women, they did so with a short rope because it was not enough just to kill them, they had to torture them first, and a short rope does not snap the neck, it strangles.

This is patriarchy; this is femicide; this is the destruction of the living legacy of the power of women at its most diabolical.

And the more powerful these women were, the more successful their healing graces, the better they served their communities, the greater the chance that they would be taken to the slaughter because success was seen as proof that they must have powers that “come from the devil.”

When things went wrong, they were also blamed. When a child failed to thrive, a cow quit giving milk, or when a person died despite the best efforts of a healing woman, people in their grief (and need for a scapegoat), and powerful men looking for an excuse to take them down, went after these women often burning their homes and taking their lives.

And that, is true evil, to use superstition and fear to crush powerful women to dust. Because, even to this day, a powerful woman, standing in her wisdom and strength is something that many will simply not abide.

As religions grew in power and as a male-only chemical based medical system came into dominance, the demonization and slaughter of these wortcunners, midwives and village healers became a genocide. So many died we will never know the full numbers. Because of their “evil” most were dumped in pauper’s graves and their families were left to mourn in isolation.

But today the goddess is rising and we witches are rising strong with her. Today women are beginning to come back to their rightful places of power and with them they bring circles instead of hierarchies. They bring not only cures, but deep healing. For in our creative and generative power, women stand in symbol and purpose as Mother Nature to all living things on our planet. I pray each day that together we guide a better world into being.

Today herbal medicine, methods of hands-on healing, biodynamic and organic farming —all the realms of witches— are becoming widespread again and women are leading the way.

But, you may ask, What of magick? Aren’t witches magick? And the answer is, Yes! Yes we are. Because magick is just another form of mindfulness. To know how to be still, to meditate, to listen to messages spoken by the wind, to hear the voice of a tender spring shoot, to feel the pulse and rhythm of life at its deepest levels: this is the magick of the witch. This is my magick and I feel it running deep in my courage bones every moment of my life.

A Jewitch Samhain

Samhain. All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween. No matter what you call it, this is a sacred day. What began as a Celtic harvest festival evolved over time into a Christianized day prior to the day to honor saints and has since morphed into a secular day of parties and candy. I won’t go into the history of Samhain because you can find that online pretty easily. What I will talk about is why I, as a Jewish woman, celebrate Samhain.

 

Samhain (pronounced sow-win) and the two days after it (seriously- look up that history if you don’t already know it) are an auspicious time for honoring the dead. Most cultures throughout history have honored the dead and looked at their ancestors for guidance (you can look up the history of this as well).

 

Side note before I go further: I won’t get into religious dogma here but will point out that some religions do believe that talking to the dead, praying to the dead, etc. is taboo. Also, some people believe that if you borrow something from a culture you weren’t born into that you are appropriating the culture. I will say up front that cultural appropriation is a bad thing, but I don’t think most of what is labeled as cultural appropriation is really that. I think it has to do with intention. If you have no real knowledge of something and just think it’s cute and then practice a silly form of it, sure. That’s cultural appropriation. But, if you admire some aspect about a culture, study it, learn about it, and genuinely apply that to you own life, that’s flattery. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

 

Back to the point of this blog. Being born in the American South I was taught from a young age to respect my elders and that the elders are wise. This isn’t really all that different from many other places. As a Christian I was taught that once our elders die, that’s it. We learn from their lives but we move on. Once I began studying Judaism, that changed for me. In Judaism, elders play a big role, but so do our ancestors- you know- the ones who have already crossed over. In Judaism there is a holiday called Sukkot. Actually, it’s not a day, it’s 8 days. We really like to stretch our celebrations out! Sukkot is a harvest festival and a time to honor and commemorate our ancestors. We build a little hut in our yard- called a sukkah- and we eat meals in there and sometimes even invite our ancestors to join us.

 

Anyway, this isn’t a blog about Sukkot. It’s a blog about Samhain. Since Judaism already has a holiday that celebrates the harvest and honors ancestors, why do I need Samhain? Well, I don’t need it per se. I can live without it just fine. I choose to honor Samhain because I choose to honor my ancestors for a season instead of a week. My ancestors are the people who came before me, who created me, and even though my spirituality is not what theirs was, I would not be here without my ancestors. So I choose to honor them for a season. I welcome them into my sukkah and I commune with them through Samhain. I can’t physically be with my ancestors anymore, so I spend time with them spiritually- for a season- and reflect on all that they have given me.