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. 

Passover and the Omer

Passover, one of the major festivals of Judaism, is a Spring holiday that commemorates the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt. The festival is a seven or eight day holiday that begins with a ritualized meal known as the Seder (order) and is marked by not eating any foods containing leavening agents.

The Seder is the star of the Passover celebration. This ritual includes the retelling of the exodus story along with ritual foods and items used to help in the retelling. A meal is shared, wine is drank, and everyone comes together to remember. But, while the remembering is of the exodus from Egyptian slavery, we also take the time to remember other forms of slavery and oppression that our people, and others, have experienced throughout history, or are experiencing today. Modern Seders often include newer ritual items, including Miriam’s cup to honor the contributions of women, oranges (for LGBTQ issues), potatoes (immigration), and many others You can read about several modern additions to the Seder plate here

Once the Seder is over, Passover has just begun. We continue to substitute matzah for bread to remember that our ancestors had to flee Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. Metaphysically speaking, leavening represents aras in our life that we need to work on. Some people refer to this as our sinful nature, but I think it is best to see it as our Shadow side- not something that must be eradicated, but darker aspects of our personality that need to be incorporated. We don’t abstain from bread and leavened food indefinitely (complete eradication), but for a time in order to better see what our life can and should be. We then incorporate these foods (our shadow) back into our full selves for a better, and more complete picture of who we truly are.

So, the Seder is the time of remembering and celebrating our liberation from slavery. But, after being enslaved we are living with a slave mentality. That way of thinking colors every aspect of ourselves and doesn’t go away overnight simply by being liberated. Like the Hebrews in the exodus story, we need a period of retraining our brains and embracing a new way of thinking. Enter the Counting of the Omer. Traditionally this was a time to count the forty nine days between the barley and wheat offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple. The omer measure of barley was offered on the second day of Passover and the omer measure of wheat was offered fifty days later on Shavuot (thus the counting of 49 days or seven weeks).

This seven week period offered a time for the Hebrews to prepare themselves for becoming a nation. G-d gave the law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot. This is when they became a unified nation. The seven week period in between their liberation (Passover) and becoming nation (Shavuot) was the time that they changed spiritually. They had to see themselves not as slaves, but as a free people in order to become a nation. If they had remained in a slave mentality they would have remained an enslaved people- albeit no longer physically enslaved

Like the Hebrews, we need a time of inner transformation after our liberation. The seven weeks of the Omer offers us a time to examine seven different aspects of our lives. According to Kabbalah there are ten emanations in which the Divine reveals itself. The counting of the Omer takes seven of these emanations and assigns one to each of the seven weeks of the count. During that week we thoroughly examine every meaning of that aspect of Divinity and how to incorporate it into our lives.

By celebrating Passover and Counting the Omer we are able to commemorate our liberation from a literal slavery as well as a spiritual slavery. We then are able to take the time needed for inner transformation and shadow work to prepare in order to be truly free. Passover and the Omer are my favorite time of the year because I am able to remember that I am free from the enslavement of the expectations of others. I am free and able to live my life according to my own spiritual understanding. I am free to to embrace my Jewitchy self. And, I have a time each year in order to incorporate the memories from my past into my current and future self. As a result, I am a more complete and awake spiritual being. May the day come when I am truly a being of light.

 

Spring Fertility Celebrations

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
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
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
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
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.

Passover
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
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.

Why I Celebrate the New Moon

The new moon is an auspicious time for many religions and philosophies. In Judaism, it is the beginning of a new month as Judaism follows a lunar calendar. In philosophies that practice magic the moon phases help determine the most effective time to work for specific intentions.

As a Jewish woman who practices magic, the moon phases play an important role in my practice. The new moon is specially auspicious for me. The new moon is the head of the month- known in Hebrew as Rosh Chodesh. It has traditionally been considered a holiday for women.  If you want a deeper understanding of the role of the new moon in the Jewish calendar you can find that information here.

Customs for celebrating the new moon vary according to religious traditions. Personally, I like to meld various observances from different practices. This is my style for pretty much any holy day that I celebrate. On Rosh Chodesh my ritual includes time meditating on new beginnings. I also set intentions for working magic in regards to things I want to increase in my life. I also spend time reading scripture and in prayer. I love practicing ritual with others, and Rosh Chodesh holds a deeper meaning for me when I am able to celebrate with other women. I enjoy hosting women for new moon ritual and serving them at this special time.