Groundhogs, Saints, and Trees

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!

The Magic of the Winter Solstice

Magical practitioners often align their practice with the lunar cycles and phases of the moon. It is quite common to use the new/dark moon for setting intentions for things that you want to manifest, grow, and add to your life, and to work full moon magic for things that you want to lessen in your life. The reason for this is simple. You want to use the growing moon to increase and the waning moon to decrease so it is quite logical for manifesting magic from the time of the dark moon to the full moon and to practice banishing work during the time from the full moon to the new moon.

But the solar cycles are also a prime opportunity to work magic- especially for magic that will take longer to manifest. Sometimes you can work magic in a month, but other times it takes seasons or years. When you know what you are trying to work in your life you can choose the correct astronomical cycle to work with.

The Winter Solstice is a time to work magic and set intentions for growth. We don’t think of Winter as being a season of growth. Instead, Winter is a time of death and dormancy. But seeds that are planted in Winter will grow in Spring. When we plant magical seeds at the Winter Solstice they use the quiet time and stillness to grow. The sun reaches it’s shortest height in the sky at the moment of the Winter Solstice. From that point on the sun is reborn and begins to grow higher in the sky each day until it reaches its zenith on the Summer Solstice.

Winter Solstice is the time to plant magical seeds. With good care and proper follow through on the intentions, the magic that you plant now will grow and bloom in Spring.

Happy Solstice!

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 .

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.

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.