The Ouroboros Year

The autumn Jewish holidays will end this week with the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The soul searching that began during the month of Elul will culminate in the joyous abandon of Simchat Torah. 

The seven day festival of Sukkot ends today (Sunday October 20). As the sun sets this evening we mark the beginning of Shemini Atzeret. Literally, the name means stopping on the 8th day. While Shemini Atzeret has no customs of it’s own, it is, nevertheless a holy day. It is a day for dwelling with G-d. You know how when someone you love comes to visit? Sometimes when it’s time for them to leave you are having such a wonderful time and you don’t want them to go. So, you ask them to stay for another day. That’s Shemini Atzeret. We have had this month almost two month time of introspection and deepening our relationship with G-d. Now it’s time to leave. But G-d wants to spend one more day with us before sending us back to our ordinary lives. So, we spend this day with G-d. Just dwelling. In relationship. Deepening. 

Immediately as the sun begins to set on Shemini Atzeret we begin the final of the autumn holidays- Simchat Torah. This is a day of joy and rejoicing in the Torah. The Jewish scriptures, the five books of Moses, are central to our daily lives. We read the complete Torah each year- a new portion each week. We  study the weekly portion, read it aloud in synagogue services, and apply what we learn to our lives. Simchat Torah marks the end of the cycle. We read the end of Deuteronomy 34 and immediately begin again with Genesis 1. By looping from the end to the beginning we remember that the Torah is a cycle- it has no beginning or ending. The festival is also marked with dancing and parading with Torah scrolls. 

From the 1st of Elul until the sun sets on Simchat Torah, we have spent 52 days with G-d. For the past 52 days we have looked inside ourselves, questioned our motives, renewed our relationships, and embarked on a new year of Torah study. May the new year of 5780 be a reflection of the work from the past 52 days.

 

Yom Kippur- A Day of Perfect Balance

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the crown jewel of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur is a day of personal and communal reflection. This year (2019), Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Tuesday October 8 and ends at sundown on Wednesday October 9. 

Like Rosh HaShanah 10 days earlier, the central themes of Yom Kippur are teshuva (turning from wrong) and repentance. Both holy days along with the time in between is a magical time of restoring order and balance to our lives. It is no wonder that Yom Kippur falls during the month ruled by Libra. Traditionally speaking, this is the day when G-d weighs our souls in the balance and determines our fate for the year. It is a solemn time, yes, but it is also a joyous time. If we properly prepare ourselves and observe the day,we will merit favor for another year. 

If done correctly, Yom Kippur is the conclusion of 40 days of soulful reflection. The month of Elul (the month preceding Tishrei when the High Holy Days occur) is a month of introspection and reflection. This is intensified on Rosh HaShanah when we come together as a community and publicly for prayer and introspection. Ten days later on Yom Kippur we come together once more for a final day of admitting our wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness. On this day, after 40 days of reflection, we again find balance in our lives. Our wrongs from the previous year break us, but on Yom Kippur we are able to be merged together again in wholeness. 

 

The Symbolism of Rosh Hashanah

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh HaShanah. Known as the Jewish new year, the words literally translate to “head of the year.” Tonight we will flip our Hebrew calendars from 5779 to 5780. As we celebrate this holiday we undertake a number of symbolic rituals, prayers, and foods. 

Head of the Year

New moon. New month. New year. Rosh HaShanah is all this and more. The significance of the name “head of the year” is not without meaning. Like the head of our body, the head of the year directs everything else. Our year is determined by Rosh HaShanah. If we have a healthy and symbolic head of the year, the remainder of the year will fall into place. If, on the other hand, we don’t then we risk the remainder of the year not being up to where we want it to be. 

Crowning G-d King

During the Rosh HaShanah liturgy we hear about and pray for the coming messianic age. It doesn’t matter whether you view this as a time of a literal messiah or an age of perfection. We all yearn for the time when creation and humanity will be in harmony. We view Rosh HaShanah as a time to crown G-d as king. It is a time when our hope in the goodness of humanity is restored. 

Creation of Adam & Eve

Rosh HaShanah has been said to be the birthday of the world- the day of creation. In reality, the earth was created six days ago, and humans were created on this day. Why the distinction? The creation of earth is wonderful and nice, but it doesn’t mean much if there are no people here to enjoy it. The Divine- in all glory- created man and woman in it’s image. With the creation of humanity we find meaning in the creation of the earth. 

Apples & Honey

One of the traditions related to Rosh HaShanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. The reason behind this is to set the intention for a good sweet new year. This is also the reason our challah is raisin studded for the holiday. Lots of sweet fruits are eaten to bring in a sweet new year. 

Tashlich

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah tashlich is observed. This ritual is performed by going to a body of water and throwing our “sins” away as we toss bread crumbs into the water. This is a symbolic ritual only. We are not literally throwing our sins away, and atonement does not come from the ritual. The symbolic act takes place through reading passages from Psalms and the prophet Micah (remembering that G-d will cast our sins into the depths of the sea) and tossing the bread as a symbol of our sins. This is one of my favorite Rosh HaShanah rituals. You can read more about it here

Shofar

The central commandment of Rosh HaShanah is to hear the Shofar blowing. If you can’t make it to services or don’t want to participate in any other rituals, this is the one to do. Hearing the blast of the ram’s horn is rather haunting. It is a shout of jubilation, a cry out to G-d, and a war cry. Despite all it’s usages, the sound is haunting. It stirs something deep within the soul. You feel it in your kishkes. The reasoning behind the command for a shofar is unclear (you can read about it here), but to be sure, this is the one thing you don’t want to miss. Want to hear it yourself? Take a listen below. 

 

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.  

 

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?  

 

The Mezuzah as Amulet

Have you ever noticed that Jewish homes have a little box attached to the doorpost? It’s a slanted box on the outside of the home (and sometimes on doorposts of interior rooms).  This little box is called a mezuzah, and it’s one of the amulets that Jews have used throughout history to bring protection to themselves. (I have also written about another Jewish amulet- demon bowls.)

A mezuzah is a small box affixed to the doorpost of the home. It contains a scroll with text from the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:

Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L‑rd Your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L‑rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L‑rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates-so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L‑rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

 

The outside of the mezuzah is usually affixed with the Hebrew letter shin which stands for Shaddai- one of the names of G-d. The name Shaddai is often on the reverse of the scroll. Sometimes, other names and charms were written on the scroll as well- names of angels, kabbalistic imagery, etc

Historically speaking, the mezuzah was used as an amulet and talisman, both warding off evil and attracting blessings to those within the home. As you can see from the text, having the scroll affixed to the doorpost was seen as a method for ensuring prosperity, fertility, and long life. Traditionally, the belief was that the scroll had to be deemed kosher for the the mezuzah to be effective. At various times, when negative things would happen, it would be blamed on the person not having a mezuzah on their doorpost, or that the mezuzah was ineffective due to its non-kosher status. Many times, a person was urged to have their mezuzah checked to ensure it remained kosher after negative things happened.  

Many people claim that the mezuzah is not an amulet or talisman, but is simply an object used to fulfill a divine commandment. But, it can’t be argued that at times throughout history the object has been seen as having magical or mystical properties. The same goes for today- some do still view the mezuzah as an amulet. Whether or not a Jew believes the object has magical properties, the object is often placed, just as prescribed, kosher and on the doorpost. If the reason is to follow a divine commandment, I question why it is important to obey that command. Surely, a person gets something out of following an instruction- even if it is just feeling good about oneself. No matter how you look at it, the mezuzah does serve as an amulet in some way.

 

Demon Bowls

 

Magic bowls. Demon bowls. Incantation bowls. These bowls have gone by many names throughout the ages, but despite the various names, they all boil down to this: Judaism has a long history of magical practice (no matter how much some people want to deny it).

 

Magic bowls are pretty simple. They are a pottery bowl with an incantation written on them. The spell would generally start at the rim of the bowl and be written in a spiral around the outside of the bowl although sometimes the script was on the inside . Traditionally they were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and crafted by rabbis or magicians for their community members. But, they weren’t only crafted by or for Jews. Zoroastrians/Persians and Christians (as well as others) were customers for magic bowls

 

These bowls had many purposes. They could be used for healing or repelling demons. Lilith was a favorite for this. Many Jewish women would have a magic bowl for guarding against Lilith stealing her babies. Incantation bowls were also frequently used to call upon a deity for protection or guidance. In addition to the names of deities, the names of rabbis were also used within the incantations written on magic bowls. Many such bowls also included scripture as well as the names of angelic beings.

 

Once a person had commissioned and received a demon bowl, it was often buried, upside down, inside their home. The reason for burying the amulet upside down was to trap or bind the demon inside. Bowls were sometimes also buried right side up in order to attract something to the owner.

 

Magic bowls are just one example of magic in ancient Judaism. It’s easy to believe today that such things never existed, but they did. Magic has long been part of the history of Judaism.

Note: Image By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011), CC BY 2.5

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.

 

Purim, Witches, and Jews- Oh My!

This week Jews will be celebrating the minor holiday of Purim. I’ve spent some time this weekend preparing for the holiday, and I’ve done quite a bit of thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities between Jews and witches. 

For those of you who don’t know, Purim is the holiday that celebrates and commemorates the events described in the biblical book of Esther. No matter what your religious views, I urge you to read this story if you haven’t done so. It’s relatively short- ten chapters- and is full of tons of intrigue: beauty pageants, murder plots, jealousy, revenge. You know, all the good stuff. 

But, if you don’t want to read it, allow me to give you a brief overview. The setting is ancient Persia, ruled by Xerxes and his queen: Vashti. Xerxes has a party that lasts a week and when everyone is drunk he demands that Vashti come out wearing her crown. Well, the thing is, he wanted to have her come and and wear only her crown. She refused. In an attempt to thwart other Persian wives from refusing their husbands, Xerxes has Vashti banished (perhaps even murdered). He then declares that there will be a type of beauty pageant to replace her. All the eligible virgins in the kingdom are either sent or kidnapped and brought to the palace where they endure 6 months of preparation. Then each young women has one night with the King and he chooses Esther to be his bride. Everyone else becomes part of his harem. Now, Esther is Jewish, but at the urging of her uncle Mordechai she has kept this secret. At the same time, Xerxes’ second in command, an evil man named Haman really hates the Jews. One day he is coming out of the palace and Mordechai, who is a scribe, refuses to bow down to him. This infuriates Haman who talks Xerxes into giving him his signet ring. This means that Haman has the right to make laws and seal them with the king’s ring at which point they can’t be undone. So, he gathers all the scribes and tells them that in one year everyone in the kingdom will rise up and murder the Jews. While all the other scribes are busy sending the message here and yon, Mordechai secretly goes to Queen Esther and tells her that now is the time to reveal that she is a Jew. Well, even the Queen can’t approach the King unless he sends for her, and he hasn’t. But, Esther decides that she will do it anyway. She goes before the King hoping he won’t kill her. He doesn’t and asks her what she wants. She invites him to a banquet- three actually- before revealing that she is a Jew and that Haman wants to kill them all. Xerxes is mad. In between all this Haman has built a gallows to hang Mordechai because he really hates him. Well, Xerxes is so mad that he has Haman killed on the gallows he built. Then, Xerxes promotes Mordechai to second in command and gives him the ring. Since Haman’s law can’t be undone, Mordechai makes a law that on the appointed day when everyone attacks the Jews, the Jews are allowed to fight back. And that’s what happens. The Jews win. There’s a big party. We recreate it every year. We eat little triangle shaped cookies called Hamantaschen which means Haman’s ears. The End. 

So, how are Jews and witches alike? Persecution. Both groups have been persecuted. Witches are persecuted for being in league with the Devil, and Jews have been accused of the same. Hate is such a strong emotion that goes way beyond being a simple emotion. Witches and Jews both have been murdered for existing. There are other groups who are persecuted as well, but, for the most part, that persecution isn’t predicated on religion or spirituality. Christians and Muslims both have been as well. Sadly, most of these four groups persecute each other. 

What I find fascinating is the history of Judaism that includes witchcraft and magic at it’s roots. Modern Judaism would balk at the thought that our religion has a basis in witchcraft, but I argue that we do. I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say, many Jewish practices and beliefs are founded in magic. Perhaps witches and Jews should work together, reach across the divide and join hands in facing hate. Some of us already do. You can’t be Jewitch and hate part of yourself. 

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.