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.

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.