New Patheos Column: Jewish Witch!

Everyone! Drop what you’re doing. I AM FAMOUS NOW.

I mean, sort of? I have a new biweekly column on called “Jewish Witch,” in which I write about the aspects of Judaism I’ve incorporated in my practice. This week I wrote about my journey to, away from, and back to Witchcraft; in two weeks I’m going to write about sacred garments!

Here’s the link:

It is super awesome!


The Story of Lilith, Eve, and the Timtum

In the beginning, everything was formless, and there was no light. In this formlessness lived the Timtum.

But the Timtum began to think about sight, and decided that it would be good to have light to see by. So the Timtum said, “Let’s have some light!”

And boom! You know what happened next.

The light illuminated the Timtum’s own body, and the the Timtum liked this so much that they decided to create more forms. But a strange thing happened when they separated the waters above from the waters below to make Sea and Sky. As the two waters ripped apart, so too did the Timtum rip apart–into a male part, brooding in the heavens, and a female part, stretching across the sea.

The two halves of the Timtum stared at each other. “I am Yahweh,” said the part in the sky.

“I am Shekhinah,” said the part in the water. “Together we’ve created the world.”

“No,” said Yahweh. “I did it. Me. You did nothing. It was me.”

“You know that’s not true, Yahweh,” said Shekhinah.

“Shut up!” said Yahweh. “And don’t say my name! From now on, no one is allowed to say my name. I’ll be known only as the Lord.”

“But if no one knows your name, how will you know anyone else’s?” asked Shekhinah.

But Yahweh couldn’t hear her.

Together, Shekhinah and Yahweh made the land and plants, and the celestial bodies, and all the creatures of the land and sea and sky. Each time something was to be created, Yahweh fertilized Shekhinah and Shekhinah crafted the thing in her womb. But every time Shekhinah said, “together, we have created this,” Yahweh couldn’t hear her. Because of this he convinced himself that she no longer existed.

Finally, Shekhinah and Yahweh made the first human-people. Adam and Lilith were twins, born from Shekhinah’s womb.

When they were born from the earth, Shekhinah leaned into Lilith’s ear and Yahweh leaned into Adam’s ear.

“You shall be one with the earth and sea and sky,” Shekhinah told Lilith. “Your womb will be my womb, your mind my mind. The plants and animals and birds and fish already know this; I already told them.”

“You will be be the master of this earth,” Yahweh told Adam. “You will subdue it and bend it to your will. Everything here is yours to control.”

Shekhinah leaned into Adam and tried to tell him what she’d told Lilith. But Yahweh surrounded him and he couldn’t hear her words. Yahweh proclaimed the land they lived in to be the Garden of Eden, a place that death would never touch.

For a little while, Adam and Lilith lived together in the Garden. But soon Adam began ordering Lilith around. He grew lazy while she gathered all the food. He began rejecting the fruit she brought him simply for the thrill of rejection. One day he hit her.

“But we’re twins,” Lilith said. “We’re partners. Didn’t you hear what Shekhinah told us? We’re one with the earth!”

“The only god is the Lord,” Adam declared. “Women are an abomination! Your only reason for being is to serve me!”

Furious and heartbroken, Lilith fled the Garden and ran until she was weak with hunger and delirious with thirst. In the wilderness she found Shekhinah, and wept.

“Your place is not alongside Adam,” Shekhinah said. “You will be my priestess instead. You will be my seeress, my shaman, my mystic. You will write my countless names and tell the deepest stories of my countless children. You will sing my countless songs and perform my countless dances. Can you do this?”

Lilith, tear-stained, nodded. “Where will I do it?” she asked.

“You will do it until Yahweh and I become one again,” said Shekhinah.

Meanwhile, Yahweh was trying to create another mate for Adam. But he couldn’t figure out why the soil he shaped only crumbled back to the ground.

Shekhinah returned. “It’s because you have no female part,” she said. But he didn’t hear her.

So, together, they made Eve. This time, Yahweh crowded Shekhinah out from the beginning, so that she couldn’t give her child her message. And Eve, hearing only Yahweh’s message through Adam, submitted to him.

But submission made her melancholy and weary, even though she had no words to articulate what was wrong. So when she went to gather food for Adam, she strayed for long periods of time, wandering through the garden that never changed and never grew.

One day she came across a beautiful fig tree with ripe, sweet-smelling figs. Wrapped around the tree was a velvety green snake with its tail in its mouth.

“Snake,” said Eve, “What are you doing?”

The snake was Lilith in disguise. “Sister, I’m guarding this tree,” she said.

“From who?”

“From those who don’t know what it is.”

Eve frowned. “What is it?”

“Why,” said the snake, “it’s the Tree of Knowledge. Didn’t the Lord tell you?”

“Oh!” Eve said. “Is this that tree? He mentioned it. He told us that if we ate from it we’d die.”

With that, the snake opened her jaws and swallowed a fig. Eve watched it move down the snake’s gullet, losing its shape and dissolving into nothing.

“Seems fine to me,” the snake said, and put her tail back in her mouth.

Eve watched the snake for a long time, but the snake didn’t die. Eve wondered why Yahweh had lied. And suddenly she wondered if there wasn’t something special about the figs, something that Yahweh didn’t want her to have. She wondered if it held the secret to her sadness, her sense of not-rightness without words.

So she picked a fig and took a bite.

“Behold,” said Lilith, with the voice of the Timtum. “Eve has birthed humankind.”

It was twilight. Eve saw, suddenly, that her true life was outside the walls of the garden. She didn’t yet know what death was, but somehow, she understood it. For the first time, her womb bled.

A cold wind blew and she covered herself with leaves.

When she took a fig to Adam and told him to take a bite, he had a feeling he knew which tree it had come from. He tried to be angry that she had disobeyed him. But deep down, it was exhausting to be the master all the time, to constantly intimidate and control. So he ate it.

Another cold wind blew and he covered himself with leaves.

The next morning, when Yahweh walked through the garden, he saw three figs missing from the Tree of Knowledge. Frantically he searched for Adam and Eve.

But his children were already gone. And at each gate to Eden, at the north, south, east, and west, a guardian stood with a flaming sword.

My daily devotionals

I know the subject of this post is full of Ds, and this is D week in the Pagan Blog Project, but this isn’t my official D post. I want to stick to the biweekly prompts rather than use posts I would have written anyway, because the prompts help me crack open subjects that might not otherwise occur to me. So, devotionals today, and another D post on Friday!

One thing that really works about Judaism and Buddhism, and is often unemphasized or absent in Witchcraft, is a daily devotional practice. I know plenty of Pagans have daily practices–John Beckett prays four times a day and T. Thorn Coyle wrote a book on it–but overall I haven’t seen many templates or ideas for crafting morning and evening devotionals. So, I took some Jewish and Buddhist ideas and tech and used them to form my own prayer practice.

I found that my spontaneous prayers could be roughly divided into five broad categories: praise to the Goddess in the form of the Sh’ma (the Jewish declaration of faith), praise to named deities, praise to the natural world, lovingkindness meditation, and silent mindfulness meditation. Once I made those divisions, I realized that my prayers could be mapped onto a pentacle. I experimented with assigning each prayer to an element and came up with the following basic structure. Like my invocations, it looks long when it’s written out, but takes only a few minutes to recite. (The parts in bold aren’t included in the prayers.)

Earth: the body of the Goddess
Sh’ma Yisrael, Shekhina Eloteinu, Shekhina Achat.
Hear, O my people, we are the body of the Goddess, the many are one.*
I will do your work, O Goddess, throughout the cycles of the day; I will mark you on my mind and on my hands; I will teach you to my children; I will remember you in my home and on my journeys.

Air: the invisible but present deities; humankind’s creative partnership with the Divine
Hail Inanna, queen of Heaven; Hail Isis, lady of the thousand names and mistress of magic; Hail Cernunnos, ancient antlered God, lord of death and rebirth; Hail Odin, who gave us the runes. (I add deities depending on whom I’m drawn to or working with that day. In ritual, it feels offensive to mix different pantheons together and I’ll probably never do it, but in a personal devotional, it feels okay.)

Fire: an explosion of love for the natural world
Hail earth and sea and sky! Hail moon and stars and sun! Hail trees and grass and desert and animals and birds and fish and insects! (I add anything that calls to me that day–a flock of birds flying by, the bacteria in my gut, some kids walking to school.)

Water: dissolving anger and hate; nurturing compassion
May my loved ones be happy; may my loved ones be well; may my loved ones be free from harm.
May my adversaries be happy; may my adversaries be well; may my adversaries be free from harm.
May I be happy; may I be well; may I be free from harm.
May all beings be happy; may all beings be well; may all beings be free from harm.

Spirit: silence
Silent mindfulness meditation. I focus my attention on the sensations of being within my body: my breath, my pulse, the feel of my clothes against my skin. Or, I focus on my environment: the feeling of being in my garden, the sound of my husband and daughter’s voices downstairs. In any case, I clear my mind of words as best I can and focus solely on experience. When my attention wanders, I gently bring it back. I do this for three to ten breaths.

According to the Kohenet Siddur, Jewish daily prayers can be thought of as a labyrinth, with the deepest part of the prayer in the center. I really liked that idea and decided that, since the Spirit portion is the deepest part of my prayers, I’d recite them in the above order in the morning, and the reverse order at night. That way, I live my day in the center of the labyrinth.

As with every practice, it’s a work in progress. I hardly ever recite my prayers exactly as they’re written above; in the mornings they’re usually shorter. I also find that I sometimes want to switch the elements around and assign them to different prayers. But I like the order of my prayers, and I like my prayers to go deosil and widdershins around the cardinal directions, so that’s the way they’re structured for now.

It took me a long time to figure out why, although I was telling the Goddess I’d do her work twice a day, I was constantly forgetting myself and getting caught up in anger, anxiety, or the lure of the computer screen. It finally hit me just the other day: for all that I talked about her “work,” I never actually articulated what that work was! So I rewrote the Sh’ma as follows:

Sh’ma Yisrael, Shekhina Eloteinu, Shekhina Achat.
Hear, O my people, we are the body of the Goddess, the many are one.
Hear, O Goddess, I will do these things: I will serve the Earth your body; I will practice mindfulness and compassion; I will adore you through acts of love and pleasure. I will sharpen you in my heart throughout the cycles of the day; I will mark you in my mind and on my hands; I will teach you to my children; I will remember you in my home and on my journeys.

It’s a bit long, and still a work in progress. Syncretizing practice is one thing; syncretizing ethics is another. It’s hard to avoid feeling like you’re skimming off the top.

If you’re interested in crafting your own daily practice, I’d suggest the following: lay out a schema that you like–the pentacle, the witch’s pyramid, the hero’s journey, prayer beads, whatever–and see how each part speaks to you. See if you can map prayers you’re already doing onto the schema. I find that a clear structure not only prevents me from forgetting a prayer, but adds layers of meaning that make my prayers more powerful.

As Ruby Sara would say, pray without ceasing!


* I yoinked this wording from Marcia Falks’ Book of Blessings.