Wyrd Words: Friends in Wyrd Places

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!
 photo renewalaltar_zps92b725c1.jpgLast month, I was invited to join in a fantastic holiday celebration!  Not Mabon. Indeed my Mabon was just bizarre. Instead, flying beneath the cultural  radar of most of the Pagan Channel, was the beautifully upbeat Jewish  holiday of Sukkot.

For those who don’t like my pretty blue links, the basic idea behind  Sukkot is a  harvest festival which celebrates the Jewish peoples return from  their travels  in the desert. Celebrants will construct a decorative hut (called  a Sukkah),  which is adorned with a multitude of colorful bobbles, and  congregate there  to feast and socialize.

This year my wife and I were invited to join an old family friend for a Friday night service in their Sukkah. Now, I don’t really go to many services. I find that sitting through Synagogue is generally very much like sitting through Church, and both have a way of eliciting my most enthusiastic snores. However, out of respect for my wife and her family, I make a point of attending for the holidays. My wife was THRILLED when I said I would go, and kept going on about how I’d never been to a “Renewal” service, and how much I would love it. Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the Rabbi’s home, and the above altar table was the first thing I saw.

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Here I was, shaking hands with a Rabbi over her own crystal and candle laden altar, which looked like the product of an overly fluffy unicorn exploding out of Silver Ravenwolf’s “Teen Witch”. Having been made very colorfully aware of the fact that this was NOT my mother-in-law’s Judaism, I turned to my wife for an explanation. She was wearing a mile wide wolfish grin, which is our unofficial couples code for “GOTCHA!!”

As the Friday night Shabbat began, I was on my toes. I was ready for anything now, nothing would surprise me! I’ve learned that the moment anybody uses that phrase, they always seem to be doomed to experience the highly unexpected. Thus I use it regularly, as it tends to make life more interesting. The occasion did not disappoint.

The service began with a bunch of Hebrew prayers and songs I had difficulty pronouncing, which is pretty par for the course for me in these situations. So my next big shock was the invocation of the Goddess. The Renewal movement pays particular attention to the feminine aspect of Yahweh, which is called Shekhina.

Right… Okay now, REALLY ready for anything after that.

Then came the portion of the ritual where the invite the honored guests of Sukkot into the Sukkah. These spirits, called the Ushpizin (masculine) and Ushpizot (feminine) are major figures from the Torah, honored as ancestors. They include: Abraham,Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Avigail, Huldah, and Esther. (There WILL be a quiz after this post!) Afterward, a moment was allowed where any additional invitations to passed loved ones could be offered. Now the unicorn summoning, Goddess worshiping Rabbi, had just called up the ancestors to join in the feasting. By now I had decided that things were more than interesting enough, and decided to stop tempting the Gods to make it even stranger.

The Gods apparently decided it was far too late, and that I firmly deserved whatever surprises I got. The Rabbi picked up the Etrog (a lemon like fruit) and a bundle of leaves, and proceeded to give a Hebrew prayer as she turned and waved the leaves in each of the four cardinal directions, as well as above and below. This was followed by a few minutes of silent meditation, during which I officially just gave up on trying to predict what might be coming next.

After the show I ended up sitting next to a psychic/holistic healer/mystic, who loved crystal work, sage smudging, and the spiritual energy raised in drum circles. Here was the single most WICCAN individual I’ve ever met in my life, and she was Jewish… Finally I just couldn’t help myself and I expressed a thought that had been on my mind all evening.

“You guys seem to have a LOT in common with the Neo-Pagan community.”

Her response. “Neo-who?”

Here was a group that was a minority within a minority, which had SO MUCH in common with the Wiccan community. Two communities that had so many common goals and rituals; and neither of these groups knew the other one even existed. I later asked a Wiccan friend of mine if they were familiar with Renewal Judaism. What I got in return was:

“… Is that like… Jews for Jesus or something?”

“Neo-who?”

Sometimes we set out to find our allies, those of kindred spirit and like mind, and we find our list of friends seeming thin. Other times we brace ourselves before dealing with the outside world, and instead we find friends in wyrd places.

 

P.S.- To my many Wiccan friends and readers, I think we all can agree that a bit of lighthearted poking at Silver Ravenwolf’s ilk is always good clean fun, and I hope you’ll forgive my many Unicorn references :)

However I was SO not over-exaggerating the glitter!

 

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About Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer is a student of Anthropology at ASU, focused on analyzing and building religious communities. He is a devoted Heathen, and married to a Rabbi in training. Interest in Pagan interfaith relations lead him to join the committee for the formation of the Pagan Chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, where he hopes to utilize his training in community building and cultural exchange. The majority of his work can be located at http://www.heathenhof.com/

  • Annika Mongan

    Thanks for this delightful read. I’m also really excited about the formation of a Pagan chapter in the FRD.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      If you’re interested in the FRD, have you gotten the opportunity to check out http://www.theworldtable.org/ ? IT’s an interfaith social media platform, created by the FRD. Currently I’m one of three Pagans already involved, and we’d love to have more!!

      • Annika Mongan

        Thanks, I just signed up. I’ve had the invite in my inbox for a while but finally completed my profile. I’m looking forward to the conversations there.

  • Mikal

    That’s a lot of glitter…….you always seem to get invited to the functions that draw the most fashionable people, good sir.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Indeed, good sir, indeed. As I said above, the trick is to constantly tempt fate to make things more interesting!

  • https://www.facebook.com/ThePaganNaturalist Nicole Youngman

    Oh what gorgeous fun. Is Renewal Judaism different from Reconstructionist?

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Yes and no. Basically Renewal Judaism never officially branched off of Reconstructionist Judaism (Mostly because they’re so small. They are their own distinct subset of the Reconstructionist community. (According to the Rabbi I spoke to!) They really are a minority within a minority. They came about around the same time as the modern Pagan revivals actually. The Jewish community was losing a lot of their youth to eastern religions (as were a lot of religions at the time), so a couple of Rabbis decided to start teaching Kabbalah as a way to show the younger generation that the mysticism they were looking for, existed within their own religion. Kinda neat, really. :)

      • https://www.facebook.com/ThePaganNaturalist Nicole Youngman

        Fascinating, thanks!

  • Natalie Reed

    When my sister was looking into Jewish conversion she had the book “Judaism for Dummies”. I was reading through the rituals and when I got to Sukkot I remember thinking – “wow, THAT sounds familiar!”

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Right?

      Ok so the part that I found most interesting actually came afterward when I went to do my research. The reason it seems so familiar is because the two traditions are related! (Albeit distantly)

      So most of the early, formative bits of Wiccan ritual were based on reconstructed bits and pieces of renaissance occult/mysticism movements. These made up most of the bare bones of the craft. (Drawing the circle, calling the quarters, honoring the divine masculine and feminine, etc.)

      While the rituals would later evolve into their own system, most of their basis came from Renaissance Hermeticism. The Hermetic practices were popular in norther Europe, where the Church still had a dominating presence. Thus the most popular form of ritual mysticism drew on Kabbalah, as it was still heavily monotheistic, and shared common roots with the majority culture in the area.

      So what did the Hermetics pulled from the Kabbalists? You guessed it! Calling the quarters, honoring the divine masculine and feminine, etc.

      They’ve grown in different directions in the past hundred years, but the two are more related than one might think. :)

  • Amber Valletta

    Mobile games and iPhone games are extremely popular nowadays. People focused on their phones playing or talking to friends. But recently, only one game has become the focus of many: words with friends. This game is a lot like Scrabble where you have a board and
    some tiles and you create words on the board.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      While I can appreciate the addictive nature of “Words with Friends”, I’m not sure what that has to do with this particular article :)

  • Jason F

    I so loved reading this article. There are in fact Jews who are even more occult focused than most Renewal people. Renewall is great, though… I was so lucky to be able to do my Israel trip with them. I had never before experienced a Jewish service (other than one I wrote myself) with not only the Shekhinah drumming, chanting and meditation.

    But I have a lot of trouble getting people to show up to my events because of a lack of understanding. Jews think I’m too pagan, and pagans think I’m proselytizing when I’m really just trying to be friendly. There needs to be more of a bridge between magical Jews and the pagan community. There’s so much we could all learn from each other.

    Incidentally, I found your article via the Jewitch group on Facebook, and I own the Jewish Magic groups both there and on Google+. Hopefully we can chat privately?

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Really? I knew such groups existed though I’ve never had the pleasure of running into one! I’d love to touch bases and learn about what you do!
      The Sukkot Service I attended was lead by Rabbi Sarah Leah Grafstein, whom I think would make you feel right at home. Her congregation is about 40 strong (at least that I’ve seen), and her gatherings honestly feel more like a circle than a church.
      With so many similarities to the Pagan community (Particularly *IMHO* to the Wiccan community), you can imagine my surprise to find out that most of the folks on either side don’t even know the others exist!

      • Jason F

        I’m in Pittsburgh, and we’re weirdly conservative for a city that always goes blue. Particularly religiously among Jews. I actually got called a heretic in the Jewish Chronicle by the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Council for what I do, but that’s fine because I am. Most of what I draw from is sources like Enoch or the Apocalypse of Abraham, which no Jews but the ancient Essenes ever regarded as authoritative scripture. It’s a pity, though, because there’s a lot of cool angelology, demonology and magical invocations in those books. I can recommend you all sorts of interesting reading – for example, there’s Walking Stick (www.walkingstick.org), which is all about reclaiming aboriginal Jewish tribal spirituality… and then there’s a few Jewitchery groups too. My own group is called Jewish Magic because I want it to be open to both all Jews and all magicians. I just gave a talk on amulet-making at Crucible (www.crucibleconvention.com) and I’m planning to give it again next Pennsic, tweaked a little so that I only give information that’s considered in-period for the SCA.

  • Arianna Devarius

    I was directed to your article by a mutual friend of ours. I truly enjoyed reading it and learning a bit more about a tradition that I had only heard of and knew little about. Thank you for writing this!
    Blessed Be )o(

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Pleased to be of service!

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