How a Jewish Witch is Formed

My history is a history of wandering. My people have wandered from the Middle East to Spain to Poland and Lithuania to Los Angeles. I’ve wandered from Witchcraft to Buddhism to Judaism and back.

I first discovered Witchcraft in high school, when a friend of mine told me she was a Witch. I gave her the predictable response: “Does that mean you worship Satan?” She said no, it meant she worshipped nature. I remember how instantly, how easily, my idea of Witchcraft changed. Almost as if I’d known the truth all along.

A short time later, I found Robin Skelton’s The Practice of Witchcraft Today in a bookstore and my dad, Jewish by birth, bought it for me as a gift. He belongs to an alternative religion, too, so he knew how it felt to wander. I’m still grateful to him. It’s not a good book but I still have it, almost two decades later.

But in college, my views of Witchcraft and Paganism started to sour. I met too many people who believed they could cause snowstorms, who used the line “I’m an empath” to pick up girls, who claimed that packs of spirit wolves were following them around. My college Pagan group had no chaplain or mentor–we were a bunch of teenagers improvising a religion. The only books bookstores ever sold were the 101 guides, and so I came to the conclusion that Paganism didn’t go any deeper. I left.

I studied Secular Buddhism and began to meditate. Then, pulled by a desire to connect with deity, I began to learn about my Jewish heritage. I’d never gotten a Jewish education as a child; my father wasn’t really interested in it, and my parents divorced when I was young anyway. I started going to High Holy Day services. I learned prayers. I began to observe Shabbat: the weekly day of rest, commenced with the lighting of candles and the recitation of a prayer. Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam. Except I replaced Adonai with Shekhinah: the feminine name of God, or the Goddess. It was fairly easy to find prayers that used the corresponding feminine pronouns and case changes. Turns out there are lots of Jews who are devoted to the Goddess.

But in the end, full-fledged Judaism just didn’t work for me. If you look at many Jewish communities, you’ll notice an interesting pattern: an inordinate number of us identify not as Jews, but as Jubus (Jewish Buddhists), Hinjews (Jewish Hindus) and Jewitches (I’ll let you piece that one together). I think there are a few reasons for this pattern. One is that we value studying and questioning and learning so much that we often study and question and learn ourselves right out of our own religion. Another is that Jewishness is as much an ethnic and cultural identity as a religious one, so the idea that one would stop being Jewish by leaving the religion doesn’t really make sense to a lot of us. We’re shaped by our languages, our foods, our families, our histories. When we refer to ourselves as a tribe, we’re speaking literally.

Another reason why so many of us hybridize our spiritual practice rather than just leaving Judaism is that as much as there is about the religion that’s frustrating –the patriarchy, the abundance of laws and scarcity of myths, the brainwashing that occurs around the occupation of Palestine–there’s a lot to love.

I finally let myself return to Witchcraft after I gave birth to my daughter. Nine months after I gave birth, to be precise, although there was a long and gradual lead-up. I found a better, more grounded and serious community (being an adult helped immensely with that). I re-dedicated myself to the Goddess, got involved in my local Reclaiming group, and began to work with Cernunnos and the Morrígan. I encountered real Pagan theology, much of it here on Patheos. I can’t express the relief I felt upon coming back. I’m glad I took my hiatus, but oh, how wonderful it was to come home.

But there were aspects of Jewish practice that I didn’t want to leave behind. Lighting the candles on Friday nights and devoting Saturdays to self-care didn’t conflict with Witchcraft. In fact, the candle-lighting ceremony is so spell-like that the two felt indistinguishable. Every Friday at sundown–that liminal time when magic is strongest–I set an intention and change my consciousness through Will. Why on earth would I give that practice up?

My name is Asa, and I’m a Jewish Witch. This column will explore what exactly that means: how I incorporate Jewish tech into my practice; how I navigate two distinct identities and communities; how I attempt, and sometimes even succeed, to reconcile my people’s stories with my lived reality. I’m honored and thrilled to be here. I’m more Witch than Jew–I seldom fork over the money for High Holy Day tickets, but I would never skip a Beltane ritual–but I hope my posts will scratch away, maybe just a tiny bit, at the barriers between the Abrahamic religions and earth-based spirituality. If you’re curious about Jewish Witchcraft, you might take a look at these resources: kohenet.com, jewitchery.com, or Magickal Judaism.

The other day my daughter, now a toddler, joined me as I tended to my altar. She picked up my East/Air candle, set it back down, and then covered her eyes and emitted a stream of babble. She was imitating what I do when I light the Shabbat candles. She looked at me to see if she’d done it right.

I laughed. I felt a swell of joy. Yes, I said. Yes, you did it exactly right.


Jewish Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

About Asa West

Asa West practices Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft and blends her practice with her Jewish heritage and Secular Buddhism. She blogs at asawest.wordpress.com, and you can find her zines at etsy.com/shop/RedTailWitch. She lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a librarian and priestesses at Reclaiming public rituals.

  • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

    Welcome aboard, from one Jewitch to another :)

    • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa West

      Thanks, David! I’d love to learn more about your practice. :)

      • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

        Conversation necromancy!!

        I’d love to learn more about my practice, too! I’m a perpetual seeker and the grass is always greener everywhere but here. I’ve been less than happy with that state for sometime now and I’m trying to settle in and really invest myself in myself for a bit.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Wonderful, Asa! Glad to see you writing here!

    Too many people think of Judaism through the Christian interpretation of it, and don’t realize that it, too, is an indigenous religion (practiced in a diasporic fashion by most people now), it’s a religion of practice rather than creed, and that it isn’t monotheistic in the way that Islam and Christianity have been…so, there’s SO MUCH it has in common with other varieties of religion.

    (Also, I had not heard of Hinjews before, by that term, but boy is it accurate!–I just was at a Krishna Das kirtan on Saturday night, and he’d be a really good example, I suppose.)

    • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa West

      Thanks, Sufenas! I’ll admit I’ve never met a self-identifying Hinjew myself, but I hear they’re out there.

      As for Judaism’s indigenous nature, I think most Jews don’t realize it, either! I think Judaism’s monotheism is considered by many to be its defining feature, even though some of our own texts challenge that idea.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    Welcome, Asa!

    • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa West

      Thanks, Christine!

  • An Elder Apprentice

    Asa,
    welcome!from yet another Jewitch.

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    Hail and welcome!

  • http://strangegirlinalittlehouse.blogspot.com/ Nicole Platania

    This sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to read more.

  • yewtree

    Awesome! You are in very good company. Welcome to Patheos.

    May I also recommend the splendid site Tel Shemesh which is all about doing earth-centred Judaism.

    • http://asawest.wordpress.com/ Asa West

      Yes! I should have included that in the resources. It’s run by the same rabbi/priestess who founded Kohenet!

      And thanks for the welcome!

      • yewtree

        Yes, I thought it was linked to Kohenet.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X