Tree City Witch: The Kabbalists of Florida and a Story about the Heart

Tree City Witch: The Kabbalists of Florida and a Story about the Heart April 27, 2017

How to integrate it all?

Is this a question you ask yourself too?

The other day I began to study a book of Jewish mysticism with a friend, a Scorpio. The name of the book is the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Formation (or Creation, as it is sometimes translated).

Yetzirah wheel.  Public Domain Image.
Yetzirah wheel. Public Domain Image.

In the town where I live, there is a famous twice a year book sale in the fall and spring and this past weekend I found the wonderful Aryeh Kaplan translation and commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah for only $1.25. Score!

My Scorpio friend found an even older Hebrew/English version printed in a hard to read Gothic font, and we sat in a coffee shop for hours that same day, as well as a day later. I worked through the text slowly, my Hebrew rusty, piecing the meaning together, word by word, phrase by phrase, and then comparing it to Kaplan’s translation.

Dear Reader, thus is my idea of fun. We had air conditioning, cold drinks, camaraderie, and mysticism.

After we finished our first session, I felt strongly that we needed a closing prayer of some kind, needed to close the circle. We had opened ourselves up to the most holy and intense of wisdoms. I offered up some parting words on the spot, wishing that the Archangels would protect us both on our mutual separate roads home. In the name of Michoel, Raphael, Uriel, and I couldn’t think of the last one. Gavriel, my friend reminded me, as he unlocked his bike and sped away.

I didn’t immediately jump to the obvious conclusions: had we done this before? Were we Torah study buddies in a previous life? Was I a Rabbi? Was he? Were we husband and wife? Best friends. Mother and son.

Synchronicity: What Would Jung Say?

Just days earlier, I had taken my mother’s Shabbat candlesticks down from the shelf above the sink and couldn’t remember the last time that I had lit them although candle magick is a regular ritual for me. Years. It’s been years.

I’ll never not be Jewish, but for me much of traditional Jewish ritual feels like like falling into a well. So many memories, so many family members gone, there’s a sadness and heaviness about the past. I can’t live there.

Also, I can be an all-or-nothing type of person at times. I so much as step into a shul (synagogue) and suddenly I’m super Jew for the duration of the prayers.

But wait (I say to myself), as I partake of anything even mildly Jewish: I am devoted to the Blessed Mother, Mary. I listen to Catholic Priest Father Keating on YouTube for sustenance. I’m about to be baptized (initiated) AND I’m a magickal practitioner, energy worker, and astrologer. Whether I call myself Witch or Magician or or ex New Yorker, or former friend of Santa Muerte (it’s been a while), it hardly matters. Or does it? It does. What we call ourselves matters.

I’ll never not be Jewish, but for me much of traditional Jewish ritual feels like like falling into a well. So many memories, so many family members gone, there’s a sadness and heaviness about the past. I can’t live there.

Also, I can be an all-or-nothing type of person at times. I so much as step into a shul (synagogue) and suddenly I’m super Jew for the duration of the prayers.

"The Firmament "(illustration from Camille Flammarion's 1888 L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire)  From WikiMedia.
“The Firmament “(illustration from Camille Flammarion’s 1888 L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire) From WikiMedia.

But wait (I say to myself), as I partake of anything even mildly Jewish: I am devoted to the Blessed Mother, Mary. I listen to Catholic Priest Father Keating on YouTube for sustenance. I’m about to be baptized (initiated) AND I’m a magickal practitioner, energy worker, and astrologer. Whether I call myself Witch or Magician or ex New Yorker, or former friend of Santa Muerte (it’s been a while), it hardly matters. Or does it? It does. What we call ourselves matters.

So there I was, taking down my mother’s candlesticks from the shelf above the sink, where I also keep the packets of tea, pink votive candle holders, soap for the dishwasher, and a large-ish Christmas ornament of Saint Nicholas, who I love, hanging on a little nail.

There were tea lights already sitting on each of the candlesticks as though beckoning me to light, whenever the time would be right. I put them on the counter and noted the dust. Not yet.

Lyone the Wise

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog post, about my friend Lyone,, who has a PhD in Religious Studies, so she knows a thing or two (and she’ll tell you that herself). One evening I called her up to talk about my spiritual direction and my wonderful priest and the various issues that were perplexing me and she said: it’s only here in the West that you feel you have to choose, that you can’t be both. You can.

This was reassuring for me because my heart cannot choose, and I know this fact makes life more complex in some crucial ways. Oh how will I ever find a suitable husband now. I’m about to turn 47 and I still have that thought, as thought I’m 33 again, in Crown Heights, and looking for a shidduch (a match).

Here is a story from the Sefer Yetzirah, a story about the heart:

The Hebrew letter “Bet” is the first letter of the first word of the Torah (otherwise known as the Old Testament) and the Hebrew letter “Lamed” is the last letter of the last word of the Torah.

When you put Lamed and Bet together, they spell “Lev” which means heart. “Torah is the heart of creation,” writes Kaplan.

Today on my way home from food shopping, my Uber driver was a little annoyed that the driver in front of him didn’t know how to deal with the roundabout, the traffic circle. The guy was treating it like a four way stop, waiting for the other cars to go, but that’s not how a roundabout works. You’re supposed to keep going.

I like this metaphor. Is it one path? Is it more? How many chambers does a heart have? Four. Do we stop or do we just keep going? Yes and yes. It reminds me of walking a labyrinth. There are twists and turns. There are helpers, visible and invisible. There is good lighting and music and snacks and good friends. We don’t stop. Not while we’re alive, we don’t stop. And then we ride it home.

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