Yesterday, on Erev Rosh Hashanah (eve of the Jewish new year), my family and I took an impromptu trip to the beach in San Diego. I usually don’t do much at the beach except sit on the sand and read; the water in LA is freezing because of the California Current. But lately, water temperatures have been much warmer, which means an impending El Niño–thank the Goddess! So, for the first time in forever, I went in.
For a couple of years now, I’ve wanted very badly to apply to the Kohenet (Hebrew Priestess) Institute, and I recently came tantalizingly close when someone had to pull out of the current cohort and offered me her spot. But my husband hated the idea–the cost, the weeks he’d be saddled with childcare while I was away training–and in the end, I didn’t do it. I felt angry at myself: angry for always assuming that my needs are a burden to others, angry for being perennially unable to tell my husband how important some things are me, angry for wanting something that, with a kid and a full-time job, seems impossible to have. My family is the most important thing in my life, but I’m keenly aware of all the things I could do if I were unencumbered. Or, to put it another way: I’m keenly aware of how much modern alternative spirituality is designed by and for people without kids.
I put my wedding rings on every day out of habit, and I realized, when we got to the beach, that I had them on. I thought about leaving them in the car, but my engagement ring has a diamond on it, and if the car was broken into the loss would be catastrophic. The safest thing to do was wear them, but that would add some stress to swimming. Oh well, I thought; it wasn’t like I’d really be submerging myself anyway.
Except, as I mentioned, the water was warm. I mean deliciously warm. I hadn’t felt water this nice since a trip to Myrtle Beach when I was in high school. While my husband played with my daughter, I tucked my engagement ring around so that the diamond was inside, and made my hand into a fist so the rings wouldn’t slip off. I walked in further and further until the swell of the waves lifted me off my feet. Kelp brushed against my legs; the water glinted with mica. Hello, Asherah, I whispered.
* * *
Here’s the Kohenet Siddur’s meditation on Asherah:
Ashera, Queen and mother of the land of my mothers, and my mothers’ mothers. It is to you that we still offer honey cakes in gratitude for your sweetness. Model for me how to lead a people, how to be strong and wise in my decisions. Show me how to protect those who depend on me and my actions for it may be for this very reason that I have come to this elevated position. Allow me to lead, provide, for my people. Show me how to be a queen to my people and all people. Show me how to be firm and gentle, strong and loving, so that I may know how to lead my people in our search for justice and peace. You who knows what it means to reign over Heaven and Earth, sustain and lead me.
-E. Sheva Melmed
I wanted to lose myself in the warm water, let the swells carry me into a meditative state, but my hand cramped from being held in a fist and I couldn’t help but check my rings after every big wave. My rings, like my family, held me back from what I wanted my witchcraft and the Goddess to be. I couldn’t let myself go, not completely.
Even after I went back and asked my husband to hold the rings for me, the urge to check for them continued.
But still, Lady Asherah of the Sea carried me to insight. Some of the waves were gentle; some were exhilarating. Twice a wave crashed right in my face and wiped me out. The second time that happened, I got water up my nose and skinned my knee and decided to go back to land. I was reminded, not for the first time when talking to the Goddess, of how my daughter reacts when I speak sternly to her: like the whole world is crashing down. From Asherah’s point of view, the waves that seemed to punish me were tiny, natural occurances.
The day before the beach trip, I’d read the cards to get to the bottom of why I’ve been avoiding trying to get my Tarot business off the ground. I do great readings and my clients generally leave happy. I can make the business official for the cost of a domain name, some postcards, and a few ads, which altogether really isn’t that much money. I don’t intend for it to ever become more than a hobby (I’m using the IRS’s terminology there), so the stakes are pretty low. Why, then, do I keep avoiding it?
Because a few years ago I tried to start another business, and although we lasted a couple of years, I ended on very bad terms with some of my coconspirators and with a lot of hurt and anger. In order to move forward, the cards told me, I needed to banish the remnants of my previous attempt.
The Jewish year is on a lunar calendar, so Rosh Hashanah always falls on a new moon. A new moon, a new year: a perfect time for beginnings and endings. When we got home that night, still covered in cleansing salt water from the Goddess’s womb, I performed a banishing spell on the negativity left over from my old business. I wrote the name of someone who’d acted particularly badly and excised her from my psyche.
Oh, I know anger will still crop up. But it was important that I take this step. The website should be done within the next couple of weeks.
* * *
There have been other endings, too. Even with the prospect of an El Niño, I decided to say goodbye to the thirstier plants in my garden. I had to give my beloved cat away because of increasingly untenable behavioral problems, and he already seems much happier and more relaxed at his new home (my mom’s house). I’m looking for a new job, too, although I’m prepared for that to take awhile.
But each one of these endings is a beginning. Like the wheel of the year, like the conservation of matter, nothing dies without giving birth to something else.
Ayla, Asherah, Queen of Heaven, face of Shekhinah, Lady of the Sea! I feel you in my heart and womb.