The season of the Jewitch J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on November 3, 2021

Occult practices and totems are a mainstay of Halloween season, and sage bundles, altars and crystals are an increasingly trendy way to dabble indivination and witchcraft. But the spooky supernatural world also has a long history in Judaism,and modern Jewitchesare encouraging the connection though their practices often slightly differ from their non-Jewishcontemporaries.

I do not burn sage, said Zo Jacobi, who runs Jewitches, a popularblogandpodcastthat deep dives into ancient Jewish myths and folkloric practices. The sage-related ritual of smudging, an Indigenous ceremony popular among modern witches for cleansing a person or place of negative energy, is not a Jewish practice, she said. But Jews had crystals. Actually, they were called gems.

Jacobi and her peers are revitalizing ancient Jewish practices of witchcraft, which have been seeing something of a revival as of late. Far from having an uneasy relationship with magic practitioners, Judaism or at least Kabbalistic strands of it has long embraced them.

Jacobi, based in Los Angeles, studies those gems role in Jewish ritual, along with the connections between assorted other magical artifacts and Judaica. Eight shelves in her home are filled with books on Judaism as well as Jewish magic, witchcraft and folklore.

Her studies have revealed the historical ways that items like gems have been used in Jewish magical correspondences. Like healing crystals, gems are meant to protect and heal based on their properties, according toMidrash(Numbers Rabbah 2:7). For example,sapphirewas thought to strengthen eyesight.

Its in a medieval text called the Sefer Ha-Gematriaot, Jacobi said. But even if we go to the Torah, we see crystals on the breastplates of thekohanim(high priests of Israel).

Many Jewish rituals today have their roots in warding off demons, ghosts and othermythological creatures. When webreak glassat a wedding, scholars say, were not just remembering the destruction of the Temple; were also scaring off evil spirits that may want to hurt the bride and groom. Likewise, ancient Jews believed that themezuzahprotected them from messengers of evil a function parallel to that of an amulet, or good-luck charm.

The mezuzah is absolutely an amulet, said Rebekah Erev, a Jewish feminist artist, activist and kohenet (Hebrew priestexx, a gender-neutral term for priest or priestess) who uses the pronouns they/them and teaches online courses on Jewish magic. I consider it to be a reminder of the presence of spirit, of goddess, of Shechinah [the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God]. Much of magic is about reminding ourselves that were all connected and that everything is alive and animate.

The moniker Jewitch itself can be seen as controversial within the group. Erev first heard the term while attending a 2014 JeWitch Collective retreat in the Bay Area.

I feel that any word that identifies someone as a witch is controversial in nature because of how society, including Jewish society, has demonized witches leading to violence and ostracizing, Erev said, even though they do consider both witchcraft and Judaism to be major tenets of their life.

To be a Jew and to be a witch has had serious repercussions throughout time. I hope the recent popularity of the term Jewitch will bring more acceptance and understanding of both identities and help to make our practices more widely accessible.

Cooper Kaminsky,a Denver-based intuitive artist and healer, concurred that the portmanteau was revisionist to some, but added, Many, including myself, are empowered by identifying as a Jewitch.

Historically, as Judaic practices grew more patriarchal,women were exempt from studying the Talmud and Torah. They knew little Hebrew, so they created their own prayers in Yiddish, used herbal remedies and centered their religious practices around the earth.

Erev mirrors these customs by creating magical rituals, like meditating on cinnamon sticks during the month of Shvat, hearkening back to how cinnamon trees in Jerusalem scented the land during the harvest.

Theres a Kabbalistic idea of making oneself smaller for creation to emerge. Connecting with a cinnamon stick is a simple ritual. The cinnamon folds in, and the bark contracts in on itself, Erev said. Sometimes contracting inward can give us space to emerge and create.

They also do spellwork, creating spells for new love, pregnancy protection and social justice; on their blog, they shared an incantationdesigned to bring more awareness to Indigenous Land Back movements.

The goal of many Jewitch educators and practitioners, they say, is to shine a light on rituals that have been forgotten or buried for self-preservation. Jacobi believes that many folkloric practices died out following the13th-18th centuriesbecause, at the time, Jews were viewed as demonic witches.

Jewish communities did what they thought would protect them from literal certain death. Some of that came at the expense of some of these practices, Jacobi said. Instead of the supernatural reasons, they tried to give rational reasons for what they were doing. Ashkenazi Jews routinely tried to debate with their oppressors in the hopes that they could out-logic antisemitism.

This traumatic history, the Jewitches say, is often papered over or dismissed as myths and superstitions. Saying superstition is a way that we downplay our magic, Kaminsky said. We protect ourselves because, historically, a huge part of our oppression has been because were magical.

Kaminsky, who uses the pronouns they/them, does spiritual readings for clients that draw upon Kabbalah, Tarot and the Akashic records a reference library of everything that has ever happened, which spiritual mediums believe resides in another dimension. Kaminskyincorporates Jewish prayers into their spellwork, like reciting the Psalms of David when doing candle spells and the Bsheim Hashem as a magical invocation.

Kaminsky grew up in a Conservative Jewish household and learned the basic concepts of Kabbalah in Jewish day school.

Kabbalah looks at Judaism through a cosmic, mystical lens that clicked for me a lot more than looking at a story from the Torah, Kaminsky said. As I read more Kabbalah, I started feeling more connected to my Judaism.

Variousscholarsandrabbishave linked Kabbalah to Tarot, a deck of cards originally used in the mid-15thcentury to play games that evolved to divinatory practices in the 18thcentury (though Jacobi, for one,refutes this idea, claiming the connection has never been proven). The Tarots Major Arcana the trump cards of the deck, which detail the evolution of ones soul usually make up 22 cards in any given pack, a meaningful Jewish number: the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the number of pathways on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

For their energy work, Kaminsky draws parallels between the chakras, energy points in the body discussed in Hinduism, and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is an energy network, they said. Theres the meridians of energy, and the chakras are like the middle pillar.

Mystical practices were a part of Jacobis upbringing. Her parents practiced Kabbalah, metaphysics, folklore and folk mythology. They have attended the same local Chabad since Jacobi was three years old.

Thanks to these experiences, Jacobi is comfortable living out of the (broom) closet a tongue-in-cheek phrase that some modern witches use to refer to openly practicing witchcraft. She grew up with astrology, used tarot cards on Shabbat and played with her mothers rose quartz crystal ball while her father led Havdalah prayers. The Jewitches blog and podcast are filled with mythological creatures with origins in Jewish beliefs, like dybbuks, werewolves, dragons and vampires.

Some creatures are unique to Jewish lore:the vampiricAlukah, a blood-sucking witch referred to in Proverbs 30, turned out to be Liliths daughter, while aBroxaoriginated as a bird from medieval Portugal that drank goats milk and sometimes human blood during the night.

Whenever there have been dire times throughout history, people have turned to mysticism; thats how Kabbalah emerged, Erev said. We need to look to our ancestors for guidance. There are a lot of tools in our human community for healing and re-dreaming and creating a world that is safe and generative for all beings.

Kaminsky thinks magic has the power to repair the world:Almost all of our Jewish spells are for the sake of healing.Tikkun olam, using our magic to repair the world, is beautiful.

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The season of the Jewitch J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

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