Why Aren’t You Pagan Anymore?

My mom asked me that the other day. Why aren’t you pagan anymore?

And I just kinda made a noncommittal grunt in response, mostly because I have a hard time discussing my spiritual beliefs with my parents in general but also because my mom is pretty against organized religion (which includes Judaism) so although she has attempted to be supportive, she’s made her opinions on the matter pretty clear. That makes it hard to share my journey with her. However, the bigger issue in that moment was that I didn’t really know how to answer her because the answer is kind of confusing and if you’re a black and white thinker it’s actually not possible.

I’m not NOT pagan. I think my pagan/hippie/liberal leanings can coexist in harmony with my Jewish ones. But I don’t know how to explain that to anyone, really. I know most people won’t be okay with it, many people will not agree that it’s possible to be both. But here I am, being both. The biggest barrier for most people about the combination of pagan and Jewish is that Judaism makes it pretty clear that there is ONE God, capital G, who you should worship “above all others”, and people take that to mean that there’s only one god that exists and that’s the omnipotent Man Upstairs guy who is full of both wrath and mercy. And for many people who are not really acquainted with paganism(s) believe that all pagans worship and believe in many gods all equally.

The problem is, those are two misinformed assumptions about Judaism and Paganism. The more your research, the more you realize how overly-simplified and wrong those two statements are. As the saying goes, ask two Jews what Judaism is about and you’ll get three answers. Ask two pagans what paganism is about and you’ll get probably 50 answers. There are not only different movements within Judaism which have institutionalized differences in “how to be a good Jew” but within those movements you have many individuals with personal connections to their religion that differ from one another. Yes, there are plenty of Jews out there that believe in the One God, the only one out there, masculine father. But there are also Jews out there who make space for multiple faces of God, including the feminine. And others (a much smaller group, I’m sure) who worship God “above all others”, but believe in those others and have relationships with them while still following the letter of the law. And of course there are those who make a case for themselves around being both an observant Jew AND an atheist or agnostic.

Just google paganism and you get tons of sites talking about different pagan paths that vary widely not only in how they worship but WHO they worship. Paganism does not equal Wicca, with one god and one goddess, although Wicca is included under the umbrella term of paganism. Not only do they worship different gods and goddesses depending on their own path, their idea about how gods and goddesses exist also varies. Some believe in the idea that “all gods are one god”, that the many different gods we’ve come to know through research and personal experience are just different facets/personalities/manifestations of the same deity, one grand supreme being. Others, called hard polytheists, believe every deity is it’s own and that the gods and goddesses are independent of one another, and cannot be called upon interchangeably.

All this to say, religion in general isn’t black and white. And my own understanding of my spiritual path is complex, but I truly think that my beliefs taken from my pagan practice and my Jewish practice sit in harmony with one another within me. So while my rituals may have changed, and although my focus as of late has been on strengthening the rituals around Shabbat and Jewish prayer, I would not necessarily say I’m not pagan. I’m still partial to the term Jewitch, personally. That being said, there is still a lot of fear around using that term out in the real world. Being so new to Judaism, and wanting to find an accepting spiritual home, I am wary of stepping on toes or rocking the spiritual boat. I don’t want people to think I’m weird, and I certainly don’t want people to feel like I’m being blasphemous. I know in my heart I have to do this my way, regardless of what others think, but I also know that many people will want to force encourage me to do it the Right Way– the way it has always been done (whatever that means). I’m all for tradition (that’s why I love ritual so much), but I don’t want to live in a box. I want to worship how I see fit, because at the end of the day my relationship with Divinity is my own, and if I don’t worship in a way that is best for me then I’m doing myself a huge disservice, and weakening that relationship.

So…. that’s how I feel about that.

Making Lists and Other Coping Skills

I know. I said I would write about Pesach and Beltane like two weeks ago. I truly was committed to that, I promise. However, life has been…. hard. I had a really great time at the Passover Seder I attended and I did really want to blog about it because it was so fun and made me that much more committed to converting to Judaism. It made me want to learn more, to DO more. But every time I logged onto wordpress to write, I just couldn’t muster the brain power to put my thoughts into words.

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I found the afikomen again this year, so I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

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Flowers and Fun Time

This year is going by so fast! It feels like just yesterday we were celebrating the winter holidays and now we’re like two weeks away from Beltane, and Passover starts this Friday! I feel like we’re only moments away from summer, which will hopefully mean some beach time and swimming for me. I figure it’s a good time for a spiritual update because I feel like I’ve really been focusing on my wls journey on here and although it is a big part of my life right now, I created this space to talk about my spiritual life so I want to kinda get back to that. Continue reading

The Spiritual CAN Influence the Mental

Getting back into Shabbat was the best choice for me last week. I know I have yet to fully experience it as a true converted Jew, but even observing it in the small ways I did was not 4274418_origonly meaningful but also something my mind really needed– a time for rest. I made a commitment to go through the blessings, light the candles and bless the food, but also to stay away from my phone for just the night. It was totally worth it.

Right after work I went to the grocery store to buy my dinner (rotisserie chicken– perhaps this week I’ll make my own chicken in the slow cooker?) and get some grape juice since I can’t drink alcohol. Let me just say, it’s so nice being able to get off work at my regular time, be able to stop by the store and still get home before it’s time to light the candles. In fact, I had enough time to get home, prepare the meat for my weekend meals, do some dishes, and get the table set for myself. Of course I loved the ritual of it all, it felt really good to be a part of something bigger and older than myself. I could just imagine all the other people in the world doing the same thing I was doing, saying the same blessings around the same time and it made me feel like I was a part of something really cool. Continue reading

Book Haul for March

As I said in my previous post, last week I made a spontaneous trip to Berkeley to visit Kourtney at work. While I was waiting for her to meet me, I found myself wandering into the bookstore down the street. Now, I love my kindle and I use it often, but there is just nothing like reading from an actual book. I’m kinda excited because I think I got a pretty good haul for books about Judaism and Jewish life. Continue reading

Celebrating Alone

Since surgery I’ve really lapsed on my observing of Shabbat (I hope the Divine will forgive me, I was recovering from surgery after all). Now that I’m on solid foods I’m thinking about starting back up again tonight. One of the things I’ve been struggling with as far as observing Jewish holidays is not having anyone to celebrate with. Judaism isn’t really made for solitary practitioners, I mean there are some prayers you’re not even supposed to say without at least 10 people. So it can feel especially isolating when you’re trying to celebrate on your own, especially when you’re a newbie like me and have no one knowledgeable to walk you through it. However, I don’t want that to stop me from at least trying to make it work (baby steps, ya know?) so here I am, back at it again.

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Words to live by.

Since I still can’t eat bread or drink alcohol I’m probably going to skip the challah tonight and drink grape juice instead of wine. After eating my little baby meal, I’ll get settled in with some of my new books (see my next post for a rundown of the haul I got in Berkeley last week) and try to accomplish my Shabbat challenge for the week: I won’t use my phone the whole night. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s incredibly hard for me to unplug. I’m constantly on my phone using time-wasting apps. Shabbat has quite a few restrictions, and I’m not looking to tackle them all at once because that’s just setting myself up for failure, but I do want to eventually get to a place where I’m pretty observant most of the time. I don’t want to half-ass it, okay?

I’m Always Seeking a Spiritual Home

I’m kind of getting used to being in this sort of spiritual no man’s land, Interfaith-Tree1where I’m looking for a place to lay my head but it seems like everywhere I look is just this great expanse of emptiness. That could be an exaggeration. But honestly, I keep thinking the answer is out there just beyond my sight line, so close. Is there a spiritual home that exists in the world that fits all of my needs? I love paganism, and I love Judaism, and I even love Christianity a bit (but more in a nostalgic kind of way), but they don’t completely meet my needs. Are they even supposed to? It seems pretty selfish of me to ask something to meet my every need.

Judaism has structure and longstanding traditions and customs. I love that. I love, to a certain extent, having the roadmap sorta written for me. That’s not to say that there’s no wiggle room, but it in some ways makes it easier to be observant. The instructions are relatively clear! Although I say that knowing that I actually only know a very, very small part of the traditions and customs of Judaism, and some of them are quite complicated (and in an entirely new language for me). Every ritual is on paper somewhere, and discussed by scholars ad nauseum. Jews are not messing around, they take ritual pretty seriously and I really appreciate that. Paganism doesn’t have that kind of structure, at least not what I’ve experienced so far. There are rituals written down, but there are so many for one simple event! Look up “Winter Solstice ritual” in google and you’ll get probably 20 different rituals to choose from. Which one is best? How do you weed through all the flowery bullshit and get to some meaningful ritual that meets your needs (in my case, can be done solitary, without a whole lot of tools, and doesn’t involve a bonfire)? Continue reading