a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

My Love of Judaism’s Pagan Side

Posted on: October 9, 2013

Judaism has a Pagan side?

Really? You had to ask that? Judaism is totally, totally Pagan, though I’m sure most Jews wouldn’t say that and most certainly disagree with my assertion so I’ll say it in Jew-friendly terms. Judaism is very agricultural.

Before I was a Jew I was an Episcopalian. Before I was Episcopalian I was a bad atheist. Before I was a bad atheist I was a Pagan. That’s right, I was a sneaking into metro parks on a full moon eve with my crew of Wiccan ladies, circle drawing, corner calling, tree hugging, talisman wearing, stone holding Pagan girl.

I personally think that on the road to Lesbian one finds a pit stop in the land of Wicca, but that’s a different blog post.

I was drawn to Wicca because of its women-centeredness, because of its earth-based focus and because I was looking for something older than Christianity and at the time, older even than Judaism. I wanted to find the source.

I spent a few years as a Wiccan, I’d say towards the end of my senior year of high school (the Catholic high school that was rumored to have expelled two of my classmates when Wiccan books were found in their lockers) into my first two years of college. In high school I lived in a little world of my own, venturing into New Age and Wiccan shops to buy my wears. In college I found a group of women through an awesome nun, of all people. She actually taught about Wicca and invited a Wiccan Priestess into our Religion course.

I have vivid, fun memories of doing amazing things with these women-everything from late night ski trips to attending Circles to breaking into parks on a full moon to ditch our clothes and worship.

It was a great time in my life. It was woman and earth centered and it allowed me to think about religion and religious practice in a way that was very different from what I grew up with, which in turn allowed me to appreciate and respect people of all faiths.

So what does that have to do with Judaism? Everything.

While converting I kept my mouth shut about how Pagan Judaism seemed to me.

Our days start at night?

We follow a lunar calendar?

We celebrate full and new moons?

Our holidays are based around seasonal and agricultural changes?

Sure, okay Torah says so. Yes, rabbi. But I’d be thinking, This is so, fantastically Pagan!

I kept these thoughts to myself until we learned about Sukkot.

“So you grasp the lulav and the etrog in your hand”, my rabbi said. “And you shake them in each direction-North, East, South and West while reciting a blessing…”

My hand shot up.

“Erika?”

“It’s so Pagan!”

“It is,” she said.*

The fact remains that Judaism, our practices our holidays, our traditions are very close to the earth, the seasons, the moon. We shake leaves and sticks, we light candles at night, we have symbols and superstitions, we grab chickens by their legs and swing them over our heads! Well, some of us do that.

We have special clothes that we wear for special occasions, we pray in a language foreign to some, we stand up, sit down and bow while we pray. And while I wish Judaism was more woman-centered, it makes my little Pagan heart swell with happiness every Rosh Chodesh, new moon; When I have to search for three stars to make havdallah; When I’m stopped on the street by Chabad on Sukkot and asked to shake the lulav and etrog.

I still have a lot of respect and a bit of longing for my Wiccan days. I miss the wonderful woman-centeredness, but find so much joy and love in Judaism-especially when I’m in Falls Village close to nature and with Jews who love full moon howling just as much as I do.

It is this respect for my Pagan past and my sisters and brothers who are Pagan that I am slightly concerned, if not a bit intrigued by the new FX Series American Horror Story: Coven. Will I watch it, yes, but I’m a bit skeptical.

 

*the conversation with my rabbi basically went like that 🙂

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