My name is Brooke, and I’m a Jewish witch. I’m also an herbalist, tarot reader, artist, and writer living in Philadelphia, PA, USA. I am bisexual, and I use she/her pronouns. I also work in web development. I’m married, own a dog, and love tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons.
Spirituality has always been an important aspect of my life. It is my hope that this blog can not only serve as a place for me to share my experiences, rituals, practices, divination insights, and spiritual poetry, but that it might also help those interested in following a similar syncretic path figure out how they might start to do so (though there is, by no means, only one way to go about this).
First…what do you mean by “witch”?
I am a witch and embrace its full definition. I grow the poisonous plants associated with our art for millennia, I curse, I collect bones, I work rites of folk magic, and I read tarot cards, tea leaves and palms. I can be found in the woods, under the moonlight, by a fire, and in forgotten graveyards. You can see healing herbs in my garden, a soothing elixir to heal a broken heart in my pantry, and me, in my kitchen, cooking delicious meals.” –Sarah Anne Lawless
Witches are those who exist within liminal spaces: between the living and the dead, the awake and the dreaming, the mundane and the spiritual. Witches have one foot in the present, and one foot in the past; witches listen closely to the natural world, are sensitive to sacred cycles, and observe patterns of connectivity that usually go unseen. “Witch” is not a religious word (it is not tied to Wicca, for example, or any one specific religion); it is a label that describes an identity, one that is defined by occult practices, highly intuitive experiences, and an investment in folk traditions. Labeling yourself a witch does not necessarily mean you practice traditional European witchcraft; and it is my personal belief that one need not come from any specific culture, race, ethnicity, or country to call oneself a witch (there are many flavors of witch). For example, I personally blend my spiritual identity as witch with my spiritual identity as Jew: all practices I take part in that are Jewish in nature, I do with an Earth-based, occult-inspired, mystical bent.
Wait, That Doesn’t Sound Very Jewish…or Does it?
The phrase “Jewish Witch” might seem like a contradiction to many. Conservative and Orthodox Judaism tend to ignore mysticism and the occult, if not outright reject them. Though I was raised Jewish and was proud of my ethnicity, I grappled with my spiritual Jewish identity for many years because the traditional concepts of Deity, the male-dominated mythology and patriarchy influences on conservative Jewish culture, the focus on “book learning” over trusting intuition, and the general disconnect from anything “Earth-based” were all aspects of my childhood Judaism that never felt right to me. I grew up “going through the motions” of conservative Judaism, but inherently feeling like something important was missing.
In short, I’d grown up the typical liberal American Jew, loyal to his tribe and family, and very proud of the ethical heritage of the Jewish people.
My Jewish identity was like a strongbox, very well protected, but what was inside it? The interior meaning of being a Jew was indistinct, smuggled, inchoate – much like the Hebrew letters I could pronounce but not truly read. -Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus
Spiritually, I was craving mysticism, a deeper connection to the cycles of nature, intuitive insights, occult practices, rituals that actually resonated with me, and the divine feminine. Interests and hobbies of mine like Tarot, Astrology, and Herbalism felt more “spiritual” than the Judaism I had grown up with. I was more inclined towards polytheism vs monotheism, even though the concept of an original “divine source” made sense to me (the spark that created all divinity). I wanted to celebrate a holiday year that was aligned with the actual seasonal changes I could see around me, out in nature, rather than one that only focused on a sacred text or a human history.
I turned to Pagan religion in my adult life, around the time I started college. I found much of what I was seeking. I was also incredibly inspired by Shinto and Buddhism, when I lived and studied in Japan during my early twenties. I adopted the label “witch” to describe myself, as someone traversing liminal spaces and taking part in occult practices.
But I missed Judaism. It felt wrong to abandon it completely; to turn away from my ancestors and the collective history of the Jewish people. I missed the cultural nuances of Jewish ethnicity and identity. Not everything from my Jewish past had not resonated, I realized. I missed a lot of it – folk traditions, music, words, teachings. I missed the community. I had lost something that I desperately wanted back. Not the strict religion of my youth, but being in on the secret of an enduring survival.
What I wanted was to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors without denying the powerful spiritual experiences I’d had in Japan and during Pagan rituals. I wanted the haunting Hebrew melodies, the flickering of candles, the smell of spices, and the taste of red wine, but I wanted mysticism and an occult sense of mystery too. Kabbalah, it was called. The Four Realms. Assiyah, Yetzirah, Briyah, and Atzilut. Could I enter those realms? Could I exist in that space?
As it turns out, I could.
I discovered that there is, in fact, a rich history of Jewish mysticism, waiting to be uncovered underneath of the surface of “standard” Judaism – you just need to know where to look. You can find many of the books, websites, and organizations I discovered during this time in my life in the Resources section of this blog: many of which I still re-read, re-visit, and find inspiration from today. A lot of my current practice is based on the things I learned from these resources.
My definition of a Jewish witch is someone who’s Judaism is:
- A celebration of the sacred natural cycles reflected in the seasonal changes that happen where one lives (as well as in the cycles of the moon) and a celebration of the human history of survival and endurance that one shares with one’s Jewish ancestors
- Redefining Jewish mythology and divinity to include feminine, queer, and gender-nonconforming perspectives alongside the masculine
- Invested in Tikkun Olam, or “repairing the world” – informed efforts of charity and activism to help better the society within which one lives. For me this includes a strong rejection of white supremacy & racism, nazism & antisemitism, bigotry, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, anti-immigration, and anything else that perpetuates the systematic oppression of marginalized peoples
- Inclusive of ritual spellwork and divination
- Focused on Kabbalah
- Accepting of an alternative theology, be that polytheism, animism, and/or pantheism (basically: non-monotheism)
- Inherently meditative, dream-walking, spirit-speaking, intuitive, and oracular