When my girlfriend first told me she was a witch, I immediately asked the question I think anyone would, that is, anyone who's seen "The Wizard of Oz."

"Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?"

That prompted a lesson on the lexicon of Earth-based religions. When we met she was more of a Witch and was even a member of a coven, but she never practiced Wicca, which is a specific set of religious beliefs and practices grounded in initiation into a specific tradition. Instead, she practices an individual and idiosyncratic path of Paganism, in which her main spiritual practice is shamanism, meeting the Goddesses, Gods and healing spirits in alternate realities and taking her spiritual beliefs directly from the spirits.

It was a trip to Rome when she was seven that made Caroline want to be Pagan. At the temple of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum Romanum, she realized how much she wanted a religion with goddesses, not just one, invisible God. I had a similar experience when I was eleven and visited Stonehenge. At the time, you were able to get right into the circle and even climb the stones. I sat there waiting to be contacted by the spirits.

I didn't end up pursuing a spiritual path, but Caroline began a journey that led her to study and work in many magical traditions. She is a graduate of the Three Year Program in Advanced Shamanism and Shamanic Healing, taught by Michael Harner and his Foundation for Shamanic Studies. As a shamanic healer, her initiations are given by the healing, compassionate spirits she works with, not from a lineage of humans who consciously founded a religion.

The opportunity to worship in more ways than one is something she likes and I respect about Paganism. If she chooses to worship the Virgin Mary and the Hindu pantheon, with a sprinkle of Santeria, well then mazel tov. Me, I prefer The New York Times.

Caroline says when it comes to religion I'm a conscientious objector, and it's true, I'm not a seeker. Although I was brought up as a Conservative Jew, went to Hebrew School three days a week and was even bar mitzvahed, I guess it didn't stick.

I hadn't realized how much of an "assimilated Jew" I was until we were at dinner with some friends from India who asked me to tell them the story of Passover.

"Well, there were these Maccabees," I began, and proceeded to talk about the oil, the lamp, the miracle.until finally my Hindu hosts looked at me with puzzled expressions and asked, "But what was the passing over part?"

So, when I met Caroline, her religion wasn't exactly an obstacle. She showed me an essay she'd written about it, which I passed on to my mother. It was well written, charming and made me want to get to know the author, as they say.

The couple leaps over a broomstick at their wedding
Pagan religion, while not something I felt like pursuing myself, was clearly a positive, intelligent, and not incidentally sexy part of Caroline's nature. When we got married, I thanked her for her ability to enrich my somewhat rationalist soul. Then we broke a glass and jumped a broomstick.

From that beginning we've followed the Pagan/Jewish path in our own way. We celebrate Hanukah with our daughter Sophie, but we also celebrate Yule (Winter Solstice). And there's plenty of room in Paganism for Santa Claus, who comes early to our house, on December 21st. He's got company: the Spring Bunny comes on the Equinox and hides candy, just like an Easter egg hunt. Only our eggs are all read with magical runes.

Sophie has been watched over by a picture of Durga (the Hindu warrior goddess and one manifestation of 'Shakti', or divine feminine power) since she was in her crib. She thinks the tiger and the goddess with many arms is pretty cool. She also likes Ganesh, the elephant-headed god.

I guess I'm still a Jehovah man myself, when I think about that at all, but I couldn't do a better job at teaching my daughter religious values. Rituals, magic and love are a pretty good way to teach children (and adults) that most important spiritual lesson: how to be good. Sophie has a sweet, loving understanding of her connection to Mother Earth. She misses her grandparents but is comforted by knowing they're in the spirit world. From the standpoint of developing good values, a Pagan/Jewish upbringing has a lot to offer.

Of course, when Mommy has an altar that includes both Durga and the Virgin Mary, culture shock can ensue.

While visiting New Orleans, Caroline took Sophie into the Catholic cathedral in Jackson Square. Sophie looked at the statue of the Blessed Virgin and asked, "Where's Durga?" Caroline's answer: "The Blessed Virgin and Durga don't sit next to each other in this house."

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