This post is intended primarily for my Neopagan readers and friends, but I think anyone may appreciate my comments.
I had an insight the other evening while staring out the window at the crab apple trees. The insight was this – Judaism is essentially an indigenous, nature-based, spiritual path.
Let me back up a little and explain why I was thinking about such things. If one reads the standard Neopagan literature, one quickly grasps that most Neopagan traditions are comprised on a few pillars:
A Pantheon of Deities
Most Neopagan traditions invoke a specific God/Goddess or set of deities. And usually, these gods/goddesses are regional or cultural in nature – Celtic traditions invoking The Morrigan, Greek traditions invoking Diana, and so on. A few traditions are even monotheistic in nature, worshipping the Goddess or a unified notion of the Divine.
Judaism invokes Yahweh – whose origins are regional and culturally connected to the ancient Jews.
A Set of Myths
Most Neopagan traditions have a set of myths – Egyptian pagans have their book of the dead, Celtic traditions have their own sacred stories – the wise salmon in the River Boyne or the Chronicles of Fin McCool being just two examples.
Judaism has its own myths, contained within its scriptures – the Exodus, the Covenant at Mount Sinai, the call of Abraham, and so on.
A Moral Code
Wiccans have the Rede – “And if it harms none, do as you will.” Asatru has its Nine Noble Virtues. There are various Druidic ethical codes.
Judaism has love your neighbor as yourself, welcome the stranger, care for the poor – an ethical code that strongly emphasizes social justice, equality, and compassion.
An Emphasis on Nature & the Seasons
Most Neopagans follow some version of the Wheel of the Year – eight ancient seasonal holidays. Many Neopagans also have rituals that correspond with cycles of the moon. Agricultural events provide the theme for many holidays.
Judaism’s calendar is lunar with each month beginning on the new moon. There are even new moon rituals. Nearly all of Judaism’s many holidays are agriculturally based – harvests, first fruits, and so on. Tu BishVat is a holiday that celebrates nature and trees. Sukkot is rooted in ancient harvest festivals. Shavuot corresponds to the flowering of plants and the reaping of summer’s first fruits.
Judaism blesses wine and bread at most of its celebrations. There are special foods associated with many of the holidays.
Further, Yahweh tends to communicate with the Jewish people in and through nature – burning bushes, claps of thunder, earthquakes, pillars of cloud, and quiet breezes.
Specific Cultural Aspects
Most Neopagan traditions have some element of reconstruction to them – Druids are trying to recapture something ancient Celtic practices, some even learning forms of Gaelic and Old Irish for their rituals. I know of Greek Neopagans who learn Greek, take Greek spiritual names, and who pray and hold their rituals in Greek. Many Celtic Wiccans consider Ireland and England something of holy lands, with special spiritual sites – Stonehenge, Glastonbury Thor, Tara, and so on.
Judaism has its own holy land – Israel, and its own holy sites – the Western Wall, the tombs of the patriarchs, and many other sacred sites. The Jewish liturgy is usually prayed mostly in Hebrew. Modern Judaism is rooted in the ongoing reconstruction of ancient Judaism.
When approached in this manner, Judaism seems to have more in common with many Neopagan traditions that many would first assume. Further, many Neopagan traditions are about the serious work of building sincere religious traditions, and many appear to have the requisite parts and pieces to form an enduring tradition.
I’m quite interested in hearing from my Neopagan friends and readers. Feel free to contact me and comment here. Thanks!