Wednesday, March 25, 2015

From ignorance to the feminine wisdom by Zoharah Noy-meir

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes

AS A JEWISH ISRAELI GIRL, the Hebrew Bible was part of everyday life. The Bible stories were as present in my life as fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. My kindergarten teacher read them to us on Fridays before we went home for the weekend and I had books with the Bible stories. In second grade, after a very exciting ceremony, we started reading and studying the Bible.

What I like about the Old Testament and Judaism is that it deals with all aspects of human life, including the physical. The spiritual is very connected with the body's most basic functions. It provides guidance on every aspect of daily life, from what to eat and how to eat it, and hygiene issues from birth to death. It is so specific that you can find detailed descriptions of skin disease in the five books of Moses.

I love that because it means that the body is important, the body matters. I think this is a very feminine approach that I believe comes from the original roots of Judaism that grow on a very deep and vast culture of goddess cultures.

Today, Judaism opposes these faiths as heresy but it was very connected to them when it evolved like a rebellious son who disowns his mother.

In Judaism there are two important concepts “Tame” טמא meaning unclean physically and spiritually and Tahor טהור meaning clean and pure, physically and spiritually.

There are many things that are unclean. The dead is unclean and the uncleanness is passed on by touch – anyone who touches the dead is unclean. It doesn't mean he is a bad person; it means he should wash before he can pray or go to the temple.

The menstrual blood is also “Tame” – meaning that menstruating women are unclean and anything they touch during their bleeding becomes unclean. Religious men should not touch their wives while they are bleeding.

Although I grew up in a secular family, the idea that menstrual blood is filthy, shameful, and must be kept hidden was all around me. I learned this from my mother, my friends at school, and tampon ads. 

It was something that you don't want anyone to know, and to me, that meant detachment. I was encouraged to ignore it, a strong woman does not surrender to the limits of her body. This is an idea that somehow implanted itself in my mind. If I want to be recognized and appreciated, I should not let my femininity stop me from doing things that men do.

So detachment was a good solution and when my blood came I dealt with it. Luckily I do not suffer from cramps, so it was easy to ignore it, except for that weird thing that I was not aware of – called PMS – because once in a while I would get these weird mood swings. I would suddenly feel very sad and could start crying because of the most trivial things. In my early 20scle I felt like I was going crazy. I started to suspect that this might have something to do with my period, but because I was detached from my cycle and, in general, from my body, I kept “forgetting” each month. I would get these strange moods. Only after the blood came would I understand “oh, so that is what it was” and it insulted me in a way... I felt that that my body was uncontrollable – that being a woman had doomed me to having no control over myself.

It was 20 years later, when I participated in my first Red Tent circle, that I learned that that this was not my individual problem, as many women disliked their periods. For many women, menstruation was connected with pain and shame.

Only then did I agree to listen to it. After that circle, I decided I wanted to create an event – a Red Tent festival. Thanks to my teachers, I began to change the way I thought and felt about my cycle, my PMS and my bleeding. I already knew from other practices and experiences that my body was a great teacher; I just did not include my cycle and the feminine aspects of my body as a unique source of wisdom that only women have.

I started tracking my cycle. I still do because I think there is still so much about it, about myself that I don't know. I sense there is so much more to learn and the first requirement is that I stop – stop my doing in everyday life and listen for a moment to my body and to my womb.

I discovered what I call womb meditations – just sitting and directing my attention to my pelvis and lower abdomen. When I first started doing this, I didn't feel anything, but slowly it changed and became a different way of listening and hearing. It does not come as mindful insights. For me, the wisdom of the womb is mindless and it bypasses my intellectual understanding. Because of that, it is usually very difficult to express it verbally. What I can say is that it connected me deeply to the earth as a spiritual power – as the source of life – and my womb as an extension of this Essence.

I have still a long way to go, after 43 years of ignorance – of ignoring and being unaware of that source of knowledge and intelligence. I need to practice daily and remind myself again to listen to my body – to believe the signs it is sending to me and honor it. But it is worth it. Today I feel grateful to living my life in a feminine body that holds such wisdom, such magic – an endless field to explore and study.

I still need to find a way to make peace with my origin, with the Jewish tradition and culture that I live in. For me, the way is through connection with the land. The land, the earth itself, holds within it all the layers of human development. In the hills surrounding my neighborhood, there are ancient Catacombs and just beyond are the ruins of the city of Megido – Armageddon. In one of its deepest layers, they found a huge round altar, which I believe was a place to worship the goddess. It is all here, all the knowledge, all the memories – like my body that in its womb and cycles holds the deep wisdom of the goddess of the sacred feminine. The land holds within it all the memories of knowing and honoring the feminine body and wisdom. All I have to do is listen and look, to remove the veils of ignorance of shame and fear. I believe that when we do that—all of us women and men— something new and better can emerge.

by Zoharah Noy-meir

A selection from the upcoming Girl God Anthology -  Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.

Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor

 Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Available late March - pre-order here.

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