Got Her Mojo Workin’
01/29/99
Associate Editor
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Imagine a house falling out of the Kansas sky and landing on someone or something you loved. You’d be witchy, too. Tell me you never felt like that. Let go of Auntie Em’s hand, my little pretty, we’re not in the world of nice Jewish girls anymore where everyone has a brain, a heart, the nerve. No, you and I, we’re going to an underworld of Jewish witches, mojos, spirits, spells and hexes.Snow blankets Ninth Street in the East Village. Beyond a shingle in the shape of a crescent moon, within the shop “Enchantments,” a black cat slivers over a narrow wooden floor. Dozens of apothecary jars are filled with odds and ends such as hemlock bark, Irish moss, mug wart and skullcap — herbs and spices for cooking in a coven. In one corner, for sale, is a skull suitable for burning incense. Nearby, a book of incantations requires a human tooth and dirt from a grave.Lexa Rosean, the 40-year-old manager of this emporium, sits at a small table in the back room. She is a beautiful high priestess with copper-tinted hair, eyes like embers, and the genial calm that comes from being bewitched since 1982.To her mother, this high priestess with her own coven is still called by her Jewish name, Ora Leiba. In the East Village, she’s called Lady Venus, Lexa de Hexa, Sexy Lexy. Some call her the Supermarket Sorceress for her three volumes of hexes utilizing ingredients that can be found at the neighborhood grocery; vanilla bean, say, can be a substitute for tongue of dog. But you knew that.Dare we ask, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”“I’m a good witch,” says Lexa, “Jew-witch.”The Roseans were Conservative Jews whose religious quest, says Lexa, led them to a chasidic group that followed the Chernobyl rebbe. The high priestess says that while still in a Denver high school she was “excommunicated, put in charem, by a bet din,” an Orthodox rabbinic court, “for being in the process of becoming what I am: the village macha’shefa.”“That literally means witch,” explains Lexa, “but it’s also used in Yiddish to mean ‘Be careful — she knows things, she has power.’ ”Although the entire written and oral traditions — from the Torah to the Prophets to the Chronicles to the Talmud — acknowledges the successful practice of witchcraft, sorcery and mystical illusions, the bottom line for the rabbinate was the definitive verse in Exodus 22: “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.” It would be simpler, said everyone involved, if Lexa would simply disappear.Like a house blown away through the sky, the family landed in Florida, and then Lexa enrolled in New York’s Stern College. She graduated despite being expelled from the dorms for lesbian activity. Her quote in the senior yearbook was from Genesis: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast in the field.”“After graduation, I consciously became involved with Wicca [the religion of witchcraft] and Magick [spelled with a “k” to differentiate sorcery from slight-of-hand entertainment]. I met some witches and started studying with them. I’d been feeling on the outs with Orthodoxy, where I could be only a wife or a mother. What attracted me to witchcraft was I could be a seductress, a warrior, a poet.”She was not alone. Radical Jewish feminists, particularly Reconstructionists, were in the process of exploring ancient paganism for models of feminist religious leadership. Five years ago, Starhawk, a nationally known witch “goddess,” was invited by a Reconstructionist rabbi to teach at Elat Chayyim, a Jewish retreat center popular among the Jewish Renewal movement.Starhawk, whose books are on sale in “Enchantments,” writes: “I had been very religious as a child and had pursued my Jewish education to an advanced level. But as I reached young womanhood in the late ’60s ... the tradition, as it stood then, was somehow lacking in models for me, as a woman, and in avenues for the development of female spiritual power. ... The Goddess tradition opened up [the] wild power of nature; the intense pleasure of sexual intimacy took center stage as paths to the sacred, instead of being denied, denigrated, or seen as peripheral.”Another Jewish witch, Emunah D’vorah, explained in an interview that she was raised in “Reform Judaism, Friday-night services, Hebrew school, until the age of 10. My mother was a Kabbalist, so I had some mystical, metaphysical ideas from an early age. ... My son attends Tot Shabbat. ...”In a recent posting at a witchcraft web site, Emunah D’vorah asks, “Can I not be a witch because I am a Jew? I certainly feel like a witch, and act and think like one.” She says she studies Kabbalah.In “Enchantments,” there are several books on sale similar to “The Witches Qabbalah, the Pagan Path and the Tree of Life” by Ellen Cannon Reed.Pagan worship, among witches, means a nature-based system, with holy days based on such things as the equinox and solstice. There are many ways to symbolize the Deity, according to one source: “The universe is alive and we refer to its living energy by many names.”Devil worship is Christian and witches aren’t Christian. The good witches creed, says Lexa, is “Do what thou wilt and ye harm none.” (There is no sense of how many witches there actually are; Wicca not being an organized religion with a central office. Some say that there are 25,000 covens across the country — 13 witches per coven — with thousands more working “solitaire.”)To hear Lexa tell it, witchcraft was the most logical alternative to being Orthodox. After all, her problem with Orthodoxy had nothing to do with her belief in the afterlife, in mysticism, in demons so intriguingly described in the Talmud. “I love ritual.” Spells, hexes, even pagan holidays are nothing if not ritual.She still goes to shul, but “I’ve become what I’d never wanted to be: A Yom Kippur Jew.”She does herself a disservice. Her “Supermarket Sorceress” books reveals her to be a witch very aware of her Yiddishkeit, not just once a year but throughout.Her books contain spells and hexes for the modern urban Dorothy who wants to find her way home, or at least to a better apartment. They contain spells to help break the Seventh Commandment, to mend a broken heart, a “broomstick spell” in the name of Demon Lilith, and even a spell “to attract the right couples therapist.”But snuggled amid all this is a spell for mourners: buy a yahrtzeit candle and a hard-boiled egg, just as Jews have always done when returning from the cemetery.Her “Sexy Hexes” volume includes a spell “to promote shalom bayit (peace in the home),” removing negativity and promoting “longevity, love, prosperity and future generations.” The ingredients for this spell? “Potatoes, flanken meat, kidney beans, white beans, navy beans, barley, onion, salt and honey.”Cholent! “After having examined the magical components, I concluded that cholent is indeed a magic stew for love.” Don’t worry, she’s still a regular macha’shefa, proving cholent’s potency by referencing Egyptian, Sumerian, Indian, Babylonian and Chinese legends. Still, we’re talking cholent.Deep in her soul, it’s a Jewish soul. She was once at her father’s house, looking through his Talmud. There, in Aramaic, was a discussion of the spices blessed at Havdalah. The rabbis were debating, says Lexa, whether you are required to make a blessing over the spices if you simply smell it while walking in the woods.“There were all these arguments,” recalled Lexa. One said yes; one, no, because it could be incense burning to a pagan god. One rabbi said, maybe it was Jewish women burning incense while practicing witchcraft.“I thought, my God: Here I am in the tradition. For so long I felt alone in this, that I had no place in all of this world. After reading the Talmud, I realized, of course I have a place. Jewish witches, like me, have always been here. I felt at home.”There’s no place like home. But then, the good witch always knew that.

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03/06/2012 - 22:24

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