Spiritualism, occultism, shamanism—Judaism? Few spiritual traditions are more closely associated with the modern, rationalist worldview than Judaism. It's not just our affinity for western education, our inclination toward medicine, the sciences and winning Nobel prizes. There seems to be a well-known and ancient association between Jews and hard intellectualism. "Talmudic logic" is a by-word for steroid-enhanced reasoning, and the Talmud that gives us such logic has been around for over 1,500 years. Jews, from of old, seem to have an over-developed fondness for the left side of their brains.
But appearances can be deceiving. Truth is, besides being the poster child for "rational" civilization, we are still very much a tribal people. That's tribal without any quotation marks around it—tribal in the Native American sense. Only instead of eating maize and smoked salmon, Jews eat bagels and … well … smoked salmon.
Few people are aware that Jews are one of the oldest continuous tribal cultures on the planet. Over three thousand years ago we were a nomadic people, inspired by great mythic teachings (Genesis 1; Psalm 74), celebrating the blessings of the earth (Leviticus 23:1-43; Deuteronomy 8:7-10), communing with spirits (Gen. 18:1-33; Zech. 4-8), performing rituals of power (Genesis 17:1-12; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalms 108:1-3) and of healing (Numbers 12:1-16; I Kings 17:17-24). And we are still doing many of these same things today; these things and much, much more.
The Rabbinic Sages and mystics of Kabbalah ("[Occult] Tradition") preserve and transmit great spiritual insights, teachings of power and rituals of empowerment. Jewish tradition includes wondrous stories and amazing practices: spiritual, meditative and transformative, like the K'riat Sh'ma al ha-Mitah, the ritual for summoning four angels to watch over you while you sleep.
Moreover, Jewish occult tradition has been incredibly influential. Judaism is one of the oldest living esoteric traditions in the world. Virtually every form of Western mysticism and spiritualism known today draws upon Jewish occult teachings—magic, angelology, alchemy, numerology, dream interpretation, astrology, amulets, divination, altered states of consciousness, alternative healing, and rituals of power all have roots in Jewish teachings.
The irony is, of course, that even Jews themselves have bought into the very stereotypes I described above. Ask most Jews about Jew myths and they will tell you Judaism is a religion without mythology. Ask them to tell you about Jewish magic and they will think first of Houdini (or maybe Barbra Streisand). And even though Jewish mysticism has become a part of pop culture, most Jews still know little or nothing about it. This is because for millennia many of these core teachings have been unavailable to the public—even from most Jews—concealed by barriers of language, fear of persecution and the occult principles of Kabbalah, which have both guarded and nurtured such knowledge.
Surprisingly, much of this is hiding in plain sight. Many Jews have a mezuzah on the doorpost of their home or wear a hamsa around their neck but know nothing of their talismanic powers. Most Jews have sat in a synagogue, but are oblivious to the totems that surround them there. Lots of Jews have said a traditional blessing over food, unaware of how a slice of bread is a gateway to heaven.
Intrigued? But what if you are not Jewish? It doesn't matter. Most Jews can tell you that while we don't preach to people of other faiths, we are happy to teach anyone who is interested. In fact, being a teacher, helping a person elevate themselves, whether it be intellectually, morally or spiritually, well, it's a mitzvah (a sacred obligation).
So if you are interested in learning about Jewish esoteric traditions, then a great place to start is The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism, a comprehensive one-volume A-to-Z reference book with over eight hundred entries on authentic Jewish fabulous and occult beliefs. Everything from "Angels" to "Zodiac" is covered in individual entries. Examples include "Amulets," "Ghosts," "Merkavah," "Reincarnation" and "Sefirot," all drawn from the full scope of Jewish literature: Bible, Talmud, Midrash, folktales, mystical tracts, and magical manuals.
This is a truly unique book. It allows you, the reader, to go further, deeper and higher in your personal quest to understand the concealed truths of our own world and worlds beyond. If you are interested in metaphysics, Kabbalah, spiritualism or the Western magical tradition, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism offers you new insights to the topics that matter to you.
For the first time ever, 3,500 years of accumulated secret wisdom, wisdom drawn from the wells of a great spiritual tradition, is at your fingertips. It shouldn't be so easy.
Geoffrey Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, TX. He is also Lecturer in Kabbalah and rabbinic literature at the University of North Texas. He received his M.HL and was ordained at Hebrew Union ...