I volunteered to lead our circle's ritual on September 26th, my birthday. Not only was the moon new that night, but the night also marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year. To combine these, I researched what I could find on the Internet about Rosh Hashanah traditions. I found Jew FAQ and the jewitchery list particularly helpful. I also recommend Ritual Well.
Since none of my circle are ethnically or religiously Jewish, my goal was to find inspiration in Jewish tradition with which we could identify and work. We ordinarily work with a God and Goddess, so I selected G-d, the abstract philosophical/mystical entity rather than the stern guy with whiskers, and the Human Diaspora, the Jewish sense of community across the world. During Rosh Hashanah, Jews reflect on this community, noting that millions of Jews all over the world are joined in the traditions they repeat this day.
Since it was also the beginning of my 25th new year (I turned 24 years old), I also came up with some interesting ways to share that. Each line of the quarter calls (often alliteratively) summarizes one year of my life, and they do so in order. In keeping with the activity of dipping apples in honey and offering each other wishes for the new year, I established myself as the center of a similar birthday cake lighting activity. Make sure to be careful and light the candles so that you don't have to reach over several candles to reach your target. And since some candles will burn longer than others, it can make a lovely ramped flame effect. This was a wonderful way to receive birthday wishes from friends, and I encourage other birthday celebrants to try it, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this ritual.
Though I led the ritual on September 26th, it wasn't until early January that I had an opportunity to write down the meditations I led. Mystical and philosophical views of G-d aren't as fresh in my mind as they were three months ago, so the G-d meditation certainly has room for improvement; I welcome input and if you wish to lead these meditations, I encourage improvisation. I think the two go well together, transitioning from the atomic unity of G-d to the Diaspora into the universe, no longer one with G-d (or are we?). The fundamental insights for the Diaspora meditation are
Baby Trevor, blond-haired boy,
Excited by everything,
Lover of the library,
Intricate imaginary identities,
Too creative for Crestview,
Alternative education, Uni Hill,
Sensitive student, often sick or hurt,
Surrounded by sports statistics,
Aware, annoyed, advocating action,
Mathematical master, methodological mediator.
Denying dairy helped health,
Local leader, learned language, unix user,
Exciting education experiment evolving,
Growing geekery: great games, perl programming,
Super student, college calculus, socratic seminars,
Philosophy, feelings, contemplating college, moved mornings.
Understanding university, finding features,
Increased involvement, finding friends,
Exciting election, fellow philosophers, are you RA?
Totally TITAN, encouraging engineers, holding hands with heathens,
Goodness gracious graduate school, unfinished undergraduate urges,
Work, wanderlust, wonder where next.
Omnipotent, omniscient, perfect,
The philosopher's deity,
Creator of the universe,
Invisible, indivisible, infinite,
Unrivaled and alone,
Judge, Ruler, and Shepherd,
You who are nowhere,
You who are always,
"Be here now" is a
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Prepare yourself for an exploration of the nature of G-d.
As you relax, let your preconceived notions of G-d to slip away. Drop the image of a stern man with a white beard. Abandon your associations and memories from sitting in a church listening to someone tell you what G-d is like. Release the ideas of G-d the author, G-d the father, G-d the engineer. For G-d is much more abstract.
G-d does not have a face. G-d does not have a location. G-d does not have a gender. G-d is not "He" but "It" with a capital "I." G-d does not have physical existance. G-d exists neither "outside" nor "inside" space and time. God is everywhere and always yet also nowhere and never.
Climb the ladder atop the Tree of Life to approximate G-d. Light without limit. Without limit. Without. Light without limit -- at first, G-d seems to be a radient light, shining undiluted to all places. But to say that G-d is light is to say It is not dark as well, so take the next step. Without limit -- G-d is infinite, encompassing all directions, having qualities in the most superlative degree. But to say that G-d has qualities is to limit G-d to certain ways of being. Take the final step. Without -- G-d doesn't have traits and qualities. G-d is atomic, simple, without description.
But even this is an attempt to describe G-d. G-d is without definite description. We cannot describe, but only refer. It with a capital I.
It with a capital I. I am contained within G-d the infinite all-encompasing simple undefinable.
[This meditation should be fleshed out some. When I originally led it, mystical abstract theology was fresh in my mind. Three months later as I sit to write it down, I can't remember the interesting things I said.]
In the beginning, entropy was zero. There was only unity, undifferentiated oneness. There was no time, no space, for the universe was without extension. In the beginning was only a nameless It with a capital I.
Then, though without time "then" is meaningless, the universe came into existence in a big bang. From unity arose energy and matter, the first Diaspora. One bit of entropy. As the bang continued, entropy increased, the Diaspora spread. Matter spread through space and time. But in the chaos of the Diaspora, some particles got together, forming hydrogen; some atoms got together to form bigger attoms. A localized decrease in entropy; the building of the first Community in the Diaspora.
The universe increased in size. The Diaspora spread throughout the ever-expanding space and time. Many Communities formed, coalescing together, spiralling about the core of their neighborhood. Matter formed into grand communities of stars and planets.
Focus now on a particular star in a Community far out in the Diaspora. It lies far out in the uncharted backwaters of the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The local Diaspora includes nearly a dozen Communities of varied size and entropy. Focus now on a small blue-green Community.
As the planet was young, something special happened. A very strange sort of entropic decrease brought a living cell. But this too quickly split; the Diaspora of cell division. But in the Diaspora the numbers grew and made its home in many places on the Earth. Soon these cells too began to form Community, discovering that many cells in an organism were more powerful than many cells on their own.
But the Community was not destined to last. Each Community died quickly, a fatal Diaspora to feed an alien Community. And the nature of the Community changed as time went on, adapting to new homes throughout the Diaspora. This went on for some time; the Diaspora filled the sea and fostered Community in a great many ways. The Diaspora changed the planet.
A billion years ago, Diaspora continued to land. Barren at the time, with work perhaps it could be Zion, the Promised Land. Amphibians, reptiles, trees, flowers, and many more new creatures flourished, each in their own Community. In the Diaspora arose mammals; animals with a keen instinct for Community and against Diaspora. In this proud tradition came primates and then, just recently, a rather queer sort of primate.
Abandoning the jungle Community, humans grew and learned quickly on the savannahs of the Diaspora. With language, tools, and cleverness they quickly spread in a Diaspora of their own. Each Community, isolated in the Diaspora, developed its own language, its own traditions, its own stories. But though they lived separately, they did interact with each other.
From one Community to another ran exchanges of godos and ideas. But there also ran warriors, intent to rape, pillage and burn. As time went on, creativity brought forth many wonderful ideas, but also brought more clever tools of war. Forgetting their origins in the common Community, the brothers and sisters in the Diaspora fight against each other. They search for Zion, the promised land, believing it lives beneath the feet of their neighbor. They believe that they can bring about Zion.
The people of Earth do not realise where they are. For Earth is Zion. The Diaspora is at home. But they do not recognize their family, the fellow members of their Community. It is a new moon for everyone tonight. It is Rosh Hashanah, a new year, and people across the Earth celebrate this night.
On Rosh Hashanah, G-d writes down what will happen in the year to come -- who will die before his time, who will be spared, who will have a good year, and so forth. However, this fate is not sealed until Yom Kippur. The intervening ten days are a chance for the faithful to show G-d why they should have a better inscription. G-d does not forgive people for transgressions against others until they seek atonement with the other person. Thus, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe/Repentance/Atonement, are a time to reconcile with people against whom you have transgressed. Make a plan of who you need to make up with.
Under Jewish law, people must keep and honor the oaths and vows they take. However, if a person takes an oath based on incomplete or incorrect information, they can make their case before a Beit Dein, or a court of three knowledgeable individuals. If they judge it, the oath may be annulled. This practice is traditionally done before Rosh Hashanah, but it can be done later if circumstances require. We have, this night, more than three knowledgeable individuals. You may make your case.
The traditional Rosh Hashanah food, apples dipped in honey, plus wine and gingerbread (or other birthday cake).
To bless the cakes, everyone can take turns saying a birthday blessing and lighting a candle. The birthday boy shall bless the wine.
Having thus indulged, we shall offer each other blessings for a sweet new year. Each person shall dip an apple slice (or piece of bread) in honey and offer it as a new year's blessing to another person, and then feed that slice to the blessed. Continue this until each person has offered a wish to each other.
L'shanah tovah = "For a good year."
L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem (to women: L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi) = "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."
"May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year."
(That is - dispersal, closing. Isn't it odd that we "close the circle," but then sing "The Circle is Open?")