Witches in the Holy Land

Shamanism is gaining popularity as a way of serving Mother Earth.

A shrine to Mother Earth is a place to light candles and give thanks. (photo credit: PATRICIA CARMEL)
A shrine to Mother Earth is a place to light candles and give thanks.
(photo credit: PATRICIA CARMEL)
Shamanism – once the realm of the taboo practices of primitive peoples from the jungles of South America, Africa and Asia – is finding acceptance in the modern Western world. Although shamanic practice can vary among different cultures, in general, shamans play a key role in the societies in which they are revered, using their powers to intercede between the human world and the spirit world to heal an individual and to create harmony on earth.
Israel, too, has a number of contemporary shamanic communities. Adherents take part in shamanic circle gatherings where each participant is connected to the fire burning at its center and through the fire to each other. The circles and the ceremonies they perform are a fundamental element of shamanic observance. These circles represent a loop, a closed environment where there is room for everyone who chooses to be there on an equal footing.
Just over a year ago, I joined a group of people in a village in the coastal plain. We sat in a circle awaiting the arrival of the “Master,” a renowned shaman from Mexico. When he arrived, he moved slowly around the circle, staring deeply into our eyes. Occasionally he would stop to touch an arm or ask a question through the interpreter. When it was my turn, we stared at each other for a full two minutes. Through the interpreter, the Master understood that a cyst in my spinal column was responsible for the throbbing pain in my leg. Suddenly he placed one hand on my calf and pressed the other against my shoulder. We maintained this rather awkward pose for about a minute. However, more than a month later, it was the skill of the surgeon that finally released me from my agony.
ALTHOUGH THIS particular shaman failed to effect a cure, to judge by the number of workshops and courses on shamanic practice currently available in Israel, shamanism appears to be sufficiently popular to indicate that those who learn its ways enjoy some success.
Sara Osher is a self-proclaimed witch who has studied shamanism. Located in the picturesque village of Kfar Vradim in the tranquil foothills of the Western Galilee, she describes how she adopted shamanism to better serve Mother Earth, the nurturer of all living beings.
“I looked for such a long time until I discovered the Mother,” she says, her emotion evident as she recalls her personal journey of discovery. “My path is to serve Mother Earth, to strengthen feminine consciousness all over the world. For a long time, Mother Earth has been dominated by masculine energy, and the feminine side is hurting.
“Shamanism is about healing and creating harmony,” she continues. “From a very young age, I was called upon to keep the peace in my family. They would involve me in their quarrels and try to get me to take sides. I felt that I was chosen to be the peacekeeper, to bring peace to everyone. Although I was very young, I knew I was different. I felt I didn’t belong in this family at all.”
Osher was born the youngest of 14 children in a remote village in Morocco in 1954, moving to Israel at the age of six. Coming from a devoutly religious family, she remembers herself as an introspective child who felt a deep connection to God.
“I always felt that someone watched over me and that nothing bad would ever happen to me,” she recalls.
Growing up near Ramat Hasharon, she recalls how she always needed to help people. “When someone was in pain, I, too, hurt. I would feel the pain coursing through my body. If I saw an old woman struggling with shopping baskets, I had to help her carry the baskets home. Helping people made me feel alive. It gave me a value. If I didn’t help someone in need, I felt worthless.”
Although from the age of 15 she ceased to be religious, she never lost the need to help others, to offer sympathy and to contribute wherever she could.
Married at the age of 22 and divorced at 33, she took courses on healing, reflexology and other related subjects, holding workshops in her home in Rehovot. On returning home from a visit to an ashram in India, she attended an intensive course on how to use shamanism to open up her heart to people.
Osher explains: “Every person has three voices inside him. One is the savage inner voice, the voice that drags you down, that tells you not to do something, that it’s not worth your while. The second voice is our self-image, the voice that tells us, I’m wonderful, I’m better than others. Both these voices are lies. They prevent the voice of the soul from emerging. During the course, I learned how the shamanic touch can neutralize these two voices so that the voice of the soul can emerge. I learned how to help someone identify his savage inner voice and his self-image and how to listen to his soul. We are a soul that has a body – not a body with a soul. Once we understand this, we can begin to be healed.”
ONCE INTRODUCED to the world of shamanism, she began to attend shamanic ceremonies. Every ceremony has a name and purpose, such as the White Ceremony for a full moon. In the North, visitors can participate in the circles on Mount Meron.
“You don’t have to be a shaman to attend, it’s enough to come with love and curiosity,” says Osher.
The ceremonies are free, but people are asked to contribute a vegetarian meal. Those responsible for running the ceremony – usually shamans or shamans-in-training – greet the visitors and purify them before they can enter the area where the ceremony will be held.
“Sage is crushed in a shell and set alight,” Osher explains. “The smoke is then waved up and down and around the visitors before they enter the holy place to drive out all the negative spirits they might have brought with them.”
Chairs are arranged in circles around the fire in the center. One circle is dedicated to the elderly, which means men over the age of 50 and women who no longer menstruate. A red tent is reserved for menstruating women.
“This is a holy time for a woman, and special food is prepared in their honor,” she says.
Most ceremonies last for about two hours and have an average attendance rate of 70 people, including children. Following the ceremony, the participants eat; first the elderly, then the women and children. The men are the last to eat.
“In shamanic culture, women have an honorable role. Women are the creative ones, the leaders. When we women take food, we’re aware that there are men there and that we must leave food for them. The men in our area are very helpful, respectful and supportive.”
As a child, Osher was aware that she was clairvoyant, that she was able to perceive things beyond the natural range of the senses, to see what other people didn’t see. Nowadays, she harnesses her powers to help people achieve their goals, using a range of props and devices, such as bones, amulets wrapped around her arms, and cards.
“Every woman is a witch,” she says. “For example, if you’re cooking when you’re in a bad mood or you’re angry with someone and think bad thoughts about him, the food absorbs your energy and whoever eats your food is going to experience those same feelings. The object of your anger can become sick if he eats the food. Women have enormous power, but they don’t know how to use it.
“I’ve been practicing witchcraft for about seven years,” she continues. “A witch knows how to change reality. For example, someone will come to me who wants to get a specific job or sell his house. I first check if that’s what he really wants. People must be precise about what they really want. Then I light a candle to open a door to a different reality.”
In her consultations, she frequently uses a specially dedicated drum. “The drum is alive. It’s made out of plastic, not leather. Plastic is derived from oil, and everything that comes out of the earth is alive. I accompany the drum with songs that come from my heart. Through the drum, I connect to a certain type of healing that brings harmony to people. The drum connects me to Mother Earth. It is dedicated to her.”
Osher also uses cards to advise people who are looking for answers in their lives.
“I help people to focus on their question, and when they choose a card, I receive a message from my spiritual guides. Many times I see all sorts of things about a person but I don’t say anything until I’ve looked at the card he’s chosen,” she says.
“I’m learning all the time from the shamans,” she adds. “They are my teachers and my spiritual guides.”