Honey, herbs and the bitter-sweet cup
‘Shana Tovah’ or ‘Happy New Year’ to my Jewish friends and all Jewish people in the world! Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, a feast of reflection and reset. People reflect on what has happened in the past year and prepare themselves spiritually for the new year. The shofar or ram's horn is blown in the synagogue. In the evening people gather for a meal that includes apples with honey, which is meant to usher in a sweet new year.
At another Jewish Festival, Passover, which is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere Spring, bitter herbs are part of the meal, symbolizing the hardship in people’s lives. While reading a book recently about a group of feminist Jewish women, reinventing traditional rituals, I came across a gathering in which they dipped parsley in saltwater to think of the tears of Jewish Orthodox Women who were unable to receive a divorce from their husband.
This made me think of our last Imbolc ritual in which we held the rite of the 3 cups. The three cups represent the 3 stages of the Goddess and all that we go through during the cycles of our lives. We all took a sip of each cup. The first cup was filled with mead, a delicate and delicious honey liquor representing the Virgin, or all that’s sweet and pleasurable in our lives. The second cup was filled with milk, representing the Mother, and all that’s nourishing and nurturing. The third cup was filled with wormwood tea (Artemisia Absinthium), a leafy, green bitter tea representing the Crone and all our bitter, hard and difficult experiences. Losses, disappointment, betrayal, … Every life has its joy and its sorrow.
To me, every true and authentic ritual touches upon both sides of the coin, the gain and the loss, the grief and the joy. Be it short and symbolical, or more elaborate and explicit. When we sit in a circle and share our stories, we feel the support of our sisters and brothers. When we perform our rites, it becomes clear that our foremothers and forefathers also had their share of grief and joy. They too tasted the honey and the herb, and while we realize this, we might feel their warm, comforting hands on our back, encouraging us to keep celebrating this precious, bitter-sweet gift of life. Shana Tova!