Class 3: Purim - Festival of the Sacred Fool
In this class, we'll explore Purim, the feast of foolery that takes place on the 14th of Adar. This festival celebrates the story of Queen Esther and has traditionally been a time for feasting, joking, costumes, and plays.
Purim (meaning "lots") is a full moon festival of early spring. It falls on the 14th of Adar. It is a time when Jews read the book of Esther—the story of how a secretly Jewish queen in Persia saves the Jewish people. Jews also send gifts of food to friends and the poor, wear costumes and masks, create silly and sometimes irreverent plays, and in general celebrate the rites of spring.
Esther, who enters the king's harem and ends up rescuing the Jewish people from a cruel vizier who wants to kill them, has a familiar name: Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess who descends to the underworld and returns bearing life. Esther is a hidden or ironic version of Ishtar, and her story may represent the encounter of the Jews with Babylonian/Persian culture. Hamantaschen, those yonic cookies bursting with fruit, also call goddesses to mind. Like other early spring holidays around the world such as Basant (Afghani kite-flying) or Carneval (the Venetian holiday of masks) Purim is a vivid celebration of spring’s triumph that lets us burst out in new and surprising ways.
Please read the following readings for Class 3, in preparation for the lecture:
- The Book of Esther (Bible)
- Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, 115-132.
- Jill Hammer, Jewish Book of Days, p. 191-206.
- Susan Schnur, “The Once and Future Womantasch"
A talk on Purim, the Book of Esther, and the place of late-winter revelry in the Jewish calendar.
ne practice for Purim is the creation of Purimspiels or silly plays that make fun of sacred things. Please read the following "Purim Torah" play. Feel free to post your own Purim Torah! Then answer the discussion question in the next step of this lesson, and/or write and post your own Purimspiel!
A Spring Purim Play
Announcer: The crocuses have finally opened here on the western side of Central Park, just in time for theofficial start of spring, and days before the arrival of the holiday ofPurim. Geese are appearing in the skyand daffodil buds are sprouting all over.The cast of the Book of Esther is appearing today to compete for therole of “Harbinger of Spring.” Here theyare on the steps of Belvedere Castle.Let’s see how they intend to convince the judges they are right for thepart….
Esther (wearing a wreath offlowers and little else): Like the goddess Ishtar descending to theunderworld in order to return with the new grain, I descend into the king’sharem, then return to plead for the defeat of death. I am called the morning star. Even my name is related to the word forEaster! Okay, wrong spring holiday, but you take my point! My beauty and graceare reflected in the blossoms of the season.The judges should choose me as Harbinger of Spring. I was born for the role!
Vashti (wearing a white chiton andcarrying a bow and arrow): It’s not enough that you took my husband? Now you want my job as well? Honored judges, I am the emissary of spring! I was rejected by my husband Achashverosh,but midrash claims I am the true queen of Persia, daughter ofNebuchadnezzar. The king demanded that Icome before his drunken guests to dance, but I refused. I am the virgin maiden of spring, untamed anduntouchable.
Esther: Untouchable? I’ve heard about your antics in the harem!
Vashti: That was a ritual matter. It doesn’t count.
Haman (in a dark cloak and deerantlers): I’m sorry to point this out, ladies, but I am the only real candidatehere. Your romantic portrayal of naturebears no correspondence to the facts on the ground! Do you think spring hesitates to push a fewchicks out of the nest? I represent thetruth: the cruel and powerful rains of spring, washing away all who are notstrong enough to stand.
Mordechai (wearing green robes anda mighty sword): On the contrary, spring comes to redeem the wasted animals whohave searched for food all through the winter, and to revive the seeds thathave frozen underground! I, Mordechai,the hero, saved the king’s life and convinced Esther to rescue her people. I slew my enemies without mercy, to therejoicing of my people, and rose to a position of regal power. I am the Prince of Spring!
Announcer: You and Haman seemsomewhat alike to me. Could you saysomething to distinguish yourselves a bit?
Mordechai and Haman: Alike? Us?(The two men begin to argue.)
Announcer: The judges havedisqualified Mordechai and Haman for fighting during the contest! Do we have any other candidates?
Ahasuerus (wearing a cap withbells): Yes! I am the true messenger ofspring. Spring is a time of sillinessand frivolity! I, king of Persia,spitefully divorced my wife because she tried to tell me what to do, then endedup obeying the words of my next wife. Iagreed to kill the Jews for almost no reason, then saved them for almost noreason. My phallic scepter rises like acomedy prop. I am the April Fool!
Announcer: You do have a goodcase. Wait, I’m receiving a message fromanother candidate. (A bluejay brings theannouncer a scroll.) Zeresh, the wife ofHaman, cannot attend today. She hasaccepted an invitation to become queen of the underworld. We will have to decide among the candidateswho are present.
Vashti: So who is the messenger ofspring? We demand to know!
Esther: Is it me?
Achashverosh: Is it me?
(A small green envelope floatsinto the hands of the announcer.)Announcer: And the prize goes…. toHatach!
Esther: Hatach?! My eunuch?He didn’t even try out!
Announcer: Hatach delivered themessages between Esther and Mordechai, so that Esther could become the star ofthe Purim story. He is almost invisible,but without him, Purim could not go forward.So too, when spring first comes, it is almost invisible, but itspresence makes life possible.Congratulations, Hatach!
A thin, graceful man in brownrobes with hints of green comes across the grass and up the stairs. The announcer hands him a watering can. The trees applaud.
Esther, Vashti, Mordechai, Haman, andAchashverosh do a circle dance. Hatachdisappears into the forest without saying goodbye. - Rabbi Jill Hammer
Spirit Journey: Masks & Shadows
Purim is a day for costumes and masks. On Purim, people use humor and disguise to express truths that normally cannot be spoken. This journey explores masks and shadows as a source of wisdom.
We begin this experience of embodiment by taking a baseline - bring your attention to your body, noticing any sensations, becoming aware of your breath, without making effort to change anything. Take a minute here.
Now, we attune to Source, simply by intending to do so. Attune to Source, now. If you have a desire to attune to the energy of Purim, do so now.
Purim holds myriad possibilities. It is the Wheel of Fortune moment in the Wheel of the Year - a time where anything can come to be, including who and how we want to be, including a shift of fates, a shadow dance or discovery or activation of qualities that have been dormant. Purim is an embracing of mystery.
Feeling into the energy of embodying Purim, I see a Wheel of Fortune - spinning with many colors and doors available to open. It is up to each of us - or the unique conversation between each of us and G!ddess - to determine where the Wheel lands for us this year. A potent way to embody the spirit of Purim is to embrace the mystery, to know that we don’t know, and that this moment holds potential for becoming new, for what’s been in shadow to reveal, for acts of great courage and faith, for claiming sovereignty and for transforming fate.
What do you know about the energy that Purim holds for you this cycle round the wheel, this moment in the spiral? When you let the story of Purim wash over or emerge from your body, what qualities highlight, what aspects emerge for you with the most life around them? Which characters in the story animate you, or which are you most compelled or repelled by?
Purim custom invites us to costume. Costuming is an embodiment practice that invites transformation through ritual garmenting. The practice of costuming is putting on, or allowing to emerge, a second skin - a filter between us and the world - and a message to ourselves and the world - about an energy we are embracing that is distinct in some way from our daily garmenting. As we costume, we work with dormant shadow qualities come to light, or highlight qualities in ourselves we seek to amplify. Costuming on Purim consists of the same act we engage when we costume ourselves - get dressed - each day. On “regular” days, we costume or garment ourselves in clothing that supports what matters to us. We choose colors and fabrics or textures that are most resonant for us or feel like the most accurate expression of us, or that serve us most effectively or comfortable for what we are invoking or seeking to create in the world. Costuming on Purim we suspend our norms around daily garmenting and enter into a ceremonial garmenting moment that allows us to try on and show to the world an entirely different second skin, and in this veiling, there is a revealing. Who do we become, what qualities are activated in us when we try on and show these new ways? The impact of garments is palpable. Without stress around finding the “right” costume - feel into what is exciting for you as a hidden or new way of being you want to play with. Notice how it feels in your body to imagine costuming, or to literally costume in this way. What are you revealing to self? What are you hiding or revealing to the world? How can you engage the costuming element of Purim to support your body and being in play and in revelation of qualities that you are in inquiry around or have a desire to embody or to transform.
Purim, in it’s place opposite Yom Kippur on the Wheel of the Year, and it’s parallel cross-cultural moment to festivals of Bacchanalia and Carnival, is the polarity of solemnity or seriousness. Purim is the inside out, upside down moment that is the Joker, Trickster or Leitzanit - the one who in their levity we might mistake for being inconsequential or out of step - but who really are at the center of making the world.
Purim, in it’s story’s location in the palace, and it’s sacred drama of Vashti and Esther and the men who surround them, is an invitation to explore Sovereignty. Vashti’s journey is one of making a sovereign choice, as she defies He Who Attempts to Rule Her. Esther’s journey is one of becoming sovereign, and she is both supported and challenged by energies of the masculine and coming to discover her own capacity and compass in the process.
The journey toward Sovereignty looks different for each of us, but is an essential if we are to be in right relationship with our lives and to choose from center. The quality of Sovereignty supports us in fully inhabiting our own bodies, energy bodies and lives. My mentor Hiro Boga, who teaches a course on sovereignty called Rule Your World, describes Sovereignty as “a quality of interdependent being...(which) emerges from our relationship to wholeness, and carries with it the responsibility to govern your inner kingdom wisely, to cultivate your gifts and talents, and to contribute to the creation of the world in which you want to live.”
Sovereignty places us at the center of our own lives. Rather than living in reaction or response to, we live rooted in the center of ourselves. We inhabit our bodies, energy bodies and lives fully and with ease and grace.
If you desire, attune to the energy of Sovereignty now. Welcome this energy in your body and your being. Take time with this. What do you notice?
What is your relationship with Sovereignty? What are practices that you have which support you as a sovereign being? Does you physical practice support you inhabiting your body fully? Do practices of meditation, or intention setting support your energy body? Do practices of sacred bathing or working with scent support your clearing energy from your field, or invoking energies that you want to cultivate? Perhaps chanting and prayer support you in cultivating energies of presence or of peace.
For me this turning round the Wheel, embodying Purim means embodying Sovereignty, and being in right relationship with Power. This month, guided by Lena and Jose Stevens of the Power Path, I’ve been studying the practice of plugging power leaks as an essential practice for living well. When you turn your attention to your body and your energy body, what do you notice about the presence of power. Where do you feel most aligned, clear and energized? Or how does power inhabit your body, what does it look and feel like inside of you? Where are any power leaks in your energy body or in your life? This question is not one to answer cognitively, but to do a somatic and energetic inquiry around, and to open to what you are shown. How do you notice an energy or power leak? Becoming aware of patterns or relationships or incompletions that are a power drain or inhibit your sovereignty is an essential step toward shifting them. What are the places where you step out of sovereignty and where you drop your power? What structures or supports, communications or commitments are needed to shift them?
I offer you these themes that are most resonant for me in this turning round the Wheel of the Year. I encourage you to share in the Embodying Purim discussion forum anything that emerges for you from this offering, or your own discoveries about Embodying Purim. The points of meeting between our diversity and unity of experience offer such a gorgeous tapestry of community and possibility.
May your Purim bring you into just the dance with Mystery that you desire. May your journey be wild, may your journey be whole. May what has been hidden be revealed toward acclamation or transformation. May all of your garments support and evoke aspects of your being that meet the world well. May you find resonance in the story of Esther and Vashti, or of Haman’s foremama Timna, or of Esther’s namesake Astarte or any of the archetypes that are ripe to teach you. May you be guided by your body and may your treat your body well. May you sit or stand in Sovereignty in your life and may the Power that you move through your body and your being be a blessing. Purim Sameach.