New Moon Ritual for Elul/The Maiden
This ritual for the new moon of Elul incorporates the practice of blowing the shofar (ram's horn) during Elul, offerings of bread, wine, and grapes related to the harvest, and imagery related to the astrological sign for the month, which is the Betulah or Virgin. In the system of this writer, summer is the season of fire and fall the season of air (for other systems see The Four Elements and the Four Seasons.
"…Return, O Maiden of Israel, return to these cities of yours!"
This month Elul, whose mazal (constellation) is the Maiden, commonly called Virgo in modern astrology, is set aside for teshuvah, spiritual return. During this month we want to turn away from that which lowers us and return to our true, spiritual selves.
Elul is the last of the months of summer, season of fire. Let us begin tonight by lighting a white candle facing north, the direction of fire, symbolizing purification, cleansing and change.
(Leader in the south facing north passes hands over the flames three times to purify, then recites the blessing:)
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam, borei me'orei ha'eish. Blessed is the One who creates illumination of the fire.
This flame represents the desire of our souls to reach upward and return to its source, its yearning for teshuvah. (Anybody who wishes to pass their hands over the flame may do so now.)
Now we will face east and focus our kavanah (intention) towards Rosh Hashanah, the new year and our season of air, the season of the new year, new light, new hope, and new beginnings. The Days of Awe, a time of fate, of inscribing and sealing, and sowing our new seeds of intention for the upcoming year. The shofar will be sounded in the direction of east, direction of air, awakening our souls to begin teshuvah now, while Divinity is most accessible to us during this month of Elul. We do teshuvah now, before entering the Days of Awe, before we reap in the upcoming autumn harvest what we have sown this past year. Before we welcome the light of the new year, let us do teshuvah and clean our spiritual homes.
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam shechechiyanu v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. Blessed is the One who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.
(Person in the west of the circle facing east sounds a shofar, using the shofar notes: Tekiah Shevarim-Teruah Tekiah.)
Facing south, the direction of water, we bring this white wine. Elul is the month of the grape harvest, and wine across many cultures gladdens the hearts of Deity and human being alike. In addition to serving pleasure and ritual, wine is also the drink of lovers, a fitting offering for Elul, the name of which is an acrostic for “Ani ledodi vedodi li--I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This is the secret of our relationship with the Divine during Elul.
The kabbalists tell us that wine is also a revealer of secrets, as it is said: “When wine goes in, secrets come out”. In order to be cleansed in this month of Elul/Virgo, let us sip the white wine and pour out our hiddenmost secrets to Hashem (The Name). Let us do teshuvah from the secret recesses of our hearts, not in fear, but as if Hashem were our true beloved who sees us as we truly are and mirrors us back with the truth and love of a soulmate. May we enter the new year spiritually prepared, having come clean about our shortcomings and having worked to purify ourselves for this upcoming month.
And please save a bit of your kiddush wine for a libation offering to share your wine with our Divine Beloved.
(White wine is blessed by somebody in the north part of the circle facing south, the direction of water. )
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam borei p’rei hagafen. Blessed is the One who creates the fruit of the vine.
(Before pouring the libation to the ground, the leader should say:
"Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li")
“I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.”
Finally, in the west, direction of the element earth, we bring this challah as earth's symbol, the untouched four-braided challah. As Shechinah rests with us on Shabbat, during Elul the Divine Presence is close to us all month. Like the presence on Friday night of challah and the Sabbath bride, challah for us at this time represents the mazal of the Maiden this new moon of Elul, and the accessibility of Shechinah this entire month. When we eat this challah, we are taking the Maiden energy into ourselves to give us strength to do teshuvah and renew ourselves like the moon.
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz.
(Challah is eaten by all.)
With the waxing moon of Elul, write on one white candle some of the positive changes you would like to see in yourself and in our surroundings that will bring you to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur spiritually restored and renewed. When you are finished, place the candle with your writings in the center of the circle and light it. If you have brought grapes as an offering in this month of the grape harvest, please place them in the center of the circle when you bring up your candle and it will remain as an offering for everybody to share.
Return to your place and reflect, confess, or meditate silently upon the flame while it burns.
(Wait for awhile until all present have written on their candle and placed it in the circle and has a moment for silent reflection back in their place.)
Elul is like one who emerges from the depths of mikvah, the ritual bath, renewed and restored. Elul is the removal of our spiritual descent, represented by the intense mourning and absence of light during the previous month, Av. The purpose of any descent is for a greater ascent. May we spiritually ascend each of these 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur.
Shalom and Bright Blessings.
"K'siva V'chasima Tova," "A good writing and sealing". May you be written in the Book of Life, the Book of Good, and be sealed in that book as well.
Note: At end, share grapes and greetings--the blessing over grapes is Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam borei peri ha'etz.
Karen Enfield is a ritual-maker who weaves together Jewish and earth-based practice.
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