Magic of the Ordinary

Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism by Gershon Winkler.

Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2003. Index; notes; 238 pp.; $14.95 (paper).

Reviewed by Roberta Louis.

Reprinted from Shaman’s Drum, Number 66.

In Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism, Rabbi Gershon Winkler makes a persuasive case for the controversial viewpoint that shamanic principles and practices were integral to ancient Judaism—and that Judaism, at its roots, was more akin to other indigenous shamanic cultures than to Christianity. Many Shaman’s Drum readers undoubtedly are aware of Kabbalah (lit: “receiving”), which is considered the esoteric mystical branch of Judaism. However, Winkler’s central premise—that the very fabric of Judaism is based on shamanic principles—will be new territory to most.

Winkler, a former ultra-Orthodox rabbi whose personal spiritual journey led to his initiation into Kabbalah, has at his disposal a great body of Judaic knowledge from both mainstream and esoteric sources. He has written six previous books on Jewish mysticism, philosophy, and folklore. In this book, he draws upon a wealth of information to show that shamanism—including shamanic healing and what he calls ‘sorcery’—is a central part of Judaism. However, this book is not an academic discussion of ancient religious history. Instead, Winkler’s intent is to introduce long-hidden Hebrew mystery teachings to today’s spiritual seekers, and he offers guidance for those readers wishing to incorporate some of these ancient principles into their own contemporary spiritual practices.

In Winkler’s introduction, he states that the ancient ancestors of today’s Jews were “masters of sorcery and shamanism” who “knew the language of the trees and the grasses, the songs of the frogs and the cicadas, the thoughts of horses and sheep. They followed rivers to discover truths, and climbed mountains to liberate their spirits. They journeyed beyond their bodily limitations, brought people back from the dead, healed the incurable, talked raging rivers into holding back their rapids, turned pints into gallons, brought down the rains in times of drought, walked through fire, even suspended the orbit of the earth around the sun.”

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