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Tantra & Hanukkah

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on November 4, 2010 | Comments (0)

This may well be the strangest title for any blog post ever.

What does spiritualized sexual practices have to do with the Jewish festival of lights? And what do either have to do with magick? Follow along and I hope this will all make sense.


Most people think that Tantra is just some form of spiritualized sexuality. Actually, Tantra is one of the oldest forms of Pagan spirituality that has been continuously practiced. It has its own deities, magickal techniques, philosophy, psychology, physiology, medicine, and much more. Much of it was altered and became important sources of Hinduism and Buddhism. Most of the spiritual ideas that we think of as coming from India, including the chakras, kundalini, pranic energy, etc., began with the Tantrics. Chinese feng shui, martial arts, and acupressure began with the Tantrics.

Tantra (or what I prefer to call “proto-Tantra”) began in the West of India in what was known as the Indus Valley or Harappan civilization. That civilization eventually died out, but spread east into India, northeast into Tibet and China, and even west into Europe. Their ancient language, Sanskrit, is believed to have influenced many other languages. One of the words in Sanskrit for “tree” is dru. Vidya is Sanskrit for knowledge. Put them together and you get dru-vid or druid. Many of the concepts of the Druids are very similar to that of the Tantrics, and some say that the Druids actually were some of the ancient Tantrics.

In the book Between Jerusalem and Benares edited by Hananya Goodman, there is ample evidence that the ancient Jews were in communication with the people of India. In The Jewish Mind, Raphael Patai (famous among Pagans for his book, The Hebrew Goddess) reveals that the ancient Harappans influenced the Kabalah. In The Jewish Festivals author Hayyim Schauss shows how the festivals of the Jews were variations on those of earlier cultures.


The Jewish festival of Hanukkah dates back to about 165 b.c.e. At the time, the Jews had been conquered and were under the control of Greek Syrians. Jerusalem was sacked. The second temple looted. An altar to Zeus was installed in the temple. Pigs were sacrificed on the new altar.

A rebellion began under the Maccabees. Eventually, they liberated the temple, cleansed it, and began Jewish ceremonies. The word Hanukkah means “dedication” or “consecration,” indicating what was done to the temple (and today, metaphorically, to ourselves).

The temple had a lamp, representing the presence of God, that used pure, blessed oil and was supposed to be constantly lit. The Maccabees found just one container of oil, enough for one day. It would take more than a week to obtain more oil. Miraculously, the one container lasted for eight days. The eight days are celebrated by lighting additional candles each night. Except in times of danger, these lights are supposed to be shown at the door of a Jew’s home.

Curiously, perhaps the most famous early historian of the Jews, Josephus, didn’t refer to the celebration as Hanukkah. He called it the “Festival of Lights.”


As you read this, Hindus around the world are beginning the celebration of the multi-day holiday known as Diwali (or Deepawali). This festival, which happens near the time of Hanukkah, is known as the Festival of Lights! The word itself comes from Sanskrit terms meaning “light” and “row” as in “row of lights.” Each night, more lit lamps are spread out in front of homes. On a Jewish Hanukkah menorah the lights of a candle are placed in a row. More lights are kindled each night.

Is it possible that Diwali is the source of Hanukkah? Jews are not supposed to gamble, and yet on Hanukkah, there is actually a gambling game with a top called a dreidel. Gambling is also a traditional activity during Diwali. Is this just a coincidence? With the same name and the same activities that’s difficult to justify as mere chance.

Diwali & Hanukkah

Both holidays celebrate the concept of good (our guys) triumphing over evil (their guys). Both are joyous and feature the exchange of small gifts (in the U.S., this has become embarrassingly materialistic). Both are also about personal renewal and rededication.

Just as the recent Samhain is an excellent time for performing divinations about your future (as well as venerating the honored dead), Diwali and Hanukkah are also ideal times to recall those who are no longer with us and do divinations about our future. It’s also an excellent time to do rituals for prosperity, especially candle magick rituals. In my next post I’ll give you a prosperity magick ritual you can perform.

Happy Diwali and an early Happy Hanukkah!

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