The Appropriation of Jewish Mysticism in Spirituality

Crystals, manifestation, tarot cards—if you are a teenager who uses TikTok or any other social media form, you have probably come across these things. New spirituality has flooded Gen-Z in the form of trends and teachings, and I can name multiple people in my orbit who’ve dipped their toes in the water of witchcraft and Neo-paganism—all of which, I support. But, like with all new things that draw from old traditions, anyone getting involved in this type of practice has to be aware that often lingering in it is cultural appropriation.

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One of the most common forms of new witchcraft, Wicca, has drawn from religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, indigenous spirituality, and Jewish mysticism. Jewish mysticism is a world that has always hung in the corners of my curiosity. It stretches beyond the traditional principles of Judaism to include folklore, magic, and more.  I am by no means an expert, but as a Jewish person aware of Jewish heritage, I feel an instinctual protectiveness over its customs.

One element of Jewish folklore is Dybbukim (the plural of Dybbuk,) which are maleficent spirits that are said to be caught between this world and the next. To survive, they must occupy and possess a human host. Dybbukim are as fascinating as they are creepy. Unfortunately, they have also been appropriated, vilified, and exploited by non-Jewish horror movie writers, spirituals, etc.

A few weeks ago I was mindlessly scrolling through TikTok (as one does) and came across a creator moderately well-known for her witchy and supernatural content. She was opening a box said to contain a Dybbuk in it—also known as a “ Dybbuk Box”— that she had bought online. She coughed up the soot and dust that came out of it as though she had inhaled something otherworldly. Her comments were filled with things like “you just inhaled a ghost” and “I don’t claim the energy in this video." For her questioning followers, she explained that Dybbuk Boxes come from ancient Jewish folklore.

I was frankly confused because in Jewish folklore, Dybbukim can only attach themselves to living hosts, and there is no mention of a box. After some quick research, I found out that the concept had been invented by a man named Kevin Mannis who’d purchased an old box from a Holocaust survivor at an estate sale and said it was haunted in order to sell it for hundreds of dollars on e-bay. In other words, he exploited Jewish trauma to fabricate a paranormal narrative and make money.

orange full moon and clouds Photo by Altınay Dinç from Unsplash

The woman on TikTok is part of a recent legacy of non-Jewish people making clout and money off extracting the lucrative features of Jewish mysticism. And it is not just the profit that bothers me. It is that they and their viewers are pushing and consuming a demonized narrative of Jewish tradition. 

For me, the most nauseating part wasn’t even her video. It was the comments that said things such as “God protect me from this negative energy” with the purple cross emoji. Christianity being portrayed as the purer form of a demonic Judaism is something that anyone aware of the history of anti-Semitic tropes is all too familiar with. There is a reason that Jewish people feel territorial over these customs.

This issue does not end with that TikTok, nor does it end with Jewish mysticism. Dybbuk Boxes are a fractional example of a larger legacy of the vilification of non-white and non-Christian customs in witchcraft—and in mainstream media in general. Things like evil eyes and burning white sage have become synonymous with indie and alt, while the peoples whose cultures are critical to remaining oppressed. The curiosity of other cultures, religions, etc. is beautiful and welcome, but we have a duty to be aware of where our practices come from.

Moon magic book on a wicca altar Photo by Content Pixie from Unsplash

If you are getting into forms of spirituality or witchcraft, I salute and support you. But please do your research. Curiosity is welcome and doing your research on other cultures and religions is beautiful. But we have a duty to be aware of where things come from, and how we might even unknowingly perpetuate dangerous narratives and norms. Stay safe, get in touch with yourself, and don’t appropriate. Oh—and most of all, if anyone ever tells you they have a haunted box, it’s a hoax, don’t worry.