Mikonenet: Sacred Grief Work

The core sacred text for the mikonenet is the body.

  • What does your body tell you about your grief?
  • What do your body tell you about how you feel about your grief?
  • How can you use song, words, movement, ritual, to cultivate a practice of honoring your grief?

Years ago, I began a mikonenet practice as a way to work with my grief. My knowledge of this mostly lost ancient tradition was greatly expanded when I took a class with Kohenet Rachel Rose Reid, who connected me with some of the sources that I list here, that I had never before encountered. This Torah belongs to all of us, and I am eternally grateful to Kohenet Rachel Rose and the Kohenet tradition for expanding our access to this wisdom. May our learning and growth be a merit to the Kohenet project.


The mikonenet as described in Kohenet literature:

"Mekonenet: The Mourning Woman

Jeremiah, as he mourns for his exiled people, asks that the mourning women be called to come and weep. The word mekonenet means “one who laments” but can also mean “one who makes a nest.” The mekonenet embodies the pain and truth of change. She appears as Rachel weeping for her exiled children, as the wife of Pinchas, who dies in childbirth, and as the grieving Mother Zion. She also appears in Ezekiel as the women weeping for Tammuz. She brings the gifts of comforting the bereaved, burying the dead, healing the mourners, and facing cataclysmic change. "

Netivot: Paths of the Priestess


The traditional mikonenet, or sacred grief worker, practiced an elaborate art that required training:

(יט) כִּֽי־שְׁמַ֤עְנָה נָשִׁים֙ דְּבַר־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְתִקַּ֥ח אׇזְנְכֶ֖ם דְּבַר־פִּ֑יו וְלַמֵּ֤דְנָה בְנֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ נֶ֔הִי וְאִשָּׁ֥ה רְעוּתָ֖הּ קִינָֽה׃
(19) Hear, O women, the word of the LORD,
Let your ears receive the word of His mouth,
And teach your daughters wailing,
And one another lamentation.

The mikonenet was an honored spiritual leader. The community depended on her services in times of grief:

(טז) כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת הִתְבּ֥וֹנְנ֛וּ וְקִרְא֥וּ לַמְקוֹנְנ֖וֹת וּתְבוֹאֶ֑ינָה וְאֶל־הַחֲכָמ֥וֹת שִׁלְח֖וּ וְתָבֽוֹאנָה׃

(16) Thus said the LORD of Hosts:
Summon the dirge-singers, let them come;
Send for the skilled women, let them come.

(כה) וַיְקוֹנֵ֣ן יִרְמְיָ֘הוּ֮ עַל־יֹאשִׁיָּ֒הוּ֒ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ כׇֽל־הַשָּׁרִ֣ים ׀ וְ֠הַשָּׁר֠וֹת בְּקִינ֨וֹתֵיהֶ֤ם עַל־יֹאשִׁיָּ֙הוּ֙ עַד־הַיּ֔וֹם וַיִּתְּנ֥וּם לְחֹ֖ק עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהִנָּ֥ם כְּתוּבִ֖ים עַל־הַקִּינֽוֹת׃
(25) Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah which all the singers, male and female, recited in their laments for Josiah, as is done to this day; they became customary in Israel and were incorporated into the laments.

The goal of the mikonenet was to bring mourners to tears:

(יז) וּתְמַהֵ֕רְנָה וְתִשֶּׂ֥נָה עָלֵ֖ינוּ נֶ֑הִי וְתֵרַ֤דְנָה עֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ דִּמְעָ֔ה וְעַפְעַפֵּ֖ינוּ יִזְּלוּ־מָֽיִם׃
(17) Let them quickly start a wailing for us,
That our eyes may run with tears,
Our pupils flow with water.

Many cultures practice sacred grieving. Our sacred texts reference this awareness:

(טז) קִינָ֥ה הִיא֙ וְק֣וֹנְנ֔וּהָ בְּנ֥וֹת הַגּוֹיִ֖ם תְּקוֹנֵ֣נָּה אוֹתָ֑הּ עַל־מִצְרַ֤יִם וְעַל־כׇּל־הֲמוֹנָהּ֙ תְּקוֹנֵ֣נָּה אוֹתָ֔הּ נְאֻ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֥י יֱהֹוִֽה׃ {פ}
(16) This is a dirge, and it shall be intoned;
The women of the nations shall intone it,
They shall intone it over Egypt and all her multitude
—declares the Lord GOD.

In ancient Egypt, a professional sacred mourner was called a Dryt.

In India, the role is a Rudaali.

In ancient Greece, the sacred mourner was called a moirologist. The New Yorker showcased the work of artist Ioanna Sakellaraki who explores the tradition of professional mourning in Greece.


The mikonenet was so valued, even the poorest people reserved funds for her services:

(ד) ... רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, אֲפִלּוּ עָנִי שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא יִפְחֹת מִשְּׁנֵי חֲלִילִים וּמְקוֹנָנֶת:

(4) ...Rabbi Yehuda says: Even the poorest man of the Jewish people may not provide fewer than two flutes and a lamenting woman, which it was customary to hire for a funeral, as these too are included in the duties of burial.

The Talmud records some of the practices and canonical laments of the sacred grief workers:

מַתְנִי׳ נָשִׁים בַּמּוֹעֵד מְעַנּוֹת אֲבָל לֹא מְטַפְּחוֹת רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר הַסְּמוּכוֹת לַמִּטָּה מְטַפְּחוֹת בְּרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים בַּחֲנוּכָּה וּבְפוּרִים מְעַנּוֹת וּמְטַפְּחוֹת בְּזֶה וָזֶה לֹא מְקוֹנְנוֹת נִקְבַּר הַמֵּת לֹא מְעַנּוֹת וְלֹא מְטַפְּחוֹת אֵיזֶהוּ עִינּוּי שֶׁכּוּלָּן עוֹנוֹת כְּאַחַת קִינָה שֶׁאַחַת מְדַבֶּרֶת וְכוּלָּן עוֹנוֹת אַחֲרֶיהָ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְלַמֵּדְנָה בְנוֹתֵיכֶם נֶהִי וְאִשָּׁה רְעוּתָהּ קִינָה אֲבָל לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא הוּא אוֹמֵר בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח וּמָחָה ה׳ אֱלֹהִים דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כׇּל פָּנִים וְגוֹ׳: גְּמָ׳ מַאי אֲמַרַן אָמַר רַב וַיי לְאָזְלָא וַיי לַחֲבִילָא אָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְּשַׁכְנְצִיב אֲמַרַן הָכִי וַיי לָאָזְלָא וַיי לַחֲבִילָא וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן גּוּד גַּרְמָא מִכַּכָּא וְנִמְטֵי מַיָּא לְאַנְטִיכִי וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן עֲטוֹף וְכַסּוֹ טוּרֵי דְּבַר רָמֵי וּבַר רַבְרְבֵי הוּא וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן שְׁייוֹל אִצְטְלָא דְמֵלָתָא לְבַר חוֹרִין דִּשְׁלִימוּ זְווֹדֵיהּ וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן רָהֵיט וְנָפֵיל אַמַּעְבָּרָא וִיזוּפְתָּא יָזֵיף וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן אֲחַנָא תַּגָּרֵי אַזַּבְזָגֵי מִיבַּדְקוּ וְאָמַר רָבָא נְשֵׁי דְשַׁכְנְצִיב אָמְרָן מוֹתָא כִּי מוֹתָא וּמַרְעִין חִיבוּלְיָא ...

MISHNA: On the intermediate days of a Festival women may wail in grief over the deceased, but they may not clap [metapeḥot] their hands in mourning. Rabbi Yishmael says: Those who are close to the bier may clap. On New Moons, Hanukkah and Purim, which are not Festivals by Torah law, the women may both wail and clap their hands in mourning. On both the intermediate days of a Festival and on New Moons, Hanukkah and Purim they may not lament. After the deceased has been buried they may neither wail nor clap. The mishna explains: What is considered wailing? This is when they all wail together simultaneously. And what is considered a lament? This is when one speaks and they all answer after her with a repeated refrain, as it is stated: “And teach your daughters wailing and everyone her neighbor lamentation” (Jeremiah 9:19). In order to conclude on a positive note, the mishna says: But with regard to the future, the verse states: “He will destroy death forever; and the Lord, God, will wipe away tears from off all faces and the reproach of His people He will take away from off all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8). GEMARA: What do the women who wail over the dead say? Rav said: They say: Woe over him who is now departing; woe over him who is now returning the pledge, i.e., his soul, which had been deposited in his hands all the years of his life. Rava said: The women in the city of Shekhantziv, who were known for their wisdom, would say as follows: Woe over him who is now departing; woe over him who is now returning the pledge. And Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say about an elderly person: The bone has been removed from the jaw and the water returns to the kettle. And Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say at a time of bereavement: Wrap and cover the mountains in mourning, as the deceased is the son of the high and distinguished. Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say: Lend out a cloak of fine wool to serve as a burial shroud for a free man whose sustenance has been depleted. In other words, a wealthy person who loses his fortune would rather die than live in poverty. And Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say: A person runs and tumbles at the ford and still he borrows. And Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say: Our brothers, the merchants, will be examined at their places of business to see if they are honest businessmen. And Rava said: The women of Shekhantziv would say: Death is like death, as everyone must die, and suffering is like interest....

The Mikonenet might be understood as an archetype of the wounded healer, as taught by Carl Jung:

"..a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor's examining himself... it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek Myth of the wounded physician."

Carl Jung

The mikonenet tradition was practiced through the generations by Yemenite Jews, as recorded here:

In "The Worlds of S. Ansky: A Russian Jewish Intellectual at the Turn of the Century" (Stanford University Press, 2006) we learn about the ways the mikonenet tradition was practiced in Eastern Europe: