Dreams are my window on my wildest self. They are also a way to observe the conflicts within, and therefore they are a feminist practice, teaching me about my relationship to power, gentleness, love, and brokenness. Claiming my dreams is a way of claiming all the parts of myself. I am inspired in my dream practice by my own Jewish tradition, which has many dream practices, as well as by contemporary knowledge about dreams. Frequently in my dreams, I am able to observe my own longing for the company of women and for the presence of Goddess—deity in a female mode—in my life. Frequently, I learn about my experience as a woman by watching my dreams.
In one recent dream, I found myself in a town called Ursula, visiting a cave. Inside the cave were statues of holy women. After my visit, I expressed a desire to move to this town, Ursula. When I woke up, I remembered a painting I had seen in London when I was young: a depiction of St. Ursula, a fourth-century Catholic saint said to have led eleven thousand women on pilgrimage. Ursula is also the she-bear, an archetype of the sacred feminine. The desire to live in the town of Ursula could be read as a desire to live in the realm of the she-bear: in the company of women. The town of Ursula is also a town of the ancestors: the priestesses, prophetesses and wise women of old, represented by the statues in the cave. Though the imagery in my dream comes from a variety of cultures, the dream reminds me of my desire to connect to the women my tradition through dreams.
I teach Jewish dreamwork (based on biblical, Talmudic, kabbalistic and contemporary texts) to rabbinical and cantorial students at the Academy for Jewish Religion. I have seen how deeply it adds to my students’ spiritual lives. And, as one of the co-founders of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, I have seen dreamwork transform the lives of women who are becoming ritual leaders and healers. Kohenet’s dream practice includes dream circles in which each participant offers a different reading of each dream, beginning with “In my dream of this dream.” We begin this way because each of us has a different understanding, influenced by who we are.
At Kohenet retreats, we often find that the dream of one person provides powerful healing for the whole community. For example, one woman dreamed of finding a bearded father-figure in a house. When she went into the basement, she found her mother working and writing next to a goddess shrine (Jill Hammer and Taya Shere, The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership, p. 70). The dream expressed an experience many of us shared: the process of unearthing the power of women and the mythic feminine in our own lives.
Over years of dreamwork, I have learned to be careful about whom I ask to read a dream for me. As the Talmud notes, the interpreter of a dream shapes its meaning, and dreams can be interpreted in ways that disempower women or make them invisible. We have only to look at the ways Freud interpreted women’s dreams to realize the dangers of a patriarchal approach to the dreams of women. I believe that for the dreams of women to be understood, it is vital that women’s voices be part of the community of dream-interpreters.
The Bible offers ample precedent for dreamwork as a spiritual practice, yet also ignores women’s experience of that practice. In Genesis, Jacob dreams of a ladder from earth to sky, and Joseph dreams of a standing sheaf of grain. These dreams become central images, driving the patriarchs of the Genesis narrative toward their destinies. Yet we never hear of what Rachel dreamed. The Bible relates a variety of dreams, but names no women as dreamers. The Talmud, which has extensive commentary on dreams and their interpretation, does record women as dreamers, but women’s dreams are invariably interpreted by male sages, not by other women.
Yet we know that Jewish women were both dreamers and interpreters of dreams. In my next post, I will discuss Jewish women dream interpreters of past generations, particularly the dreaming women of the city of Sfat, a hotbed of Jewish mysticism in the 17th century. We’ll consider what we learn about these women from their dreams. I’ll also speak about contemporary Jewish women and their dreamwork, and the potential for dreamwork to help us find our own spiritual language.
I remember a brief dream in which a woman on the gangplank of a sailboat held out her hand to me. There was golden light around her from a warm sun. It was an invitation to come aboard, to go on the journey. This image remains powerful for me. The invitation to enter our dreams is there, and when we enter them, we find wisdom.
Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder, with Taya Shere, of . She is the co-author, also with Taya Shere, of the newly published The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership, as well as Siddur haKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook. She is the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic Jewish seminary. Rabbi Hammer is also the author ofSisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women; Sisters at Sinai, and The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, as well as a children’s book, The Garden of Time, and a forthcoming volume of poetry, The Book of Earth and Other Mysteries. Rabbi Hammer was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary and holds a doctorate in social psychology from the University of Connecticut.