I once dreamed I was giving a lecture on a spiritual philosophy called magmatheism. The literal meaning, I thought when I awoke, would be something like “belief in the divinity of molten rock.” I had the sense this dream was trying to tell me something about what I had come to believe and know. When I asked my friends what they thought magmatheism was, they gave answers that delighted and intrigued me.
One said: “the belief that God/Goddess dwells below the ground and every once in a while erupts out gloriously.”
Another said: “By studying the ways in which rock is liquid, we can understand the oneness of all things… Our separation is an illusion. We are part of the whole.”
A third said: “Honoring the magnetic pull to earth.”
A fourth said: “The unmanifest that creates the foundation of all life.”
The dream told me something real about the power of dreaming. It let me know that a life physically and spiritually connected to the earth—the life I was trying to live and to encourage others to live—did not only occur when I was awake, but when I was asleep. The dream told me that the earth was speaking to me in my dreams. As dream tender Stephen Aizenstat writes, “Dream images are not representations of our personal nature only, but are also informed by the subjective inner natures of the things and creatures out there in the world. (Aizenstat, S. Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal, Inc. (2011), pp. 149-150).
In the decades that I have explored my dreams and those of others via classes, workshops, private sessions, and dream circles, I have developed a reverence for the way dreams manifest our oneness with the cosmos. Dreams demonstrate “the magnetic pull to earth.” Using strange and wondrous images that are only possible in dreams, they give us profound understanding of “the unmanifest that creates the foundation of all life.” They invite us to understand ourselves as part of the ecological whole.
Dreams are particularly important in the lives of women because they can overturn patriarchal ideologies. Dreams of our own intimate connection with the life force can push against the teaching many traditions offer that there is a fundamental split between body and mind and between the human and the natural world. They offer us the message that we are not defined by the words of a sacred text or the workings of a socioeconomic system but by the truth that we are part of all things. My experience is that dreams give us elemental experiences with earth, water, air, and fire, trees, animals, and stars: powerful and magical experiences that express this truth.
Recently, I read an article that suggested that many feminists have come to a spiritual and political awakening via a dream. This makes sense to me. Dreams can alert us to truths our daily consciousness has not been able to name. They can break through the societal training we have received not to think about or know important things. And dreams can show us that the source of spiritual authority lies in our authentic connection to the larger whole.
In the last year, I’ve begun collecting dreams that reveal our connection to the earth, and have begun to write a book on the subject. I want to share two dreams that women of spirit have generously shared with me, dreams that engage the elements of water and earth. Both dreams assert the dilemma we face as beings on a planet threatened by global warming and pollution, and both assert that we ourselves can resist the juggernaut and begin to bring healing.
In this dream, shared with me by a spirit worker and filmmaker I’ll call Ivy, an elemental guide leads the dreamer to her living relationship with the water and the earth.
I find myself having gone back to my home state of Minnesota, abruptly and without my being aware of it. I’m bewildered and frustrated as I realize I won’t be able to go back to California for a while. Without saying anything to my family, I leave the house and go for a walk.
I come to a body of water that I associate with the Bay Area. There are other people gathered around, marveling at a salmon in the water. It’s a miracle that the salmon has returned. I say a prayer that the salmon may continue to return in abundance.
I decide to get in the water. I see across the way some abandoned, flooded houses where poor folks live. I get in the water, which appears to me to be shallow. I want to go down to the bottom and bounce back up. I go down deeper and deeper, not reaching bottom.
Finally I meet the earth, and then I’m stuck. I’m not rising. I realize I’m wearing a backpack that must be heavy from a computer, and I take it off. I also somehow take in air. I wake up as the combination of the air and the lightened load allows me to rise.
The dream begins with a sense of dislocation. From her current home, the Bay area, the dreamer has been transported to her childhood home in the Midwest. She is in the place of her origin, though she doesn’t know how she got there. She goes for a walk and comes to a body of water she knows from California. There is a salmon in the water, and people are marveling that the salmon has returned. Ivy prays for the salmon to continue to return to that place.
The salmon knows how to find its way back to its point of origin, across great distance. Yet the people are surprised by the salmon’s return: the current relationship between the salmon and the water is out of balance. The dreamer’s prayer indicates her awareness that the natural instincts of the salmon have been frustrated as the human presence on earth has changed the environment. She expresses her desire for the salmon to continue in abundance: for the natural relationships of animals and the elements to be healthy and in balance.
The dream-salmon is what I would call an elemental being. Elemental beings embody the powers of the natural world, and demonstrate to us the way to find our connection to all beings. This salmon is doing just that. It is showing the dreamer how to get back home. I would suggest that “home” here equals the earth, which we have the instinct to approach, just as salmon know in what stream they were hatched. The salmon is letting Ivy know that she needs to go home: connect to her place of origin.
Ivy listens to the voice of the dream. She plunges into the water and heads for the bottom: the earth. She has a desire to touch mud, to swim down and back, to be moved by the elements. The “down” direction is significant: it speaks to gravity and the pull of the earth. It also speaks to what Jung calls the vertical dimension—the dimension of the spirit.
But when Ivy gets to the earth at last, deep under the water’s surface, she finds herself stuck and unable to move. What is wrong? Ivy discovers she has a heavy computer in her backpack. A computer, of course, is the very item that keeps most of us from connecting to the elemental world. The virtual world, as compelling as it is, draws us away from the physical sensations of our body, which root us in the ground of being. The heavy computer is a manifestation of alienation from the body and the natural world.
When Ivy frees herself from the heavy backpack, she finds she is able to breathe air underwater (like the salmon). The elements of water, earth, and air cooperate to assist her on her journey. As Ivy takes in a lungful of air, she rises back toward the surface, and simultaneously awakens. She has become one with the elements, one with the natural world. Like the salmon, she has returned home.
Ivy’s dream takes place in the context of a natural world out of balance— the salmon’s return is a surprise, the computer weighs her down even on a simple walk, and the abandoned, flooded houses earlier in the dream speak of environmental devastation. Yet, the journey home is still possible. Ultimately, all elemental beings and places in our dreams have this same purpose: to help us return home, to express our intrinsic connection with the ground of being.
Dreams like Ivy’s ask us to head to the water, to touch mud. They ask us to put down the computer for a while. They also ask us to hold within ourselves an awareness of the web of life and all the ways we affect that web—and to share that awareness with others.
Here is a dream from a woman I’ll call Kate, a poet and artist who is dedicated to the earth.
I am walking in one of my favorite places, with maples, oaks, and evergreens, when huge logging trucks come clanking and spitting out diesel fuel. Men dressed in dark clothing and riot helmets come out in lines and start chainsawing the trunks of the trees. I try to stop them but they knock me over. I want to keep blocking then, but I hear the trees tell me to find another way.
I start looking for water and tobacco to offer the bleeding stumps. I can’t find any, but I notice I am crying and start letting my tears fall. At first, it seems to do nothing. I feel sad and angry. When all the trees are cut, the men leave. I feel devastated at the clear-cut. Then a green growing thing catches my eye. I notice that little green shoots are coming out of all the places where my tears touched.
In this dream, Kate experiences the human assault on the earth as a violent attack on one of her own favorite places. She sees a group of men in riot helmets begin to saw down trees and cart away the trunks. The men embody the industries around the world who profit from tearing down forests and converting them into wood or pastureland. Since they are wearing riot helmets, they may also embody police forces around the world who threaten environmental protesters and other allies of liberation. Kate sees the men’s trucks spitting out diesel fuel, polluting the land and air.
When Kate tries to intervene, the attackers of the forest knock her over and continue their annihilation of the forest. Yet she perceives the trees telling her there is another way to help. Kate writes: “It [the trees’ voice] was in my mind, like an urge, but I knew it wasn’t starting inside me, but coming from the trees to me.” The trees that speak to Kate let us know that all things are alive and all things communicate. The trees’ message is not solely a reflect of Kate’s inner life; it is a message she hears from the world around her.
Seeking a way to help, Kate turns to ceremony. She wants to make a tobacco offering (a Native American practice) and a water offering to the tree stumps. She cannot find the water and tobacco she wants to offer. She feels helpless. Tears begin to roll from her eyes. As the men depart, Kate is devastated by the sight of the destroyed forest. Yet she notices something astonishing: small green shoots arising where her tears have fallen. She has become a Water Healer, using the elemental power of water, and the power of love, to heal what has been wounded.
It is Kate’s empathic feelings, her tears, that in the end become the healing force. This image of a woman’s tears healing the landscape has echoes in ancient myths of the weeping goddess— Geshtinanna, Isis, Cybele, Demeter and much later, Mary—whose weeping is part of the resurrection process of a dying and reborn deity (Tammuz, Osiris, Atthis, Persephone, and much later, Jesus). In these myths, the mourning of the mother, sister, or lover actively contributes to the deity’s rebirth. So too, Kate’s mourning becomes the agent of rebirth for the trees that have been cut down. Her love for the earth is the vehicle by which the stumps of trees bring forth new life.
In Kate’s dream, she envisions the destroyers of the forest as men, men who cut down the trees and who knock her down as well. This reflects gendered work roles in contemporary society, and may also reflect the historical and cultural link between abuse of the earth and abuse of women. Yet Kate finds a path to healing: opening her heart to the pain of the natural world.
Both Ivy’s dream and Kate’s dream are dreams of healing that comes via water. In my work with dreams, I have come across many other such water healing dreams. I believe these water dreams are a message from the earth, telling us that water can be our tool for healing our bodies, hearts, and minds, and our planet. The elements speak to us in many different ways in our dreams, inviting us into relationship with all of life. I believe everyone is gifted with elemental dreams, and that these dreams send us messages that can direct our lives and heal our world.
I am still looking for dreams of earth, air, fire, and water, trees and plants, animals and stars, to include in my book, so if you have one and want to share it anonymously, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute (www.kohenet.org) and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion (www.ajrsem.org). She is the author of essays, poems, rituals and stories, and of seven books including Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons, The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, The Hebrew Priestess (with Taya Shere, 2015), and the new volume of poetry The Book of Earth and Other Mysteries (2016).