My Mother’s Appearance in a Healing Dream by Carol P. Christ

My mother spent a good deal of her life defending my father to me and my brother. “Your father didn’t mean it,” she would say. “Your father loves you—he just doesn’t know how to show it.” “Your father never cried when his mother died—that is why he is so angry now.”

Shortly after my mother died, my brother said to me: “I finally realized that the only way I could get along with Dad was if he decided on that particular day that he was going to get along with me.” My brother’s words hit me like a ton of bricks. At the age of forty-six, I was still trying to get along with my father. I had years of therapy to help me understand our relationship. My brother saw the truth without the benefit of therapy.

About six months after my mother’s death, I had the most amazing dream. Though I have alluded to it in my writing, I promised myself not to speak of it directly it while my father was still alive.

I had accompanied friends to the Greek Saturday night Easter service in their village. At the stroke of midnight we lit candles saying “Christ is risen, he truly is,” before embracing and kissing each other on the cheeks. I was sleeping in a guest room in my friends’ house. The dream occurred shortly before dawn. Though I rarely remember my dreams, I awoke with a clear memory of this one.

In it my mother spoke to me in Greek. She told me that now that she was no longer living, she had a clearer perspective on the way our father treated me and my brother. She explained that she had loved my father so much that she had not wanted to see that he had been cruel to us and to recognize the ways he had harmed us. She said she was very sorry that she had not protected us. Her final words before the dream ended were: “Don’t ever love anyone so much that you become blind.”

To this day I do not know why my mother spoke to me in Greek–perhaps it was a way of distancing herself from my father and indicating that she was on my side now. It seemed deeply appropriate that she appeared to me at the time when the Greeks were celebrating the resurrection of “life from the grave.” My mother’s words were a healing balm: healing the breach that her siding with my father a crucial junctures in our relationship had created in my relationship with her, and healing an even deeper would in my psyche.

About that time I was reading Alice Miller’s discussion of the poisonous pedagogy of control. Miller says that the most important words abused children need to hear are: What happened to you was wrong. This should not happen to you or to any child. In the dream my mother spoke the words she had been unable to speak while she was alive. She told me that she finally understood that there was no excuse for the way my father treated me and my brother.

I came to realize that the words my mother spoke when she was living, words intended to absolve my father and assuage my pain, had confused me about the nature of love. From my mother, I learned to imagine that people–especially men–who treated me badly loved me deep down but could not show it. No wonder I always ended up feeling hurt and abandoned.

My mother’s ability to acknowledge the truth about my father when she came to me in my dream was a revelation. The blinders that had clouded all my relationships fell away. I could now begin to see all of my relationships more clearly and to recognize which relationships were healing me and which were harming me. Before the dream I literally did not have a clue, because my mother had taught me love is a magical feeling that has no relationship to actual behavior. After the dream I learned that love manifests in both word and deed. My life has been different from that day to this.

Though I never doubted the healing power of this dream, I had some difficulty in squaring it with my belief that death is the end of individual life. If my mother was not living heaven or somewhere else, then how could she speak to me after she had died? In the ensuing years I have come to understand that the ancestors live in us. The words my mother spoke to me when she was alive became part of my cellular memory. The mother-daughter relationship is so profound that there are times when the mother-daughter boundary is blurred. As I recognize how deeply this is true, it no longer seems important to know if “my mother” appeared to me in my dream or if “my mother as she lives in my me” appeared in my dream. Her appearance transformed my relationship with her and my relationship with my self. And that is what matters.

In memory of Janet Claire Bergman Christ, August 11, 1919-December 7, 1991.

“Living with ‘a man who expects his will to be law, especially in relation to his wives and daughters’ is unbearable for all the women involved.” Paula Mariedaughter

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a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover designCarol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.

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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger



Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women.

18 thoughts on “My Mother’s Appearance in a Healing Dream by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Thank you for this powerful post, Carol. You said:

    “Though I never doubted the healing power of this dream, I had some difficulty in squaring it with my belief that death is the end of individual life. If my mother was not living in heaven or somewhere else, then how could she speak to me after she had died? In the ensuing years I have come to understand that the ancestors live in us.”

    I also share the belief that death is the end of individual life. Yet two weeks ago I had a very vivid dream about my late mother. (As a rule I don’t dream about her, although I wish I did.) The dream stayed with me all the next day–and then, when I brought the day’s letters in from the letterbox, I received a note from my sister to the effect that my brother-in-law had died two weeks earlier. It struck me forcibly that the two events were connected. Mother was telling me that an important event had occurred.

    The day does not pass that I don’t think of my parents and wish they were still here.
    It’s a comfort that our ancestors live on in us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Carol, you mentioned…”After the dream I learned that love manifests in both word and deed. My life has been different from that day to this.”

    As regards love in both word and deed. That’s why also it is a great joy to share our gifts at FAR — in a sense our thoughts here too are forms of love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol, this is a moving testament to the power of truth telling that lives through our bodies. Dreams are the language of our bodies, I believe, and because body holds ancestral/collective memory… eventually the truths surface… I guess I wonder why it sometimes takes so long for dreams to help us to learn that we were loved on some level by those who harmed us too.

    At 73 I suspect that some of this is developmental and is about closing the circle of our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a beautiful and life-affirming piece! For those of us with difficult relationships to our mothers, it is comforting to think about healing happening after they are no longer (physically) with us. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I believe that when women find our primary bonds with women we are less dependent on the opinions of men. Gloria Steinem said that at one point in her life as a young woman she “needed a shot of male approval to get through the day”.
    Growing up in a patriarchal family often isolates women. We, quite literally, are dependent on the approval of any and all the males in our family. The woman who is wife and mother has her own survival needs. I survived my junior high school and senior high school years, in part, because of my strong involvement in Girl Scouts. We had a dynomo leader who kept us focused on nature, camping, skill-learning and being together. My own mother supported my efforts to become an independent young woman and my involvement in scouting.
    However, five years later she felt I “had gone overboard with this woman-thing”, but that is another story….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My mother had strong female bonds with her mother and sister and had many women friends, yet all of them accepted male dominance. At the same time, my bonds with my mother and grandmothers made it easy for me to become a woman-loving feminist and to view divinity as “at least as loving as my own mother” (as Mary Baker Eddy said) and grandmothers.


  6. “Our sisterhood is held in the web of our ancient mothers’ arms.” This quote from an essay by Ruth Barrett in the book she edited Female Erasure: What You Need to Know About the War on Women, Gender Politics, and Human Rights echoes our sentiments!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for this beautiful and powerful post. I’m so glad that you have experienced healing from what has been such a damaging relationship with your father. I’ve had the same kind of question about encounters with loved ones who had died – who or what exactly am I encountering? But I remember so clearly at my mother’s deathbed being immersed in the unspoken truth that “love is eternal.” I still don’t know exactly what that meant, but I came to realize that the meaning can’t be found in my daily experience and that some things just have to be accepted and appreciated even without being fully intellectually understood.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thank you for this post, Carol. My mother got us away from our abusive father when I was 11. Her courage in deviating from the norms of her social milieu at the time was such a blessing. When she died two years later I was faced with again living with him. This and her death sent me on a massive descent. What she gave me during my brief time with her was at the root of my return many years later. Once, in my 40s I looked out the glass door of my bedroom deck and she was sitting there in my chair under the trees…clear and solid as can be. It was such a message of ancestral protection.

    I think our mothers love us and want us to be well and happy but because of the patriarchal tangle of shit they (and we) must live in they sometimes don’t know how to do what we need. Such a blessing that we can be open to hearing their messages from within.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Carol, I’m so glad you got some closure with your mother, but how sad that she couldn’t stick up for you when she was alive. My father is an abusive sociopath and whenever he was mean to me my mother would make him apologize, but I always knew he didn’t mean it. Mom finally got the courage to leave him, with my encouragement. At the time she had gone back to college and was taking women’s studies courses. I’m very lucky that my mother has always been supportive and loving. Because I have a great relationship with her I make sure I have a supportive circle of female friends.

    Your post also raised a question for me. I struggle with going to church at Easter since there is so much of the Easter story that I don’t believe in anymore, and I wondered how you are able to do it.


    1. Hi Linda,

      My mother did stick up for me as best she could short of coming to the decision that my father’s behavior was unacceptable and leaving him. I think she was often “in the middle” trying to keep the peace.

      As for Easter, of course I did not understand the Greek Easter service words for a long time, and still don’t understand all of them. Most people go to church to light candles and to take part in the Friday night procession with the epitaphios (coffin of Jesus) and to light their candles and say “Christ is risen.” Though I did not believe those words, I could translate in my mind: this is about the powers of birth, death, and regeneration and about community. However, I have not gone to a church service in a long time. The last time I did, I had a clear feeling that “this is not my story.” I do miss the feeling of community with my neighbors.


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