Moving to Ursula: Dream Wisdom and the Sacred Feminine by Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD

For the last seven years, I have been conducting research for my book Undertorah: An Earth-Based Kabbalah of Dreams, which is about to appear courtesy of Ayin Press.  On this writing journey, I’ve interviewed seventy dreamers, and have studied pre-modern dreams from texts of ancient Israel and ancient Sumer to dream accounts of women kabbalists and Chasidic masters.  I’ve also sat with my own dreams and their odd truths. Many of the dreams I’ve encountered express powerful visions of the feminine. I find these often odd and eerie visions particularly useful in expressing “the multiplicity of experiences of [the feminine]… rather than an imposed definition of those experiences…”[i]

Continue reading “Moving to Ursula: Dream Wisdom and the Sacred Feminine by Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD”

In Dreams by Natalie Weaver

I am grateful for dreams.  I don’t know what they are, of course, in any absolute sort of way.  Defining dreaming is as elusive as dreams themselves.  Moreover, I find that understanding dreaming is complicated by the vastly variegated quality one finds in hearing people speak of their experiences of dreaming.  Some say things such as “I can never remember a dream,” while others say they only remember bad dreams.  Some place no stock in dreams at all, while for others they are the numinous truth realms beneath all waking phenomena.  I have spoken with hard-science minded colleagues as well as artists about dreams, who regardless of professional vocation can be utterly untouched by their nighttime journeying.  On just a few occasions have I ever heard people speak of their dreams as definitively shaping their lives in the way that my dreams, or more precisely, in the way that the faculty of dreaming, has impacted my life.

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A Lament by Karen Leslie Hernandez


Dear World.


You are

On fire.



Do you condone


And time


The guns

The hate

The greed

The violence

The oppression.


Why do you not speak

For all.

Continue reading “A Lament by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Earth Dreaming, Water Dreaming: How Elemental Dreams Offer Healing for the Earth and Us by Jill Hammer

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).

Continue reading “Earth Dreaming, Water Dreaming: How Elemental Dreams Offer Healing for the Earth and Us by Jill Hammer”

Prayers to Black Madonna and Kali Rising by Natalie Weaver

Natalie Weaver editedThis past Saturday, I had an opportunity to sweat in a traditional Lakota sweat lodge for the first time.  It was, above all, an interesting cognitive experience for me.  I found myself sort of shaking hands with the ritual, the heat, the stones, the songs, and so on, saying, “Hi, I’m Natalie.  I have an open mind.  I am excited to know about you.  Thanks for letting me see what you are all about.”  I didn’t know whether I would pass out, have visions, or learn something new and wonderful about myself or the others.  I was curious, still, and grateful for the opportunity. I was gifted by generous people, good fellowship, and new ideas.  I will go back, even though I didn’t exactly find some thing… or maybe I did.  Maybe, I found someone, or, better, maybe someone found me.

Two days before the sweat, I received an email from one of my companions on the journey, saying something I still do not understand about the Constellation Sagittarius, the Galactic Center, and the Rising of the Black Madonna.  Although I did not understand the astronomy, I was intrigued by the call to recognize and confirm the Black Madonna.  For, without particular reason or impetus that I could identify in myself, I had been dreaming of a Black Madonna statue for some time.  After trying to find out what it was, I was able to identify it as the Black Madonna of Prague.  I have never been to Prague and was basically unaware of the rich tradition of Black Madonnas in Europe, despite four semesters of art history in college.  So, I made note of my dreams, with a promise to myself to seek them out whenever and wherever I travel.  I also purchased little trinket at a Canadian gift shop, which sits on my desk as a guide and companion.
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Stealing the Yarn: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 2) by Jill Hammer

Jill HammerIn my last post, I discussed the uses of dreamwork for Jewish women who are uncovering their own spiritual language. The protagonists of recorded Jewish dreams, from Joseph to the dream interpreters of the Talmud to the kabbalists, tend to be male. Yet there is a legacy of Jewish women dreaming, occasionally documented, and painstakingly uncovered by researchers. This hidden history offers us resources for understanding the women of the past, and for connecting to women in the present.

The Roman poet Juvenal (2nd. cent. CE) mocks a poor Jewish woman of his time for sitting under a tree and telling the meaning of dreams, calling her “high priestess with a tree as temple.” Much later in history, Hayyim Vital, the disciple of master kabbalist Isaac Luria, records in his diary that Jewish women in the city of Sfat (Jewish holy city in Galilee known as a center for Kabbalah) in the early 17th century were actively engaged (along with men) in recording, sharing, and interpreting dreams. Vital mainly records women’s dreams when the women dream about him! He saves these dreams from the dustbin of history, ironically, because he sees the dreams as prophecies of his greatness.

For example, Vital records the dream of a friend and patron, Rachel Aberlin. In the dream, Aberlin watches Vital eat a feast of vegetables at a table full of sacred books. Behind Vital, a fire rages, yet does not consume the pile of straw in which it burns. When Aberlin shares the dream, Vital understands this dream to be a manifestation of a biblical verse: “The house of Jacob shall be fire, and the house of Joseph flame, but the house of Esau shall be straw” (Obadiah 1:18). Aberlin, however, responds to Vital’s interpretation: “You quote me the words as they are written, but I see them as a reality.” (Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism, p. 106ff).

Vital sees the dream’s fire as his own spiritual fire, witnessed by Aberlin. Yet we might read the dream differently. In our dream of Aberlin’s dream, we might imagine that Aberlin’s dream encodes her experience of watching Vital consume the nourishment of sacred books, which she, as a woman, is denied. Yet, the dream suggests, the fire of revelation is behind Vital, eluding him. Within the dream and in waking life, Vital is focused on text, but Aberlin, like Moses, perceives the fire that does not consume. Aberlin, not Vital, is the prophet in the dream— and the waking Aberlin says so. Vital records the dream, without recognizing Aberlin’s implicit criticism of his way of knowing.

Continue reading “Stealing the Yarn: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 2) by Jill Hammer”

Entering The Cave: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 1) by Jill Hammer

Jill HammerDreams 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.

Continue reading “Entering The Cave: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 1) by Jill Hammer”

We Are Music by Natalie Weaver

Natalie Weaver editedWhen I was about eight years old, I dreamed one night that I stood inside the workings of an immense instrument, so big it filled the sky. It was crafted of wood and gold, and although there was no obvious source of light, it was brightly illuminated. I could have confused it for the inner workings of a clock except that I could hear the sweet music it produced resonating throughout its cavernous hollows. It was curious to me that there seemed to be no atmosphere there either to breathe or to carry sound. Within it, I did not perceive any movement. And, there was no actual melody that it produced, which could be sung or repeated. There was only an enveloping harmonic thrumming. The sound was multiplicative and voluminous although not piercing. I understood it in the dream to be cosmic, structural, primordial, and generative. When I awoke, I had the feeling that I had seen something divine. It was not heaven. It was not God. It was more like the instrument of the universe, or the universal instrument, created as a first work among creation

It was puzzling to me that I had such a dream because I was not then a musician. I felt that I understood its meaning, but I was surprised by its discontinuity with things in my normal frame of reference. My mother played piano, but she had no music theory in her background. She surely did not have any training in musical cosmologies, such as those produced in antiquity by the philosophers and theologians. I occasionally mentioned the dream over the years when context seemed to warrant it, but, more or less, I filed it away. Continue reading “We Are Music by Natalie Weaver”

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