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A dream uninterpreted is like a letter that is unopened. — from Zohar, or Book of Splendor
Dreams have fascinated nearly every culture in recorded history. The ancients regarded dreams with respect and even awe, considering them to herald important messages for our lives. During their golden age, the Greeks built more than three hundred temples in homage to Asclepius, their god of medicine; supplicants would travel long distances to these temples and participate in sacred rituals to elicit useful dreams. In the Far East, dream-incubation temples were similarly erected in serene and peaceful settings. In the West, Native American tribes prized dreams as a wellspring of godlike inspiration. Their shamans would journey deep into the wilderness. Denying themselves food, water, and companionship, they would induce dreams of power or knowledge that they could take back to their people.
With the rise of the Industrial Age, such intuitive wisdom fell on hard times. When Sigmund Freud began to research the medical literature of his day for information on dreams, he found that almost nothing had been written on the topic. Most of his colleagues viewed the entire subject as one of superstition, unworthy of serious attention. Indeed, when in 1899 Freud published his landmark, The Interpretation of Dreams, he was greeted with ridicule and derision. For several years, his cogent probings of the hidden meanings of our dreams were rejected as the ravings of a madman or a pornographer.
Eventually, of course, the psychoanalytic movement that Freud spearheaded gained momentum. His revolutionary ideas on the nature of dreams seemed to have an uncanny accuracy. Although the source of his insights remained unknown, Freud's emphasis on dream interpretation as a powerful tool for self-understanding became part of the therapeutic mainstream. In fact, as so often happens with the ideas of great thinkers, his notions acquired the status of dogma among many of his followers. Not until the last twenty years or so have investigators begun to study dreams from new viewpoints. Without disparaging the value of Freud's bold contributions, current experimenters are uncovering more and more information about this still enigmatic human activity.
Although much of this exciting work is happening in laboratories around the world, interested people today are also turning to the ancient spiritual traditions. It has become increasingly clear that these disciplines often incorporated a highly subtle and sophisticated body of knowledge about the human mind. Innovative psychologists have already begun to mine such sources as Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism, and other age-old approaches for their provocative teachings on dreams. And, most encouragingly, there is growing recognition of the richness and potency of the Kabbalah — Judaism's four-thousand-year-old mystical tradition — on this topic.
For many centuries, the Jewish esoteric system has insisted that dreams have vital importance for our everyday lives. There is convincing evidence that texts such as the Zohar, or Book of Splendor — which first appeared in the late thirteenth century and is a mystical interpretation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew bible) — may have strongly influenced Freud's seemingly unprecedented theories. Moreover, not only does the Kabbalah predate in many respects our modern-day approach to dreams, but in some ways, this ancient visionary approach offers a more thorough, inclusive viewpoint than typically put forth by contemporary researchers.
Is this surprising? Not really. Although in the United States and many other countries we live in an era of increasingly high technology — with cell phones, faxes, computers, and e-mail — teachers of the Kabbalah have always regarded its insights as timeless and transcendent of place as well. In twenty years of writing, lecturing, and conducting psychotherapy and counseling based on Jewish mystical precepts, I have certainly found this notion to be true. By following these longstanding teachings, we can enhance our individual tikun ("life mission" or "purpose") and thereby gain greater clarity, wisdom, and fulfillment in everyday living.
Visions of the Night
The Kabbalists have always believed that sleep and dreams play a vital role in our lives. They have never condemned sleep as a waste of time but rather have regarded it as directly contributing to our emotional and physical health. In keeping with their image of the human body as beautiful and divine, Jewish mystics have also prized sleep — together with other physical activities such as eating and drinking — as having a crucial spiritual purpose. Through sleep, we replenish our bodily stamina and also open ourselves to higher influences, declares the Kabbalah. We are therefore admonished not to deny ourselves adequate rest — for whatever reason — just as we are advised not to attempt needless fasting or other forms of bodily self-punishment.
The Hasidic masters (Hasidism was a charismatic movement of Jewish self-renewal that arose in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe; the word Hasid means "pious" in Hebrew) particularly stressed this idea. Many of their ardent followers sought to keep themselves going during all hours of the day and night, to better attain lofty knowledge. Consequently, their mentors gently but firmly preached that we must maintain satisfactory rest to lead a truly harmonious life. No matter how strongly we may feel the need to busy ourselves in activity, time is needed for respite. Without it, we will quickly begin to lose our inner powers. Thus, the famous Hasid rebbe ("teacher") Zusya declared, "Even sleep has its purpose. One who wishes to progress...must first put aside his life-work in order to receive a new spirit, whereby a new revelation may come upon him. And therein lies the secret of sleep."
Interestingly, the early Hasidim judged the mental well-being of their followers according to the quality of their sleep. In a well-known anecdote, one prominent Hasid was asked in his later years what he considered the most valuable instruction from his teacher. His decisive answer was: "How to sleep properly." It is painfully obvious that our society has not yet learned this lesson, as evidenced by the millions of adults who nightly require one or more sedatives in order to fall asleep. From the Kabbalistic perspective, this is a clear sign of the imbalance that exists within many of us.
An intriguing and longstanding practice of the Kabbalah, in this respect, is the midnight prayer or study vigil. Originating at least as far back as the Middle Ages, this method has been much favored by adepts in the Jewish esoteric tradition. At exactly the hour of midnight, the initiate awakens from several hours of sleep. He or she then meditates, sings various holy chants and hymns, and delves into the mysteries of the sacred books. The Kabbalah points out that we are especially receptive to the wisdom of our inner Source at this time, and can confidently expect rapid self-development.
For instance, according to the Zohar, King David adhered to this technique because his kingship depended on it, and therefore he was accustomed to rise at this hour. Characteristically, practitioners continue with their exotic pursuits until the break of dawn. In this manner, the Book of Splendor goes on to say, the initiate "is encircled with a thread of grace; he looks into the firmament, and a light of holy knowledge rests upon him."
The midnight prayer or study vigil may have particular benefits for us today. Besides the obvious advantages of greater quiet at this hour, we may also gain physically from the increased availability of negative ions in the air. Scientists have become aware that we are acutely affected by the presence of electrically charged particles in the atmosphere. As Fred Soyka reported in his intriguing book, The Ion Effect (Bantam, 1978), it is now clear that negative ions exert a helpful influence upon us and typically exist in higher concentrations after the sun goes down.
Further, this cycle of alternating short periods of sleep with waking activities may in itself be of value. From a wide variety of research studies, there is increasing evidence that our creativity is most enhanced when we adopt a daily rhythm involving frequent brief naps. Perhaps intuitively, in modern times, brilliant inventors such as Thomas Edison have made use of precisely this tempo. He would sleep briefly at night and then return to concentrate on his work until the early hours of the morning.
Here again, though, Hasidic leaders issued cautionary advice for us. For example, Rabbi Mordechai of Lekhivitz criticized the tendency of some of his followers to stay up long after dark in pursuit of the higher mysteries of the spiritual world. While he praised the motives behind such practices, he commented: "Many pious folk...eat the food of the spirit of sadness [for] their brain is bemused for lack of sleep. This is the wrong way. With sufficient sleep, we may gain a clear head for sacred studies." Similarly, the Zohar asserts that without proper attention of mind and piety of heart, the midnight vigil is useless, even self-destructive. In other words, if we are tired and lack the ability to really exert ourselves mentally, we would do well to obtain a good night's rest.
The Doorway of Dreams
For the Kabbalists, dreams are the most important aspect of sleep. Again and again, the major visionary writings of Judaism insist that dreams offer us a key avenue for self-exploration, as well as a path to greater wisdom concerning the universe. For instance, the authoritative body of Jewish law and commentary known as the Talmud, compiled between the second and fifth centuries c.e. (common era), contains several cogent discussions on the meaning of dreams. In his well-documented article "Anticipation of Dream Psychology in the Talmud," published in the scholarly Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (October 1975, volume 11, number 4), Moshe Halevi remarked, "The Talmudic psychology of dreams...includes a detailed picture, albeit scattered, among the opinions of many...of the nature and mechanics of dreams which anticipates much of the modern experimental observations."
With their masterful insights into our inner makeup, the Kabbalistic thinkers focused intensely on our dreams. Far from seeing them simply as ethereal, inexplicable experiences, they regarded most dreams as reflections of our daily frame of mind. In other words, whatever we most think of as we go about our daily activities — that is what will typically occupy our dreams as well. A lucid description of this process can be found in the thirteenth-century Book of Splendor, which states, "David was all his life engaged in making war, in shedding blood, and hence all his dreams were of misfortune, of destruction and ruin, of blood and shedding blood, and not of peace."
For the Kabbalists, dreams are meant to be taken seriously. Because they reveal our ordinary emotions, they can provide us with definite pathways into our hidden depths. "A dream uninterpreted is like a letter unopened," the Zohar succinctly says. We are to confront our dreams honestly, rather than ignore or dismiss them as irrelevant to our waking life. The Zohar stresses even more emphatically, "A dream that is not remembered might as well have not been dreamt, and therefore a dream forgotten and gone from mind is never fulfilled." Throughout the Kabbalah, this teaching echoes: We are to heed closely the messages of our dreams.
The accomplishment of this task requires a decided technique in the eyes of the Kabbalists. Consistent with their peculiarly powerful mixture of rationality and poetic exuberance, they have always insisted that dreams must be interpreted according to certain well-defined rules. These dicta are viewed as inviolate and do not vary from person to person; that is, every human being's dreams — regardless of his or her station in life — can typically be decoded in the same specific manner. Thus, while the Jewish visionary system views dreams as often enigmatic, perplexing, or even inspired by higher powers within us, it does not consider them inherently unfathomable. "All dreams follow their interpretation," we are told. "Because [Joseph] penetrated to the root of the matter, he gave to each dream the fitting interpretation so that everything should fall into place."
The key element in dream interpretation is to understand each separate aspect of our dream. In an approach that remarkably predates classical Freudian theory, the Kabbalah indicates that our minds work during sleep by means of symbols. While texts such as the Zohar do not adhere to Freud's overriding emphasis on sexuality as the main symbolic force in our dreams, they do tell us that many features of dreams actually represent abstract thoughts and hidden feelings. Thus, we are informed, "According to the lore of dreams, a river seen in a dream is a presage of peace," and, "every dream which contains the word tov ["good"] presages peace, provided the letters are in the proper order." Similarly, the Book of Splendor observes that "all colors seen in a dream are of good omen, except blue."
Here, once more, the Kabbalah strikingly anticipates modern psychology, as contemporary research has demonstrated that colors are indeed linked to our deepest emotions. People who typically dream in color — that is, remember such dreams — are generally more in touch with their inner world. Furthermore, as the Zohar astutely reports, dark colors are associated with feelings of personal unhappiness. In popular English usage, we are well acquainted with "blue Mondays" and "singing the blues."
Though the immensely influential Zohar spread the Jewish mystical approach to dream interpretation, it certainly did not originate it. For example, the twelfth-century German-Jewish sage Rabbi Judah the Hasid clearly stated, "Whatever will happen to a person — be it good or bad — is shown to him beforehand in dream symbolism." In a beautiful metaphor he explained, "The symbolic imagery of dreams may be compared to sign language. When a person is traveling to a foreign country, he will meet people whose language he does not understand. They will communicate to him through sign language, much like we communicate with the deaf. A sage can discern what he is being shown in his dream, and why it was shown to him in those symbols, and what the symbols stand for." The Kabbalah has always emphasized that once an element in the dream is correctly unraveled, its meaning will become clear.
The Tree of Life
It's vital to know that Kabbalists have always linked dreams to the central mystical symbol of their tradition — known as the Tree of Life. Dating back in written form more than fifteen hundred years to the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation, an anonymously written mystical text, originating between the third and fifth centuries C.E.), the Tree of Life comprises ten separate but interrelated forces called Sefirot (singular, Sefirah) that underlie all aspects of the cosmos and ultimately come from God. The term has no direct counterpart in any other language and is a derivative of the Hebrew word meaning "to count" or "to number."
The Book of Creation tersely states, "Ten Sefirot alone: ten and not nine, ten and not eleven. Understand with wisdom and be wise with understanding. Examine with them and search among them. Know, think, and visualize." However, this ancient tract does not explain what the Sefirot are or how they were created. At least textually, this important feature of the Kabbalah came later; the Zohar contains many references to it.
In most Kabbalistic systems — for separate "schools" developed over the centuries — each of the Sefirot is associated with a huge array of attributes and symbols including color, musical notation, and locus within the human body. Generally, the Tree of Life is understood as comprising five levels, starting at the top with Keter (Crown), which is the highest of the forces. So lofty has it been considered that later generations of Jewish mystics sometimes elevated it out of the Sefirotic arrangement entirely. Keter has traditionally been viewed as the primary generative force of the universe. Below, on the right and left respectively, are Hokhmah (Wisdom) and Binah (Understanding). These are seen to correspond to the qualities of active and receptive intelligence.
Directly below Keter, positioned in the middle, is a "shadow" vessel of energy known as Daat (Knowledge). It has often been depicted as an intermediary among the triad above it and may be viewed as the synthesis of those qualities. In the Chabad system of metaphysics taught by the influential, worldwide movement of Lubavitcher Hasidim, the forces of Hokhmah, Binah, and Daat are considered the keys to spiritual mastery.
The second holy triad comprises Hesed (Mercy) on the right, Geburah (literally "Strength," but usually translated as "Judgment") opposite it, and Tiferet (Beauty) centered below them. The polar attributes of both mercy and judgment or limiting strength are deemed necessary to sustain the universe in equilibrium. Beauty is the vital sphere of energy — described as the highest presence of God we can ordinarily glimpse during earthly life — that underlies several interactive patterns of the Sefirot.
The third triad is composed of Netzach (Victory) on the right, Hod (Glory) on the left, and Yesod (Foundation) in the middle below. While Yesod is typically viewed as the generative power of the material universe, the two other Sefirot are often far more vaguely defined in many Kabbalistic discussions. One perspective is that Netzach refers to the flow of physical energy, such as bodily exuberance involving running, jumping, and laughing, and Hod refers to the containment of this energy, including bodily self-denial and asceticism.
Finally, the Sefirah of Malkut (Kingdom) completes the structure. This energy-essence often symbolizes the realm of nature as well as humanity. Moreover, it refers to the Shekinah, the feminine counterpart of the Deity, said to dwell in exile in our universe. Whenever we act with the right intention and devotion, Jewish mystics have long taught, we convene the Divine presence around us.
It's also worthwhile to know that Kabbalists have identified 32 "pathways" or life situations (such as ecstasy, challenge, blockage, and harmony) that link each Sefirah to those closest to it. Interestingly, the number 32 is exactly the sum reached when we add the 22 Hebrew letters to the 10 Sefirot, and, of course, this is no coincidence. Based on both the numerical value of the Hebrew word that is our dream's central symbol (every Hebrew letter has a specific number associated with it), and the psychological trait associated with that symbol (for example, a crown represents wisdom), we can connect every dream to one of the 32 life situations looming before us. Such is the incredible power of the Kabbalah in interpreting dreams for self-knowledge and growth.
How to Interpret Your Dream
Although Kabbalists have been interpreting dreams for hundreds of years, it's not always easy to find a teacher where you live. For this reason, we've created this book to serve as your personal guide in dream exploration. By following a few simple principles, you'll be able immediately to start interpreting — and benefiting from — your nightly dreams.
1. Keep a journal and pen beside your bed every night, so that you can awaken at any time and record your dream — then fall back to sleep. Never rely on the belief that your dream was so fascinating, you'll surely remember it in the morning. If you recall it all, many important details will be forgotten even a few hours later.
2. Record your dream as fully as possible. Details that might seem trivial may prove important, even essential, later on. As you build up a "library" of your dreams, you'll find that certain images or themes repeat themselves. According to Jewish mystics, such repetition is especially significant, even vital, to the message your dreams convey for your current life.
3. Always use the present tense when you describe your dream and be sure to report how you felt in it. For example, "I am sitting in my living room and I hear a knock at the door. It is my college friend Alison, whom I haven't seen in real life for more than twenty years. I feel surprised and happy." Or, "I am driving my car very fast at night and suddenly see that the road ahead is completely blocked. I hardly have time to stop and feel scared."
4. Once you have described your dream, make a list of all the symbols it contains. For example, you are climbing a mountain, flying through the air, making love, or baking bread. Next to each symbol, using an "emotionality scale" of 1 to 5 (1 = minimal emotion, 2 = mild emotion, 3 = moderate emotion, 4 = a lot of emotion, 5 = intense emotion), write down how much emotional impact that symbol has for you.
5. Now, starting with the most emotion-laden symbol, turn to its Kabbalistic interpretation in this book. (See p. 16.) For each symbol, we've provided a lively and helpful description that will not only shed light but enable you to act vibrantly on your dream. Each symbol is discussed in a threefold way: its particular meaning, its significance on the Tree of Life, and its advice for your journey in everyday living.
6. Spend a few minutes to reflect on what you've learned from our Kabbalistic interpretation of your dream's symbols. Now think of one definite message that your dream has given you. Keeping it in mind, go about your day's activities with renewed insight and purpose.
Acting on Your Dream's Message
A dream is considered to be determined by its interpretation, and once comprehended, it is intended as a springboard for action. Jewish mysticism explicitly teaches that we live in the realm of assiyah (action), where what we actually do is the most important aspect of earthly life. So it has always been a vibrant notion that once we understand our dream, we need to act on it — to bring its message into our daily routine as well as our goals and plans. How do we do this? Keeping a journal to record our days' events has been one time-honored means, and another has certainly been to solicit the help and guidance of others we encounter along our life's journey.
But the Kabbalists caution us closely about whom to share our dreams with. In keeping with their view that dreams are hardly trivial matters, they have always stressed that we should not discuss our dreams with just anyone. Strangers or casual companions are likely to distort or misconstrue the significance of our dreams; they may even deliberately downplay an important message conveyed.
For instance, suppose you dream of being very happy after settling in another place — while your co-workers and other acquaintances are opposed to this move. Deliberately or not, they might try to persuade you to disregard this "obviously meaningless" dream. Thus, the Zohar flatly states that we should not reveal our dream except to a friend, because the listener may pervert its importance. However, this insightful book is equally emphatic that we should not keep our dreams buried within us: "When one has had a dream, he should unburden himself of it before...his friends." Of course, few of us ever share such deeply private feelings, even with our intimates; yet, such behavior might help to bring us closer to one another and avoid future misunderstandings.
The Kabbalistic belief in the importance of dreams as a key inner path is mirrored in the fascinating practice known as the "dream fast." Dating back to Talmudic times, this ancient custom calls for fasting and self-examination after a foreboding dream. We are explicitly instructed to do so on the same day as the dream happened. Rabbinical leaders advised that this custom be observed even on the Sabbath, the traditional Jewish day of rest and worship. They explained that an ominous dream represents a warning, not an irrevocable decree from on high. Thus, by immediately initiating action to face the causes of the disturbing dream, we may be able to rectify the inner imbalance that produced the anxious dream in the first place. And fasting and meditating are quite likely to help us become more in tune with our subconscious feelings.
Typically, this interesting custom involves a group ritual at the end of the dreamer's fast day. Three close friends are assembled around the dreamer; in their comforting presence, he or she then recites several encouraging phrases from the Scriptures — perhaps therein implanting positive self-images in the dreamer's consciousness. Would a contemporary equivalent such as a group phone call or computer chat room be acceptable? Perhaps. But, as a psychologist, I'm convinced that there's an undeniable benefit to face-to-face interaction that would be lost by these more impersonal methods. Still, they are better than not having the dream assemblage at all.
In the sixteenth century, the prominent Kabbalist Joseph Karo dealt specifically with this fascinating spiritual prescription. In codifying past rabbinical dicta on the kinds of dreams after which it is permissible to fast, on the Sabbath, he identified these three: a Torah scroll being burned, the conclusion of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayers, and one's teeth or the beams of one's house falling out. During a mediumistic trance, Karo experienced an inner voice (known as a maggid or "spirit guide") that related, "You have correctly ruled that one should not fast on the Sabbath, except for these." It is intriguing to note that, more than three hundred years later, Freud interpreted the dream of one's teeth falling out as reflective of fears of losing physical vitality, especially sexual potency!
Nearly a century since Freud's formulation, this type of dream remains, in psychoanalytic circles, a classic example of castration anxiety. As for the other sorts of dreams Karo mentioned, their interpretations are similarly not difficult to make — in Judaism, the Day of Atonement is one on which Jews seek forgiveness for their misdeeds and for unexpressed actions that should have been performed. To dream of this religious holiday probably indicates deep guilt feelings about something, the Kabbalists undoubtedly reasoned. Dreams of one's possessions being destroyed — material, or spiritual in the form of the Torah — likewise suggest inner emotional conflicts that need to be resolved.
The Kabbalah therefore admonishes us to take dreams of sickness, death, or destruction quite seriously. "Observe, too, that a man is not warned in a dream without cause," the Book of Splendor declares. "Woe to him who has no warning dreams." It is compelling to note that contemporary health researchers are beginning to find a very literal meaning to this Kabbalistic insight. Some investigators have found that our dreams may actually signal our physical well-being, or indicate the lack of it, months or even years before a disease becomes clinically manifest.
As Dr. Patricia Garfield reported in her book Pathway to Ecstasy (Prentice Hall, 1990), Russian scientists have been able to predict forthcoming illness with great accuracy based on their patients' dreams. At the Leningrad Institute, they found that dreams of, say, a stomach wound might indicate a liver or kidney ailment before the person was consciously aware of pain or difficulty in that part of the body. In the United States, researchers are similarly discovering that cancer patients frequently have had "warning dreams" about their impending illness, sometimes significantly prior to the actual diagnosis of the dreaded disease. Such examples readily point out the validity of the Kabbalistic view that we should take seriously all of our dreams — and, if we do, the healthier we are likely to be.
Another evocative practice related to dreams that the Kabbalah teaches is that of actively soliciting guidance from them for our daily lives. Several steps in this powerful technique are involved. Perhaps you have been feeling ill lately and want to get in better health. Maybe you have been having doubts about whether to remain at your present job. Before going to bed at night, write down your question, framing it as specifically and briefly as possible. Then, meditate for several minutes, helping to focus the mind with chanting, performing certain rituals, or (as defined later) permutating letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Characteristically, these methods are recommended by the Kabbalists in conjunction with this approach.
Next, you request your dream source to provide an answer to your dilemma. One formula that has come down to us from the twelfth century goes as follows:
I adjure you with the great, mighty, and awesome Name of God that you visit me this night and answer my question and request, whether by dream, by vision, by indicating a verse from Scripture, by [automatic] speech...or by writing.
This interesting method is prized by several diverse spiritual disciplines. Known as "dream incubation," the practice of going to sleep to receive a dream of inspiration was valued by the ancient Greeks as well as Native American tribes. In his book Dream Solutions (New World Library, 1991) Dr. Henry Reed argues that this technique can be a very potent tool for personal growth. He also reports that shared dream-incubation rituals, involving several people, seem to trigger psychic dreams that resemble telepathy. Today, this exercise has apparently been re-created independently by various psychologists as yet unaware of the Kabbalah's longstanding familiarity with it. Like others who have practiced this self-healing device, I have found it to be most effective when I am at least somewhat lucid before going to sleep, rather than groggy with fatigue: Within a few days, I usually experience a dream that is directly relevant to the question I posed.
Undoubtedly, the most fascinating aspect of Kabbalistic thought about dreams is the belief that they can communicate extrasensory information to us. Such dreams, the Kabbalists insist, are rather rare and not to be expected on a regular basis. They caution us, in fact, that the overwhelming majority of dreams can easily be attributed to mundane thoughts and feelings. For instance, as the Zohar repeatedly explains, "There is not a dream that has not intermingled with it some spurious matter, so that it is a mixture of truth and falsehood." In the eighteenth century, Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto similarly observed that it is impossible to have a dream that does not include irrelevant information.
The crucial factor that determines the visionary power of dreams is, then, our frame of mind in daily waking life. The more inwardly serene we are — and the less our sleep is troubled with idle fantasies and restless anxieties — the better able we are to attain "higher" dreams of knowledge. In those lofty states, psychic abilities become manifest, we are told.
For the Kabbalists, dreams are the most pervasive source of paranormal knowledge. The Book of Splendor succinctly states, "A dream is more precise than a vision and may explain what is obscure in a vision." Rabbi Luzzatto, again echoing earlier Jewish mystics, declared that dreams are pathways to prophecy. During sleep, the Kabbalah informs us, our minds are far more receptive to our inner wellsprings of creativity; our conscious flow of thought is shut off, thus allowing Divine inspiration to enter — if we are open enough to receive it, rather than being preoccupied with everyday worries and desires. Indeed, about the year 1800, Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon ("Genius") of Vilna, told his disciples that sleep exists for the sole purpose of conveying the mysteries of the cosmos through the vehicle of dreams.
In our current era, innovative explorers of the mind are now starting to confirm even this more exotic aspect of Kabbalistic notions about dreams. Freud himself was quite fascinated by cases of apparent extrasensory perception, and in the 1930s he speculated that "telepathy could be the original archaic means by which individuals understand each other." More recently, several psychoanalysts have reported evidence for such communication in the dreams of patients undergoing psychotherapy; their research shows that psychic dreams between patients and their therapists are far from unusual. In fact, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was even more intrigued by this phenomenon than his mentor Freud, and wrote at length on dreams involving telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance.
The Maimonides Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Medical Center in New York City was the site of intensive investigation into the possible paranormal qualities of our dreams. In a series of many experiments, carried out over several years, convincing data were obtained on this issue. In an article titled "Dreams and Other Altered Conscious States" published in the Journal of Communication (winter 1975), Dr. Stanley Krippner reviewed the findings of twelve separate studies and concluded, "Telepathy and dreams can be demonstrated in a laboratory setting." His colleague at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory, Dr. Montague Ullman, concluded in the same publication that our dreams sometimes appear able to attract and incorporate information regarding events occurring "at a spatial distance from us, about which we would have no way of knowing."
Even more striking, Ullman noted, was that "they appear to gather information distant in time, as in the case of events which have not yet occurred." As yet, however, such farsighted researchers are not able to predict who will manifest these unusual abilities, for not all of us seem to possess them in equal measure.
Here again, though, the Kabbalah may be of direct relevance to our modern-day inquiries. The Jewish mystical tradition connects extrasensory perception in dreams to our emotional makeup — especially to the emotions of contentment, calmness, and lucidity; freedom from anger and anxiety; and compassion for others. Whether focusing on the most prophetic dreams or the most ordinary, the Kabbalists have always regarded this realm of experience as a potent fountain of understanding. As the Zohar aptly tells us, "At night, all things return to their original root and source."
— Dr. Edward Hoffman
Copyright © 2002 by Lark Productions, LLC
From The Dreams
ABANDONING A CHILD
hala yeladim-hla yldym
MEANING On the surface, this seems to be a dream that does not paint a very pleasant picture of the dreamer. However, unless this dream is a reflection of something that the dreamer has actually done in reality, it is important to remember that the dream is symbolic. In terms of the Kabbalah, the child is a symbol of purity and innocence. In abandoning this part of ourselves, we are reliving our entry into adulthood. While we need worldly experience in order to function well in our practical lives, it is worth remembering that almost all reigious systems stress the importance of retaining one's innocence at a spiritual level.
The value of this dream is 130, which reduces to 4, the number of materiality and all things physical. This is significant because it suggests that in abandoning our innocence we are entering a wholly material existence. A world without the element of spirit is a barren existence, so we need to find a way to recover our spiritual innocence. Interestingly, the value of the Hebrew word for "children" reduces to 13. This is the same value as Achad, a Hebrew word that means "unity" and has a strong association with the idea of the Divine.
THE TREE OF LIFE At the spiritual level this dream suggests that there is a need to reawaken yourself to the possibility of the wonderful. It is very easy to allow the certainties of a materialistic outlook to disguise the enormous loss that occurs when we dismiss higher concerns from our life. In terms of the Tree of Life, this dream is solidly placed within Malkut, the Sefirah that represents the fully manifested physical universe. However, because the dream also contains the idea of a child, it points us toward the path of Tav on the Tree, which leads from Malkut to Yesod. In doing so, the dream indicates that we do not have to be trapped in the everyday world, unless we choose to entrap ourselves.
THE JOURNEY If you have had this dream, it is quite possible that you are either very skeptical or are going through a period where you are experiencing significant doubts about your faith. It is notable that the value of the dream can be arrived at by combining the letters Qoph, meaning "head," and Lamed, meaning "ox-goad." The symbology here suggests that the head or rational mind is driving the individual relentlessly. The solution then is to find a way to free your mind from its insistence on viewing the world through wholly rational eyes.
In order to take your first steps on the path toward spiritual realization, you must be able to open yourself to experiences and ideas that run counter to the world of mortgages, offices, and financial concerns. The easiest way to achieve this is to look at life with the eyes of a child, albeit tempered to a degree by adult thoughts. At a practical level, you could consider working with young children on a voluntary basis just to see how fully they immerse themselves in their worlds of imagination. Spiritually, you should try meditating on all the "important" things in your life, such as your job or your financial commitments. The idea is to progress from a view in which you see these things as important to a position where you can realize that in the grand scheme of things they are supremely unimportant.
MEANING Although it may be perceived by many as a relatively recent phenomenon, the idea of abduction by nonhuman beings has a very long history. The fear of being removed from those we love and the places in which we feel comfortable is deep and profound. Today we often hear about alleged alien abductions, but if we go back in time a few hundred years, we see the same fear being played out but with fairies or "the little people" as the perpetrators. In terms of a dream, the theme of abduction is focused on the idea of confusion and worrysome change.
The value of this word in Hebrew is 107. If we use "compression," that is, looking for the fewest letters that will give us this value, we come up with the letters Qoph, meaning "head," and Zayin, meaning "sword." This creates a mental image of the head or mind being in some way attacked or challenged. Interestingly, if we use reductive addition — a process where we add up the individual numbers — we end up with 8 (1 + 0 + 7 = 8). The letter Cheth has a value of 8 and means "wall." This suggests that our response to the challenge to our mind is quite literally to put up a brick wall. The dreamer is taking a very defensive position in relation to new ideas that he is being exposed to.
TREE OF LIFE The dreamer who experiences images of abduction is sitting on the path that runs from Malkut to Netzach and is associated with the letter Qoph and the tarot card The Moon. This person is still very much focused on the purely material world, but he is beginning to look upward and see that there are greater things in life than career and possessions. However, The Moon card indicates a significant degree of anxiety and possibly melancholy. This negative aspect links to the idea of the dreamer putting up a wall against his spiritual potential.
THE JOURNEY Congratulations! You have taken the first steps toward unlocking your spiritual potential. As the old proverb says: Even the longest journey begins with a single step. It is important that you allow yourself to accept your fears and anxieties because only in doing so can you truly overcome them. It is difficult to try to achieve what we truly want when that means letting go of what we are used to. In your dream, the desire to find something new has become a threat; you are being abducted, taken away from your familiar surroundings against your will. The solution is to inwardly accept that change is positive and ultimately rewarding. Spend some time writing down all the things in your life that would improve if you had a more spiritual outlook, and read that list every night before sleeping. Pretty soon you will find that you are wielding the sword and that it can be used to cut away doubt and fear, rather than cause anxiety and uncertainty.
MEANING This is always a positive element to experience when dreaming. In the broadest psychological terms, the idea of being above carries with it ideas of control, confidence, and achievement. Spiritually, it is entwined with the notion of approaching the Divine. The value of this image is 175, which reduces to 13, a number associated with significant transformation in one's life. Additionally, the number carries the three letters Qoph, Ayin, and Heh, with values of 100, 70, and 5, respectively. As all Hebrew letters have a meaning, we can, with experience, find a tale within a single word. In this case we have a mind that is active and vital, leaping higher and higher to see the light from the Divine.
THE TREE OF LIFE This dream image could be placed on almost any of the paths on the Tree of Life that are associated with positive self-development. Dreams of being above can occur very early in our spiritual journey, spurring us on to greater things or, indeed, in its latter stages as tantalizing glimpses of the final goal. However, placement in Tiferet is probably most appropriate, as this is associated with both the creative energy of the Sun and the powers of Raphael the Archangel of the element Air, which is linked with mental agility and progress.
THE JOURNEY You are making excellent headway in your life both physically and spiritually. It is for us easy to bask in our achievements, though, and when we do this we not only stop moving forward but can start to slip backward. In order to ensure that this does not happen to you, it is important to continue to set goals in all aspects of your life. In terms of your spiritual journey, you should consider focusing on some form of esoteric learning. For instance, you could buy a set of tarot cards and learn not only how to use them but how to meditate on each card in order to find new insights into your soul.
Copyright © 2002 by Lark Productions, LLC
Notes From The Author
The Western Mystery Tradition
Your spirituality, like your dream life, is a very personal matter. You may belong to the same spiritual tradition as your friends and relatives, but ultimately you will experience your relationship with the Divine in a unique manner. The analyses provided in this book are not designed to give you the answers but to act as springboards for your personal exploration of the spiritual dimension. The aim of the dream interpretations is to guide rather than direct and encourage you to look for yourself rather than attempt to show you the mystery of the Divine.
The way in which each of us has a unique approach to our spirituality is reflected in the vast number of organized religions and spiritual paths available to us. The Kabbalah, too, has its varied schools of thought.
In writing this book, I have attempted to be true to my spiritual beliefs in the interpretation of these dreams. However, where a different school of thought within the Kabbalistic tradition suggests an alternative analysis, I have included both interpretations. In most cases, the differences are matters of emphasis rather than of substantially differing opinions between various forms of Kabbalistic thought.
My background lies in the Western Mystery Tradition, an approach to spirituality that dates back at least as far as the Middle Ages in Europe. The underlying aim is to try to gain an understanding of the Divine nature of Creation and to fully realize one's spiritual potential. In trying to find ways to achieve these lofty goals, the followers of the Western Mystery Tradition looked to all forms of religious belief and spirituality.
As a follower of the Western Mystery Tradition, I have written this book mainly from the point of view of what is often termed "hermetic Kabbalah." This is the version of the Kabbalah described above: a spiritual system that, while not Judaic in nature, places the central tenets of the Kabbalah at its heart and uses the Tree of Life as the key with which to unlock the secrets within the universe.
The Kabbalah has always promoted study as a route to wisdom and insight into the Divine. The Western Mystery Tradition has a similar attitude toward the need for determination, commitment, and effort. Indeed, the process by which we gradually bring ourselves closer to an understanding of the Divine is known as "the Great Work." You will see many references to this in the dream analyses.
The spiritual belief that underpins the interpretations in this book is one that sees each of us as responsible for our own spiritual advancement and understanding. We should try to accept this responsibility and take up the challenge of the Great Work. If we do set out on that spiritual journey, we must pass through a number of states of consciousness before we reach a level of being that approaches an understanding of the Divine. Each of these possible states is represented by a path on the Tree of Life, and our dreams help us to see not only where we are but how we can move forward to the next stage of our spiritual development.
All spiritual paths are based on the belief in the existence of a soul. In the Western Mystery Tradition, the soul is referred to as the "higher self." The purpose of the Great Work is to try to forge a link between your conscious self and your higher self. This enables your path through life to be more directly guided by that part of your nature which is closest to the Divine. Your higher self is the part of you that is eternal, carrying within it a spark of the Divine.
Even if we are fortunate enough to create a direct link with our higher self, a process that occurs when we reach the Sefirah of Tiferet, our journey is far from over. We must then try to work our way up along the Tree of Life, gradually increasing our understanding of the nature of the Divine as we progress. Of course, the true nature of the Divine is ultimately unknowable. In this sense, the Great Work is paradoxical because we are striving for a level of understanding that will always be beyond us. However, it is the act of reaching for that absolute insight that is important.
This book uses two methods of analysis for interpreting dreams. The first looks at the content of the dream, specifically its surface narrative and embedded symbols. The second, a gematric analysis (from Gematria), considers the letter values of the Hebrew translation.
For the gematric analysis, I translated the title of each dream into Hebrew. In doing so, I did not merely substitute Hebrew for English letters but used the appropriate Hebrew word. The resultant word was then analyzed in terms of the values of the individual letters and the total numerical value of the word. Where appropriate, I also used reductive addition to get yet another number for analysis — 342, for instance, yields a value of 9 (3 + 4 + 2 = 9). To complete the interpretation, references were made throughout to both traditional and hermetic Kabbalistic associations. In a very few of the interpretations, the traditional and hermetic analyses differ, and the distinctions are interesting and useful.
Having examined the title word, I then looked for similar opportunities for gematric analysis in the dream. For example, a dream of drowning involves analysis of the Hebrew equivalent for the word drowning. But if in your dream you are surrounded by fish, you might also look at the Hebrew letter Nun, which means "fish" and has a value of 50.
After completing the numerical analysis, I further considered the dream content. If we accept the idea that dreams offer us a window through which we can glimpse our spiritual potential, it is reasonable to expect that our dreams will be laden with symbols. Although you may not be consciously aware of the meaning of the symbols in your dreams, you should not ignore them, for they represent the attempts of your higher self to communicate with your mundane self.
Jung proposed, and many have accepted, the notion of the collective unconscious. This theory suggests that unconsciously we share certain collective responses and memories. This would, of course, include responses to certain archetypal images and symbols.
When looking at the content of a dream, the analysis must again operate on two levels. At the first level, the surface activity is analyzed in terms of its possible spiritual significance. If you are running in your dream and have a fear of falling, there is a spiritual dimension that suggests you need to focus less on charging ahead in your daily life and should spend more time simply being still with yourself.
At the second level, the dream content is analyzed in terms of embedded symbols. Pairs of items, for instance, would suggest that the dream dealt with the spiritual implications of duality. A dream of sunbathing may not seem symbolic, until you consider the meaning of the Sun in mystical terms as a source of life and associated with the Sefirah Tiferet on the Tree of Life. You would then look at the rest of the dream to see how that symbolic content should be interpreted.
Finally, once the analysis of the raw numbers and the basic and symbolic content of the dream are completed, it is important to look at how all these elements connect with one another to form a coherent interpretation. Once you have interpreted your dream's message about your spiritual state, you can then begin to challenge yourself to move to the next spiritual level.
A Note on the Tarot
You will notice as you read through this book that some of the dreams contain references to the tarot. This may seem strange, as the tarot comes from a wholly different mystical background than the Kabbalah.
To understand its inclusion, consider the European Renaissance. This was a period when interest in all things esoteric was flourishing. As ever, the mystics of the day were looking for a key to the secret wisdom that underlies the universe in both its physical and spiritual dimensions. It was this period of time that saw the emergence of what can be broadly referred to as the Western Mystery Tradition. The spiritual ingredients that went into the Renaissance melting pot included the Kabbalah, elements of Eastern mysticism, esoteric Christianity, ancient mythology, and ritual, along with the remnants of the European pagan mysteries.
Over subsequent centuries this eclectic mix was handed down through a range of often obscure and deliberately misleading texts, as well as by word of mouth among small groups of spiritual seekers after Truth. The tarot formed part of this wide-ranging body of spiritual lore and wisdom. In order to try to arrive at a more complete understanding, many hermetic philosophers (followers of the Western Mystery Tradition) sought to find the connections between the disparate spiritual traditions that they were using in their spiritual quest. The Kabbalah offered the most complete system, and the Tree of Life, in particular, was seen as a way of representing the various elements of a spiritual universe.
Consequently, it became common to associate an aspect of one tradition with a particular path on the Tree of Life. For instance, the path of Teth is associated with strength of character and will power, so it was linked to the astrological sign Leo, the Egyptian god Horus, and the Greek Vulcan. As there are twenty-two cards in the main part of a tarot deck, it seemed perfectly appropriate to attribute each card to one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet and, thereby, to one of the paths of the Tree of Life.
This process of spiritual amalgamation was seen as valid on three levels: It symbolized the existence of a kernel of essential Truth in almost all spiritual traditions; it helped to clarify the deep meaning of different aspects of the spiritual universe; finally, it provided a range of images and ideas that would stimulate further meditation. In terms of this book, we can perhaps look at the tarot as rather like illustrations. They do not so much add something wholly new as help to visualize what is already there.
Where a tarot card is mentioned, its significance is also explained; the following table shows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and their associated tarot cards. It may help your visualizations in certain spiritual states. The images on these cards are not primarily tools for fortune-telling, as is often thought, but are tools for stimulating meditative vision. They have been used in this way for many centuries within the Western Mystery Tradition, but to date there are no widely available books that explain how they can be used to their fullest potential.
— Jonathan Sharp (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hebrew Letter; Tarot Card
Aleph; The Fool
Beth; The Magician, Magus, or Juggler
Gimel; The High Priestess, or Papess
Daleth; The Empress
Heh; The Emperor
Vav; The Hierophant, Pope or High Priest
Zayin; The Lovers
Cheth; The Chariot
Teth; Strength, Force, or Power
Yod; The Hermit
Kaph; The Wheel of Fortune
Mem; The Hanged Man
Ayin; The Devil or Pan
Peh; The Tower, Tower of Destruction, or Tower of God
Tzaddi; The Star
Qoph; The Moon
Resh; The Sun
Tav; The Universe or World
Copyright © 2002 by Lark Productions, LLC