By Rabbi Howard Avruhm Addison

Rabbi Huna ben Ammi said: “If one has a dream … go and have it interpreted in the presence of three. … Bring them together and say: I have seen a good dream; and they should say: Good it is and good may it be … .[1]

  1. Introduction

From the earliest times, the significance of dreams has extended far beyond the inner life of the dreamer. The night visions of the Pharaoh in Genesis and Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel presaged events whose effects reached past the borders of their kingdoms. The list of personal dreams whose implications have shifted the course of history and culture is both long and fascinating.[2]

In addition to those private, transformative dreams, there are societies that gain collective guidance from their shared dream experience. Various Aboriginal cultures in Australia are based on a belief in “Dreamtime” or “The Dreaming” (alternatively known as Tjukurrpa, Alchera or Alcheringa), an ancient time when the sacred ancestors, whose spirits continue into the present, created all things. Not only can these ancestors now be contacted through personal dreams, but methods have been developed to facilitate collective journeys into “The Dreaming.” The purpose of these shared dream quests: to receive communal guidance, gain spiritual insight, and to rejuvenate the society’s fundamental life energy.[3]

The Achuar people, who live in Ecuador’s Rainforest, share dreams as a way of shaping their waking lives. The people gather in small groups hours before sunrise to share both sweet tea (Wayús) and their dreams. This custom (Wayusa) reflects the conviction that people dream both for themselves and for the entire community.[4] By the 1980s, Achuar elders began dreaming of peril to their lands and culture due to the incursion of the oil, lumber and rubber industries. Motivated by these foreboding visions and their ancient prophecy of “The Eagle and the Condor,” the Achuar have formed alliances with formerly hostile neighboring tribes and with individuals from the industrialized world. Their goal is to ensure the long-term well-being of their tribal lands, to establish the right to self-determination and to develop a sustainable economy.[5]

Jeremy Taylor, a pre-eminent dream authority, has demonstrated how shared dreams can reveal unconscious biases as a prelude to healing group rifts and interpersonal wounds. In 1969, he was called upon to lead a volunteer re-training exercise devoted to “overcoming (liberal) racism” as part of the work of Unitarian Universalist-Project East Bay, (UUPEB). This community organizing effort, centered in Emeryville, Calif.’s African-American community, had faltered due in large measure to the “impersonally unconscious condescending attitudes and behaviors” of its well- meaning Caucasian volunteers. The re-training series proved transformative only after Jeremy suggested that the volunteers shift from didactic learning and sharing their community organizing “war stories” to “telling dreams to one another, paying particular attention to those dreams that have racial incidents and racialized feeling as part of their manifest content … .”[6] He continued to uncover how shared dreams can be a potent tool for personal and social change during his tenure as director of the Head Start program Marin County, Calif., in the early 1970s and through his work with youth in correctional facilities, including San Quentin.[7]

As a rabbi, spiritual director and certified dreamworker, I have become ever more convinced that we dream both for ourselves and for others, for the dreamer personally as well as for the collective.[8] Jewish tradition has long believed that Shekhinah — the guiding, feminine Divine Presence — dwells within and among the community.[9] Among the other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity understands the community to be the Temple in whose midst God’s spirit dwells.[10] The Sufi poet Rumi claims that Allah created “we” and “I” to enter into a game of Divine self-courtship so that the collective might, as one soul, “drown in the Beloved.”[11] Given the centuries of ambivalence and at times hostility that Judaism and the other Western traditions have shown towards dream work, perhaps the moment and possibly the Spiritare calling for a fuller exploration of sharing dreams in both Jewish and multi-faith settings.

2. Projective Dream Work and Scriptural Interpretation

In 1979, Montague Ullman and Nan Zimmerman published Working with Dreams (Delacorte Press), a text that details an emotionally safe method for engaging in group dream work. As fate (mazel?) would have it, Jeremy Taylor was experimenting with a parallel process. This projective process unfolds in four stages: First, the dreamer shares the dream and the members of the group can ask questions of clarification; Second, the group symbolically accepts the dream and always prefaces their comments about feelings and associations the dream has triggered with the words, “if this were my dream … ” to amplify that these are their own projections and are not necessarily valid for the dreamer; Third, the dream is “returned” to the dreamer, who may comment or not as s/he wishes, and; Fourth, the dreamer is asked to carry the dream process home and contemplate reactions and realms of meaning that might unfold between sessions. In this way, the dreamer remains in control of the dream at each phase and is the final authority over the dream’s meaning. While always respecting the dreamer’s privacy, the group helps the dreamer discover for him or herself meaning and personal insight that might have eluded the dreamer if working alone.[12]

I was first introduced to an adapted version this projective methodology during my training at the Haden Institute.[13] There, it occurred to me that this process corresponds to the elements of a fourfold Jewish interpretive methodology that first appeared in Spain in a late 13th-century Torah commentary. These four hermeneutical approaches include: Peshat, the “Simple,” literal meaning of the text; Drash, “Inquiry,” the exploration of questions arising from biblical passages whose responses are proffered as homiletic or legal expositions; Remez, “Allusion,” allegorical or philosophic meanings inferred from the images, characters or actions found in Scripture, and; Sod, “Secret,” the mystical or Kabbalistic rendering of the Sacred Text. Recombined, their initial letters spell PaRDeS, (literally, a “Pleasure Garden”), which the early Talmudic sages identified as the most profound, inner most realm of the Divine.[14]

3. Entering PaRDeS

The following represents my adaption of the projective dream group process I’ve facilitated at synagogues and in Jewish, Christian and multifaith retreat settings since 2013.

The Opening Prayer
(recited together)

Sovereign of the Universe, I am Yours as are my dreams. I have dreamed a dream and know not what it is. Whether I have dreamed of myself, my companions have dreamed of me or I have dreamed of others, if they be good dreams, affirm and reinforce them like Joseph’s dreams; if they require remedy, heal them, as our teacher, Moses, healed the waters of Marah, as Miriam was healed of her leprosy, Naaman of his leprosy, Hezekiah of his sickness, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. As You transformed Balaam’s into a blessing, so turn all my dreams into something good for me. [15]

After the welcome and selection of the opening dream, the group process begins.

  1. PESHAT. The Dreamer recites the literal, manifest dream twice. The group may take notes during the second recitation and usually hand them to the dreamer at session’s end
  2. DRASH (Inquiry). After the second recitation, the group inquires about the various aspects, settings and characters in the dream to shed light upon them, seeking objective answers rather than the dreamer’s personal associations
  3. The Dreamer symbolically passes the dream to the group.
  4. REMEZ (Allusions). Group members project their own associations onto the images or elements of the dream as if this dream had been their own, always prefacing their remarks with “If this were my dream … ” or “In my dream …”
  5. When finished, the group “returns” the dream to the Dreamer.
  6. SOD (Secret). The Dreamer, to the extent s/he wishes, may disclose any previously concealed insights that have emerged from the dream group process or need not comment at all. The Dreamer is encouraged to reflect on that day’s shared process at home and to track the unfolding of dreams and life experiences, particularly between sessions to see if further hidden aspects of the dream’s message might be revealed.
  7. Members of the group may then comment briefly on what aspect of the dream held particular energy for them individually.

Before moving on, the following adaptations of two scriptural verses are recited to mark the unique sanctity of the group encounter with this dreamer and dream:[16]

DREAMER: Through this dream may my soul find wholeness and release
                                                                                                                           (Psalms 55:19).

GROUP: Peace, Peace unto you and we who support you: May God always be your aid
                                                                                                                            (I Chronicles 12:19).   

Once the group has treated those dreams it is going to process during the session, its members seal the sacred nature of their time together by chanting four times in unison the Hebrew word for Wholeness, Well-being, Peace and Farewell, Shalom.    

4. “The Future Unfolds … ”

Those who have participated in the dream group process detailed above indicate that it sanctifies the disclosure of sensitive aspects of their personal lives. The ritual provides a holy container for their shared dreams that feels at once religiously authentic and emotionally safe. It helps to shape and then hold them as a spiritual community while contextualizing their unique inner experiences within an ongoing sacred tradition framed by scripture and Jewish liturgy.

The following dream was brought to one of our groups some months ago. Jaqueline (a pseudonym) holds a highly responsible position in an institution she has served with distinction for many years. Her husband, Gabriel (also a pseudonym), has suffered from a series of medical conditions, often rendering Jacqueline both sole breadwinner and sole caretaker on top of her professional responsibilities.

I am filled with anxiety because I foresee that events in my life will not turn out well. I am standing in a dark room and can see into the future as a bubble, a sort of screen on which the future unfolds, similar to the time travel journeys described in A Christmas Carol or Back to the Future II. Martina enters, places her hand on my back and tries to reassure me. She tells me it will be all right — that I should do this, and the problem will be averted. But I can foresee that it won’t solve the problem. She tries again and again, in a soothing, gentle voice, but none of her suggestions work, and I get impatient and angry with her. She just doesn’t get it. I am not reassured.

During the D’rash/Inquiry for clarification, we learned that Martina is a former work colleague and longtime acquaintance/friend of Jacqueline. Known for her deep caring and empathy, Martina’s late wife, Denise, had also suffered from a long, debilitating illness. When asked about her associations with scenes of time travel, Jacqueline recounted a rabbinic legend she once heard about Moses being whisked by God 1,300 years into the future to Rabbi Akiva’s yeshivah to discover what would become of the Torah Moses had conveyed to Israel. When asked about spatial positioning in the dream, Jacqueline remembered that Martina had been standing to her right.

While the feeling tone of the dream (worry, anxiety, impatience and irritation) and Jacqueline’s affect were quite clear, many comments by group members during the Remez/Allusion/Projection phase lifted up hopeful elements embedded within the dream. Owning that their comments were their own projections with the formula, “If this were my dream … ,” participants observed:

  • They would be heartened that the “dream ego” (the dream characters that dreamers sense are themselves) was not actually living the bleak future but seeing it as projections unfolding on a screen. Thus, the foreboding might be arising as much from inner projection as external reality.
  • The presence of Martina in the dream, who’s known for her caring, competence and probity, at least indicated that Jacqueline had emotional support and wasn’t alone.
  • The fact that Martina was standing to dream Jaqueline’s right, often identified with the conscious and empirical, might contrast with unfolding gloom, which might reflect the subjective, unconscious worries and anxiety[CMS1] .

When the group symbolically “returned” the dream to Jacqueline, she indicated that the group’s projections made the dream seem like a harbinger of good. Still, she couldn’t shake the dream’s original affect and negative foreboding. Objectively she knew that she was handling her myriad responsibilities well, but their weight was bearing down on her.

One month later, however, when asked about her reflections at our next meeting, Jacqueline shared that she now recognizes the validity of both the negative interjects and the “Martina” life-giving qualities of encouragement and empathy as aspects of herself.[17] She had come to see her dream as another step in her process of healing and reconciliation of her outer roles and the varied aspects of her inner self. In effect, the dream group process had fulfilled the desired outcomes voiced by the traditional prayers and scripture that framed our sharing: Jacqueline’s dream had been transformed, granting her spirit a measure of healing and release on her path towards greater wholeness. In the terms of contemporary dream studies, Jacqueline’s dream had come for her health and wholeness, alerting her to realities of which her conscious mind was then unaware.[18]

5. Reflections for the Collective Future

I believe projective group dream work, contemplatively led and expressed through the vocabulary of scriptural interpretation, opens novel avenues for shared spiritual practice. When framed within the same schema employed by centuries of religious exegetes, the work of spiritual dream groups can more fully claim an authentic place within the unfolding interpretive heritage of religious tradition. Moreover, this practice affirms in a very real sense that one’s dreams help compose the innermost Scripture of one’s life, while offering guidance beyond the personal.

Looking back at Jacqueline’s dream, I now sense that it manifests collective as well as individual implications. At this time of pandemic, economic uncertainty, environmental degradation, intense political fissures and violence that threatens our democracy, the projections upon the screen of our shared future can appear bleak and unalterable, despite any well-intentioned, proffered solutions. Jacqueline’s dream feelings of worry, anxiety, impatience and angry irritation are rife among society. Yet her dream guides us towards realizing that we can hold both the negative and the positive caring, probity and competence of “Martina,” born interestingly amid her own pain and loss. Both are equally valid aspects of our reality, and be we Jewish, Christian, Muslim, of other or no faith tradition, Jacqueline’s dream reminds us that we’re not alone. It can call us to find the “Martina” within our individual and collective selves, while serving as “Martina” for one another.

The first articulation of a fourfold interpretive approach to the Bible is found in the writings of the eighth-century Christian exegete, the Venerable Bede, who himself drew on the work of St. Augustine. Bede’s method of scriptural elucidation included: the Literal or plain sense of the text, the Tropological or figurative connotations, the Allegorical or philosophical allusions and the Anagogical, from which one could infer the secrets of life everlasting.[19] Similarly, Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765 CE), the last Caliph before the Ismaili- Imani schism, taught that the Quran has four levels of interpretation: ‘ibāra,the literal expression; ishāra, allusion; laṭā’if, the subtleties; and ḥaqā’iq, the deepest realities.[20] Thus it would seem that the steps of projective dream work can be correlated to the interpretive schema of all three major Western traditions and could be used to provide spiritually meaningful frames for multi-faith dream sharing groups that include Christians and Muslims, as well as those that are wholly Jewish. Faced today with both the pressing need for and the social-psychological obstacles to interethnic, interclass and interracial understanding, Jeremy Taylor’s pioneering work in the East Bay 50 years ago might offer us a glimpse into how communities could use dream sharing in intentionally structured, diverse groups as an effective tool in the work of anti-racism.

The prophet Joel foresaw a time when God’s spirit would flow upon all people, when the elderly would dream dreams and the young would see visions (Joel 2:28). During particularly graced moments, one can feel the Spirit flowing within and among the group, revealing that blessing and Divine guidance can be found when a collective sits contemplatively with a dream and that our shared dreams can be sacred gifts to the Individual and the Collective as well.


[1] Babylonian Talmud (BT), Berakhot 55A. This passage describes a proto-dream group process through which a troubled dreamer can call together three friends for a dream amelioration ritual.

[2] For but two lists of such dreams, see “10 Dreams that Changed Human History” (www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com) and “10 examples of how dreams changed the course of history” (http://www.abovetopsecret.com).
For a concise exposition on Jung’s theories of “Big Dreams” and “Collective Dreams,” see Mark L. Dotson’s 1996 essay “Jung’s Theory of Dreams” (http://members.core.com/~ascensus/docs/jung1.html).
[3] Kelly Bulkeley, Dreaming in the World’s Religions (New York University Press; New York, 2008), pp 234-239.

[4] Marilyn Schlitz and Frank Pascoe, “The Achuar Dream Practices” (http://www.mysticalcompany.com/Achuar).

[5] In Achuar lore, the Eagle signifies the way of intellect and mechanization; the Condor represents the path of intuition and heart. The prophecy foretells of a split between these two paths: for a period of 500 years (beginning around 1490), the Eagle People would all but extinguish the Condor Folk of Central and South America, and at the end of that period, potential would arise for the Condor and Eagle to soar together for the benefit of all. See www.pachamama.org.

[6] Jeremy Taylor, The Wisdom of Your Dreams (Tarcher/Penguin; New York, 2009) pp. 89-100.

[7] For a transcription of Dr. David Van Nuys’ interview with Jeremy Taylor (Shrink Rap Radio #51‒Sept. 10, 2006), see http://www.zurinstitute.com/dream6.pdf.

[8] For a Jewish liturgical referent to individuals dreaming for the collective, see fn.15 below.

[9] Exodus 25:8. For the Shechinah dwelling among the People Israel even amid impurity and exile, see BT Yoma 56B and Megillah 29a respectively. For Shechinah inhering among 10, 5, 3 or even 2 gathered for sacred purposes, see Ethics of the Fathers (Avot) 3:7.

[10] I Corinthians 3:16.

[11] Mathnawi I 1779-1794,The Rumi Collection-Kabir Helminski, wahiduddin.net/sufi/sufi_poetry.htm.

[12] For a synopsis of Ullman’s work, see Robert Van De Castle. Our Dreaming Mind (New York: Random House, 1994), pp. 199-202.

[13] Robert Haden Jr., Unopened Letters from God (Hendersonville, N.C.; Haden Institute Press, 2010), pp.183-84. Robert Haden adapted his method in 2013 to allow each dream group member, after the dreamer shares reflections, to briefly comment on an aspect of the dream that had special import or emotional valence for them. These they might later contemplate as aids to their own inner work.

[14] BT Ḥagigah 14b www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3263-bible-exegesis:

[15] BT Berakhot 55b. To emphasize the communal nature of dreams, the Sephardi Siddur adds to this prayer a second verse: May it be Your will, YHWH, my God and God of my ancestors, that my dreams convey goodness to myself and all Israel, and concludes: so, turn all my dreams into something good for me and all Israel and guard me, be gracious unto me, and treat me with favor. https://www.sefaria.org/Siddur_Sefard%2C_Priestly_Blessing%2C_Bikat_Kohanim?la
For a full exposition of this third-century dream amelioration prayer and its contemporary implications, see Howard Avruhm Addison, “I Have Dreamed a Dream,” in the anthology, Birkat Kohanim: The Priestly Benediction (New York; Matrix Press).

[16] BT Berakhot 55A. The antiphonal recitation of these two verses, together with seven others, form an important constituent of the Talmudic dream amelioration group ritual cited at the beginning of this essay.

[17] Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, a founder of Gestalt Therapy, and J L Moreno, the originator of Psycho and Sociodrama, all concurred that, on a subjective level, every character in a dream symbolizes an aspect of the dreamer.

[18] Jeremy Taylor, “The Dreamwork Tool Kit,” http://www.Jeremytaylor.com.

[19] Robert H. Stein. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1981), p 47.

[20] Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary ascribed to Ja’far al-Sadiq as contained in Sulami’s Haqa’iq al-Tafsir (Louisville, Ky.: Fons Vitae, 2011), trans. Farhana Mayer, p. 1.It seems all but certain that Bede’s and al-Sadiq’s schema were known to Bahya ben Asher, author of the Torah commentary mentioned above in Section III. See note # 15.