Episode #110 The UnderTorah: Exploring an Earth-Based Kabbalah of Dreams with Rabbi Jill Hammer
How do we understand dreams in ways that make sense of 21st Century life? How can we interpret them in ways that have meaning for us as individuals, in the complexity of our lives?
Rabbi Jill Hammer PhD has explored the depths of dreams and dreaming with her new book – and here talks to us about what she learned, and some of the dreams that touched her most deeply.
Jill is an author, scholar, ritualist, poet, midrashist, and dreamworker. She is the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic seminary, and cofounder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, a program in earth-based, embodied, feminist Jewish spiritual leadership.
Her own experience of dreams as a source of deep teaching, wisdom and connection to the All That Is (however we define it) led her to a lifetime of exploring dreams and how they can guide us in ways that bypass our conscious minds. Dreams led her to rabbinical school and then from there into the many areas of her teaching and learning life. The depth of this book makes it one of our generation’s most useful dreaming handbooks – it won’t tell you how to interpret your dreams: It will help you to find their depth and mine them for all they can teach you.
Manda: My guest this week is a friend of the podcast; Rabbi Jill Hammer was with us back in episode 12, talking about her life as an author, a scholar, a Ritualist poet, midrashist and importantly for this episode, a dream worker. She’s written many books, but the one we’re going to concentrate on today is the one that is coming out next month. Undertorah: An Earth-Based Kabbalah of Dreams takes readers on a journey through the root systems of the dream world. It draws on a deep, foundational understanding of ancient Jewish dream practise, but it also brings in many other world wisdom traditions, indigenous traditions and contemporary eco theology. This is not just a dream manual, but it is a dream manual that will help any reader to delve far more deeply and consistently into the messages and gifts that dreams give us. So people of the podcast, please welcome for the second time, Rabbi Jill Hammer.
Jill: Spring nineteen ninety seven. Jerusalem. In a dream, I find myself moving through a temple crowded with people. On the ground floor of the temple, there are ancient marble carvings. When I ascend the top floor, I find, to my surprise, a weapons stockade. In the outer courtyard, there is a pile of stuffed animals for sale. Then I venture into the stone tunnels under the temple. I come to caves with rock formations and then to an underground river. The river bubbles as hot water spurts up through vents in the rocks. Now I am with other companions journeying together, but still I am afraid of becoming lost in the winding passages. My companions and I make our way down the river deep into the Earth until we find a wide place like a delta where the river branches in many directions. Then the scene changes; I’m looking at a beautifully drawn map of the caves and the underground river. A map that shows all the rivers branches, the branches of the river look to me like lava vents around a volcano.
Manda: Beautiful. Thank you. So, Rabbi Jill Hammer, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast for the second time. That makes you officially a friend of the podcast. So thank you and your calling from New York. Am I right? You’re still in New York, aren’t you?
Jill: I am still in New York, and I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you.
Manda: You’re welcome and a good new year to you, because we’re recording this fairly early in the new year. And we’re here because you have a book coming out in February called The Undertorah and this is, you read for us, the dream that led you into writing this book. So it feels to me one of those books that is absolutely necessary for our time, that you’ve taken the concepts of dreaming and dream work and really moved them in a very grounded way into the 21st century so that people can use this as a dreaming guide and a dreaming manual and a dreaming inspiration. So before we go into what the book is about in more detail, this dream, the one that you’ve just read to us, was a real dream. And as I understand it, is the one that you took as a map of your life and then as a map of writing this book. So can you just unpick that dream for us a little bit? And then we’ll look at how that led you to where you are now?
Jill: Sure, absolutely. This dream struck me from the moment I woke up from it as a really important dream, you know, one of those dreams that stays with you. And what really struck me about it was that the beginning of the dream is kind of a an image of civilisation, right? It’s got weapons, it’s got stuffed animals. It has all of you know, it has temples, right? It has all of the pieces of human experience. But in the dream, I don’t stay there, I go under this temple and I end up in inside the Earth, in tunnels and caverns. And this underground river that seems to be leading me deeper and deeper. Which is really, in some ways, a map of the dream process of going deeper into the unconscious. But it’s also a map of what happens when we as beings sort of let go our social persona and begin to connect with the elements that we are actually part of. That I move beneath the social atom and into this much deeper truth and then really into the volcano, which is the heart of the Earth itself. And this dream gave me, I think, the insight that when we dream, we’re not only connecting to some deeper part of ourselves, but to the deepest part of our experience, which is our own connexion to the Earth, the cosmos through my body.
Manda: And you were at rabbinical school when you had this dream or had you finished it by then?
Jill: No, I was in rabbinical school. Yeah, I was studying full time at the time that I have the dream.
Manda: And did he begin to implement it? This sense of moving into the heart of the Earth and becoming part of what feels to me like a very earth based spirituality, which is not how I imagine rabbinical school to be. Did you begin to to step into this while you were studying or did you have to wait? Kind of qualify, get out of the way of all the people trying to fill your head with stuff and then begin to move into the dreams?
Jill: Well, in a sense, it was both. When I had this dream was around the time that I began kind of wandering away from my studies and going into caves. And I was really looking for, you know, the ancestors, right, the ancient world. And I really wasn’t interested at that point of the commentary on the caves. I just wanted to see the physical caves. I wanted to experience what it was like to be in them.
Manda: Were you actually caving? Were you becoming a caver?
Jill: What I was doing was visiting, for example, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is this ancient dug water water channel that goes between Jerusalem and the springs outside. And you can walk through it, and it’s thousands of years old. I was in caves that people had dug in soft stone to make houses for doves, to make burial tombs, to make places for themselves to live. And so I really was tuned into this experience of being in the underground. But that was also, I think, happening for me in a more spiritual sense; that I wanted a tradition, you know, a spiritual practise that was more connected to the Earth. Then I did begin to delve into that from that point forward.
Manda: I think we discussed this a little bit in our previous conversation, but people may not have heard that. And still, it still fascinates me the extent to which some people in the Abrahamic religions are able to take what has always, to me, seemed quite extraordinary humanity separate from the Earth texts and begin to find within them actual connexion to the Earth. And again, I’m wondering to what extent that is common within rabbinical circles and how much you’re basically cleaving a new path for yourself with this?
Jill: Hmm. At the time that I began to go down this path, it did not feel common to me. There were other people doing it, but not that many. Ok. I was, you know, I was reading cabalistic texts. I was visiting shamanic circles. You know, I was sort of trying to put this together for myself. And now, decades later, there are a lot of people looking at Judaism like this, and it seems that it really was a thing that was happening to bunches of people. And, you know, there’s really now a movement, I would say, you know, Jews for whom this is their chosen way of doing their spiritual practise; is to connect deeply to the Earth. And, you know, that’s part of the course of a larger awakening of people who are, you know, who have been in traditions that were much more sky based, are much more text based and felt the call to come back to these deep origins of our spiritual experience. So that’s been a wonderful thing for me to see, you know this amazing development, you know, from being kind of lonely in this work to really feeling deeply supported and witnessed in it.
Manda: Excellent. And just before we move off this, wondering to what extent that is accepted within the kind of wider Judaic tradition? Or do you find that there are pockets of people really pushing against it and wanting you to come back to their interpretation of the text?
Jill: And this is also relevant to the to the dreams. There’s really both. You know, now I would say I tend to hang out in what’s called the Jewish Renewal Movement, which is a movement that is inspired by cabalistic and Hasidic sources, but that takes a more kind of liberal, imaginative view of those sources. And in that world, this is actually quite exciting. Normal people are into it, you know, and there are still plenty of Jews like other textbox folks who are anxious about all this. Because for them, it feels like, you know, it feels like Earth worship, right? Or it feels like things that they were told not to do. But in fact, if you look at a lot of the mystical sources and it’s all about finding the divinity in the physical world, right? You know, that’s definitely present, right? And yet, you know, there are people who are anxious about it. But that may be as much because of the Enlightenment as because of their religious tradition. You know, just the sense of if we get too close to the natural world, you know, something bad will happen to us.
Manda: Chaos might arise. Yes, absolutely. Because you’ve called, the subtext of this book, is An Earth Based Kabbalah of Dreams. Have I said Kabbalah, right? I’m never very sure. And so can you unpick for me what Kabbalah means in this context? Is it a deep teaching? Tell me what it means.
Jill: So the book is connected to Kabbalah in that it is looking to the mystical tradition for dream work practises. And also for a general worldview in which dreams are a way in which we connect to divine presence. And this is something you see all through the traditional Kabbalah, is that when we go to sleep, we actually go to visit the divine presence. Our souls leave and they all go and they hang out in this amazing garden with the Shekhinah, with the beautiful, feminine, divine presence. Right. And that’s where you receive the information that becomes your dreams. And if you’re unlucky, you run into some demons and they tell you unfortunate things. And if you’re lucky or if you’re, you know, virtuous, you end up, you know, having wonderful dreams where angels talk to you. And then in the morning, you come back and you have this dream. And you know, this is a, you know, a typical mystical narrative of how dreams happen. But what’s fascinating about that from an Earth based point of view is that the same entity that is providing these dreams, right, the divine presence, is also the entity that is filling the physical world. That’s also the aspect or the facet of the divine that is closest to our, you know, our embodied experience. So the Kabbalah is making this association between dreaming and between kind of the dream of this life, you know, and that was really what I was drawing on in the book.
Manda: Brilliant, excellent and and with great success. So how long have you been working on this? Because clearly, you had that first dream back in 97. Some of the dreams in the book go back even before that. We’re now whatever it is…I can’t even do the arithmetic…but many decades after that. How long have you actually been writing the book? What prompted you to sit down? Because writing is hard work and you’re a rabbi and you’re a mother, you’ve got a lot of other things to do. What made you carve time out of your life to write with?
Jill: So I have to start with about 10 years ago, maybe a little more when I had this really strange experience where people began walking up to me and saying I had a dream about you. You know, when the first time it was nice and the second time it was also nice, and then the third and fourth and fifth time, you know, in the same period of three or four days, it got weird, you know? What am I supposed to do with this experience? And I didn’t know and I went to other, you know, I went to some of my teachers and they didn’t know. And I thought, this is a message and I’m going to start doing more dream work. And I began to teach some of this material. And to explore dreams and ways that contemporary people work with dreams. With my students and to look into some of this more ancient Jewish dream material. And over time, you know, as I taught these classes and as I collected my own dreams and the dreams of others, it became clear to me that there should be a book. That there should be a a record of these dreams and and a way of putting together these experiences.
Jill: And I also began to just have this sense of the different characters and landscapes that show up in dreams. And I particularly wanted to say something about landscapes, which I didn’t see in other dream books. Like the way that not just the characters in the dream, but the whole landscape, you know, is a teaching. And so, you know, at a certain point, I just felt like, well, you know, this is coming out of me. You know, it’s time to start writing this down. And so I went through my own dreams and comb them and I began to interview people. And you know, I interviewed, in the end, almost 70 dreamers. And it was so fascinating. And both the uniqueness of all the dreams and the similarities between them were fascinating to me, and that really sort of fed the fire of the book. You know, that plus all of the interesting ancient and mediaeval sources that I found, to weave in all of those things, made the book happen.
Manda: Yes. And it seemed to me reading through it that you had access to some very good libraries for the ancient and mediaeval stuff. I’ve obviously been working with dreams for a long time, and some of this, particularly the mediaeval European I had never heard of. So, so very, very impressed with that. Particularly, let’s go back to place because you’ve got a quote from Sharon Blackie ‘Place is critical’. It’s not just the embodied imagination, it’s the emplaced imagination. Places want to be in relationship with us, and we’re the ones who have held ourselves back. And we’ve talked on this podcast with Sharon Blackie and will do again with her new book sometime soon. And she’s very committed to really connecting to landscape. And it seemed to me that you were able to bring the concept of the Tree of Life, which I guess is a Jewish concept is it? Or is it a kind of just a Greek ancient European concept? Ok, thank you. And that being a microcosm of the macrocosm that you can see the cosmos within the tree of life. And then that when people find the dreams of earthly location, when they embody the physicality of the dreams, the way you did in that first dream where you went down into tunnels, that there seems to be almost like a second layer of dreaming. You come into the dream at the relatively superficial layer. (Sorry, there’s a cat walking across my keyboard) And then you go down into tunnels and the dreams take you deeper. Is that something that you found universally and not just within the Jewish tradition? I’m sorry. There’s a lot of questions locked up in there. It seems to me really fascinating. We could probably hold an entire podcast just on dreams of place, so let’s see if we can unpick that
Jill: Ah. So one of the dreams in the book actually comes from the 16th century. And the dreamer is describing this dream of, you know, I found this little hole, then I went in the hole and there was a candle and then there was an ocean and then I got to a palace. You know, there’s sort of this, this kind of dream. And lots of us have had those kinds of dreams where you’re walking along in an ordinary landscape. And then all of a sudden there’s a door, right? Or there’s an entrance to a cave or there’s a staircase and then you’re in someplace completely different. And as I interviewed Dreamers now I heard about these things. You know, oh, I was in a university campus and then there was a staircase, and then I was in this university in the sky. Or I, you know, I went down the stairs where I found this goddess shrine, you know, and there was a woman writing there. Those sorts of dreams, I think, you know, are common to many, many dreamers, you know, across culture. Jung talks about the vertical as the, you know, the direction of spirit. And that is a map that I use when I think about dreaming. But it’s not always vertical. Sometimes it’s inward, you know, sometimes you’re in a house and there’s lots of rooms and you’re going deeper into the house.
Jill: You know, there is this sense of journey of movement. And I think that mirrors, you know, our desire to get to something real and to get to something magical. You know that that feels meaningful, that feels compelling. And, you know, as we are pursuing that desire, right, the dream kind of creates what that looks and feels like, you know, it gives us an embodied experience of that dream journey. So those places in the dream, often they have a particular feeling of awe or wonder. Like, you know you’ve gotten to an unusual, you know, a powerful, a potent place in a dream when you have that feeling of, wow, you know, this is bigger than I thought it could be. Sometimes it’s even a colour like that ‘blue is so bright!’ Or you know, ‘that tree is so big!’ That feeling, you know, when you when you get that feeling, it’s like you’ve come to that Place with a capital P.. You know, I spell it with a capital P in the book. Where you’re really in relationship to the place in the way that Sharon Blackie is talking about. You know, when you come into the sense of this place has an identity, it has a consciousness and I’m connecting to it, you know, to however you understand it in a in a deeper way, right? In a way that that allows me to open my spirit.
Manda: And did you find, and the people that you interviewed, that once you had a dream place that felt like that, that was Place with a capital P, that you dreamt back to it on a regular basis? Or was the Place different, but still, the capital was the same? You knew there was something special, but it wasn’t geographically in the same dreamscape.
Jill: Sometimes people will go back to the same place. One person I interviewed comes back to a particular cave again and again. But mostly I find that it’s another version of the same place. For example, I interviewed one person who had the experience of being on a bus, and at first the bus is in kind of this horrible industrial landscape. And then she begins to see statues of goddesses, and then the bus goes through a tunnel and then everybody begins singing, you know. And it’s a unique image. I’ve never dreamt that. But I immediately recognise the, you know, going farther and deeper. And then sort of the magic happened. You know that kind of feeling. So, you know, I don’t usually dream of the same landscape. It happens sometimes, but not usually. But, you know, there is a sense when I’ve gotten to a particularly deep, complex Place; like in the woods or, you know, in the basement of a house or, you know, in a labyrinth. And I think, oh, you know, usually when I wake up, I think, Oh, that that’s The Place I was in The Place.
Manda: Right, right. And the individual who dreams of the cave the same time, are they consciously choosing to go back to that cave every time? Or it’s just that their dream world holds that degree of coherence to it?
Jill: Yeah, their dreams just bring them back there. I didn’t speak to lots of lucid dreamers. Some people really focus on that. I didn’t speak to…mostly, I didn’t speak to lucid dreamers. And one of the reasons I like dreams that aren’t lucid dreams is that they allow us to be more honest. Because whenever we are controlling something right, we have a tendency to want to do the thing that we want to do. Like, I’ve had moments of lucid dreaming at the end of a dream where I’m like, I want to fly now, you know sometimes I fly, and that’s great. But there’s something about the dreams where we don’t know, because it allows us to get to a more truthful place. Because we’re not controlling the narrative.
Manda: Yes, our egos are not in charge. Absolutely. I think lucid dreaming feels to me the ultimate in kind of western mindset controlling of something that should be numinous. And often, you know, as far as I can tell,lucid dreamers use them to have the best kinds of sex they could possibly have, which then leaves real life somewhat disappointing. And after a while, I think, really? Is that it? Because dreams seem to have much more depth. And you’ve certainly found much more depth within them. So, moving on, I’m looking at your table of contents and there’s ‘Guardians of the Dream Temple’. Because this is something that comes up a lot when what I’m teaching dreaming, is people who are afraid to dream because because bad things happen in their dreams and they don’t have, we’re not wanting to go lucid, but they don’t have any resource to find any kind of support and help within the dream space. And so they they kind of shut themselves away and try not to dream at all. And it seems that you were able to interview people, and I’m guessing there were probably quite a lot of people you interviewed who who didn’t find help within the dream space. But the ones that you did had found good help. And I wonder, can we unpick that a little bit? About what sort of help there is and how people might find it?
Jill: So the reason that the chapter is called Guardians of the Dream Temple is that often when you get to The Place, you meet somebody there, right? And that person, not always a person, sometimes an animal, sometimes it’s a tree, right? You know that guardian is often the one who offers help. One dreamer, you know, ended up falling into a cave. And inside the cave, he met a bear who was really the embodiment of his father, you know, and there’s this wonderful, wonderful dream moments.
Manda: But it took quite a while to work out that it was the embodiment of his father. I think that’s important to know. He didn’t just realise that in the dream, or immediately on waking. It took a lot of help for him to. He understood that the dream was really important, and then he went to speak to people who were able to help him to see that. I think some people can interpret their dreams straightaway, but most of us, it takes a while. And what we don’t do, what he didn’t do, is go and read the books that said, ‘Oh, bears mean this’, which is desperate.
Jill: Right. In my understanding, one mustn’t do that right. You mustn’t open a dream dictionary and say, What do bears mean? Because that really takes away the organic nature of the experience of what the bear means to you, right in that embodied moment in the dream. And I want to say it’s not always something majestic, like a bear. You know, sometimes we get these amazing dreams where, you know, some angel appears and says, ‘I’m going to heal your kidneys’, you know, and I actually talk to people for whom this happens. It’s amazing. But sometimes it’s like, you know, in one dream, a dreamer encounters a gardener and she’s trying to decide what Apple to eat. And he says, “Well, just eat whatever you like”. And you know, that seemingly mundane interaction can also really have a powerful healing for us. Sometimes the Guardian is really somebody who gives you directions. I remember one of my dreams I’m in Costa Rica, and I have to catch the bus to the airport. I am on the bus and I realise that I’ve forgotten, you know, this box, with jewellery that somebody gave me, and it’s back in my room and I’m not going to be able to get it.
Jill: And I’m crying on the bus and somebody says the bus driver, Hey, stop, this lady forgot her luggage and the bus driver stops, and I get off and I go searching for my luggage. And when I woke up and I really worked on the dream and I thought about it. I was like, ‘Well, that was the Dream Guardian’. I couldn’t advocate for myself. I couldn’t say I really want to have my precious thing, you know, and somebody on the bus advocated for me. So that person in the dream is like a Dream Guardian. As somebody who gives you the help when you’re not able to find it for yourself. Yeah. And even when you have the dream where there isn’t any help around, and we all have those dreams, you know where it’s all difficult from beginning to end. Sometimes it’s a nightmare, and sometimes it’s just one of those dreams where you know, you lost your passport. But if you watch those dreams over time, eventually something will happen. Eventually you’ll meet somebody who will be helpful. And if you are working with those characters over time, right, you begin to notice them more and more.
Manda: Yes. And I think that’s one of the things that becomes very clear from the book. Is that the people who record their dreams, however fleetingly they can in the morning, regularly, build up the muscle, the capacity to remember them more. And then to see the patterns. And once you’ve seen the pattern, you can change it. If you are perpetually dreaming that you’ve lost your passport or you’re sitting in the exam and you’ve done no studying and all of the things that people have as their anxiety dreams, but you don’t listen to them. Then it seems to me, I have known people who’ve had exactly those dreams for their entire lives, unchanged, because there was never any engagement. So one of the clear things that comes out of your book, I think, is the extent to which a lot of the people you talk to are really engaging with their dreams and using them as a source of wisdom and healing and teaching and support in life, as well as in the dreams. Is this because you talked to a lot of Jewish people who work with dreams? Or did you put a call out on social media and got dream workers? Or did you just happen to work in circles where people work with their dreams all the time?
Jill: I reached out through so many different networks. I talked to students in my dream work classes.
Manda: That’s a good start. They’re in a dream work class, so they’re definitely wanting to work with their dreams.
Jill: I asked on Facebook, who’s had interesting dreams? And some of them were people who work regularly on dreams. And sometimes even if they’re not someone who is doing dream work all the time, they were sharing with me a particular dream that had really struck them. And so they had spent time being with that particular dream because it mattered to them. Can I tell a story about the how the working on dreams over time makes a difference?
Manda: Yes, please do.
Jill: So there are a whole bunch of these in the book. But one of the ones that happened to me that really was disturbing at first and ended up being incredibly empowering, was when my daughter was very young. This actually isn’t in the book, but when my daughter was very young, I began dreaming that she was drowning. And I had these dreams over and over. Because I take these dreams so seriously, I was like, You know, what’s going to happen? Is something terrible going to happen? My dream worker kept saying, “Oh, it’s not your daughter, it’s your soul. It’s just because you feel overwhelmed”. I was like, No,I’m not doing the metaphor thing. This is not how this feels. And it was it was very scary. It went on for a number of years. And then I had a dream and she fell on a puddle and she began to drown. And in the dream, I said to myself, I’ve dreamed this so many times. I must know how to deal with this in real life. And I go under the puddle and I pull her out of the water and we both come out of the water together. And I realise as I’m pulling her out of the water that I am breathing under the water. And I, you know, we go back to the people that we’re with and I say, “look everything is OK. I was watching and I saved her!”. And I woke up and I never had another drowning dream.
Manda: Oh, interesting.
Jill: Like, whatever it was that I was working through about my ability to protect her, know I had gotten to it. But it took years of “what is going on with this dream?”
Manda: And did it change do you think, the relationship in the waking world between you and your daughter? Did something shift?
Jill: Absolutely. It was definitely connected to my learning how to trust her, you know, not to run into the street, not to eat, you know, not to eat the marble. As she was working on that, you know, I was having these dreams. And I think the resolution wasn’t only mine. It was also because she was becoming a person who could regulate herself. And, you know, the dreams reflected that.
Manda: And did you share these dreams with her? Because there’s quite a lot… Well, not a lot, but there are dreams that she has in the book. I’m particularly struck by the one where she had, as an entry point, a dot on a bit of paper. It’s like, yes, the ultimate basic, simple entry point. And it seems to me that in families where multiple generations share their dreams, then they can do work within the dream time together that has what we might call waking world implications. Does that work out for you?
Jill: Yeah. One of the practises that has really inspired me; I spoke with a Native American man who shared that in his family tradition, everybody, including children share dreams at the breakfast table. You Know it was coffee and dreams, that’s what everybody had. And I’ve heard that from other people, you know, within the same or similar cultures. So I always ask my daughter, What did you dream? You know, sometimes she tells me, sometimes she doesn’t remember something, she doesn’t want to tell me. I didn’t share this one because I felt that was too big a load to put on her, you know, to share with her about the drowning dreams. But I do share with her some of my dreams. And she has shared some wonderful ones with me, you know? And you know, there was the one you were mentioning about, you know, with where she goes to the dot on the paper and she is like the 12 dancing princesses, she ends up in an underground world where she has a prince to dance with, you know, and she meets a sea monster and all this. There was another one where Maleficent, you know, the Disney character like the witch, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, is teaching her to fly and she learns how to fly, and then she flies out the window. And it was an amazing kind of coming of age dream, you know? And you know, it was so interesting to me that the character who was teaching her was not such a nice character, but was a very powerful character
Manda: And a powerful woman. Right, also? Yes.How cool.
Jill: Absolutely. I feel that I learn a lot about my family through dreams and I imagine they learn something about me too.
Manda: Yeah and if we’re going to have healed families, then we need to be healing at every level. And another of the chapters is Healing in Dreams. And what I’m very aware of, is that there’s a very mechanistic school of thought about dreams, which says that it is purely our brains processing the waking world and there’s no real need to pay any attention to them. And you kind of mentioned that on the way through, you’ve obviously read those papers too. But then we come to things like healing in dreams, which has always seemed to me prophetic dreams, healing dreams, teaching dreams are the dreams that are not, definitely not, us processing our waking world. So can you share with us some of the stories from the healing that people arose from their dreams?
Jill: Oh, sure, I’d love to. It’s actually one of my favourite chapters. You know, I begin the chapter with a couple of pre-modern dreams, you know, from a couple of generations ago that were recorded. Where a little girl is very sick and she has a terrible fever and she goes to sleep. And her grandmother appears to her, her deceased grandmother appears during the dream and says, “Eat this plum and you’ll feel better”. And she eats the plum, she wakes up and her fever has broken. There’s another dream where an ancestor comes and gives somebody medical advice that heals their child. There was one dreamer who was in a hospital, and they literally see an angel in their dream who reaches into their body and heals the part of the body that is harmed. And they wake up and, you know, they’re better. There was a woman who is depressed and she sits down with a man and an elephant in a tent and they give her ful medammes, which is a bean dish, you know, from the Middle East. And she eats it and she wakes up and she’s not depressed anymore. So, I mean, these are amazing experiences. You can’t really explain them as kind of random firings of the neural nets. I mean, maybe somebody thinks they can, but I, you know,I don’t see it…
Manda: And even if they did, the end result is these people are better. And that’s what matters is the, you know, the real world result. I’m kind of curious as to whether particularly the angel and the hospital one, whether anybody tried to tell the medics and what their response was? you don’t happen to know?
Jill: Unfortunately, I don’t.No!
Manda: My medical colleagues are…particularly studying the homeopathy, so many people, they would say to them, Yes, this was happening and I took this homeopathy and look, it’s gone away. And it’s as if the medical people who are deeply embedded in the medical mindset actually become deaf in those moments. It’s a very strange phenomenon, and I’m kind of guessing that if you said, ‘well, healing happened in the dream’, the same would happen. What I was really intrigued by, particularly the the ones from several generations past, was that it wasn’t that the little girl had to wake up and say, Mommy, I need to eat a plum, go and find me the plum that you know, granny told me to eat. She ate the dream plum and was healed. Which is amazing and lovely and wonderful. And so I’m wondering also if in your dreaming circles and your dreaming groups, do people ever endeavour to incubate healing dreams?
Jill: Absolutely. We do incubation of dreams. I mean, the thing that I want to be careful about is that, of course, you know, not every illness is going to be healed in a dream. And I don’t ever want to give people the impression that if they don’t receive the sort of dream healing that they’ve done something wrong, you know, this is all mysterious and not predictable. But what I do say to people is to take, you know, if you have such a dream, really take it seriously. I mean, sometimes, of course, you don’t have an option. It’s clear, you know, from the dream that is to be taken seriously. But, you know, sometimes I’ve woken up from dreams and thought, Well, this thing I did in the dream was healing. I’m going to try that in real life and see what happens. And that has actually worked for me.
Manda: Yes, the witch hazel dreams. Yes.
Jill: The dream where I’m in the apothecary shop and I keep looking at different things and she’s like, “No, you really need to buy the witch hazel”. And I woke up and I had a skin condition and I thought, Well, nothing else has worked. I’m going to try the witch hazel. And it worked.
Manda: And it worked. Yeah, nothing to lose is a really good point to get to when you start trying these things. And I’m also aware… I remember reading Sandra Ingerman’s book on soul retrieval many, many decades ago, and she had some kind of chronic pain condition that the medics had basically said, You know, we’ve got nothing left. You just have to just keep taking the morphine and basically you’re crippled for life. Sorry. And she had thought, you know, I’m not not lying down with this. This is not going to happen. And she set the conditions for a dream every night for six months, and at the end of six months, she dreamt of being in her downstairs room and somebody stepped out from behind the sofa and healed her back and she woke up and she was better. So I think one of the things that really struck me about your book and in all of the dream work, is giving things time and not expecting the whole modern thing of make a decision, ask for something and it arrives Amazon-like within 30 minutes of your even not knowing that you wanted it in the first place. And that dreams are not necessarily like that. They take they take time. And I’m wondering, do you have any dreams that possibly didn’t make it into the book or that did, where there was dream sequences or something that spanned a long time for people, of an event and then the dream. Or the other way around.
Jill: Oh, absolutely. I’ve certainly had those. And there’s one in the book that really was so moving to me. I mean, it was such a memorable experience my talking to this dreamer. She had had nightmares basically her entire life, I mean for decades, of zombies. You know, scary undead characters that you know, if they touched you, then you became one. These sort of awful dreams that you know, she said in her own words she felt cursed. You know, that she had these dreams over and over again for four decades. And at some point, she began doing dances for universal peace and sort of learning that dance language of love and respect for others. And then years after that, she had a dream in which there’s a little, you know, she had one of these horrible zombie dreams. And then there’s a little girl who’s like a zombie vampire in the dream, and she begins to sing to the little girl and the girl turns into a human girl. And then she kind of loses it and the girl turns back into a vampire, you know, and then she she has to keep losing her faculties. She has to keep sort of trying to connect to this little girl to sing to her, you know, and in the end, she turns into a human girl. And that was the end of the zombie dreams. And you know, it was partly the work that she’d done in her waking life, in the dances of universal peace that she brought that gift, you know, into the dream. But it’s also really mysterious, right? Why, after decades of struggling with these dreams, you know, suddenly the dream healed its pattern. You know, she healed the dream pattern. That was an incredible experience to hear about those many, many dreams and then the healing of them
Manda: And also the context of her life, in her kind of social status in America. And again, doing those dances and how that had changed. And it struck me reading it and again listening to you now. That there’s something about being able to develop Dream Will; the capacity to focus within your dreams; for her to be able to come back. Because a lot of people would have that dream and the little girl… They would sing to little girl who would go from vampire to human, but then they’d lose track. They’d lose focus and the little girl would revert to being vampire. And then the dream would become horrible, and that would be the end of it. But this woman was able to keep coming back and keep coming back. And I think in waking world and dreaming world, the capacity to hold that sense of self clearly and cleanly and hold a clear intent seems really important. And I’m wondering, do you find that also in your particularly, I’m thinking of your dream students? Do you see within them a ramping up of their capacity to hold intent within dreams?
Jill: I think one does. I think one does see that. That as you practise, right, as it becomes important to you what happens in the dream, as you practise you begin to notice more. But you also begin to do more. You begin to expand your ability within the dream. You know, I’m thinking of years ago when I was an adolescent. I used to have scary snake dreams. You know, like a lot of people, I had nightmares, you know? And at one point, when I was about 17, a man named Gabriel came to me in my dream and he gave me a sword. And he said, Now you’re going to kill the snake. And there was a giant snake, you know, terrifying snake that I would have run screaming from, you know, in any other moment. And I took the sword and I killed the snake. And you know, that was not exactly the end, but definitely the cessation of the real terror of those of those dreams. Rarely dreamed about snakes after that. And I think it was partly, you know, my own consciousness working on those dreams. You know, how do we get rid of these things? What do we do about this? You know, something was being worked out. So I think some of it is patience, right? You just have to kind of, you know, the work is happening in you, right? And then there’s also the the drawing your attention to it, will at some point, you know, often draw some healing to that area because, you know, the brain knows that you’re working on that, right? You’re thinking about it. You’re putting your energy into it. And you know, the dream world may not always will, but but often will respond to the energy that you are putting in, which is like a dream incubation process, right? Saying ‘This is the dream that I want’.
Manda: Yes. Yes. Do you want to talk a little bit more because a lot of people are not familiar with dream incubation processes? So how do you teach your students? I realise this is going to be the edited, small, short version that you probably take weeks to train. But what is the edited small version of dream incubation?
Jill: So there’s a lot of traditional Jewish material about this, right? There are bedtime prayers that include May my dreams be peaceful, may I not have bad dreams. There are incubation prayers and dream incubation is just a fancy way of saying asking for a dream. You can say a formal invocation or a prayer or request. You can also just think about what kind of dream you would like to have, you know, sort of put it in your body, and most people do this right before they go to sleep. But you can also do it several times throughout the day before you get to bed. To say, I would like a dream that relates to my healing or I would like a dream that relates to an ancestor that I want to see again. And those requests are often answered. And I always say, don’t assume that because your dream was not exactly on topic, that it’s not an answer to your question. Often it is an answer to your question, but not the way that you had framed it, right, but you have to be flexible with that. You have to allow the dream world to communicate in its own language. So whatever dream I get, if I get one, I assume that it’s an answer to the question. And I, you know, I read it with that in mind.
Jill: And I even find that at moments of real despair, you know, when I have really been in a state of not being able to hope for a dream that would help me, those dreams have particularly come in those moments.
Manda: Yes, yes. Because once you have a relationship with your dreams, I think after a while, you don’t have to ask, you just have to listen. And then and then the guidance is there. Beautiful. Brilliant. Thank you. And then there’s a chapter on Dream Healing our World, and we’re at the start of a new year. And each new year now feels to me more traumatic in a way. Or at least that we’re deeper into what Joanna Macey calls the great transition, where it’s so obviously not ever going to go back to how it was. And I’d like to look at some of the dreams within the dream healing our world, and then I’d like to look at where we think we could take that, because it seems to me one of the really important things in in all of our communities. So have you got any good stories of dreams that were in the book or dreams that didn’t make it to the book of Dream Healing of the World?
Jill: So this was actually one of the core things that made me want to write the book. Was that I wanted to say something about ecological dreams. That people are dreaming the global warming, they’re dreaming climate change. They’re dreaming all of these things and they’re also dreaming healing. They’re dreaming the trauma. Absolutely. And they’re also dreaming potential planetary healing. And those dreams, I think, are so important. I think it’s important not to see those only as our personal dreams, but also as dreams that are coming through us as a way the planet is speaking to us. So I think we have some calling to share those dreams. And some of the ones, this one didn’t actually, in the end, make it into the book was very powerful to me. Was a woman dreaming of logging, you know, she saw trees being logged when the trees are being cut down and wiped out. And she’s, you know, she’s weeping and she can do anything about it. And the loggers leave and she begins to cry and her tears fall on the tree stumps and then they begin to sprout. It still gives me chills, this this amazing dream. You know, another dream someone had where polar bears are coming into a summer camp and you know, they’re there to protest. You know that their environment is being wrecked. And the campers are very afraid. And then they realise the polar bears are very afraid. You know, and it’s a moment of kind of high value meeting, you know? Some dreams like this, the Native American dreamer that I mentioned to you earlier shared a dream about…He saw a split screen where half of it was, you know, people pleasantly having a picnic. And on the other half he saw, you know, flames and people being burned and the landscape being destroyed. Now you can’t get clearer than that.
Manda: Hmm. And that for him became a move towards becoming effectively a shamanic interlocutor for his tribe, for his people. So it was an initiatory dream, as well as a potential future fortelling dream.
Jill: And sometimes dreams are like that. Like another dreamer was inspired to move to Hawaii to work on behalf of the protection of Hawaiian volcanoes and mountains. And that really began with the dream world. So, you know, I think it’s really happening. It’s really it’s an avenue, you know, for planetary healing that we can draw on. And I think it’s really good for us to share these dreams with one another. But first, because it’s a way of acknowledging that we’re all being affected and traumatised and shaped by what’s happening. But it also is a potential source of wisdom about what to do now.
Manda: I’m interested again in that split screen dream, where half of the dream was kind of devastated scorched landscapes and the other half was people having picnics. And having just watched ‘Don’t Look Up’, it really resonated. And I’m wondering about the role of predictive dreams, because that’s not something you go into in great depth in the book. Of whether in your Dreaming world predictions come true, or whether they’re a warning of an event that we have the power to change.
Jill: There is a story that I heard from Yeye Luisah Teis, in which she had a dream that a man was going to be attacked at a bus stop and the dream gave her a phone number. And when she woke up, she literally called the phone number and she said to the gentleman on the other end, who didn’t know who she was and was very suspicious, “Do you go to X bus stop?” And he said, “I do”. And she said, “Please don’t go to work today. Go to work a different way. Please don’t go to the bus stop”. At first, he was like, You know, “lady, I don’t know you from a hole in the wall”. And in the end, he agreed that he would not go to his bus stop. But the story was compelling enough. Sometimes dreams are like that, you know, they predict. I know people who predicted fires in houses, but many dreams don’t do that. I always am careful to say that because I don’t want to give people the impression that every nightmare that I have is going to come true, you know, because that’s not the case. But I do find that dreams are often telling us what is happening now in a way that allows us to be responsive. I have learnt that there’s a certain kind of slimy alligator creature that appears in my dream if I have a bacterial infection.
Manda: Oh, interesting. Ok.
Jill: It’s been very consistent. Like I have the slimy alligator dream and then I know that something is going on in my body. So some dreams are not exactly literal in the way that the one that I just shared with you is, but they’re still telling you something that’s real information. But I would say I’ve not experienced the dreams are so deterministic that once you have the dream, you know, it has to happen that way. Often once you have the dream, you now are in a different position.
Manda: You are given agency. The dream gives you the agency. Yes, yes, yes.
Jill: And that’s true for us as individuals. And I think I hope it’s also true for us as a species.
Manda: Yes, yes. Because otherwise, the Shaman who had the split screen dreams was one of the most terrifying moments of the book of ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder whether, in his tradition, everything pans out’ because in the tradition I was taught, definitely predictive dreams are there to give you the agency to change. There’s no point in frightening people with ‘this is going to happen’. You need to be aware at this moment that you have the power to change the outcome, for sure. I’m terribly impressed that the woman was able to remember the phone number because again, in the tradition that I have, if you can read, you’re probably not dreaming. Until I’ve just realised in the last two or three years, reading in dreams now happens routinely. So I think after a while that doesn’t count. But remembering a phone number is extremely impressive.
Jill: Yeah, I have one other example if it’s OK, which is a gentleman once came to me with a dream telling me that he had had this dream of having a car accident and he’d had it a number of times. It was a very frightening dream. And then the car accident began to unfold for him in the waking world, and he knew what to do because of the dream.
Manda: Yes, yes. I had a very similar experience of I knew it was a predictive dream and and I knew that I was going to die. And I spent a lot of time trying to see the the geographic, because it was very clear: there was iron railings and a ploughed field and an oak tree. And I was overtaking, so I was on the right hand side of the road. And then there traffic coming towards me and the only way to stop a multi-car pileup was to turn off the road and kill myself, driving into the oak tree. And I woke up as I hit the tree. And I spent probably the next two or three years after that, really watching. And then eventually it did happen. Not where I thought, I thought it was in Devon and actually it was in Hereford. And exactly those events happened. And I looked to my right and there’s the railings and the oak tree and time does very strange things at those points. Time did its whole expansile thing, and I realised that I was in the one of our two cars where if I really put my foot down, I could make the gap and get back. And that I wouldn’t have been given the dream if it were not the case that it was possible to do this without killing multiple people. And I’m still here, so I did.
Manda: And if I hadn’t had the dream, I would definitely have pulled off the road because I was in that position of, you know, one of us dies or, you know, 20 of us die. And if it’s just one, it’s going to be me. And I would be dead anyway if I stayed where I was, but I made the gap. And so for me, I always predictive dreams have a very particular quality to them when I’m dreaming them. And they’re always, I take them as watch this dream, work out where the turning point is, so that when it unfolds, you know what to do. And quite a lot of my dreaming students have had similar experiences.
Manda: Death and rebirth in dreams. I was very, very interested in that particular chapter. I’m particularly at the moment, I’m writing about dreaming into death and it seems, we were always taught, that dreaming is a practise for dying. And if we can hold our intent and our attention and our sense of self from the moment we fall asleep to the moment we wake up, there is a chance that when we move into the deepest dreaming, which is death, we’ll be able to hold our sense of self and work out where are we going. And it also seems on reading your chapter, too, that one of the ways where the dead can reach the living is within the dream space. Do you want to say a little bit about that?
Jill: Some of the most powerful experiences that people shared with me were experiences of ancestor dreams and sometimes of death dreams for themselves. But my experience is that world is a very permeable, that curtain is very thin in the dream space. So I, you know, became aware of dreams of people who were dying where they had some vision that made it clearer and easier sort of how to go through this. There were dreams of people’s loved ones who came to them to reassure them, to give them messages. Those dreams were very, very powerful. And then sometimes people would have death dreams, not at moments when they were dying or where somebody they loved were dying, but because they were experiencing radical change. And that sort of came to them in the dream, you know, as a death and rebirth moment. And I think when you’ve experienced that in a dream, you do have some more accommodation to what it means to die, you know? You said, you know, it is a kind of practise for that. The Talmud says that sleep is one sixtieth of death and dreams are one sixtieth of prophecy.
Manda: Right, right. One sixtieth of death. I remember the one sixtieth of prophecy, but that’s.. Yeah. Because it seems to me, along with how do we heal ourselves and the planet, our culture’s complete incapacity to handle the fact that we are going to die. And it might be a useful thing to actually consider this, before the actual event, because you only get one chance. Probably. You know, some people come back, but not very many, and it might be useful to have thought about it ahead of time. And I’m wondering, did the people who dreamt of dying, did it give them a sense of having had a rehearsal so that they could go through the real thing with more equanimity?
Jill: One of the people that I spoke to, whose books I read, is named Mary Jo Heyen, and she does dream work in hospices. You know, that’s what she does. She goes into hospices and she talks to people about their dreams. And one of the things that she says is that people dream, basically like you and I dream, right up until close to when they’re going to die. And when they are actively dying, they begin to have these very extraordinary death dreams. So those dreams are a certain kind of rehearsal where people are actually being initiated into the death passage right before it happens. And then there are these other dreams that are more ‘normal’ (making quote marks with my fingers) but that also give us a sense of what it means to be mortal, right? And that prepare us in a more long term way for death. And I’m particularly thinking, and this is in the book, of the Dreams I had about my father. You know, when he was elderly, and although I didn’t know, I didn’t know this, close to dying, I had this amazing dream in which I came to visit my parents, and both of them were connected to plants that clearly were teaching something about them.
Jill: My mother was holding a little withered but very fragrant orchid. And my father took me out on the deck to show me this immense pear tree that is not there in the waking world, but it was there in the dream. And I looked at the immense blooming pear tree, gorgeous, and I said, you know, that’s beautiful. And he kept beckoning to me. There was something that he wanted me to see that I hadn’t seen. And so I walk closer, and when I looked off the edge of the deck, I saw that the pear tree had dropped its blossoms all over the ground. And that was the image of human mortality, right, that here the tree is beautiful, it’s gorgeous, it’s magical and it’s ephemeral, right? The blossoms are falling. And that image stays with me. You know, if there’s an image in my dreams that taught me about death, you know, that. And you know, I still think about, you know, the importance of that image. The ways that it taught me about appreciating the beauty and also recognising the limitation of life.
Manda: The transience of Life. Yes. Yes. Thank you for sharing that. And I remember those bits in the book. It felt very moving. And and I wonder, your mother is still alive? Have you shared these dreams with her?
Jill: I haven’t,
Manda: But they’re in the book. She’s going to read the book. So now, you have
Jill: I guess that’s true. But I think she would like the image of The Orchid. That was a really beautiful image of her.
Manda: Yeah. Very striking because it’s small and it’s wizened, but it smells gorgeous. And yeah, it’s beautiful. And it then gives you a language, again because one assumes that she will die before you, and it gives you a language to begin to settle into that. Which seems to me just finding the language around death with our parents seems such an important thing.
Manda: We are heading towards the end of our time, and I’m wondering there’s so much in the book and it’s so rich. Is there any last dream that stands out that you would like to share with people as we’re heading down to the close?
Jill: The one that’s coming to me is the dream at the end of the book because I think it really offers a wonderful, a wonderful image of dreaming itself. And to just give a little bit of that dream. So in the dream, I’m in a very high tower and I have to go down to the bottom of the tower, which apparently is a very scary place and kind of scout around for the people who live at the top of the tower. And in the latter part of the dream, I make a very long journey, it takes weeks, sort of down the staircase of this tower to get to this chaotic, scary place at the bottom of the tower. And when I get there, I discover that friends of mine are on an immense volcanic rock slide, waterslide, you know, sledding and having a fabulous time and encouraging me, you know that when I get there, I’m going to love it. And I love this dream. And one of the reasons that I love the dream is is that this is actually what happens when we dream, right? We kind of, you know, go down into this place that’s sort of scary. And part of the dream I actually have to take an elevator that’s really just a circle of rock, and I’m kind of in freefall, you know, it’s very scary. But when I get to the bottom, you know, it’s beautiful. So that’s really kind of what it’s like. Dreaming is a little scary. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t control it. Sometimes scary things happen. But there is an excitement and a magic and an adventure to dreaming that I think is really almost unique in our experience.
Manda: Yes. And you have a spiritual community in the dream that sense of people who want to share their joy with you, which feels really important in the world that we’re coming into. That sense of being able to build communities around joy feels huge.
Jill: And sharing our dreams with people, sort of giving our gift, allowing our vulnerability to let people know us better and be in spiritual enquiry together.
Manda: Yes. As the last sentence of the book: may the presence guide each of us where we need to go. Perfect.
Jill: I just wanted to say thank you for a most wonderful conversation.
Manda: Thank you. It’s been glorious. I so enjoy talking with you, Jill. Thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. We’ll talk to you again sometime, I’m sure.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Rabbi Jill for the depth of her thinking, as ever. For the beauty of her writing. This book is a really wonderful thing to read. I’ve put links in the show notes for North America and basically the rest of the world, and it’s open for pre-orders now. It comes out on February 22nd, but speaking as an author, we always like the pre-orders, so head out there. Click on the link and order it now. It’s definitely worth it
Manda: If you’ve been with us for the past wee while you will know about the Thrutopia masterclass that we have been speaking about, probably since the autumn. I sincerely hope that by the time you get this, you will be able to start booking on that, on the website. You want to go to accidentalgods.life and go to the Thrutopia section. That’s Thrutopia Masterclass. I will put a link in the show notes. At its most concise, The aim of this is to create something that is a hybrid between a writing masterclass and a think tank devoted to looking at the ways that we can create that future that we would be proud to leave to our children.
Manda: I don’t think we have very long to do this, but we need to write the stories that take us forward. We need people to have visions, many visions, of how that future could look. And so we’re planning six months, starting on May 1st, every alternate Sunday evening, UK time from six o’clock till nine o’clock. I think, given the number of people we have that I think could say something useful, we may have quite a lot of interpolated webinars amongst that. But the Sunday evenings, every alternate Sunday, will be half an hour of somebody coming to give us their vision of the future, a technological one or a social one, something that they believe will work. Half an hour of questions, then they can go. We’ll have a bit of a break and then we will run a writing masterclass, which is also a think tank. We’re going to do a lot of writing exercises, but I want us also just to begin to work with the ideas that we are being given so that over the six months, we can begin to form many, many different coherent narratives, which will bring up different parts of what we’ve had.
Manda: So if you know of anybody who is already a writer or who wants to be a writer, then please send them that link. I don’t care if you’re writing bestselling novels or self-published novels or film scripts or blockbusters for Netflix or poetry or songs or blogs or letters to your parish council, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s got something that takes us forward, that gives us the vision that was so obviously lacking at Cop 26 last year. It’s no good all of our world leaders getting together to try and craft a way through this if they don’t have a vision of what we’re heading towards. We have to give them multiple visions in fiction, so that they can begin to build stories in their own minds of how they and their families look in the future. This is the way people work. So I want to create a whole group of people who can bring those stories together. So should be on the website: accidentalgods.life, look for the Thrutopia tab. I will put it in the show notes along with Rabbi Jill’s book. And that’s us done for now. See you next week. Thank you for listening and goodbye.
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