(Summary of a talk given to the Spiritus Society in 2009)
by Zohara M. Hieronimus
In the ancient teachings of Judaism, there are complete records of the phenomenology of coming to union with the Creator, as well as teachings on spiritual health and healing. What one discovers in them is that union with God, and health and healing, are aspects of one path, the path of peace.
The Seven Prophetesses of Israel, Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chanah, Avigail, Chuldah and Esther are wonderful guides, who give us keys to our own and the world’s refinement. Their lives, occupying history between 1800 BCE and 350 BCE, describe a seven stage descent of the Divine Immanence of the Creator. This spiritual luminary is lovingly referred to in Hebraic writings as the Shechinah, the Bride, the Queen of Israel, even the face of the Creator. In this respect, the presence of God (or Shechinah), which underpins all levels of prophecy, are various degrees of luminosity the human is able to receive. From common hunches to more lofty revelations, they all stem from the same root of the limitless light of God, and what is called in Hebrew, the Or En Sof (the limitless light) that illuminates us.
Kabbalah, a Hebrew word meaning ‘the received tradition’, teaches us that our bodies are maps reflecting the laws of Creation. Our heads, limbs and organs are a description of the holy temple that our souls inhabit. Our bodies, Kabbalah shows us, are reflections of an archetypal spiritual template called the Adam Kadmon, or the Primordial man. This perfected human, from whom we all originate genetically and energetically, has, like doors in a house, various locks and keys, switches and outlets. When we are sick, whether emotionally, physically or spiritually, God in His mercy has given us the keys to unlock the purpose and meaning of the disrepair or discomfort, and how to find joy, like the switch that turns on the light in a room, even in the midst of our darkest challenges. We are given power strips made of prayers and songs and meditations to reach greater levels of well-being. This applies equally to the individual and the world. This is the journey seekers will find in the maps of all sacred societies. Our bodies are the last rungs of a ladder, so to speak, in the realms or fields of vibrations. All illness has its root in some spiritual disrepair. God gives us the tools, however, to learn the purpose and meaning of these deficits. Illness is one way our souls take part in being elevated, gaining by the inner lessons learned in the journey to wholeness. Wholeness in Hebrew (shalem) actually comes from the Hebrew word, shalom, the word for peace. As we learn in Kabbalah, all diminishments are for an eventual elevation. Yes, there really are blessings in what we may experience as our losses and difficulties, individually and collectively. They each contain some element for our wholeness, for becoming peace.
I want to share a little story with you about my own journey into the spiritual teachings of many traditions, and especially my dedication to the spiritual path of Judaism as taught in the Chassidic Tradition of which I am a student. Let me say to begin with, that I have been an activist since the age of 14, beginning in 1969 by handing out leaflets on acid rain, for Ralph Nader. Until 2002, I participated in campaigns against food irradiation, genetically modified foods, advocating for organic and biodynamic farming, kindness in animal husbandry, the elimination of animal experimentation and many environmental issues including global warming, as far back as 1980. I spent a decade covering international affairs I dubbed, ‘extreme nation taking’ among other issues, detailing our national and personal loss of sovereignty. I am credited with being a pioneer in America’s movement of holistic health care, founding in 1984 America’s oldest free standing collective of holistic health care providers, the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center. I tell you this because you will see that my many acts of defying or challenging the status quo, of refusing to do what I was told to do by authority figures, cultural norms or even family expectation, has direct relationship to my own spiritual journey and recovery of health after being sick myself during my life.
When I was three years old, I performed my first deliberate and conscious act of rebellion. We had a pool and the rules were clear, don’t go beyond the baby pool ledge. The porch where my parents and their friends sat chatting that afternoon was a bit out of range of our kiddies’ pool conversations and actions. My older sister and her friends were there, eight at the time, my other sister four, and me. I was tired of being the youngest and the smallest. At that age, small or being ‘little’ (a derisive term I used for many years after), seemed to me a punishment. My sisters could swim and jump off the side of the pool. It didn’t seem hard at all to swim. It looked easy. So, when no one was looking I stepped down the little step into the deeper waters. Believe me, I knew from the soul level, that I had made a terrible mistake. But it was too late. I was drowning. I was spinning and spinning and could not right myself to the top of the water. Then, above me in the clouds stood a beautiful robed woman in blue, more majestic and radiant than anyone I had seen on earth. She was the size of a large cloud. She told me to come to the light, not as through a near death tunnel experience, but to come to shimmering light on the surface of the pool. Suddenly, I was in her loving arms, being held and cradled in total peace and there was my little body spinning and spinning and getting dizzier and dizzier. My mother did come and rescue me, but until she got there I was held in the embrace of the spiritual being I later in life learned is called, the Blessed Mother. In 1984 she approached me again at the walkway entrance to the Ruscombe Mansion, the holistic health care center I founded in August of that year, and told me to establish the New Order of the World Mother, which I believe my studies of the prophetesses is part of.
So my three-year-old life drowning experience was the beginning of a lifetime of spiritual journeys, engagements, unusual events and relationships with spiritual beings and paranormal phenomena. From gaining a Native American Indian name at 7, in the fields below our house where an American Indian spirit called Black Crow called me Running Deer Foot, to giving messages to the living from the dead, most of the time for people I knew but also, sometimes for people I had never met. Most of my inner life was a private and secret experience. It was better much of the time not to talk about the things that mattered most, with people who couldn’t understand. I was taught and discovered various forms of distant healing using meditation, spiritual passes and radionic systems. I studied dowsing and homeopathy for our own family care. I practiced numerology and astrology. All of these kinds of spiritual and healing arts have occupied my attention all of my life. As a child I practiced raising the dead on ants, bugs caught in webs, and sometimes hopelessly drowned moths in the pool. Like millions of others over the centuries, I have always had the need to find the spiritual side of life in the material world. I have been drawn to the physical repair and elevation of society, which in Judaism we call the Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. I have spent much of my life energy focused on the elimination of corruption, and my own and the world’s selfishness. But it wasn’t until after being a full time radio broadcaster for a decade from 1992-2001 covering local, national and foreign affairs for three and five hours a day on air, regionally and nationally, that I finally learned, one cannot illuminate the darkness. Rather, one can add to the light.
In 1984 I founded the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center in Baltimore Md. It grew out of my own experiences in recovering my health after surgery for Crohn’s disease, an illness like irritable bowel and other inflammatory digestive diseases. After traveling with my husband all over the east coast to meet healers from numerous traditions around the world, I did recover my health through the use of acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy as the foundation of my wellness. Chiropractic addressed the musculo-skeletal system, Acupuncture the bioelectric, and homeopathy the etheric; to me it was a perfect partnership for wellness. After a quarter of a century delivering services to the public, including these healing arts and others such as nutrition, massage, counseling, various hands on healing energetic systems, Rolfing and more, what was true when we began as it is today, is that all of us involved in holistic healing constantly pay honor to the love that is the healing medium. We acknowledge the natural life force of the human being, animal or mineral kingdom that is designed for healing. While the provider offers certain mediums of healing and techniques for assisting in the healing process, it is the energy of love that is shared between provider and receiver, which at some unseen level, facilitates much of what we call healing. The shared intention and attention, as we know from laboratory findings affects the outcome. We change that which we pay attention to.
Without doing laboratory studies on the soul to show this, we do know that our hearts through our energetic fields are always entwined in those we are near, as well as being in rapport those who are distant. We know that consciousness is non-local, capable of being as my late dowsing teacher, Terry Edward Ross would say, ‘everywhere and every when.’
In 1994 I felt that I was not reaching enough people with this wonderful opportunity of healing in body, mind, and soul which integrative medicine offered and decided to become a professional broadcaster, having been doing radio since first being a guest in 1975. As an activist with a microphone, I naively but genuinely believed one could shine the light on the darkness of our society and people would rise up to change it. What I discovered is that most people are treading water to stay afloat in their lives and do not have the time or energy for kind of activism I envisioned. Secondly, and more importantly, one cannot illuminate the darkness. At the end of 10 years of covering body politics, national, international and local affairs, and paying attention to some of the darkest things humans did to each other in the world, at work, in their homes, I suffered from what is classically called in religious circles, a broken heart. I went around weeping a lot. I was in activist’s terms, burned out, Actually I would say I was ‘cooked’. I had nothing left to say. I even thought that after reading some 8,000 books and interviewing the who’s who of the new paradigm in consciousness, I really felt that that there was nothing left to study and nothing left to learn. Quite literally, I thought this must mean that I was dying. It was the only time since adolescence that I did not know what I should do with my life.
For eighty-eight days every time I closed my eyes or for that matter left them open, I was in what I can best term the mystic sea. It was a rocky, wavy ocean ride inside a little rowboat. It was disconcerting to say the east. Finally on the 88th day, like roulette wheel it stopped. And when it did I knew precisely what I had to do- go back to studying the Kabbalah as I had done on and off since age 16.
During the next six years I ventured into Orthodox Judaism, the Chassidic writings and Kabbalah. During the journey, in 2004 I was in my succah, the harvest festival booth we inhabit during the holiday commemorating the protective cloud of glory that the Israelites experienced during the exodus, and I had a revelation. It was the sweetest, purest, most beautiful physiological experience I have had in life. It was warm and liquid and it brought tears of joy and gratitude, for it was clear it was the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit.
What was shown to me in my mind, in a flash of a moment, is that the seven prophetess of Israel, the seven days of the week, the seven species of Israel, represent seven different stages of our own and the world’s development and that they epitomize seven of the ten sefirot composing what in kabbala is called the Tree of Life. So now we are back to the beginning of this presentation. It took four years but I researched, taught, wrote and edited a book now published by Inner Traditions Intntl. in 2008 called the Kabbalistic Teachings of the Female Prophets, the Seven Holy Women of Ancient Israel. Each prophetess and the part of he Tree of life they stand for, reveals the healing concealed in our own bodies, and how we are to act in the world. Learning that our thought, speech and action are the garments of the soul in the after life, that this is our inheritance, the prophetesses teach us how holy we each are and why peace within anyone of us, is an addition to peace in the world.
It is said in Judaism that if we save one life, it is as if one has saved the entire world. There are many levels of meaning in this statement but the simplest shows us the sacredness of all life. From a kabbalistic perspective, we look at each person as an entire kingdom. Our king (head), our Queen (heart) and our minister’s (hands and feet) are to carry out the divine will of our soul. When we speak, we are counseled to ask ourselves is it true, is it necessary, is it helpful? When we give to others, we are to use both of our hands, our loving kindness (right hand), and our judgment and strength (left hand.) Love in other words, has necessary boundaries. Like the banks of the river, limitations have their place and purpose. So too does illness.
What do we do when we are sick? We pay more attention to our lives, to our diets, to what we do with our time. We often find ourselves praying for help, asking others to help us, saying ‘no’ to things that we can no longer do or shouldn’t do. We discern what is good and what is bad for us. We gain new friends, lose old ones. So this is a good thing, we are forced to choose what will give birth to a healthy new us? We are given an opportunity to re-imagine our lives, to take better care of our castle, our temple, and our body. In addition, besides orienting one’s life around the journey of healing, Kabbalah shows us that the body part or parts needing our attention, are also telling us about parts in our spiritual makeup or emotional natures that need our attention as well.
Using the Tree of Life pattern as the map for spiritual repair we find for instance, that should we have a bad right leg, we might need to examine how we go about doing our work in the world. The right leg is sensitized with our will, our endurance, and our ability to find what we do that has the element of eternity in it. Do we use our will for good, do we balance it with the opposite leg, hod, or humility? Do we do what we do, with humility?
The seven prophetesses present us with clear lessons, showing us that our own bodies portray a map of our spiritual anatomy as well as our material composition.
Beginning with Sarah, associated with Chesed, loving kindness and the right arm and hand, we learn that the seed of life is love. Everything we do, whether it is a project, an idea or a relationship, we should begin with love. This is the root of all creation. Then after we have created something with love, we need to discern what to keep, what to discard. We decide what is helpful and what is not for its manifestation. We use discipline, judgment, and courage to change. These are qualities possessed by the Prophetess Miriam, who was not only a midwife but also midwives the people of B’nai Yisroel to a new level of awareness. After we conceive something, we give birth to it.
Next, like the Prophetess Devorah, the judge and military leader did, we elevate everything. Tiferet the sefirot the third prophetess is associated with represents moral order, beauty and truth. Like beauty and truth, opposites are combined into a balanced whole. Tiferet, our torso, is where our heart is housed and where our two arms and two legs conjoin, or where the right and left pillars intermix. This shows us that the place of our heart is a place of balance, of harmony, the root of peace.
Chana, the next prophetess in the descent of the Divine Immanence of the Creator, wanted a child, which she eventually conceives at the age of 130. Her son Samuel was a prophet and leader on the world stage. Chanah shows us how to pray, how to live within a spiritual tradition encompassing faith and steadfast practice of prayer. Her life teaches us that to pray properly, effectively, we must focus on one thing at a time. A prayer is a vessel, a container for light to emanate to, to fill. Thus when we take that which we have created (Sarah/Chesed) with love, determined what to keep or discard (Miriam/Gevurah), and made it beautiful (Deborah/Tiferet), we need to take our efforts to town so to speak, and to find what in it is attached to the spiritual, the good and eternal (Chana/Netzach). But how are we to act in the world with our idea’s, plans, and actions? The prophetess Abigail shows us that it is with humility.
Abigail risked her life by intervening to stop king David from killing her husband and household. She shows us that real peace comes from humility, from giving up what we have, even sometimes our own lives. Peace does not come from men sitting down and carving up assets and territories as if it were only material property. Peace is a state of inward respect for the other and is predicated on humility among all the participants. This inward peace, rooted in beauty and truth (Tiferet) is expressed fully in Hod, our ability to give thanks for the opportunity of all healings.
Chuldah, the next prophetess helped the king of Israel, Josiah, return to Judaism. He brought the people back to Torah, (the Word of God) and it is said the destruction of the Temple was postponed in his merit until after his death. Chuldah shows us that there is a world to come (Olam Habah) and that everything we do while living, is accounted for in this world to come. It in turn shapes our destiny in the next round of incarnation and so on. The last stage of this archetypal journey, leading ultimately to peace and prophecy, the ability to communicate with the divine One, is revealed through the personage of Queen Esther.
Queen Esther shows us that our kingdom, our sovereignty, is made holy by using everything we have; our spiritual gifts, our material possessions, and our talents. They are all on loan from God to each one of us, for the benefit of the world. We are not born for ourselves alone but for the world. In fact, this is one of the reasons it is said that prophecy is only given to a person or group of people if the community itself is worthy of receiving direct communion with the Creator. It shows us in another way that we are all one. Just as one person’s suffering affects us all, so too does one person’s finding inner peace and joy, contribute to us all.
Stages of Individual and Global Development
A brief overview of this developmental progression begins with Sarah as a representative of creation. Miriam brings deliverance. Devorah shows us right moral action. Chanah demonstrates right spiritual decorum. Avigail demonstrates true humility and commitment to a royal bloodline. Chuldah points to our inheritance of the eternal words of Torah and the World to Come. Esther reveals the promise of redemption and ultimately resurrection and what it means to be a holy human in partnership with the Creator. When all are combined, we inherit God’s guide for becoming holy humans, able to receive the blessings of peace and healing individually and collectively.
This is what I discovered in the process of studying the prophetess’s lives. I also discovered that their presence in the community was as much a part of their teaching, as their prophecies. They show us, that all of us are sacred reflections of the Creator’s love for us. We are each on the path of self-refinement in our search for meaning, purpose, and peace. I also came to know that we must become that which we seek. I had spent most of my life seeking social justice, environmental stewardship, holistic health care, but I did not feel at peace. Why I had to ask myself, did I not have this sense of satisfaction of the importance of the work I had done for over 30 years? I learned that all of these effrots, were works into the world that others benefited by, but I had not transformed my inner life to reflect the teachings I had been privy to. I went in search of prophecy and healing and found peace.
When I began my studies of Kabbalah, I joke that the deeper I went into the Steachings the more clothes I put on. I also spent much of my time in silence. It was only away from the community, from the noise of our culture and conversation, that I was able to address the greatest challenge I had, which was not the darkness in the world out there, but the part of me that was in the dark. The love of God changed my life, just as illness had in my youth. They are two parts of the same story, just as almost drowning at three and being in the mystic sea at 48 are related water events. I lived both times, and both times, God rescued me. This is the teaching of the prophetesses. We are spiritual beings with spiritual organs that like our physical organs require nurturing and care. They benefit by the good we do in the world. Not only do selfless acts make us feel good, which is not why we do them, though it may be a positive reinforcement mechanism, we do good in the world because we are designed to make that choice. So you see, we are co-creators of our own lives and the world. To achieve health or to experience one’s illness in a positive fashion, requires humility and a joy for life that tells us there is a work in progress. We are as one of my teachers Samuel Avital likes to say, human becomings.
Eleven Degrees of Prophecy
According to Moses Maimonides’s writings on the subject, there are eleven distinct levels of the prophetic experience. Following are brief summaries of these identifiable and distinct processes in the Judaic tradition by which the prophetic experience occurs. (The following text is excerpted from my book, the Kabbalistic Teachings of the Female Prophets, the Seven Holy Women of Ancient Israel. Inner Traditions, 2008.)
1st Degree. At this level of experience, an individual is moved to great, righteous, and important action by the spirit of God and is referred to as being moved by the spirit of the Lord.
2nd Degree. Another force descends on the person or community and makes him or her speak about the nation (government) or divine matters while awake. It is said that in this way King David composed Psalms and King Solomon composed Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. In addition, Daniel and Job composed their writings in a state of the second degree of prophecy. In cases of this prophecy, an individual or the community as a whole “speaks through the Holy Spirit.”
3rd Degree. At this level the prophetic experience occurs through seeing images: Parables in a dream are made clear in the dream itself. The saying “The word of the Lord came to me” identifies it.
4th Degree. Here the person hears a parable in a dream without seeing the speaker.
5th Degree. In this case the prophet is addressed by a man in a dream, much like Ezekiel was: “And a man said unto me.” In other words, an individual is aware of who it is that is imparting information, and this information is not in parables.
6th Degree. At this level, the prophetic experience involves angels appearing to an individual in a wakened state. It is often stated in Torah as: “an angel of God said to me . . .”
7th Degree. The prophet at this level has a dream in which the messenger is identified “as the Lord,” as is attested by Isaiah’s record.
8th Degree. Here the development of the prophet’s clairvoyance and clairaudience increases. The prophet’s revelation comes to him in a “vision of prophecy” in parable form, as Abraham saw “in a vision during the day.” Here the prophet is not asleep, but is fully conscious and is shown a vision of parables.
9th Degree. Here the person’s clairaudience and clairvoyance are equal—he hears speech in a waking vision.
10th Degree. Joshua at Jericho demonstrated this degree in seeing a man who addressed him in his prophetic vision. At this level, a prophet is awake and has a vision and is aware of being addressed by a human being.
11th Degree. The prophet sees an angel in a dream, as the patriarchs experienced at various times.
In closing, it is said that we are in the age of Yesod, characterized by the birth bangs of Moshiach, that we are the midwives to a new age. It is also prophecy, that we are coming into the age where prophecy itself will be restored primarily through women and children. Each of our own efforts towards self-refinement, ushers in such a time of community illumination and unity in peace.