O Kali Ma, slay the fears that limit my spirit!
O Kali Ma, dance upon the grave of my ambivalence!
This is a prayer that I pray nearly every morning. Yes, I pray to Kali daily. She is a fearsome deity: fierce in stance and weaponry, staring directly at the viewer with crazy eyes, tongue extended, bold, wearing heads, skulls and fetuses. Kali, the destroyer – of time, of illusion! Kali, loving and fierce mother!
There are many places online where you can get the full story of Kali. She sprung fully formed from Durga‘s head in order to destroy some demons. In Hinduism all the gods have consorts and Kali is Shiva’s consort (so is Parvati and Durga – all manifestations of Shakti). At first glance this may sound too much like gender essentialism – where what is male (including traits we identify as masculine) is paired with what is female (and traits considered feminine), usually in such a way that privileges the male. This can be the case in Hinduism, as chauvinism can be found everywhere, but that isn’t the main, or even most predominate, understanding of the Shiva/Shakti pairing. Both are equal expressions of the same whole, necessary for the unity and unfolding of the universe.
I’m still getting a grip on the beautiful and complex theology of Hinduism, but in practice, a person can focus on a particular god or goddess, a handful of them, the whole pantheon, or none – whatever makes sense for the individual. I find that I love the boldness of Kali. I love that she is both creator and destroyer. She stands atop Shiva – but he looks as though this brings him bliss. She is not conquering him in a hateful way; instead she is standing supported upon him. Her fierce elimination of all distraction is a trait that I find necessary in my world of constant input and my first world life of abundance. I love that Kali is crazy – she doesn’t a give a fuck, and I could use more of that boldness in my life.
Do whatever it takes! Kali yells from the battlefield. Do not be distracted by illusion! She says from the pile of cremation ashes. Don’t get caught up in what doesn’t matter! She insists as she stands before me bloody, naked, and disheveled. I am the darkness of the void, I am the protector of the outcast, I am mother to the motherless, she says to those will listen.
For me Kali is the Shakti to my Shiva. I revere Durga as well. Durga is the meta Shakti, but Kali is my point of entry. Lakshmi and Saraswati also have a place in my pantheon, but I’ll be addressing them individually in later posts. Kali is the face of liberation. She is often reviled as a violent, disgusting, primitive figure among those who prefer tidier gods. Kali reminds us that life is messy: bloody, dirty and violent. Is this too harsh? My individual life doesn’t seem all that violent and awful – but scratch below the veneer of ease and we can see that every mouthful of meat we eat cost a creature its life. Open a newspaper and read stories of suffering (or just listen to the stories of women and men – abuse, rape, abortion – you might be shocked at how many people you know have these stories to tell). Even the beauty of birth and new life is twinned with blood, pain, intense exertion and the risk of death. Nothing has brought me closer to an understanding of the complexity of the Divine in female form than being pregnant and birthing my children. Even for those that don’t choose to have children or who cannot, the monthly act of bleeding – the possibility of life in blood and bodily matter, its cyclical path of life and death – is a reminder of Kali.
This bloody mystery makes her a beautiful mother figure for those who feel outcast or on the fringes of acceptability. She is a favorite goddess of those on the left hand path; in Hinduism that’s the Tantric path. Feel like a freak? Stand on the margins of society? Are you angry? Is your life so peaceful that you forget about suffering or chaos? Then Kali might be a good deity to get to know.
I have been warned that she might not be a safe goddess. Am I sure I want to befriend her? Those hesitations, while wise, feel superstitious to me. So far my experience with her has been quiet. I admit that I am no great mystic. My mysticism seems to be gifted to my intellect and my understanding of things theologically. Of course, as the mother to small children I don’t have much opportunity for trance or even for regular meditation. I’ve had no Great Awesome Experience with her. Yet. As I posted earlier, Kali seems to care less how she is venerated, just so long as she is. Jai Kali!
Nina Hagen sings to Kali: