Shiva has been part of my devotional practice for quite a while: I dedicate Mondays to him specifically. For the last few months I’ve been contemplating him as a witch god. In some Hindu traditions Shiva is considered the god of the margins, of the people on the far edges of society. Part of this is because Shiva is not concerned with social structures or formalities – he would rather be focused on his own practice and bliss.
Depending on one’s Hindu tradition, Shiva can be the Destroyer, but he can also be the absolute foundation of all consciousness. While Vishnu is often considered the Preserver, some traditions don’t place much emphasis on the trinity of Vishnu or Brahma, the Creator, and Shiva assumes the supreme position.
In one story, Shiva, wandering alone in the forest, comes across some monks. They don’t recognize him and instead start to harass the god. They set a tiger on him, but Shiva subdues the tiger and wraps himself in the tiger skin. The monks set enormous snakes on the god, but Shiva tames them and they coil themselves around his neck and arms.*Fearsome animals and threats are of no concern for him.
Here is a great description of Shiva, courtesy of Sally Kempton retelling a one of the Shiva/Parvati myths in her book Awakening Shakti: “Shiva is an outcast, a wild-haired madman, an eccentric who hangs around with ghosts and goblins and who worships corpses. He has no lineage, no family, and everyone knows he drove his first wife to suicide.” Sounds like people I know in Traditional Witchcraft!
Shiva is also known as a passionate lover. In one tale, Parvati, a goddess, longs to be initiated into the mysteries of Tantra. She performs all sorts of austerities to prove her worthiness. Shiva continues to ignore her. Over time, Parvati comes to fall in love with Shiva, with his beauty and his all consuming focus on his spiritual path. Finally, half dressed, much like Shiva, she stands on one leg in the middle of a cold river – for Ages. Shiva awakes in a state of lust. He decides to test the goddess. Dressing as a boy, he taunts her, but she stands steadfast. Shiva is so impressed with her resolve and devotion that he insists on marrying her. They being to make love with such intensity and passion, and for such a long time, that the other gods fear the power of their union.
Again, I see similarities to Traditional Craft – devotion to a teacher, years of practice and study, disregard for other people’s concerns for propriety, embrace of power, and passion, in the forms of sexual intensity and desire for enlightenment.
Another aspect of Shiva, depicted in the icon above (which is the picture I have on my altar), shows Kali astride a peaceful Shiva. She is all Action, he is all Being. He is not perturbed at her standing on him, nor is he disturbed by the hordes fighting in the background. The snakes, the dripping blood, nothing wakes him from his bliss.
For all the reasons explained above, Shiva is my Witch God. It’s not very traditional, I know. But he’s also a mystery I am trying to embrace in my life in the world. Yes, there are lots of ways I can embody his witchiness. I embrace the ways in which I stand on the margins of acceptability. I can concern myself less with how I look (I don’t shower on Mondays). I can devote myself with greater fervor to meditation, my practice, and the lessons imparted to me by my teachers.
But here is where I sometimes despair. Shiva is so blissed out, so focused on his own work, that almost nothing can distract him. Chaos rages around him and yet he continues to focus on his own practice, his own contentment. As a parent, bringing this into my life feels like a Sisyphian task. Just as I settle into meditation, a child will knock on the door. Just as I settle into some peaceful state of sitting, my brain starts going over the grocery list. I exit my altar room and chaos rages around me. How can I stay in my bliss, how can I remain unmoved, when my son is yelling at me and knocking over his sister? There is a reason people run off to the woods and devote themselves to a solitary life in pursuit of eternal bliss! Sometimes Shiva’s spiritual focus leads to the fabric of the universe starting to fall apart and he must be distracted, reminded of his duties. While not on quite the same level, I sometimes fear that my devotion will cause the fabric of my household to unravel.
I have chosen to attempt the mystic’s feat of enlightenment while also being a householder. The witchy aspects of Shiva are easier to embody in my lived existence than are the aspects focused consciousness and bliss. Still: I press on. By choosing to be a householder/monk, my path be twice as long and steep, but I aim to embody Parvati’s devotion, passion, and strength.
*I am not linking to texts to back up my claims and here’s why: I read a lot about Hinduism, but not straight from the source. I cannot tell you which Veda or Tantra or Upanishad, etc any of these traditions come from. All I know is that I have read them often in secondary sources. Please google the various myths of Shiva for yourself! There are many, many versions of each one. The next step in my Hindu evolution is to find quality translations of appropriate original texts for my path.