Navratri is a major Hindu celebration of the Shakti, or feminine, aspect of the Divine, celebrated over nine nights. I don’t understand Hindu astrology or calendar systems, but I’m sure it is no coincidence that it occurs close to the autumnal equinox and starts at the dark of the moon. Navratri celebrates Durga, who I see as the Dark Mother. The first three nights celebrate her fierce qualities, and focus on purification. The second three nights focus on her aspect as Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, wealth, and beauty. These are not merely physical qualities, though there’s nothing wrong with wanting more beauty or wealth, because these things relate to the spiritual nature as well. The last three nights concentrate on Saraswati, goddess of wisdom. Ultimately this is a form of abundance and is the goal of all good things.
You might be wondering why I’m talking about a Hindu festival. Isn’t this quarter about Feri? As you’ll find, Feri is very fluid. I think this is an auspicious hinge for my quarters. How could I possibly ignore such a perfect and beautiful festival, one that celebrates the Holy Mother? Let’s look at Navratri from more of a Feri perspective. I hope my Hindu readers will indulge me.
Without delving into the Feri cosmogony or pantheon (I’ll save that for another post) I’ll share with you a little bit about the Star Goddess, the ‘source deity’, as I see Her. Like Durga in many traditions, the Star Goddess is the Holy Mother, the source of all other divine expressions. Like the Hindu tradition, this doesn’t negate the personal integrity of other gods, but rather acknowledges the common Source of all things. She is the Beginning, the Ground of Being in whom we live, move, and have our being; from her all things emerge, and unto her all things return – as the prayer goes.*
She is black – like the night, like darkness, like our fears, the ultimate Black Heart of Innocence, the totality of colors and all things. Black is not a frightening nor evil color. It’s intensity and wholeness. Pure, unsullied, virgin. Many people equate these things with white, but I prefer black – because it’s all those ‘good’ things, without forgetting the ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ things that are part of us or our world as well.
If one wanted to look at the goddess in Navratri from a more Wiccan point of view, we can see aspects of the triple goddess. Durga, or Kali, can be seen as the crone figure, associating death with old age and darkness (sometimes known as Ana in the Feri tradition). Laskhmi might be the maiden figure, associated with youth and beauty and the more ‘frivolous’ things (possibly connected to Nimue in Feri). Saraswati in her mature, fullness of authority, might be linked to the mother figure (or Mari in Feri). I’m not a big fan of linking goddesses to phases of life or to fertility as these don’t necessarily reflect the universality of experience. I’m not saying they can’t, but it doesn’t speak deeply to me. All of these concepts, and thus goddesses, are ageless and independent of anything ‘fertile.’ And yet, they have much to teach us.
During Navratri all pujas are performed by women, since this festival is the pinnacle of Shakti worship. While the Star Goddess is termed Goddess and refered to as She and Her, the mystic in us knows that She is neither male nor female – she both, and then some! Shakti is the creative energy of life force. She is the face we put on something so big, so vast, that we can scarcely comprehend it. In our day and age focusing this energy on the female side of things can be a liberating and restorative practice, particularly for those who have felt overwhelmed by the dominant masculinity of the mainstream world. Men and women look to the Holy Mother, perhaps not because She is a she, but because the change in language can snap us out of old ways of thinking and get us to see the Divine in a fresh way. Our hearts might be slightly more open. I know it was for me.
So how am I observing this festival now that I’m not practicing as a Hindu? I wake up and wash and meditate. I say good morning to Ganesh (he did NOT want to be put away). I light a candle honoring Durga. I say the Holy Mother prayer and I ask Kali to purify me, to slay the fears that limit me. I’ll do the same in the evening. In two days time I’ll switch to thinking about Lakshmi, praying for good things and offering her my gratitude for all I have been given. Prayer and offerings. Simple but joyful.
*There’s more to the prayer. This first part might be familiar to many people, from many traditions. I learned it from T. Thorn Coyle.