Shiva the Witch God

Shiva the Witch God January 7, 2014

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.

Shiva of Bangalore

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.

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  • Ha! This is an awesome essay, and timely. A Brit-Trad Witch friend of mine was sitting in front of a tapestry bearing that same image of Kali astride Shiva the other day when I chatted with him virtually, so you’re hardly alone in such associations!

    Also, see the same image twice in a short space of time associated with the same thing, and it usually indicates one should do some thinking regarding it, which it looks like I shall be doing (maybe instead of some cleaning….). 🙂

    • I believe I have read some where, in a Hindu story about Shiva, that he is considered the god of witches, but I can’t recall with any certainty. I am sure I’m not the first to see this connection!

      I want to honor Shiva and Kali within their Hindu context, but of course, I come to the tradition with my Western, feminist, witchcraft background: I bring myself into my devotions and see them through this lens.

  • I am a Saiva Hindu and I have a couple of comments from a Hindu perspective,

    Another aspect of Shiva… shows Kali astride a peaceful Shiva. She is all Action, he is all Being.

    This is one way of looking at things but ultimately Kali is the Shakti (power) of Shiva and Shiva and Kali are one. This is personified in the form Ardhanarishvara. Shiva-Kali are all action and all being.

    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.

    Shiva is like the ocean in a storm. On the surface fierce and changing, but in the depths calm and constant.

    • Shiva-Kali, Shakti-Shiva – there are numerous ways to approach and conceptualize these gods/forces. Some traditions have them as two sides of the same Being, some have them as distinct gods. But of course we need both action and the stillness of being in our lives/universe or nothing would get done!

    • José

      Saiva Siddantha or Kashmir Shaivism ? Because there are some interesting differences betwen the two…

  • Henry Buchy

    hmmm, perhaps you might be taking the non distracted and bliss thing a bit too literal. Sometimes the notions of nonduality and oneness cloud things…

    • I don’t think I’m taking anything here too literally. What exactly do you mean? It’s a meditation reflecting my thoughts currently. It’s pretty damn hard to stay present in Bliss (or even get there) while parenting.

      I also don’t think I’ll stay in this spot for ever. I’m sure I’ll have a slightly different perspective down the road, as spiritual matters unfold over time and with dedicated practice.

      • Henry Buchy

        posted my reply in the wrong spot, sorry

  • Henry Buchy

    ” Shiva is not concerned with social structures or formalities – he would rather be focused on his own practice and bliss.”

    “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.”
    I think these are where you might be taking things too literally. I say it not as a criticism, but as a suggestion to look at things a bit differently. as you said, you’ve only seen the second hand accounts of the stories, and how you have related them above, give me pause. I say this as some who is fairly familiar with the many tales and versions from the original sources. when you investigate them yourself you’ll find Shiva was no less a householder and struggled no less than you.

    • Interesting. I know Shiva has offspring and wives, but never have I seen him referred to as a householder. And nothing I’ve read has ever indicated that he is interested in social structures. But….. there is a lot of reading to do. There is no single, unified interpretation of any of the Hindu gods, which makes teasing out meaning from the various paths, numerous scriptures, and my own experience all the more slow-going.

      As for struggle, that I do not doubt. I don’t mean to suggest, in my post above, a ‘woe is me, I struggle so much more than everyone else, and even Shiva cannot understand!’ Not at all. I am expressing my struggle, but it is not the be all and end all of struggles. I certainly signed up for the hardest road possible, as I am wont to do! It is clear that Shiva struggled/s. That I do not doubt.

      • Henry Buchy

        Being a householder doesn’t necessarily imply interest in social structures,with the exception of customs of hospitality, and ,shall I say ‘familial duty’. Consider the story of Daksha’s sacrifice. Daksha did not invite Siva and his own daughter Sati to the rite. Siva was unconcerned. And so in that respect, yes, he held no concern in a social structure. it was Sati who was enraged and desired to go anyway. yet Siva’s argument to change her mind was one based on social structure. In modern terms, it being impolite and disrespectful to crash a ‘party’ which one wasn’t invited to, and so upheld social structure.
        I’d didn’t take you post in the vein of ‘woe is me’. Just that you seemed to stress the importance of ‘bliss’ and ‘enlightenment’ in a somewhat transcendental way, and forgive me if I was off the mark there. But I was thinking in terms of the traditional four ashramas, and simply put, being householder and dharma, artha and kama can be enough :-), and still be work towards moksha.
        And yes, absolutely agree about no single unified interpretation. There are at least 10 traditional sadarsanas, not to mention the bhakti schools, like Saivism, Vaisnavism and Saktism.

        • Really great point about Sati. I didn’t mean to sound so monolithic in saying ‘Shiva IS’ x,y, or z. But my post is a reflection of where *I’m* at with Shiva these days.

          I like that Hinduism places being a householder as part of a whole life, as a duty/life choice that doesn’t negate reaching enlightenment. I’m ambitious and trying to do it all! For better or worse.

  • Crystal Aymer

    Niki Whiting–I am a graduate student studying Hinduism and have translated primary sources to offer.

    Seek out works by Wendy O’Flaherty. A good start is “Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism.” She also has a translation of the Rig Vedas.

    For the Upanisads, look for Patrick Olivelle’s translation.

    Both are noted scholars and explain well the major themes within the introductions to their books. These works can be easily obtained through university libraries and/or inter-library loan.

    I would also highly recommend the PBS mini-Series “The Story of India” as well, if you have not already. Michael Wood and his team do a fantastic job of hitting the major themes of historical India, including its philosophical and religious past and present. It is found online at or through Amazon video or Netflicks.

  • Crystal Aymer

    Btw, I have as of yet seen any reference to Shiva being a god of witches. However, being the ideal ascetic/forest dweller, his connections to shamanism are more prevalent to me than that of a witch, per say. I find the witch aspects in Shakti in her various forms, as she manifests with action those visions that Shiva has come to in his meditative intellectual pursuit. That is a rather simplistic description I admit in regards to how they work together. Like I said, I am a student.

    • It may very well be my own attribution. I see the shamanistic qualities more related to the kind of witchcraft I practice than to most widespread modern expressions of witchcraft.

  • Agni Ashwin

    “Aghora: At the Left-Hand of God”, by Robert Svoboda, provides some insight into the ‘witchy’ aspects of Shaiva.

    • Thank you. I’ve been wary of reading his work, as it seems to have very mixed and strong reactions.

      • Agni Ashwin

        “as it seems to have very mixed and strong reactions”.

        Exactly. 🙂

      • sacredblasphemies

        If you do read it, read it with a pinch of salt (as opposed to just a grain!). Svoboda is writing based on his memories of what his guru said. That’s a sketchy provenance to begin with. Add to it that a lot of what he says is pretty fantastical at times. Is it interesting? Sure. Is it real? I don’t think anyone can say. But it was entertaining.

    • José


  • Adarsh Kumar Pandey

    Hi Niki .. For more clarity on God Shiva,Sati and Parwati…I would
    suggest you to watch TV serial now days coming on LifeOK channel as Devo
    ke Dev Mahadev. It will clarify your most of doubts and also it will
    explain how Shiva,Vishanu and Brahma are one and relation between them.
    Its not possible here for me to explain because it will take time and

  • willow

    I love this post! Since I was a little Witchling I have had a devotion to Lord Shiva as well. I too consider Shiva to be a Witch God. Of course we know there is a connection between East Indian culture and western culture. The language family is called Indo-European after all. Apparently there were many religious connections between Celtic culture and East Indian which are explored in detail in the well researched book: The Lost Zodiac of the Druids by Gregory Clouter.
    I have read as many books as I can get my hands on about Hinduism in general, as well as attended temple rites, received Shatipat and the Gayatri mantra. In addition I do daily/weekly/yearly devotions to some of my favorite Goddesses and Gods. I don’t know much about Hinduism but I have a good background.
    Anyway, I’ll give my two cents about Shiva and the Witch God based solely upon my personal experience and studies which may not coincide with historical texts.
    I feel very much that Shiva and the “Witch God” are connected. But the major problem I see with the very question of their connection is that Shiva is a specific God whereas the “Witch God” is a generic place holder. The concept of a Witch God is based upon the Wiccan conception of the “God and Goddess.” These terms are seen by Wiccans as place holder titles for specific Deities that the particular coven or tradition relate to. One Wiccan-type coven may view the God and Goddess as Deities specific to their tradition or inspiration, another Wiccan coven may view the God and Goddess as non-specific mom & pop Deities who include all other Deities. In Addition, the same coven may switch between the two viewpoints according to their need and the seasonal cycle.
    However, in my personal experience I see a strong connection between Lord Shiva and the Witch God Cernunnos. Both are shown sitting cross-legged surrounded by animals. Both are often depicted with erect phalli. Such iconography suggests that they are both removed from the vicissitudes of life by the posture of mediation but that they are also engaged with protecting life as exemplified by the animals. Their erect phalli show their passionate engagement with the most intimate heart of a household – sex. Which also shows their fertility to procreate and thus be a fountain of life.
    Shiva is a complex Deity, who has accrued subsequent cultural layers and as a consequence He has many aspects. Shiva means auspicious because He is the source of auspiciousness. He is the Immutable, Moon-crested, Mountain Lord of the universe, whose form is water, dancer wearing a skull garland. He transcends all boundaries and thus description.
    The picture of Kali-ma standing atop Lord Shiva I learned represented Shiva as pure consciousness which is inert. Kali-ma represents the Shakti power which animates consciousness and allows for all activity to happen in the dance of birth-death. It is only by Her power that anything is done or realized.
    “Ultimately Shiva is the death of death, that is, eternal life. On the other hand. it is from destruction that life arises. Life exists only by devouring life. Life is the image of the giver of death.
    As the end of all things Shiva is the lord of death; as the origin of all creation he is the fount of life. Hence Shiva is represented as a fearful divinity who destroys, but also as a mysterious, lustful being who wanders through the forests and mountains giving birth to all forms of life, creating new worlds and new beings through the rhythm of his dance, the sound of his drum, the postures of his yoga, the drops of his scatted seed.
    Shiva’s image, arising in the depth of prehistory, appears to be that of the most ancient of all the gods.” (Danielou: The Myths and Gods of India)
    To me this is a perfect description of the “Witches God” in the general Wiccan sense as Lord of death and resurrection. The God of nature who grows with the spring and summer to wither and die in the fall and winter. Only to be resurrected again in the spring.

    • I love your response! But I disagree that the idea of the Witch God is only found in Wicca. Much of Traditional Witchcraft talks about a Witch God or Witch Father, and it’s not necessarily couched in duo-theistic terms.

      I too have noticed many similarities between Shiva and the various horned gods of Europe! This isn’t surprising when we understand how mobile ideas and previous peoples were.

      I like the phrasing of Witch God as more of a generic place holder. I see that too – and I wish I had been able to articulate that! Shiva is specific, but for me, when I connect to the Witch God, or seek out such a figure, Shiva is what returns for me.

      • yewtree

        Also check out Rudra (of whom Shiva seems originally to have been a by-name), who I think has a lot of similarities to Oðin, as lord of the Wild Hunt (which is also linked to Herne, and therefore to Cernunnos).

        • José

          I might be wrong for Hindu mysticism & spirituality are multifaceted, but according to my sources and experience, Rudra Bhairava is simply (…) the “dark” side of Shiva.

          • Scholars suggest that Rudra came before Shiva. I mean, as far as written sources attest. 😉 It is thought that Shiva developed fro Rudra. Take that as you will!

          • José

            That’s true, for Rudra appears before Shiva in the Vedas (in the RigVeda as I recall). At least according my English translation of the Vedas done by a pandit. However over time (summing up a lot) Shiva as a name and as a concept eventually absorbed Rudra, the latter becoming Shiva’s “dark side”,the transformative power – letting our old skin fall and vanish…among other things.
            All that archetypal dynamics have indeed evoluted in a very enriching way at all levels: meditational, ritualistic and devotional…
            I hope that my “Portuguese-shaped English” will be enough understandable…

  • Heidrun Searles

    I raised 4children, so I know how hectic it can get. I did find time to meditate though. I looked, listened and waited for those brief seconds when everyone and thing were quiet. Then I just took a deep breath and said thanks. You will be surprised at just how many moments a day are silent. All you have to do is actively listen.

    • Yes! Those spaces are available. And I’m lucky to have a partner that supports my practice – as well as lucky to have a room that I can make my own. I have a small, but regular practice, and it makes all the difference!

  • yewtree

    I have loved Shiva ever since reading “Island” by Aldous Huxley. I carry a picture of him in my wallet and have a statue of Shiva Nataraja. Sometimes Hindus notice my picture of Shiva, and generally seem to approve of my devotion to him.

    • I really want to find a beautiful murti of Shiva Nataraj that I can afford – those two together (beautiful and affordable) seem a tough combo to come by!

      I have found that many Hindus are generous when it comes to their religion. There’s always some orthodox Vedic person who wants to tell me I’m wrong, but mostly? I find Hindus, and the Hindu gods, to be incredibly welcoming and inviting.

  • José

    Hi Niki,

    “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.”
    It’s a matter of organisation…start by dosing your agenda, not every task is priority, let some for the next day. And use your mobile’s Planner function with sound reminder, so that you can focus on the here & now ! As for chaos the important thing is that there is no chaos in your altar space…do not allow that external disorder acts upon your sense of internal order.

    • I appreciate that. I am a long time listmaker and that helps keep some order for me. I’m getting more accustomed to the chaos and accept that it is a necessary part of my ‘now.’ Eventually my kids will be grown and the house will be quiet.

  • Gourish Bakhshi

    Contemplation is a good beginning… Introspect, contemplate, initiate and once you find what you seek… Let go of it…
    May you find the Shiva of your passion