Have you ever wanted to love someone or something, or maybe even just hoped for love in general, but been too scared to allow it to happen?
I have. Fear is powerful, and sometimes can block us from achieving something we want, or even need. Not all fear is harmful though; fear of burning yourself on a hot stove is a pretty good motivator to, you know, not touch a hot stove. And instinctual fear, like the kind that would flow through your system right now if someone were to flex and bust their way into your house with a machete and some murder rage is pretty justified. I called it instinctual above for a reason; such primal, deep seated fear is something that evolved to keep us safe (specifically in this instance, from angry machete-dudes).
But there’s obviously a limit. Some of us, myself included, can walk around with so much fear coursing through our veins that we don’t even realize we’re scared anymore.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a repeat of a past post; I’m going to talk about something specific to me today. I’m going to talk about Kali Ma.
I’ve mentioned before that I started worshipping a particular Goddess aspect recently, and I didn’t mention which one. This was deliberate, I’m afraid; deliberate for that very reason actually – I WAS afraid.
Quick, what comes to mind when you hear or read the name Kali? Is it those awful human sacrificing evil buggers from Temple of Doom? Or are you one of those types that view Her as some sort of demon?
Maybe you know a little more, and go “oh, she’s the Hindu goddess of Destruction, right? Or death?”
…even in India, where Her worship is believed to have originated (more on that later) she is often, especially in rural areas, viewed with fear; an ancient, angry thing that demands sacrifice, sometimes even human sacrifice. Those with an interest in history may point to the Thugees as evidence of this. Her traditional images certainly seem to confirm this image – often shown on a battlefield, trampling a man, holding a severed head… I don’t blame people who have no knowledge of Her history or symbolism for thinking or feeling this way. I did, once upon a time.
I worship Her. I am even beginning to love Her, finally. And as someone who prays to Her, and who has devoted a considerable amount of time to researching Her, I have decided to write this today in honor of Her, and to help shed some of my old fears that still linger.
I first read about Kali years and years ago – I don’t remember when exactly. I saw a picture of Her in a book, somewhere, where She was listed as a Hindu Goddess of Destruction. She looked terrifying. I read no more about Her than that – I remember thinking “ugh, why would someone worship THAT?” And then promptly forgot about Her. There were far gentler, kinder-seeming goddesses out there to learn about.
Those who have read my other posts will remember that one of my beliefs of the Divine Feminine now is that all Goddesses, from all religions throughout time, are aspects of one entity – the Great Goddess. Perceived by us as different beings due to our own needs and desires, they are at heart (to me) just different parts of Her personality and abilities. This is what I believe now. As a young teen, on my own research-wise, however, my beliefs were not so developed. Why anyone would ever desire to pray to something whose sole purpose seemed to be to mess sh*t up was attributed, in my ignorance, to their being some pretty messed-up, evil people out there.
I wish I had found Her sooner, now, in hindsight, but I am grateful for the path that led me to Her as an adult, now that my capacity for understanding has become greater.
Let me put some old fears or beliefs to rest here (if you chose to keep reading); Kali Ma (or simply Ma, as I and other worshippers often refer to Her as) is not a demon, or a demon queen, or a evil, human-sacrifice-demanding superstitious being. She is none of those things. So why does she look so fearsome?
Well, the answer is simple, if you read her first “official” (I.e. In Hindu texts) story in the Devi-Mahatmya. She doesn’t look fearsome because She is evil. She looks fearsome because She fights it.
See my beliefs mentioned above, about all the different goddesses being one Goddess at heart? That’s far from new, and in particular, in Ancient India, this belief was quite prevalent. There the term for it is Shaktism – a belief that all the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are actually just the different forms of the Great Devi; the Universal Mother. In the above-mentioned story, the Devi-Mahatmya, a great demon king began to terrorize all humanity, and all the gods. The gods all fought against him, and his demon horde, but he could not be defeated.
So the gods gathered together, and using all their power, summoned forth a being who could; the Great Devi. She, first in the form of Durga, than later as Kali and others, destroyed the demon king and his horde, saving humanity and all the gods.
…from this point on, different texts tell different versions of Her attributes and symbolism (though all, it should be noted, were believed to benefit mankind), however the point remains the same – She appeared in the ferocious form of Kali Ma for the clear purpose of saving all creation. It is interesting here to note, as others have before me, that despite the intense patriarchy Brahmanism would later bring to the Hindu beliefs/way of life, one key point has never wavered. The key point that the gods, when they were most desperate, most endangered, did NOT use their combined might to summon some sort of greater male God, or a weapon, or anything like that. No, their response, when faced with a crises, was to do something altogether more human:
They called their Mom. And she took care of it.
Moms are a strange thing; I still have almost no relationship with my birth mother, yet when something scary or awful happens? The first thought in my mind is how I wish I could talk to her about it. And yet mothers are not always gentle; nor should they be. An excellent mother, with a stupendous child, will still have to yell at that kid at some point. To the kid, those moments can be sad, or even scary.
…remember what I said about Kali’s image being scary above?
For example, the Ma, in her epic badassitude, is often depicted traditionally with a garland of 50 human heads. This appears horrific, without any understanding of what it represents. For those curious, the heads actually represent the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (which She is credited with creating) as well as representing devotees whose egos She has slain, to free them from eternal suffering.
The Ma’s worship is believed by many historians to predate the Vedas (earliest Hindu texts); Her worship is so old that versions of Her, Her name, and Her own many manifestations appear throughout the ancient world. The Ancient Greeks, old Finland, the Romans, the Rom (gypsies), the Buddhists of pretty much everywhere, even possibly the Celts all had some version of Her, Her name, or the name of one of Her manifestations present in their culture. And I’m not speaking figuratively here; the Greeks (who had trade routes with India) had a word “Kalli”, meaning something beautiful but also terrifying. At Eleusis they even had a festival entitled “Kalligeneia”, which literally means “the coming forth of Kali”. In Finland, Kalma (Kali Ma) was a dark goddess who ate the dead (just as the Hindu Kali is believed to do to absorb them back into Herself). These are just a few examples, but my point is, Her worship has existed so long, that people have had plenty of time to incorporate symbolism into Her images that show both her kind, loving characteristics, and her ferocious ones.
Tara, a bodhisattva/goddess so popular even most people who have never heard of goddess worship know the name, is/was considered one of Kali’s manifestations; the mother at her most compassionate. Most people who pray to Tara today aren’t even aware of this.
As well as creating the Sanskrit alphabet, Kali is credited with creating the following in various beliefs, things, and texts – the four elements, all humanity, the sacred syllable “ohm”, dancing, love in all its forms, all of reality….you get the idea.
Far from being simply a “goddess of destruction”, She is, and was portrayed classically as such, the goddess of ALL aspects of existence; it was She that made the universe, and humanity, She who sustained life and granted innumerable gifts to anyone who prayed, and She who inevitably destroyed at the end of a life cycle to absorb the soul of the dead back into Her own self for rebirth (if necessary, if the soul still had more to learn). As a mother, Kali was referred to as “The Treasure House of Compassion” – the only deity fierce enough to destroy all negative obstacles that block us from our highest self, while also being loving enough to truly want to help us in this way. And comfort us, even, as we deal with this process.
I will not go into the spiritual significance of every seemingly scary thing associated with the Ma’s images (for those who want more info, I highly recommend this book), but as you are probably beginning to guess, none are actually meant to frighten you. So how did this awesome mother become a Demon Queen in Western minds? A combination of confused/frightened Christian missionaries, mostly, coupled with India’s own slide into Brahmanism, a extremist, patriarchal branch of Hinduism that was extremely popular for a time, which relegated most goddesses to weaker, or evil, roles. In present day India, and Bengal, as well as with Goddess-worshippers in the West such as myself who have felt Her call, however, Kali worship once again is rising to prominence. Every year more people seem to be rediscovering the most compassionate Ma around. The works of Ramakrishna, Ramprasad, and others have helped with this resurgence, as well as the dedicated work of historians such as Ajit Mookerjee, and Rachel Fell McDermott.
So how did I get here? How did I get from being afraid of Her to rushing home from work to light a candle for Her and tell Her about my day? To be honest, as hinted at in the starting paragraphs of this post, some of my fear remains. Though it’s kinda hard to be afraid of a being that fills you with an overwhelming sense of being loved, and as a result it is fading. I wish I could say that my study of Her came first and then I chose to pray, but that would be a lie. In all honesty, I don’t know why She re-emerged in my life. I hadn’t thought of Her since all those years ago when I first saw her picture.
Then one day at work, the image popped into my mind. It took me a second to identify it – wait, that’s Kali right? The Goddess of Destruction?
…the two days that followed She never left my mind, and the name was like a constant chant somewhere in the back of my skull; Kali, Kali, Kali…
Since I was just starting my priestess training then, and since I had received messages in similar ways (though never so intense) from my guides, I eventually succumbed and researched Her. So I guess technically the research phase did come before prayer, but only barely, and only through guidance. I was terrified over the idea of praying to Her, sure I would screw something up, enrage Her, and She seemed a bad one to piss off.
But nope. At least not that I know of. All I’ve ever felt is love.
…so there you have it. My post on Kali Ma. Ma, thank you. I love you, and I’m grateful. To everyone else, as always I am not trying to convert anyone. Just figured it was time to share.
Love to you on your path.
NOTE: The featured image in this post does not belong to me. I do not know who it belongs to, and claim no ownership. Finding a free stock photo of the Ma is shockingly difficult.