Archive for the ‘power’ category

Gnostic Kali Ma

June 7, 2009

Searching out the perfect birthday card for my friend Susanna, I decided to send an image of the goddess Kali.  Kali may seem an odd choice for a birthday card but She is a particular favorite of Susanna and with good reason.  My friend is a fierce woman.

You may remember that Kali Ma was a goddess of last resort. 

Once upon a time, long ago and far away the gods had entered into a great battle with the demons.  It was a fierce and bloody war and it was going badly for the gods because the demons had a great champion who could not be killed by any man.  He was a magical, practically immortal being who could shift shape at will.  He seemed to be invincible.  In desperation the gods held a council.  In discussing the situation they realized that though no man could kill the demon, perhaps a woman could. With renewed hope they called upon the goddess Trinity and began bestowing gifts upon her.  Each god gave a little of his own power to enhance an aspect of the goddess.  Emerging as Durga, the goddess came forth with terrible beauty and leapt into battle with the monster.  She fought and fought.  The demon dripped blood from every wound she inflicted but every drop of blood that hit the ground became another demon.  As a last resort Durga summoned from deep deep within herself yet another even more terrible manifestation- Kali.  Kali drank up the blood of her enemy and drained him dry- finally he was vanquished.  But now Kali herself became the monster.  Drunk with insatiable bloodlust she danced upon the fallen corpses of the battlefield.  No one could come near her until her husband Shiva lay down among the dead bodies.  When her foot touched his torso she knew him at once and ceased her destructive danse macabre.

So this is a story about  power:

The power of delusion.  The evil monster of destruction is a shape shifter, an illusionist who reflects back upon his opponents their own shadows- the flaws, fears and taboos; all that they hide from themselves.  No  matter how the heroes strive they cannot defeat their own natures.

The power of community.  Here we find a group of imperious autonomous deities relinquishing a piece of their precious individuality for the good of all.  The creature they create is greater and stronger than any one of them.  Recent sociological research suggests that collective intelligence trumps individual intelligence almost every time.1

The power of the feminine.  The masculine by itself cannot survive.  Until the male gods dredge deep within themselves to rediscover their buried and forgotten feminine they are doomed.  Conversely, when Durga becomes purely and entirely feminine she is impossibly chaotic and uncontained.  Durga’s femininity is elemental – awesome and terrible to behold- fire, earth, air, water in primordial manifestation.

The  power of persistence and alternative thinking.  Whatever energy is at play here, wisdom is always present.  Each seemingly irresolvable situation is met with a novel solution.  Each new idea comes from within rather than without.  The players think, intuit, gno their way through changing circumstances.

The power of the sacred marriage.  The monster, faced with the allied forces of masculine and feminine, is drained of  the power it sucked from its opponents.  The moment her toe grazes the skin of her husband, Kali stops killing. Love, compassion, and wisdom flow from their union and rebalance the world. 

This is only the first layer of information.  What does the story teach about the necessity of power, the wielding of power, the place of power?  Where does power reside?  What does all that blood signify?  What does Trinity represent – why does She have three aspects?  

Gnostic writings are known to be esoteric teachings- lessons which contain ever deeper and sometimes seemingly opposing layers of meaning.   The story of Kali is an ancient teaching story containing myriad interpretations.  We could spend a day,  a week or a lifetime exploring all its nuances; digging ever deeper like Trinity, like Durga.  Such an exploration would lead to insights and revelations for such teaching is a true reflection of real life in which most circumstances are subject to alternative interpretations.  In truth, every situation, any thought, each feeling which arises can be examined at depth to expand  self-knowledge.  It is exactly this kind of mindfulness that is meant by gnosis.

One final word about Kali‑ once manifested she was permanently present; out in the world where she remains to this day as a vital presence worshipped and adored by millions. 

The quality of fierceness holds a necessary place in the pantheon of internal qualities to be cultivated.  Plumbing one’s depths, mining for meaning, requires the fierceness and persistence of a champion.  Sadly, most women come to fierceness as a last resort, in response to extraordinary circumstances.  Often the dire straits in which they find themselves are the direct result of cultural strictures which taught them not to be fierce, powerful and courageous.

My friend, Susanna consciously cultivates fierceness.  She uses that fierceness to defend her integrity.  When I go to her for help, she fiercely defends my integrity, refusing to let me slip away into sloughs of self-pity or despair.  She persists in asking difficult questions to take me down below the surface of what I think I understand.  Susanna models to me the fierce persistence required by me, for me in my continuing relationship with All That Is. 

 Kali Ma can be proud of her  daughter. 

Christine Irving©2009 

1.  Paraphrased from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, Abacus 2005