Kali is a Hindu goddess. With many arms, a lolling tongue, and adorned in severed body parts, she is a dreadful sight, yet beautiful. An aspect of Durga, she is a protector goddess and the consort of Shiva. Once, in a blood lust, her dance of destruction created tremors that would have destroyed the world, and so Shiva lay down among the corpses, absorbing the force. When Kali stepped on him, she realized that she was stepping on her husband, and bit her tongue in shame. In another story, Shiva pacified Kali by appearing as a crying babe. Her concern for the child outweighed her blood lust, and she cared for the babe, demonstrating her motherhood.
Kali represents death and creation as a single, ecstatic force. She frees us from negativity, inertia, and the ego. She acts as a warrior mother, protecting her children from harm.
My Journey to Kali
I am a child of Kali, She who is rage and love, destruction and creation. When I look at Her dark skin and flowing hair and wild eyes, I see the ultimate mother, the ecstasy that rules and guides the female heart. Kali is the trance that electrifies my blood. She protects me, nourishes me, and reflects the hunger in my wild heart. In Her I am safe, in Her I am me—woman, mother, warrior.
I was born, raised, and confirmed a Catholic. While I was very religious in my youth, I grew tired of the hypocrisy surrounding Catholicism. Though we were taught that God has no gender, we all called God “Him,” imagined the image of a great patriarch, a harsh and bearded man who teaches, simultaneously, to stone the adulterer and turn the other cheek. Catholicism is a faith of many overbearing traditions. It erases the feminine. Our only role-model is Mary, a woman who is praised as virgin, tender and mild and meek.
So when I saw the image of the Great Mother, of my Kali Ma, I was fascinated. This was a woman with bare breasts, a garland of skulls, a skirt of severed arms. Her pink tongue lolled from Her dark face, and Her hair was wild and dark as a great void. I can understand how horrifying she would seem to the average Westerner. But I was more intrigued than disturbed.
It took months of reading to understand the basics of Hinduism, but my connection to Kali was intuitive. In Her image, I saw not the cruelty of violence but of the pure ferocity of Mother, of Woman. I felt the energy of the feminine roil within me, the spirit that had been so long denied.
My relationship with Kali has evolved steadily. I now own this statue of her, but I really struggle to pay her the respects she is due.
I want to create a complete and beautiful altar one day and to honor her with incense and hibiscus as I am told she likes. Til then, I shall look upon the image of her in my room when I can.
painting © Penny Slinger