Kali. The ancient name of India’s most powerful goddess evokes images of death and the bloody dismemberment of demons.
The story of Kali is a parable of supressing the restless mind, that enemy that keeps us from enlightenment and joy. She is called forth by the gods to do battle against a peculiar kind of demon, one which resides within many of us, called Raktabija, (lit. “seed of blood”) Everytime the gods slay him, the blood drops fall on the battle field and up springs another wretched demon.
Siva, deep in meditation, cannot be disturbed, as doing so can cause calamity for the one disturbing him. the gods plead with Parvati, his wife, and she becomes Kali, the fierce aspect. Reddened eyes, fangs, a lolling tongue representing the shakti energy, black skin, wild unbound hair, naked, riding a lion, she attacks Raktabija by spreading her tongue over the battlefield, drinking all of the blood as the clones are slain.
Raktabija whines and pleads that she doesn’t fight fairly, similar to how our own mind whines about how life is unfair, with its inevitable rush towards the shaman’s death of enlightenment. She kills him and drinks the last of his blood, and then, drunk on the demon’s blood, begins a rampage across the cosmos. Siva is awoken by the chaos of the scene and the alarmed demigods urge him to stop her. He hides amongst the carnage. As she crushes the bodies and tears them apart, she steps on him and annihilates his form, which causes her to immediately transform into an auspicious aspect, as she realizes what she has done to her beloved husband. She brings him back to life, effectively rebooting the universe.
An attempt at cosmology, from John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-98), ‘Interesting Historical Events, Relative to the Provinces of Bengal, and the Empire of Hindostan, etc.
Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma Adoring Kali India, Himachal Pradesh, Basohli, circa 1740
above: Kali and Siva from The Mutational Alchemy Tarot by m1thr0s and Izi Ningishzidda
Her worship began in Bharat, (India), as the supreme mother, one to take comfort in, a loving figure who embodies everything, everywhere, including the forces of nature like death, time and passion. In the masculine sects devoted to Siva or Vishnu, she is given a high place of honor as the most powerful weapon of the most high, and as the fierce aspect of Parvati, wife of Siva in India’s most popular sect. To the Tantric adept, she represents supreme ultimate reality, bliss, ascension to godhead and is the one to whom we must ultimately surrender to safely and appropriately meet the cascading onslaught of an ever changing world.
Strong, Fierce, Naked Woman
Sarva Buddha Dakini (Dakini of All the Buddhas) or (Tibetan) Naro Kandhoma, Sino-Tibetan culture, early 19th century, copper alloy, hammered high relief, black and red lacquer, red paint, gilt. Accession number 2011.63. Part of the tantric art exhibit Honored Father-Honored Mother, Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, Texas, USA. Photo by Joe Mabel
In the mid 1990′s I worked for a couple of lesbians, one of whom was a pro psychic. I was a visual merchandiser at their metaphysical shop in Seattle. I first encountered a 3d murti of Kali in bronze at the back of the shop, and, besides a picture of baby Krishna in the ritual room, it was the only murti in the shop. Remembering my upbringing at the ISKCON center in Canada, I knew the proper action was to decorate the altar out of respect for her power. I went outside and found some marigolds planted by the local city council. This had the curious effect of upsetting one of the two women, who insisted that I shouldn’t be picking flowers, while the psychic defended me, saying I was only trying to show respect. I simply told them if you didn’t pick marigold heads they would stop blooming so profusely anyways. Kali seemed to know this as well, although her collection of demon heads and transmuted blood dharma may perhaps yield a very different crop.
I remember my teacher Yashoda when I was five years old telling me the fiercesome story of Kali to us girls. The naked and violent woman who killed the demons and saved the world seemed like a difficult bargain, and I didn’t feel too confident in the demigods abilities anymore. When I was much older as an adult, a Buddhist told me only the fierce aspects of deity would be useful in the Kali Yuga – the age of the demon Kali, not the goddess Kali (The demon’s name is pronounced KAY-LEE instead of KAH-LEE). We were all enthralled by the story – Hindu tales are filled with incredibly wrought imagery and distinctive archetypal riches. At the time I was only familiar with one other strong and fierce woman in stories – the demon Putana who killed infants she babysat in Vrindavan, and who tried to kill Krishna. This image had left an indelible impression on my mind, after all, who could wish to harm the adorable and radiant baby Krishna? This was the Lord of Creation we awoke to worship amongst splendor, singing and harmony each sunrise at the Ashram.
Above: The Death of the Demoness Putana, Page from a dispersed Bhagavata Purana (Ancient Stories of Lord Krishna), ca. 1610
India (Rajasthan, Bikaner) The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Krishna defeats the demon’s plans, and sucks the life right out of her poisoned breast. The beautiful woman turns into her hideous demon form, and it was pictured as above in the book. It was really horrible to look at then as it is now. I wondered if this powerful goddess Kali that the great gods had called forth was also ugly – the difference between demon and goddess seemed fuzzy at best. So I asked about this new terror, Kali, “Was she ugly?” Yashoda seemed taken aback and answered, “No! She was very beautiful. She was the most beautiful goddess and the most powerful. She defeated the demon Mahishasura and saved the universe.” This caused me to be quite pensive, because I had to consider the nature of beauty, and why you could both save and endanger the universe in the same story. I had not yet given a proper accounting to the factor of Siva.
Kali is the model of the very best mother, the terror of demons, the warm and wet embrace of life. She conquers all in her mastery of time. She is death, yet the joyful death of eternal life and rebirth in her ecstasy. The poet Ramprasad Sen, considered a Hindu saint, was very devoted to Kali, whose blackness he likened to the color of the sky or ocean, which appears dark from afar, but when you take in your hands, is clear. His entire life was devoted to the worship of Kali, through song, sacrifice and poetry. His poetry is beautiful.
Why is Mother Kali so radiantly black?
Because she is so powerful, that even mentioning her name destroys delusion.
Because she is so beautiful,
Lord Shiva, Conquerer of death, lies blissfully vanquished, beneath the red soled feet.
There are subtle hues of blackness,
But her bright complexion is the mystery that is utterly black, overwhelmingly black, wonderfully black.
When she awakens in the lotus shrine within the heart’s secret cave, her blackness becomes the mystic illumination that causes the twelve petal blossom there to glow more intensely than golden embers.
Her lovely form is the incomparable Kali- black blacker than the King of Death.
Whoever gazes upon this radiant blackness falls eternally in love and feels no attraction to any other, discovering everywhere only her.
This poet sighs deeply, “Where is this brilliant lady, this black light beyond luminosity?
Though I have never seen her, simply hearing her name, the mind becomes absorbed completely in her astonishing reality.
Om Kali! Om Kali! Om Kali!
Achieving the perfection of the body of light is part and parcel of achieving union and perfect harmony with Kali. This is exactly what her yantra is telling us. Kali and Siva comes from a very ancient class of archetype, probably prehistoric.
In recorded history in the Vedas she is called upon to win wars and defeat enemies of the worshipper, not unlike Inanna’s role in ancient Sumer, the Graeco-Roman Cybele, Egypt’s Sekhmet, or Persia’s Anahita. While Inanna, Sekhmet, Cybele, Anahita and Durga both share certain characteristics of the archetypal mother goddess humans have identified – association with lions, might and stunning beauty, the goddess Kali differs slightly, she is both more alien and more personal at the same time.
Kali’s lover characteristics are understated, we don’t see her in the act of creation that we know. She is depicted tearing demons apart, having a heyday with tearing even their already lifeless corpses apart so that the gods begin to panic. This is when she kills her husband, Siva who has thrown himself into her path in an attempt to stop her rampage and stabilize the world.
In this act we are shown an aspect of Kali named Dhumavati in the Mahavidyas doctrine of the 10 aspects of Devi, meaning literally “She who widows herself”. After crushing his chest she brings him back to life, and at this instant becomes one of her ten aspects – Tara, an auspicious creatrix. Kali is defined by care that takes extreme measures, not by her delicacy. Indians have tried to convey her vision, which encompasses all of femininity in one terrible, powerful image.
In another version, Siva hides amongst the piles of demon corpses and shapeshifts into an infant. Upon hearing his cries, Kali stops to breastfeed the child, showing her role as the mother, unable to resist the maternal instinct.
Known as the great mother, Kali is said to nurture universe before birth and after death. The same goes for the tiny microcosm of a human soul. She is the one who takes care of us when we die and before we are born. Of what relevance is she to us in our day to day life then?
The spirit, our spirit, which is unborn, is always in Kali’s direct realm and within her powers to mend and rejuvenate. Experiences which try the heart and bring us towards her, tipping the balance of karma in our favor in return for earthly injustices committed against us.
Kali and Siva predate the Vedas and the presence of Brahma and Vishnu in India, a remnant of an older time period where Tantra was popular under the rulership of the Vratyas – the native India’s women counterpart to the male Hierophants of the Rites of Eleusis. It’s not clear when the marriage of Kali and Siva occurred, or whether the religion was always as it is today – with worship of the yoni and lingam central to the theology. This is certainly a response to the importance of the sexual act in spirituality.
A stone sculpture depicting the yoni and 108 siva lingams. Photo: Pratheep http://pratheep.com/
Kali is intrinsically linked to the 64 current, as she is the supreme goddess from which the 64 dakinis emanate and surround Siva. Temples dedicated to the Tantric worship of Siva and his consort have him at the center, surrounded by the dakinis, sometimes in a courtyard as at Hirapur, pictured below. Dakinis were linked with the sky and flying, and so the temple had no roof.
Chausath Yogini temple known as Mahamaya temple. Photo Credit: Soumendra Barik
One example of matrimonial revisionism occurring in history was the story of Nergal and Ereskigal in Northern and Southern Mesopotamia. Nergal was an Northern war god, identified with pestilence, and as the sun, and especially the noonday sun, a terrible thing in the arid and hot Iraqi plain. Ereskigal was a Sumerian chthonic deity, the ruler of the underworld and a powerful force in her own right, who could bring the dead back to life en masse, (think zombie apocalypse) a trick which she threatened the sky gods with from time to time. Both Ereskigal and Nergal were much too powerful to ignore or diminish, and so a marriage was arranged through storytelling and repetition. The tale remains as one of the great tales of the ancient world. Such marriages help us to identify the character of particular nations.
Similarily, we can identify Kali by her marriage to Siva – whether or not it was a revisionist accounting of prehistoric beliefs. Siva is the destroyer, who can annihilate whole universe. Kali is brought in only for special cases where absolute unbridled ferocity is necessary, in the case of the major demon that the triumvirate cannot stop.
In Saivism, Siva and Sakti are said to be joined like two cotyledons in a seed. When Kali steps on Siva, the masculine force of heaven, and kills him, they are united and the powers of creation and destruction are at their peak. The reason for this is because Kali is the one who waits after death. Siva interrupts and closes the infinite cycle of destruction by entering her realm completely with his death. It only lasts for a moment, but that moment is golden. Kali reveals Siva’s unlimited power in a way like no other image.
English: Downy Jasmine. Photo: Atamari
Kali translates as “The Black One”, while Siva is called Mallikarjuna ” The Lord White as Jasmine”. In Western Hermeticism, Kali with Siva would represent the union of the fifth element’s two parts, Black Akasha and White Akasha. Kali is represented by the Red Hibiscus flower. This is used in offerings to her throughout India and outside in her many foreign temples and shrines. The medicinal properties include lowering blood pressure and they contain a high content of vitamin C.
Red Hibiscus ‘Psyche’ in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) during Spring. Photo: Aravindan Shanmugasundaram
Sri Krsna as Kali
It is not without coincidence that Krsna’s name means “black” as there are two reasons for equating Krsna with Kali. The first is that Krsna is repeatedly named as the supreme god, as Kali is in Shakti belief. Kalya is given as Krsna’s name when he is represented as the popular Jagganath (literally “Lord of the Universe”) form, a small limbless idol with large white eyes and a red painted smile accompanied by his brother Balarama and his sister Subhadra. This form of worship is very old. Originally the idols were comprised of Jagganath and his consort, until the white skinned Balarama was added to appease Saivite sects. In Tantra, Krsna is said to be a Lila expression of the goddess Lalita Tripurasundari, the red goddess, underscoring her importance. (lit. “She Who Plays” – another of the ten devi forms called the Mahavidyas) She is considered as a red flower in all forms.
Jagganath, right, with his elder brother Balarama and sister Subhadra. British Museum. Artist Unknown, India
Kali is famously said to be the goddess who does not give us what we expect. Instead she gives us what we need. This goes for all life, everywhere, which it is her task to sustain indefinately. So what we get is an archetype that trancends earth into outerspace and exists outside the boundaries of time. She cares about us only inasmuch as it balances whole universe. If she did not care about entire universe in respect to individual wants, she would not be known as the Great Mother.
We find that the TwinStar behaves in much the same way, given the limited amount of time with which we have had a chance to observe its effects on viewers. It goes straight for your weakest link, and pushes you through the dharma, sometimes violently – especially if you do not have right thinking or right actions. We have observed that sometimes it does not want a viewer examining it, other times it does. People say remarkable things about it, then seem to completely forget what they have done or why Abrahadabra is important. It happens so frequently – and never to long time participants – that it has become a comedy routine we all sort of laugh about when a newbie jumps on board and begins waxing poetic about the TwinStar. Like the devotees of Kali, they are in for far more than they bargained for, as it sets to work absorbing their dharma.
To those of us who have seen the sparkling effulgence of the TwinStar in action, the power is on par with Siva’s tandav, and it would seem a good match with Kali’s ancient sigil. A few weeks ago m1thr0s decided to revisit Kali’s yantra, as a gift for his young daughter. What he found was an extremely important marriage between the Tetractys and the Kali Yantra, which pushes the Body of Light topic into the spotlight.
Her yantra parallels the doctrine of the five koshas, which is of immense importance to students of the Body of Light, so she is more than a simple adjutant of the most high consciousness, although this is half of god. She is an important teacher pertaining to the map towards star consciousness, which as of yet we don’t know very much about. Below is the image of the TwinStar and the Kali Yantra. Note the five rings which I will talk about in later curriculum from The Abrahadabra Institute – these are the koshas, the layers of the Body of Light.
Warning…the image you are about to view will accelerate your dharma!
Above: Kali Yantra TwinStar by m1thr0s 2013
In the Vedas, most importantly to be understood for this image we are viewing, Kali is named as the black tongue of Agni, the fire god. Agni’s importance cannot be overstated. He is the first god mentioned in the oldest Indian text, the Rig Veda. The Hermeticists refer to Fire as the first element. (At least in the tetragrammal system where fire=spirit). I’m proposing that the TwinStar can be primarily identified with Agni and with the secret alchemical formula for fire in this image, Kali reveals the true nature of the TwinStar.