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Kali Ma
By Which Prince
(Written for Ecclasia)


The Goddess in her aspect as the Kali Ma is the most recognizable, and the most misunderstood of the Hindu Deities. She is also known as Goddess Kali, The Dark Goddess, Dark Mother, The Black Goddess, Kali the Destroyer, Cosmic Mother, Lady Life, Maha Kali, and Mother Karma. Her name means Black and is also derived from the Hindu word for time. She exhibits traits of both gentleness and love, revenge and terrible death. She is the female principle of life and death.

Her bad reputation in the West probably sprang from her association with the cult of the Thuggees, forcefully suppressed by the British during the days of colonization and government suppression by the empire. The Thuggees — the word gave rise to our word thug — were actually Muslims who took the goddess Kali as their guardian angel deity. They specialized in ensnaring and then robbing and murdering travelers. Originally, they were only supposed to attack male travelers and in their latter days attributed their downfall to the fact that they had started to kill women travelers too. But Kali predates the Thuggees, quite possibly by several thousands of years. No literature or historian has been able to target her origin.

Kali is depicted in uncanny and in ambiguous images. Artists renderings of Kali can be very upsetting unless one understands the spiritual meaning behind the symbolism. Her very appearance is meant to terrify the entities, demons and devils of the sinister force and the dweller on the threshold. Modern pictures of her depict her standing on the dead body of her consort Shiva, with four arms, a necklace of fifty human skulls, a girdle of human arms, holding an axe, a trident, a severed human head, and a bowl of blood. Around her rages a battle — she herself can be the color of a thundercloud. Her protruding tongue drips with the fresh blood of her enemies. She is also pictured with black skin and a hideous face smeared with blood, bare breast, and four arms. Her necklace of skulls is draped with snakes. But these images are but a few of many. Violence against any women is forbidden by her. Blood sacrifices can be a daily part of her rituals, but so are garlands of marigolds, strings of tinkling bells, incense smoke, and gifts of sweetmeats and spices.

Kali is not always thought of as dark, but also as a loving mother, and is revered by millions of Hindus especially in that aspect. The triple Goddess of creation, destruction, and rebirth, Kali Ma encompasses three aspects of Goddess spirituality. She is the Virgin: the wild one who is whole and complete unto her self; the Mother: creator and sustainer of all life; and the Crone: the wise elder who is made more powerful by wisdom gained from experience. She understands the mystery that death and birth are parts of the same cycle, that new life begins with the destruction of old forms. She combines the independence of the Virgin with the nurturing and creativity of the Mother and cunning wisdom of the Crone.

The Crone represents the strong independent one who is not afraid of death, who understands the power of transformation and who chooses to dance through the fires of life in order to find liberation and renewal. This was an obvious threat to the formation of organized religions and political units which thrived upon the fears of individuals. The absence of the Crone archetype has resulted in the rise of co-dependency in modern society. Knowing that our vision of divinity largely influences our actions, we can choose new paradigms. By reclaiming the Crone, we learn to create new forms for relationships. The wall that truly keeps us from being independent while in relationship, is fear. Kali Ma teaches us to find true strength from within.

As the Kalika (Crone), she governs every form of death, but also rules every form of life. She is always a Trinity manifested in three forms: three stages of human life, three phases of the Moon, three sections of the cosmos, three types of priestesses at her shrines. As the holy trinity, Kali is called Prakiritia (Nature). She commands the gunas, or threads of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, and embodies the past, present, and future. She is said to command the weather by braiding or releasing her hair. Her karmic wheel devours time itself.

The worship of, and reverence for Kali Ma is widespread throughout India. Many contemporary pagans are also reclaiming a connection with the Goddess in this fierce aspect. Feminine power has often been represented as negative rather than in a truer light, so it is also with Kali. Reclaiming this Goddess aspect is a way of reclaiming your sacred right to rage. Kali is the ever becoming, ever destroying force of life. She is both unimaginable horror and abundant bliss, eternally intertwined in the dance of being. She is seen in the deadly dance of the lion and the antelope. She is the nurturing and creative mother. She is the sacred cycle of all existence swirling with unbridled energy. Hail Dark Goddess, wisdom of the mysteries and mother who is life and death. Dancer adorned with Skulls, destructive as fire, spark of creation, sacred devourer, sacred creator.

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This page last updated October 26, 2005