The Black Mother Kali:
An Essential Archetype for a New Millennuim

   

Kali


Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mocke it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.

In the calm waters of the love-nights,
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
In the obsession with darkness,
And a desire for higher love-making
Sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter,
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven't experienced
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.

Kali

   


   


   


It is the time of the Kali Yuga, the fourth age in which darkness rules the light. If that sounds too pessimistic simply wake up to the suffering that exists in your day. Perhaps it comes in the form of one who suffers the plague of AIDS. Or the one who remains abused because she has no confidence or clue how she will take care of her children if she leaves. It is the denial of a world who stand by while the culture and environment of Tibet are destroyed. Perhaps the suffering is the pain you feel when you perceive the destruction of addiction, whether your own or another's. How can there be hungry children in a world where the head of a corporation makes eleven thousand dollars an hour, every hour, every day? Of course the list is endless. Too much for most of us to remain aware of, we turn our backs and live the delusion that there is nothing we can do. It is the Kali Yuga. It is our prison. The beginning of wisdom is to know that. Like the new student of meditation one begins with awareness of failure. "The mere act of trying to hold the mind to a single point, an act with which higher forms of meditation teach, teaches the beginner in a radically concrete and experiential way that he or she has little or no control over the mental flow. All attentional training starts with this failure. ... without this realization no progress can be made, for one must first know one is in prison in order to work intelligently to escape.2 Or as Einstein stated, "A human being is part of the whole, called by us, `Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such an achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security."3 Fortunately, as all mystics have known, we are not alone. There is One who will call to us from the darkness of our ignorance, a voice in the wilderness. She has come in many forms throughout the ages. In this age she must come as the Black Mother.

Who is this Black Mother, with her countenance so fierce, blood dripping from her tongue as she lifts the skull of her most beloved chela high? Who is she that is blacker than any evil? It is said that she is able to devour all that is evil, all negativity, anything of form and formless that covers her chela's true Self. Who is she that makes herself known in a world filled with violence and despair, the fruit of the seeds of greed and lust which separates one from the other? She is Kali, the Black Mother known in the Sanatana dharma as Maha Kali, The Great Black One; Nitya Kali, the Everlasting Black One; Smashan Kali, Kali of the Cremation Grounds; and Shyama Kali, the Dark Kali.4 It is she who comes to show us the way through darkness that we might become who we truly are and serve the world that is her playground. She comes from the cremation grounds of dead ego with gleeful shrilling that it is her time indeed, for our world has no more time to awaken. It is my position that Kali is the essential archetype for an age that can no longer avoid responsibility for the madness that surrounds us, denying our elders of dignity and robbing our children of innocence and joy that is their birthright. I believe she offers an image and a reality of the integration of the feminine principle and our darkness that must occur. She came to me first in dreams, then in the form of a woman like no other I had ever met, Ma Jaya, a master of Kundalini yoga who teaches through service with the eloquence of the poet.

    She who lays Her Beautiful Head upon Nagas is my Black Mother Kali.

    She who gives us what we need and takes from us our egos in Her roaring fire of Her Cremation Grounds, is my Black Mother Kali.

    She who Grants us Her own Form to use for Liberation is my Black Mother Kali.

    She who gives us Her Wisdom is my Black Mother Kali.

    She whose Radiance destroys evil, is my Black Mother Kali.

    This Mother of all Mothers is the Gift of Her Sister Durga who was called upon by the Gods during their battle with the demons.

    Our Mother Kali, who lives here you know, will come to any of you at any time, day or night.

    Her Sacred Golden Thread will tie you to Her Heart and She will lead you out of your misery.

    My chelas, it is this Black Mother who takes your karma before it has time to bring forth the fruit of your actions.

    Get to know who this Mother Goddess is. She comes in many forms.

    Always ready to serve Her children.

    When you take care of the needy of this world, She is the happiest.

    When you practice ahimsa She loves you the most.

    When you do not judge any one else, She laughs with joy.

    When you do not begrudge anyone their own religion, She makes sure that all pain and suffering will stop for you in the future.

    You who give food to beggars and the homeless, use the Mother well.

    Those who can understand Her commands on giving will also be called the Mother whether you are a woman or man.

    Practice disciplines and make the Mother smile.

    Do not look to satisfy cravings, just ask the Black Mother to take it all from you.

    The Gods love to love Her.

    The only true joy in the world is the joy of being on a spiritual path.

    Ungrateful men and woman teach their children to be ungrateful too.

    Gratitude is the Gift you offer the Black Mother.

    Gratitude is the way to feel the Light of Christ at all times.6

   


   


   


   


Kali

Who is this Kali who longs for me to die, who loves me so much she will not allow me to be any less than who I am? This Smashan Kali comes in this time, in this fierce form, because our world is filled to overflowing with "troubled guests on this dark earth." Who is this Kali that would flay the flesh from my bones that I might finally know what it means to be fully and truly alive? She brings this energy to a world where the norm is far too often one of violence to one another, or, perhaps even more dehumanizing, indifference. Kali comes because indifference is the unforgivable sin. In a time when the sheer numbers of forgotten humanity press upon the very structure of the planet's ecostructure, Kali raises her sword and screams for all to hear, "There are no throwaway people!!"7 She is the Black Mother and there is no other!

There are many forms of the Unknowable that enable individuals to practice spiritual life, each unique, each sharing common attributes. "The 'form' is the phenomenal manifestation of the transcendent divine essence in the garb of a divine personality, a godly individuality, and this is worshipful because accommodated exactly in the worshiping mind and heart."8 There is something about the ability to commit to a particular form of devotion "exactly" that enables the seeker to experience the depth of the transcendent experience. It is a reason why it is inevitable that one must pick some form, or, more accurately, surrender to that form of the Formless that has picked him or her.

Early in my education of Jung I remember reading his admonition that unless we integrate the repressed feminine and the evil we project onto others, we would not survive as a species. The Wiccan scholar, Starhawk, wrote that the Mother's return is qualitatively different than the history of the patriarchal gods who came in the last five millennia. Their stories told of how they came to save us. The Mother comes, in this time, to see if we are willing to do what we must to save her. 9 When science speaks of the earth as an interdependent living organism, named Gaia, it is this same Mother of the Universe who demands that we awaken. It is Mother Kali that demands our delusion of separate egos to be laid at her feet.

My own journey has brought me to the feet of a teacher like no other I could imagine who manifests Kali in every area of her life, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati.11 When my own mentor, Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, spoke of her with such passion and respect I was able to suspend my conditioned critical mind that presumed what a spiritual teacher should look like and open my heart to this mother of compassion and service. Guided by my dreams of a skull headed Mother Superior and visions from a wilderness program called Sacred Passage,12 Ma called me home when I was ready to hear. Clinically, she has taught me what James Hillman's provocative thesis argued. That is, for therapists to be a vehicle for others for Self discovery is misdirected, even destructive, if it is based on the premise that individuation can be separated from service to the community in which we live.13 He defines the self as "the interiorization of community" (p. 40), even going so far as to suggest to be by myself in meditation, walking alone, or working on my dreams is to be estranged from myself. He identifies his own mistake in his reliance on the famous statement form Keats, "Call the world if you please, 'the vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the world." Hillman realized that it is inadequate in that it remains self-centered. "It still focuses on one's personal destiny or, as they now call it, 'journey.' ... It actually neglects the world, even while finding a soul use for it. You go through the world for your own sake, making your own soul. But what about the world's soul?" (P. 50f.). He concludes with the provocative challenge that "therapy is going to have to go out the door with the client, maybe even make home visits, or at least walk down the street" (p. 81). Kali, as a manifestation of the integration of the divine feminine and shadow archetypes, offers a form that demands surrender of the separated ego as a requirement for individuation. This most readily comes in the call to service. It is particularly clear when that service is offered to those whom the world has rejected. This is analogous to the Christ's dictum that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."14

There are many variations of how Kali came to be. Her most famous appearance is described in the Devimahatmya. In the battle between the Great Mother Durga and the demons Canda and Munda, Durga's face "... becomes dark with anger. Suddenly the goddess Kali springs from her forehead. She is black, wears a garland of human heads and a tiger skin, and wields a skull-topped staff. She is gaunt, with sunken eyes, gaping mouth, and lolling tongue. She roars loudly and leaps into battle, where she tears the demons apart with her hands and crushes them in her jaws. She grasps the demon generals and in one furious blow decapitates them both with her sword. Later in the battle, Kali is summoned by Durga to help defeat the demon Raktabija. This demon has the ability to reproduce himself instantly whenever a drop of his blood falls to the ground. Having wounded Raktabija with a variety of weapons, Durga and her assistants, a fierce band of goddesses called the Matrikas, find they have worsened their situation. As Raktabija bleeds more and more profusely from his wounds, the battlefield fills with his duplicates. Kali finally defeats the demon by sucking the blood from his body and throwing the countless duplicate Raktabijas into her gaping mouth."15 In her frenzy Kali threatens to destroy the world. It is Shiva, the masculine principle that is the Destroyer that brings creation, who lays down at her feet. When she finds herself standing on him, she controls herself.

Who is this Kali that watches me as I follow the path that unfolds before me? She stands on Shiva's chest with eyes blazing, tongue extended down, four-armed, each with a different purpose, a garland of skulls and a belt of severed arms. She dances with wild abandon, bathed in blood, prepared to consume whatever and whomever she encounters. She is the embodiment of Shakti, the feminine principle, in an age where there is no longer the luxury of ignorance. If humanity is to survive this collective dark night of the soul, this Kali yuga, the illusion of our separateness from life in all it's forms must be devoured. The myth teaches us that if one drop of the poison of ignorance touches the ground it grows into two, two into four, and so forth. Kali swallows the demon whole before this can happen, consuming our ignorance before it multiplies. The Tibetan teaching is that ignorance is "to ignore that which our deepest soul knows."16 What happens to my sister in South Africa does effect us all. The suffering of Tibet is my suffering. As the old Reverend told his parishioner who feared her death lest she not be allowed into heaven, "Sister, when I get to heaven if you're not there then I'm not going!" Kali comes to strip away the illusion of the separate ego.

With all that I have said, allow me to now offer my disclaimer. I really don't know much about living this experience. I am an infant when it comes to living this life of true balance. This quest is best described by the 2nd century Rabbi Hillel's often quoted admonition, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself alone, then why? And if not now, when?" Jung puts it like this. "Even if we must recognize that there is a non-ego experience, it is a long way until we realize what it must be. That is the reason why these experiences are secret. They are called mystical because the ordinary world cannot understand them. ... One cannot even talk about them, and of such a kind are the experiences of the Kundalini Yoga" (p. 20) . He offers an affirmation from his psychological interpretation of this Kundalini awakening. "You see it is utterly important that you should be in this world, that you should really fulfill your entelechia, your particular germ of life, whatever it may be. Otherwise you can never really start Kundalini. You can never detach; you are simply thrown back and nothing has happened. It is an absolutely valueless experience" (p. 21). In the final analysis it is grace that one might hear the call to awaken this Black Mother who is Kundalini. It is grace that one might see the need of the destitute knowing that she cannot have ears to hear the call while her children cry from hunger and despair. It is grace to know that there is more good than evil in the world, but not by much, and that we must all do our part in this struggle to serve the greater good. It is grace if we end this life knowing that we have done what we came here to do. One will be challenged to remember this as grace as Kali brings Her sword sharply down to sever the illusion of "I, me and mine" from the body. If one can face that challenge, what grace, what ecstasy, if in that moment of death we know what it is to become the butterfly and disappear into the light.

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