Updated: May 10
This is Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, death, destruction, and also fertility and creation. She is the ultimate form of Shakti, the feminine energy in the entire universe. Kali has an interesting story, many actually, but I am not an expert on Kali, I am a receiver of her messages. I will tell you one story because when I heard it, I knew it was for me; it stayed with me like stories do when they were meant for us to hear. As is true with mythological stories, there are often many versions, and as is true of the Hindu stories, their versions are often indicative of which aspect of creation is being worshiped, the masculine or the feminine. In the story that I remember, the one that was for me, Kali is representing the divine feminine. And she is a goddess to be invoked, respected, and loved.
Long, long ago, the earth was being terrorized by a fierce and destructive demon, Raktabija. This demon was so horrible that no one could defeat him, not even Durga, the warrior goddess with many arms, each wielding a weapon of destruction. Durga rode onto the battlefield on her lion and she and her warriors began to attack this terrible demon, but they soon learned that every drop of blood that spilled and hit the earth became another smaller demon, just like Raktabija. What could be done in this situation?!
The Gods looked on helplessly, and Durga, at a loss, became so infuriated that she asked for help! At that moment, Kali was born from Durga’s third eye. She advanced upon the battlefield and swallowed whole all the little demons that were born of Raktabija’s blood. Then, she turned to the great demon himself, and she cut off his head, but to be sure that no more harm will come of him, she licked up every drop of his blood.
Kali looked upon the battlefield and saw her great victory. She began to dance upon the earth, falling into an ecstatic trance, dancing, and dancing, and her dancing caused great destruction; fires blazed; great chasms opened! Soon it looked as though Kali’s dance would bring about the destruction of the earth and the end of time. Out of desperation, Shiva, her beloved consort, threw himself in her path. Kali continued to dance until she was dancing over Shiva’s body. Feeling her beloved beneath her feet, Kali awakened from her trance, and she was pacified.
This myth speaks to me about many truths. One is that there is a force of destruction that cannot be restrained and that this force is there to assist us in the great task of defeating our demons. This force is life itself, which never destroys itself completely, but it does change forms. We can see this evidence everywhere on our beautiful earth when islands are born of volcanoes and fall again into the sea and mountains are raised, isolating seas that then dry and become deserts. This force is life, the eternal cycle: creation, preservation, destruction, creation, preservation, destruction.
Another message I receive from this myth is that we humans believe we are separate from this eternal cycle, and therefore destruction and death is fearful to us; we don’t trust we are eternal as well; we are afraid we can be destroyed for good. This belief is the belief of the ego, and this is the demon we have the hardest time defeating…the self-concept we have constructed and who, when left to rule, terrorizes us with destructive thoughts. These thoughts take form and seem to need to be slayed one at a time, but in reality, the source of these thoughts must be destroyed. The source of these thoughts is our belief in separation, our belief in loss.
Finally, Kali is pacified when she realizes she is dancing on the body of her beloved Shiva, the masculine aspect of creation, the loving awareness that witnesses and focuses the divine feminine. Kali cannot exist without this energy; likewise Shiva cannot “exist” without Kali. The world we live in is the result of the marriage between Shakti (the feminine) and Shiva (the masculine), the yin and yang, the polarity that brings existence into being. Kali cannot destroy the world for good, for she cannot separate herself from Shiva. Therefore, the story shows us, the Earth may look nearly destroyed, but Life itself is eternal.
Kali is the wild side of the divine feminine. She wears a necklace of skulls, a skirt of severed arms; she carries the head of the demon she has slain. She is portrayed with her tongue out, reminding us of the great demon and how to defeat it. The little demons born of Raktabija’s blood are symbolic of the effects of our thinking. Don’t waste your time defeating these effects one by one….go to the cause, the ego itself. We must learn to control our minds so that it cannot run amok and wreak havoc on the world.
In our life, Kali shows up for us as a collective and individually, and it is our willingness to allow her to work that determines how much pain we will endure as our life unfolds. This virus, COVID-19 is Kali. Our world is changing; our structures are falling; the ground beneath us crumbling, and while many are anxious and wringing their hands, seeing death and destruction everywhere, others are watching calmly, trusting that all is right.
If we meditate on Kali, we can be calm, and we can participate in the process of life that is unfolding each moment. Kali is fierce and loving, and she will raze to the ground everything that does not serve us. Let her burn away with feverish fire all of our attachments. Those of us who have contracted with her to receive this virus have a beautiful honor to work with her on behalf of us all. Those of us who do not become ill can assist in this process too. Become her; call on her; ask that all your attachments be reduced to ash. Keep nothing; throw everything in the fire; feel the burning in your chest; stay with it; become as curious and transfixed by this sensation as you are with an open flame.
Let it dance in a fearsome trance inside you until all becomes nothing but fertile ash. When all your attachments are burned away, fuel her fire with the attachments of the world, those you share and those you don’t. Let the fire rage; let it burn away your very sense of self, and when all is burned away, there you will stand, naked and beautiful, porous and pure, and there will be nothing to fear.
I have felt the power of Kali within me, stirred to combustible anger, flared into sudden urges to destroy. I have resisted her call, her clear direction, “burn it; burn it all to the ground.” Of course, this directive is not to be practiced upon our environment but applied to the attachments we have to the constructs, personal or social, through which we define ourselves, by which we imprison our souls, in the name of which we make decisions and judge ourselves and others. Denying her has been one source of chronic anxiety for me.
When I was 33, Kali began to whisper in my ear that the ground upon which I built my life was unstable, that it would not hold. By 34, she was screaming inside my body, “destroy this marriage; burn it up. Let it go.” I had two small children, ages 4 and 2, and I felt trepidatious. I began to bargain with Kali, the destroyer, whose call will be answered one way or another.
The urge to unleash a raging fire within my breast and clear my life of what was not serving me was so strong, but I was afraid because I was lacking trust in her. I didn’t understand her then. She seemed to want to destroy me in the process, and instead of listening to her, I tried to appease her in other ways, to pacify her, hoping to rid myself of her. I’ve come to know that there is no ridding myself of Kali; she is one of the goddess energies who works through me, who coils around my energy centers like a sleeping viper, who will awaken to protect me from any delusions I hold, the ones that lie to me and tell me, “this…will bring you happiness…”
I spoke to my dear friend, Bridget, “Do you know the destroyer archetype?”
“Of course!” she responded. Of course, she did; this friend was like my mind and heart took form and came to meet me at just this time.
“I feel her all the time,” I confided. Bridget gave a knowing look of concern like she could see how I would struggle against the goddess for the next five years. I love her for being there for that part of my life: Bridget, The Validator Goddess.
Struggle, I did. I drowned out Kali’s voice every day. I started an intensive spiritual practice and meditated every morning, watched my mind incessantly, rid myself of many of the constructs that made me feel imprisoned. I came to understand the reality of my marriage, that it was only a construct, and I was choosing to feel imprisoned within it. I made gratitude lists and practiced loving my life despite the urge to destroy my marriage, and after some time, something broke open in me. I realized I could both love my husband exactly as he was, asking nothing of him, and still destroy the form I insisted this love must take. I did not need to maintain a marriage to maintain my love.
I am so grateful for that journey with Kali; even though I stood in terror of what she told me to do, she persisted. Even as I resisted, she taught me how to let go with love, how to let my attachments burn away so that the core of my love would be the only thing left to stand.
I learned how to let go of the need to control my life. It was not painless, but it was purifying.
It was actually Kali’s voice, speaking to me to destroy another aspect of my life with which I heavily identified, which gave me the courage to let go of my husband. She would not relent when she told me I must leave my career as a Waldorf teacher. In her wisdom and benevolence, she made this call stronger than anything else.
I had the choice between white-knuckling my way through a life of teaching, affording neither time nor resources to pursue my heart’s calling or gently releasing this identity construct and allowing for a whole new adventure to unfold.
I resolved to leap, and while I felt secure in the support of my husband, I made this very gutsy decision to leave at the end of the school year without anything in place. I trusted completely that the universe would take care of me, knowing it would lead me down the path of the lightworker I have become. I was to walk the path of the priestess, and that would require absolute trust and unwavering devotion. It was clear, and I was unafraid. Again, this was not painless; I have loved Waldorf education for 15 years, and I grieved as I let go.
Letting go has its own momentum. As soon as I saw I could release the career that no longer served me, I saw I could release everything. And I knew that letting go would allow for something new and rejuvenating to enter into my life. I had felt that I could not stifle my growth for another second. Kali would finally have her way. My marriage was over too, my career and my marriage, and I gently blew it all away, like blowing dandelion seeds into a great canyon, knowing not where they might take root.
The truth I saw in this act was that though my marriage was over, my love was strong. The only feelings I felt for my husband were the deepest gratitude and love, but even in that love, the form of our relationship had to be destroyed because I needed to be reborn. I was stifled, and I had to honor the process of life within me as it is everywhere else, destruction, creation, preservation, destruction…etc…and so on into eternity.
Nineteen years – in nineteen years I calmed the turbulence in my soul; I found my will, my beauty, my focus. I found my courage, my confidence, my connection to source. This was the gift my husband gave me, a friendship, love that asked nothing of me, steadiness. He made me laugh for nineteen years. I could never feel anything but gratitude for him. He gave me two beautiful children, and I smile every day at his sweetness, how he buoys himself from his own depression when he enters their presence, how he offers them the very best of himself. He is a beautiful man.
We find ourselves separated in marriage but quarantined together. I find Kali’s message particularly helpful in this time – burn up my attachments. “He is sad,” – let it be. “The energy is heavy,” – let it burn away into lightest ash. “Will our friendship survive in the end?” – it cannot matter if I am to walk this path; I must be brave and anchor myself in my love.
I let Kali flow through me. She loves us, you know, and so on our behalf, she will destroy all that would otherwise destroy us, though we love it, though we think it defines us. She will have her way eventually; we can work with her or we can resist, but if it must be destroyed, it will be, so something new can be born.
Let us work with her, even if we are healthy, and burn up our attachments and those of the world – this the destroyer must do in this dark night of soul, so that creation may have its morning.