I keep coming back to this image throughout this past year of turmoil - she is the Hindu Goddess, Kaali. She is generally portrayed wielding a scimitar, with which she cuts off the delusional heads of demons, drinking their blood, burning them to ashes at a glance, and using the decapitated skulls as a macabre necklace. Her form is black. (And lest you be deeply disturbed by her as a "foreign" idol, consider that her darkness has a direct corollary in the Black Madonna, much revered in Europe still.) While her methods may seem to be quite violent and terrifying, in the Hindu mythology, she generally manifests as a "last resort" - when all else (including the masculine divine) has failed to defeat evil/delusion. In so doing, she frees these demons from suffering, along with the rest of us. (Because they do suffer, even though they seek to hurt others.)
She may be considered a metaphorical representation of what ultimately needs to happen to create lasting personal change and healing within ourselves. Some folks, especially women of a feminist bent, find her imagery appealing, empowering and inspiring. Everyone loves Kali - until they meet her. Because real, lasting change is usually accompanied by some level of deep suffering or austerity. A cleansing fire.
When delusion takes hold and refuses to relinquish control over our thoughts, words and actions, sometimes we must call on this level of power, and be exposed to the burning fire of her fearless, overpowering, take-no-prisoners love, to remove the veils of ignorance. Hers is the fiery power of the feminine divine, of Nature itself, the ultimate power upon whom we all depend. Without her, we would not exist. And, although she is fearsome in her aspect, she should be not feared, but sought out earnestly and embraced in times of need. Her power is tough love, the ultimate love, and deeply compassionate.
She's not an enabler.
Right now, with the “Me, Too” movement, we are experiencing a moment of deep cultural change. Women have found their voice. We are enraged. We will no longer be quiet. We want change, and I believe, this movement will bring about change. It’s about time. This cultural change is necessary and vital, but, it’s not going to be pretty as all of this plays out - because what was done to survivors of sexual assault was not pretty. The demonic energy of the deviant, the selfish, the delusional was foisted upon victims, who in many cases were forced to bear that demonic energy silently, suffering under the shame of it for decades in many cases.
Remember that energy can neither be created nor can it be destroyed. What we are witnessing is a collective release of energy - a deep pain and fear that resides in (mostly) men - that has been dumped upon (mostly) women for centuries, through sexual assault and misogyny-related harms. This delusion is finally coming to light so that it may be released and eradicated, so that survivors may be free of a shame that was never theirs to begin with, and so that healing can come to our world.
Now, let’s notice the guy beneath Kali. That's the Hindu God Shiva. He's not bad - in fact, he's kind of the “ideal man" in the Hindu pantheon, although he can be a bit detached from the world and reclusive. He represents the primordial, supreme Consciousness underlying all of the universe — and he loves the Goddess infinitely and completely (as we all should.) He is equally as powerful as the Goddess, but, interestingly, was unable to defeat the demon - in fact, no male God in the Hindu pantheon could. They turned to the Goddess, as she was more powerful than any of them, and because she had been underestimated by the demon - because she was a woman.
Post-epic battle, Shiva lies beneath victorious Kaali who has become so enraged, she has lost control and risks destroying the entire universe herself! But, Shiva does not defend himself. He does not try to patronizingly calm her down or tell her she's overreacting. He doesn't call her shrill or angry. He doesn’t say to her, “Not all demons” or “I don’t need a lecture!” He simply becomes completely silent, passive and deeply loving and empathic - and in so doing, gives space to her rage and her justifiably fury and lets her work through it.
And she is able to release her rage because he has empathy - and he shares with her, too. He does not try to push her down or control her, because he knows they are equals. And, importantly, she is also not trying to wrest control from him. Together, as equals, they bring balance to the universe. They share. Her rage subsides, and she becomes the more physically benign form of the goddess once more. But, her power is latent, always with her - and equal in every way to his.
One last thing I’d like to add: Many men (and women, too) have a hard time with the thought of equality because they can only imagine that the existing power structure (i.e. patriarchy, men controlling women) will invert itself and they will be the losers. Not so! They simply cannot imagine a selfless society based on SHARING power equally, or that such a society can exist AND be stable and happy. But, we all know it is the only practical solution.
Perhaps this is why her image and her story stirs me so much. Because these images, this vital mythology, goes directly to an unexplored, shadowed power (but not an evil one) that exists in all of us, both men and women - a beautiful shadow of untapped potential: the latent feminine, the power of Nature itself that will bring balance to our world.
Jai Kaali Maa!