Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I suspect Kali was a patriarchal makeover. The earliest Indus Valley settlers seem to have been peaceful, non-hierarchal Goddess worshippers. Around 2000 BC, however, give or take a few hundred years, a shift happens. We see signs of patriarchal “Aryans.” The old Goddess ways disappear. And the Indian caste system -- the most venomous hierarchy on the planet -- rears its ugly head:

"Archaeological evidence reveals that before the Aryan invasions the indigenous populations of India revered the Goddess" (Stone, When God Was a Woman, p. 72).

"Much study has been given to the real origin of the [Indian] castes, and the most dependable theories trace these back to the invasions of ancient times. The white-skinned Aryans did not wish to mingle with the dark skinned Dravidians, who were the original [Goddess worshipping] inhabitants.." (Stone, p. 71).


ursa said...

According to Barbara Walker Kali was a triple Goddess of creation, preservation and destruction. The usual life and death Goddess but became most known for her destroyer aspect. Looks like patriarchal propaganda, evil woman and so on.

Athana said...

Yeah, I haven't read or heard much about Kali, but from what little I know, She feels to me like a projection of patriarchal-male fears.

rhondda said...

For a psychological (jungian) interpretation of Kali, Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson wrote Dancing in the Fire, The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness. It is an interesting read.

Greek Geek said...

Dear Athana,

I've been reading your blog with some interest.

I'm a pagan in a PhD worldwide mythology program where we get to study all this stuff in depth (TWIST my arm) and ponder, absorb, get deeply into the different cultures.

Kali is actually rather fascinating. There's so many faces to her, and Shiva, and all the Hindu pantheons (plural because there are so many configurations). Sometimes she is motherly, other times destructive, sometimes a teacher of writing, sometimes a devourer... however. I do not think we need to fall prey to the patriarchal tendency to polarize, put everything into binary categories (male/female, black/white, civilized/primitive) and decide one of the two poles is inferior to the other.

In the same way, I am not sure it's good always to look at every goddess figure that fits "our" image of what a goddess should be and call that "good", and every time we see features that are jarring to our way of thinking, decided it's necessarily patriarchal-based and bad.

Kali is beyond concepts of good and evil. The Hindu traditions and belief systems tend to encompass ALL parts of life -- and death -- both the wonderful parts, and the horrible parts. There are yugas, ages, when everything is wonderful, and then there are yugas when the human race grows corrupt, worse and worse, until finally the world is destroyed, consumed, burned to ash... returned to oblivion... and replaced again by a new one. The endless cycles of order and chaos are so integral to their way of thinking.

Kali is sometimes the female alternative of Shiva, the Dionysian-style death god who is also a god of virility, who dances on charnel-pits and is worshipped as lord of life.

Kali is the one who consumes and wipes away the world, clears the slate. She's like maggots and fungus and rats and Hurricane Katrina. She's usually not pretty, she's terrifying. She is greater than man, woman, or most of the gods. She will take, and you won't know why.

But the mystery, the secret of Kali, is the same one that explains why we're not immortal... why we have to die, be pruned and chopped down like the corn and the grain, in order for the future to exist.

There are many mother goddesses and fertility goddesses -- Sekhmet, Kali, Pele, Artemis at times, Ishtar -- who are both great and terrible, and who are revered precisely because they are the indestructible, overwhelming force of nature, next to which humanity's arrogance and egotism is a house of cards. Patriarchy tends to privilege order, hierarchy, light, "behaving yourself", fixed laws and rules. It doesn't like nature because nature is messy.

Kali style religions accept that not everything is pretty, and the goddess can kick your butt. Kali religion celebrates the true complexity of life, not denying the fact that parts of it are difficult, painful, even gruesome.

Christianity says that under god's magic "everything will obey me" field, the lion will lie down with the lamb.

Kali says that sometimes the lion eats the lamb... and that's life.

(sorry to be long and incoherent, I'm a little tired.... anyway, your blog has MUCH food for thought and this one just got me thinking.)