12/13/2012

The Lesson of Kali: Embrace Every Form

Hecate, as depicted by mystical Christian artist William Blake

Embrace every form of God, especially the feminine, for any form we are afraid to embrace, we experience as demonic. 

This is what happened when patriarchal societies suppressed powerful women and goddesses. They were depicted as witches, whores, and baby killers. Examples include Asherah and Astarte; Lilith, Adam's first wife; and Mary Magdalene. The witch trials of 17th C. New England condemned independent female land-owners to deprive them of their property, but not before condemning them as demonic. Now we see the demonizing of the feminine in its modern form: the attack of far Right Republicans on women's rights and women's bodies. This is very different in degree, but not in kind, from the attacks on women in conservative Islamic countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Many men hide their fear of powerful women behind religion. In the words of Senator Patti Murray, "Assaults on women's rights never come without being disguised as something else." 

The very word "hell" comes from the name of a goddess and is related to Helen, Hellenistic, and Hellas, an ancient name for Greece. Wiccans don't practice evil: they follow the primal earth-centered religion of pre-Christian Europe. Before Christians turned her into a witch from hell, Hecate was a Goddess. The three "weird sisters" of Shakespeare's Macbeth know the fate of the play's hero because, in fact, they are a demonized form of the Three Fates from Greek mythology. 

But Christianity was not always strictly patriarchal. Before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, Gnostic Christian communities empowered women as leaders, even priests, and regarded the Holy Spirit as the feminine aspect of God. The following hymn is from one of these communities.

Throughout history, some women have been forced to use intimacy as a currency to regain their power: yet such "whores" may be as "spiritual" as any virgin bride. Hence we encounter the paradoxical image of the powerful temple prostitute in the ancient Near East, and the ambiguous mystery of Mary Magdalene in the Jesus stories. The Gnostic Christian hymn, 'Thunder of Perfect Mind,' reveals this paradox. In this hymn from the Nag Hammadi scrolls, we see the Western face of Kali, a vision of the divine Feminine that embraces all her forms, both beautiful and terrible:
I am the first and the last.
I am the honored and the scorned.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the barren one and many are her sons. 
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.

I am my mid-wife, 
and the solace of my labor pains.
I am the mother of my father.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the one voice whose sound is many.
I am the utterance of my name.

Why, you who hate me, do you love me?
You who deny me, confess me,
and you who confess me, deny me.
You who know me shall be ignorant,
and those who are ignorant know me.
For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am strength and fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me.

I am the disgraced and the exalted.
Give heed to my poverty and to my wealth.
Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth,
for you will find me among those who are to come.
And do not look upon me on the dung-heap
nor leave me cast out,
for you will find me in the kingdom.
For I am compassionate and I am cruel.
Be on your guard!

Do not hate my obedience
and do not love my self-control.
In my weakness, do not forsake me,
and do not be afraid of my power. 

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