“In the Vedas, creation is likened to the spider and its web. The spider brings the web out of itself and then remains in it. God is the container of the universe and also what is contained in it”Ramakrishna
Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa Book 1 Chapter 3 Reflection
Chapter 3 begins by enumerating the various purāṇa based on their linguistic nomenclature and ties each of the 18 purāṇas to a specific deity. It then clarifies the length of each purāṇa and the 28 incarnations of Veda Vyāsa.
It is quite interesting to note the oxymoronic character in the text that contains overt misogyny when discussing women:
It seems from this view that the text markedly differentiates between the transcendent goddess and the mundane woman. The transcendent goddess is placed upon a marble pedestal and worshiped, but the mundane woman is positioned as subaltern, not worthy of even reading the Vedas. The marble pedestal is elevated, but the glass ceiling is much higher.
In one sense however, as the author indicates, the purāṇas do have a progressive character in that they are accessible to women, bringing a rich spiritual tradition for women to engage in outside of the Vedic patriarchy. Nevertheless, it is no surprise that Gayatri Spivak famously concluded, in her work Can the Subaltern Speak?,
In the intellectual climate of the Vedic culture, how can a woman rise to prominence if she cannot read the Vedas? The irony of this transcendent goddess juxtaposed to the mundane woman extends even further in that the origin of speech in the Vedas is derived from the goddess Vāc,
In terms of theological revelation, perhaps the purānic author is guilty of the latter point, hearing and seeing in a limited capacity without hearing and seeing Vāc in her ultimate capacity as both mundane and transcendent. Indeed, Ramakrishna upon glimpsing the mundane woman Ramani, a sex-worker, declared “Mother I see that thou art in that form too,” elevating him to the patron saint of the theater house in Bengal (Nikhilananda 2017, p. 985).
C. McKenzie Brown recommends Kinsley’s article to address the irony of misogyny in a goddess centered text, but the article may no longer be available in internet sources:
It is important to bear in mind the structural presence of misogyny in the varṇāśrama system, in which the priestly Brahmanical class remains entrenched in patriarchal dominance into the modern era. A feminist reading of the text will necessarily require a separation between the authors revelation and the authors cultural influence upon that revelation. I hope to remain always critical of misogyny appearing in śastric sources, carefully indicating how the influence of power structures ultimately corrupts the process of divine revelation.
As such, modern goddess worshipers must be able to understand the cultural context in which misogyny occurs, and re-assert the role of the goddess as an amalgam of transcendent worship and mundane femininity. As Creatrix, Her transcendent and mundane forms are equally sacred. Therefore, I will argue that the goddess is in fact a feminist, that Her worship and Her revelation provides a solution to heteropatriarchal norms. Indeed, Vrinda Dalmiya argues that Ramprasad Sen’s Kālī-bhakti provides an “antidote to patriarchal thinking” (Dalmiya 2000, p. 17). I wrote my master’s thesis as a corollary to Dalmiya’s work, arguing that Ramakrishna’s Kālī-bhakti must work in much the same way as Ramprasad Sen’s. In fact Ramakrishna often turns Brahmanical thinking on its head,
In each reflection, I will continue to call out misogyny where it appears and attempt to offer clarity as well as a critique rooted in modern feminist theory without abandoning Kālī-bhakti.
1. Brown, Cheever Mackenzie. The Triumph of the Goddess the Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devī-Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Boulder, CO: NetLibrary, Inc., 1999.
2. Dalmiya, Vrinda. “Loving Paradoxes: A Feminist Reclamation of the Goddess Kali.” Hypatia 15, no. 1 (2000): 125–50.
3. Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press, 2013.
4. Nikhilananda. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York, NY: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 2017.
5. Spivak, Gayatri. Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea. Edited by Rosalind C. Morris. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010.
8. Vijnanananda. Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. New Dehi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers , 2020.
Leave the Door Ajar
In the valleys between the blare of sirens
And the bite of flashing lights
Sometimes you can still hear the sound of bells
Ringing, ringing, asking
Will She come to visit in my open door tonight?
I’ve left the hinge ajar in waiting
No anticipation can be greater,
She claims the moon as child
It’s complexion is sweet rice milk
Standing in the night sky’s gravity
Spinning, spinning, giving
Soft illuminations to
those tired in their travels
I have prepared a gentle bed for Her
Perhaps She’ll come and rest awhile
She has been churning the milky ocean,
the galaxy of stars
Blinking, blinking, calling
to the denizens in their shelters
made of hollow trees
Though I’ve sent the invitation,
I would think that She ignored it
For I was born in ill repute
She paints the color of sky,
Taking, taking, owning
Every color in the spectrum
We are mere ebullient playthings
thinking of our ends.
I prepared a kindly meal,
The instruments of brass laid bare
Bone dry, sterile,
Sparkling, sparkling, hoping
For the dinner guest to bring Her flare
I fear that She will never come
So Giri says,
I will wait alone awhile,
and then I’ll wait again.
I’ll make a meal the next day,
And leave the door open
Hoping one day She’ll arrive.
John Jay Flicker ~ The Never Ending Topiary
The Never Ending Topiary from DM Du Jour
The roses on your voice turned to chamomile
taking choices of betterment over aims of soft temper.
Ever mindful of the blue and black occlusions
You took it all. You kept it for yourself.
I had hoped you would pick a better venue
sparing the raucous chorus for the vernal spring
when the sky was coated in clouds
hanging on the mountains like mists:
The only meaningful friendships in Eden.
I was doting on the little cracks inside the concrete,
head held hanging in the wind chimes of Winter
The Never Ending Topiary: The trimming
of all the loose ends. All the obligations to another.
John Jay Flickerwrites out of the bitumen under the buildings of Los Angeles. He has previously published poetry in Haggard & Halloo, Egg Poetry, Carcinogenic Poetry and LabLit Publications. He currently works in the veterinary industry as a doctor’s assistant and holds a bachelor’s…
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Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa Book 1 Chapter 2 Reflection
Having established the nature of the goddess as Creatrix, Chapter 2 further clarifies how the goddess acts within the physical universe. The text declares that the goddess is praised by the major deities, and is the source of liberation for yogis:
Further, the goddess is the primal power behind the material manifestation, and the source of knowledge in the Vedas.
The text now highlights a core tenant of Śakta theology and praxis, I remember in my mind the Mother of the Universe, tām sarva-viśva-jananī manasa smarāmi. The Creatrix is sarva-viśva-jananī, the Mother of the Universe, or simply Mā, who creates, preserves, and destroys.
The following verse clarifies the goddess’s role in innervating the trimūrti, as the triple goddesses of primary creation (sarga), Sarasvati, Mahā-Lakshmi, and Mahā Kālī. These manifestations of the Devī correspond to secondary creation (pratisarga) as the śaktis, or internal powers, of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva respectively. Further, the triple goddess’s attributes correspond to the triguṇa of the Samkhya cosmology, rajas, sattva, and tamas, respectively.
Christopher Miller defines the process of pariṇāma in the Samkhya system and the role of the guṇas,
In this way, the goddess not only accounts for the power of the trimūrti, but She also accounts for the fundamental qualities that influence the intellect (buddhi) and the way that it interacts with the material manifestation (prakṛti), the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance.
In contemplating these verses, one need look no further than the pithy statements of Ramakrishna who so characteristically defined the standard of Kālī-bhakti in plain language:
- Miller, Christopher P. “Samkhya.” In Hinduism and Tribal Religions, 2018.
- Nikhilananda. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York, NY: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 2017.
- Vijnanananda. Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. New Dehi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers , 2020.
Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa Book 1 Chapter 1 Reflection
The Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa begins by extolling the goddess as brahmāvidyā, the one who possesses knowledge of the creator, or according to the Monier-Williams, “knowledge of the ‘the one self-existent Being’” (MW 740). This can also mean that She is the study of all holy scriptures. By approaching Her, we approach knowledge of Brahmā, but also simply the act of studying scripture brings Her presence into our lives.
She is also sarvachaitanyarūpā, the form of all consciousness, She is consciousness itself and inhabits every aspect of creation. She is the Creatrix, both the creator and the creation itself. Her body is the universe, and Her mind is an omnipresent, omniscient consciousnesses that inhabits all aspects of the material manifestation. As Ramakrishna says,
David Kinsley provides a succinct and important summary of the theology contained in the Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa,
In this way, the goddess is an animistic force that gives properties of intelligence to all forms of matter and energy. Through direct experience (eg. dhyana) and through indirect experience (eg. śastra), She stimulates our intellect through timeless knowledge of Her own form.
The text boasts that Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa is the best of all Purānas, and that it grants instantaneous liberation from the cycle of life and death. Though, like all Sanskritic boasts, I suspect we must be up for the challenge of the long haul to read, dissect, and reflect upon the text to understand its inner workings before we can be granted true theological insight. Nevertheless, chapter 1 sets the scene for the text to be expounded to the gathering of sages, perhaps you the reader are now one among them.
1. Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997.
2. Nikhilananda. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York, NY: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 2017.
3. Vijnanananda. Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. New Dehi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers , 2020.
Honoring the Goddess Brig in OBOD’s Touchstone
Happy a to say that the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids published my poem Brig in Touchstone Issue 305. This poem discusses the goddess Brig or Brigid, a goddess who blends the lines between Celtic goddess and Catholic Saint. According to Celtic studies scholar Jennifer Paxton, the goddess Brig was spread across the entire map of Europe and was preserved in the name Britain. It’s possible that Saint Brigid was a pre-Christian deity re-cast as a Christian saint. Indeed, her biographies depict miraculous abilities such as raising the waters of the river.
Brigid went on to found the monastery at Kildare, under a sacred oak tree, which came to be know as the Church of the Oak. Folklore dictates that a crooked cross should be woven from straw and placed above the rafters of one’s home for the goddesses blessings, particularly around the Celtic Fire Festival of Imbolc or Saint Brigid’s Day. I like to think of this goddess as an example of how paganism and goddess worship continued to thrive until the modern era incorporated directly into Christianity. It is often believed that Paganism was entirely eradicated, but I would argue that Celtic culture shows us the deep syncretism between the two worlds and gives us a glimpse into how goddess worship survived the heteropatriarchy of Christian imperialism.
Remembering the Goddess as Mauna Loa Erupts
As Tūtū Pele encroaches upon the Pōhakuloa Training Center, Hawai’ians are celebrating. Mauna Loa is erupting, and with it Tūtū Pele brings change. The goddess takes the Land Back, nothing can stop her. And in it, we can hear Dr. Huanani Kay Trask shouting, we are not American, we are not American, we will die as Hawaiians. Kū e, kū e, kū e.
My family comes from an auspicious marriage between a British privateer, Captain a George Charles Beckley and the Hawai’ian Chiefess Ahia, five generations ago under the auspices of King Kamehameha himself. My grandmother was Ramona Joy Kanoelani Beckley, the daughter of George Charles Beckley and Elizabeth Kanoelani Nalua’i, a royal woman indeed. Growing up hapa in California led me to be very disconnected from my lineage, and made me question the very idea of our connection to the Ali’i. A Hawai’ian with white skin is a thing to observe indeed, but I pray to the gods to show me the way.
Not far from the Pōhakuloa Training Center, beneath the long shadow of the mountain, and under the gaze of the goddess Poli’ahu, I proposed to my wife near a tree littered with animal bones. The spirits of those creatures lingered there, we could feel their eternal prescience haunting the land like wistful specters, benevolent and natural. They lived amongst the barrack like structures of the Mauna Kea Recreation Center, a different type of haunting ghost that litters the land like bullets.
We had taken a tour to sky gaze on Mauna Kea, but the sky was closed. The snow goddess turned us away. Our guide was a haole, he insisted the thirty meter telescope should be built there to bring jobs to the Hawai’ian people. For science. For the economy, he said. We knew better, we kept our voices silent, but our kūpuna knew our hearts. The overthrow of the Hawai’ian monarchy was an international crime, a coup to solidify the grip of the American empire in the Pacific.
When we our powerless, our goddess steps in to protect us. Tūtū Pele speaks for us now where we remained quiet. We utter our sacred pule to the goddess, ever so silently under the stream of media, the pundits that bark in the news, as our people speak of hope.
Nevertheless, I felt rejected by the goddess of the snow. I wanted to propose on the peak of the mountain, Mauna Kea, the birthplace of the Hawai’ian people and the tallest mountain on earth from the bottom of the sea to the top of the sky. In the tour ride down to Hilo, we held a dual sense of joy and disappointment: we were engaged, but in a manner different than I had imagined. Under the spattering of warm Hilo rain, I meditated upon the mountain. I asked the goddess for recourse, I wondered why she had rejected me. Why was I not allowed to see the snow covered peak of Mauna Kea, the birthplace of our people?
In my silent contemplation with the goddess, she told me to visit her sister Tūtū Pele at Kilauea first. Poli’ahu would reveal herself only after I sought the guidance of her sister. We ventured out for our morning coffee in the foggy rain, and stumbled upon an Oracle deck in the Hilo shops called Mana Cards: The Power of Hawaiian Wisdom. Skeptical, I did a card pull and sure enough She arrived, I pulled the card for Pele.
We took a night venture to the volcano through the rainy jungle air, playing Gabby Pahinui and Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu, to my Auntie’s chagrin at the latter. She is a kumu hula, a teacher of the old traditions and ways of thinking. We entered Kilauea National Park, a curious sight to see Ranger hats guarding something that doesn’t belong to them, making sure that Kanaka have to pay the state to see their gods.
We drove past vents of steam rising from the ground, going toward the heavens where the Pueo flies with eternal grace. The caldera opened before us as we stepped out to greet Her. The night sky fell upon the volcano, and that’s when she began to dance. The goddess writhed in the red glow of flame, the magma caldera holding the most sacred woman in a plume of heat. She rose a hundred feet above the ground, glowing in the ember of the moon. I imagined my people sitting on that path watching intently as the goddess gave church, her sermon of the wild way under the guidance of the stars and moon. We chanted to her in call and response, words whose meanings I do not understand. But these words have informed my life since I was a child, cooking with my family during my auntie’s luau’s.
We drove over the mountain pass, and the peak evaded us still. We were married on a beach in Kona with five people as witnesses. The sea turtles beached beside us, the conch was blown, and we exchanged rings. I called upon our ancestors to witness our union something new and something sacred. Our child Koa Malulani was born many months later, carrying the torch of his grandmother. He was likely conceived in Hilo, under the slow pattern of rain drops falling from the misty ocean sky.
In the morning, the sky opened, the sea fog was swept out to the ocean. And the peak stood bare and snowy in the light of the island sun. The goddess revealed herself. And in ignorance I thought her revelation was complete. There was a sense of awe and wonderment at the sight, mixed with the deep confusion of witnessing the metal telescopes standing tall there on sacred ground. Their round domes looked like the bent backs of men who feel shame for what they had done.
It was time to go home. After all there are more Hawai’ians living in California than on the islands. Tourism is the economic model of the illegal state of Hawai’i. Hawai’ians are priced out of their own homes, banished from their ancestral homeland to live abroad like ghosts in a house where they don’t belong.
Once again we drove over the mountain rode. We saw the shacks of the mountain protectors, erected in protest as a home away from home to prevent the building of the thirty meter telescope. I saw the altar that they erected there and made an abrupt u-turn to the surprise of my passengers. The altar was erected in lava rock, bedecked in ti leaves, mangos, and flower leis. I offered obeisance and bowed in reverence. The Ki’i stared menacingly, daring any wrong doers to enter that place with ill intention. I noticed a banner caught on its wooden stave. I reached up to unfurl the banner, and then the goddess showed her stormy face.
The sleet of hail poured down on our heads, dropping rocks of snow like ice upon us in torrents. The hail pelted us as we ran back to our car. Poli’ahu had made herself known to us in that moment. She did not let us on the peak, but she let us into hear icy hearth fire. My journey on the island was complete, I saw the dueling sisters Pele and Poli’ahu, their dance of ice and fire in the glory of the Hawai’ian islands. And the Big Island became a new home, a place of refuge, a place where I experienced the goddess as an animating consciousness like no place I had ever seen before.
And as Tūtū Pele erupts from Mauna Loa, I offer my humble obeisances to her new plan. I pray that she melts down the bullets and the bombs of that land and covers them with earth. The earth does not belong to men, it belongs to Her. She decides how it will grow and evolve, who will live and who will die. She is the goddess, the animating principle, and Her magma moves to cover the land, building new islands as it cools. We cannot control Her. Our only hope is to surrender, to pray, and to observe the wonderment of Her manifestation as the consciousness of the very Earth itself.
Woman of the Snow
On the Hilo side, the island
smelled like never ending rain
falling like quarters tossed
Into a lovely Koi pond,
little fins erupting from the surface
Well I was stunned by orchid lei
I prayed to Poli’ahu
Can I see the snowy mountain
Without the thirty meter telescope?
A white man told me
The scope was good for jobs,
But my Mother tells me no.
I proposed under that mountain
Obscured by fog
Near the tree of bones
Littered with remains.
There, the snow woman
Turned me from the peak
And back down to the rain
The tarot told me Pele
And we took the night ride
Singing Ho’omalu and Pahinui
On the way
My Mother danced there
Made of magma fire
And we chanted her names in flame
Mai Kahiki ka wahine, o Pele,
Mai ka aina i Pola-pola,
Mai ka punohu ula a Kane,
From the red cloud of Kane,
From the red cloud of Kane
In the church of rock and steam
Mother may I meet your sister
The goddess of ice and snow?
In the morning the cloud parted
I could see the snow there,
from ocean floor to mountain top
Mauna Kea, our holy birth place,
where the ocean floor touches the sky
the Ti leaves rustle in the wind
We took Pu’eo’s road to Kona
Her protectors lived there
in shacks of metal and scraps.
We stopped to give obeisance
to the alter of magma rocks
Ki’i, ti leaves, and mangos
The banners blew in the wind,
the Union jacks and mountain flags
I unfurled a banner
trapped upon its stave,
and She came there in torrents of sleet,
the hail poured its ice upon us
Poli’ahu, woman of the snow,
I have seen your face in the clouds
And I see you Nana, too, Kupuna
Grandmother in the Sky.
Goddesses and Ordinary Women
The Zubaan Books Poster Women project depicts ordinary women involved in the struggles of day to day life in the iconography of the goddess. The poster above reads:
I believe this project is important because it strives to generate indigenous feminist narratives. Or more specifically, it generates narratives about feminism that are not informed purely by white feminist ideologies. It frames the struggles of Indian village women in iconographies that are familiar to India. Take the image below for example,
Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality forces us to look at the intersections of race, class, gender, and ability; and how those summate into various legal or structural ramifications that are more severe when grouped together. For example, the structural issues faced by a Black transgender man differ from the structural issues faced by a white female feminist.
This allows us to move away from the trite cultural appropriation of Kālī as “a badass goddess,” to the a culturally sensitive and indigenous feminism that interprets Kālī as Divine Mother who not only governs the universe but actually is the universe itself, The Creatrix. Seeing the sex worker Ramani, Ramakrishna declared “Mother, I see that you are in that form too.” Therefore, it’s not that Kālī is just some external source of power to be identified as “badass,” but Kālī is an internal power, the Goddess is the ordinary woman.
In my master’s thesis work, I theorized that a novel feminist theory could be derived simply from Kālī-bhakti, based on Vrinda Dalmiya’s work with Ramprasad Sen:
I recently submitted my master’s thesis for publication. So hopefully there is more of this to come!
Oak arms reach in silver skin
I wear the skull cap of a Buck
and pray that our gods
take note in their world
We try to reach it with our effigies,
Stone carvings of human faces,
Animal bone, candle wicks,
and polished brass:
The water becomes new,
It takes in its ambrosial beatitude
In one cupped palm we imbibe
And then we ring the bells
I have uttered sacred words
counting seeds in the hand
bearing flame and incense,
The crone and the witch
come to visit:
I have taken liberties in this life
bearing the witness of harm,
those concoctions and inebriations.
Though I’ve survived to meet the woman
who holds time in one hand,
and space in the other
Born under the sign of Centaur
They have told me that god is a man
and he died hanging on a cross of wood
but my god is a woman
and she bears the form of wood
She lives in the torrent of rain
Under the willow bark,
She is the speckle of life that breathes
In the waters and the streams
She wears twigs and barleycorn
Tucked in the furrows of her hair
And she dons the rags of Birch bark
With stones in her toes
They said that god is small,
That he lives only in their house of stone
But my god is the stone itself,
A wild woman, Clear of color,
sometimes dark as night,
She whistles in the sound of wind,
And she is the the hum of thunder
The Bristlecone, the briar friend,
Mistletoe and straw
I offer these bones of oak
the children of the tree
To the wooden woman
in the hearth and home
I strike a match, the sulphur
fills the air, in trails and wisps,
I hold the flame to candle
I spread a golden goblet of sand
on a bronze plate of symbols
Then place the candle there
I take a branch of oak
fallen in the black street outside
and write the shape of a leaf
an epigraph in sand
I place an acorn there
Does the wooden woman smile?
Does she know?
Has she seen me through
the veil of Dew.
Let the candle burn through night:
I hold my palms in praise
folded over the blade of the rib
I bow my head to Her
Dear candle warm my winter
I’ll carry this acorn with me
when I require strength.