“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
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.
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.
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.
The old grey mountains outside
Live inside our bones
Where the heart swells in its home
And the wild smell of earth
Comes to coat your nose
like a light stint of rainfall
on the mountain trail road
You do not belong there
Tucked away inside your
Painted box of wood
All your senses locked in their quiet
Obfuscation - your mortal eyes
Trapped in the long line of stop lights
Under these towers made of glass
where the worried heart
forgets its real nature
John Muir says the mountains
Are calling and I must go.
The journey begins where the road ends:
This smell of earth lives
Inside the codons in our genes
It makes the lungs swell with air
It lives inside the electric current
In the apex fibers of the heart muscle
You do not belong there.
The mother talks to you in turbid dreams
That leave a sheen of sweat on your skin
And a roll of blankets
lie covered in your water made of fear
This mountain calls - it speaks -
This is God’s country:
Where the old rainfall left a mud trail
Where the birds take to the mountain breeze
Like little autumn leaves - elevation gaining
And the great cliffs drop away
in their vertiginous longing
for the mother dirt
How long will you stay
in your temple of occlusion?
The cold air outside
enlivens the bleating heart strings
And the skin bristles in its gooseflesh
When the golden protuberance of sunlight
Touches down upon its surface
And this case of bone becomes alive again
Walk from your cage, your dying body
These trails have written your name
In the mud
Where the paved road ends
And the rocks of gravel start to grip
Under your toes.
In these wild wanderings
we begin to find the tune of our music
like lotus water and red painted sindoor
paper folded cranes in a sun stained window
and the shadow of the master
standing on the wall
Bhavatarini: a woman dances in circles
and screams at her mother.
We all touch her feet in this carnal church
adoring only this rapture:
this tantric window that whittles away
the barriers at the tops of our skin
We confront those stained glass windows
that cover the cave of the heart
like sun shadows moving in the daylight:
I’ve got no where to go
I’ve turned right at every fork in the road
all these cobbled pathways lead back home
In the Great Courses lecture, Hans-Freidrich Mueller, PhD comments on the comparative theology between these two seemingly distant pantheons of the ancient world
Other gods of interest include Varuna, who, like Greek Poseidon and Roman Neptune, was a god of waters, earthquakes, and justice. Surya, god of the sun, may be compared with Greek Helios and Roman Sol; Chandra, god of
the moon, with Greek Selene and Roman Luna. Vedic Vishwakarma was like Greek Hephaistos and Roman Vulcan; the Aswins were like the twins Castor and Pollux (also known as the Dioscuri). Ganesha has been compared to Janus; Balarama with Bacchus; Kartikeya with Ares and Mars; Durga with Hera and Juno; Sarasvati with Athena and Minerva; Sri with Aphrodite and Venus;
and Kama with Eros and Cupid.
I can only imagine a world in which western Paganism was not eradicated by Christianity. This world would probably be somewhat like India, home to a handful of the worlds extant major religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. India’s ancient and medieval tolerance of religion was markedly different from the medieval world of the west. Though there’s little truth in the Wiccan sentiment of continuity between Pre-Christian paganism and modern Wicca, the idea of the “burning times,” is an interesting setting in which Western paganism was almost totally lost. Many times, the only surviving texts to reference, such as Snori’s Poetic Edda, are actually Christian reflections on Paganism that situate the Pagan world in a Christian cosmology. Unfortunately today, India appears to be losing some of that tolerance that it once held. But perhaps many Hindus see this as a method of survival, in the face of the eradication of Paganism by the monotheistic traditions. I would hope a spirit of religious plurality survives, but not at the sake of losing the gods.
On Samhain we honored the goddess in the form of the crone, the Cailleach, who reigns over the winter months in the Celtic tradition. Brighid, who oversees the summer season, passes Her reign over to the Cailleach as the days get longer and the nights get colder. Though, traditionally folks carved Jack-O-Lanterns from turnips, we carved ours from pumpkin, the fall vegetable of Turtle Island. I chose to carve the pentacle, the five elements, the Pancha Mahabhutas, on the face of our locally harvested gourd. This way we live in closeness, in ever increasing proximity to the land that we call home.
We shared a dumb supper with our ancestors, offering bread, honey, wine, and salt. The somber occasion marked a stark difference between the Halloween festivities and the sincerity of the Samhain ritual as we invited the dead into our home. As tradition demands, we lit the bonfire and conducted the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids solo Samhain ritual. We offered our regret to the Cailleach and invited the ancestors to enter into our circle, noting their presence and accepting their tokens and blessings. We finished the night full of joy and wonder at the Other World, at the greatness of the Goddess who has taken so many forms to please Her devotees.