Adorned with a garland of skulls and wielding a sword and other weapons, the fierce goddess Kali invokes a quality of transformation, power, dissolution, and liberation. Her iconography is striking, perhaps even terrifying to behold. She wears a skirt of severed arms, has her red tongue hanging out and her hair disheveled and wild. Both feared and loved, Kali is an undeniably fierce presence who guides her devotees through the paradoxes of life.
Working with Kali is demanding and yet ultimately liberating, if one surrenders to her wisdom. As absolute power, as the primordial mother, Kali embodies the mysteries of life: birth and death. She does not bow down to any hegemony. Kali removes the veils of our illusions and ignorance to reveal the underlying heart of reality. Her transformative shakti (or power) shows our conditioned and fear-based attachments, the ways we falsely believe we are separate, and all the contractions that limit our access to her knowledge.
We will explore the iconography of Kali and her philosophical context within Shakta and Tantric traditions. We will discuss her history, her indigenous expressions, and look at devotional and ritual approaches to her worship.
Week 2: Durga, Goddess of Justice
Durga is a goddess of strength, justice and courage. She alleviates fear, grief and suffering and brings her fierce compassion to every challenging situation. Astride a tiger or lion, Durga has between eight and eighteen arms, which wield, among other things, a sword, mala, kalasha (sacred vessel), lotus, book, noose, goad, bow, arrows, spear, club, and trident. We will discuss the symbolism and esoteric significance of each of these instruments.
What do Durga’s various manifestations (as the 8 Matrikas and 9 Durgas, for example) represent in the practitioner and scholar-practitioner's trajectory or practice? How and why is Durga’s 5th century myth (the Devi Mahatymyam) relevant for these times?
In addition to looking at Durga’s powers, iconography, history and function, an introduction will be given to the Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi Path, taking into account several perspectives: that of history, philosophy, and sadhana (or practice).
Week 3: Lakshmi, Goddess of Love
Goddess Lakshmi is most often known as a goddess of material abundance, but to the spiritual practitioner, the yogin or the tantrika, Lakshmi is a goddess of love and spiritual abundance. Most of the qualities we attribute to Lakshmi today are only part of her full range of expression.
Within orthodox Hinduism, Lakshmi has been domesticated and her powers have often been appropriated for selfish and material gain. We will look to Lakshmi’s autonomous, sovereign and earth-based roots within the Shakta tradition in order to more fully understand what she offers to those on the spiritual path.
We will see how and why Lakshmi is the original matriarch, who sustains harmony, balance and peace on earth. Lakshmi’s connection to early Goddesses like the Yakshis and the Lajja Gauris will be presented to further our understanding of the greater cosmic field of Lakshmi.
Week 4: Saraswati, Goddess of Creativity
Saraswati appears with four arms, dressed in white, on her swan or goose, holding a book of sacred wisdom, a mala, and kalasha (sacred pot). Saraswati is a goddess of creativity, the arts, music, learning, and teaching. She is known for her powers of wisdom, contemplation and meditation.
We will look to Saraswati’s most ancient form as a river goddess and then consider Saraswati’s energies as the sacred flow of water, purification, grace, and consciousness. In the Vedas, we learn she is Vaac, the supreme word, the sacred sound that brings consciousness into form.
As a goddess of language and consciousness, what does this mean and how is it relevant to our lives today? We will also address the demonization of Saraswati and Lakshmi as jealous rivals and examine why the orthodox order would attempt to separate the powers of these forms and expressions of the goddess.