Goddess Kali

Goddess Kali

Goddess Kali steps onstage first in the Goddess Forum,
a series of musings by various authors about the challenges and joys
of developing "goddessness" in our daily lives. Links to articles,
poetry, and other expressions can be found at the bottom of this page.


Kali

Kali and the Hibiscus:

The Dark Goddess
in the Pruning Shears

by Suzi Green

Goddess Kali and hibiscus There was a time I earned my living  teaching music, and that was when a hibiscus, a gift from a student, came into my life.  It was small, and to my eyes, a rather plain-looking plant, set in a green plastic pot.  I had no idea it was a hibiscus, the plant whose large red blooms are sacred to the goddess Kali, the fierce sword wielding goddess of the Indian tradition.
I set it in a sunny spot, watered it once a week, and gave it a bit of plant food now and then.  Beyond that I didn't pay it much attention. To tell the truth, the plant bored me. It didn't have the lacy elegance of the asparagus fern, the lush foliage of the ficus, the sexy glamour of the gardenia. It grew slowly, rather humbly, and for two years never showed a bud. Until by chance, I happened to transplant it.

I was repotting some other plants that day and thought I'd transfer it from its little green container into one of my newly emptied large clay pots. I preferred the look of red clay to green plastic. The plant looked way too small for the pot, however within a week, it doubled in size.  Soon after that the buds came.

There was clearly a lesson here about room to grow, benign neglect, and not seeking what is right before one's eyes. Nevertheless, the plant forgave my triple-sin of omission. Within three weeks it greeted me with an incredible flower, brilliant red, five perfect petals opening to the morning. It was only then I realized this plant was a hibiscus. And that it had something to teach me about tending living things.

The hibiscus accompanied us when we moved, in a most unexpected change of lifestyle, from a house surrounded by nature to one in a subdivision in a small state. It was something like a crowded pot, crammed with people, automobiles, condominiums, corporate parks and shopping malls. Goddess Kali and hibiscus
There was too much of everything man-made here. The fertile land that was once full of family farms, lush wetlands, open fields and woodlands had give way to commercial development, a benign=sounding phrase for the mindless destruction of the earth. It was here that disaster struck the hibiscus.

In the beginning it was just a couple of tiny white flies. The plant had lived through so many seasons. It was strong, vital, and so good-natured I was sure it would peacefully co-exist with these little specks of insect life. This was not to be. Little by little the white flies took over, and I could see it weakening. I tried everything. Natural remedies. Toxic remedies. Everyone had a suggestion. Nothing worked. The bugs multiplied. The plant diminished.

My heart broke as I watched my beautiful hibiscus slowly wither and start to die. I could barely go near it, feeling I had failed: that by allowing this plant to die I had broken a promise to it and to myself to be a careful nurturer of life.

We brought all the houseplants outside for the warm season. By now, the leaves of the hibiscus were shriveled and dry, the white flies circling all around it.   I knew it was dying, but since I could not bring myself to toss it into the weed pile, I set it outside with the others. That was when I heard the voice, clear, direct, without a trace of pity. Cut it back. Remove everything but the lowest stumps. Leave only one leaf. Do not wait a moment longer. Do it now.

It felt like murder, but I know this voice. I think of it as my Kali voice; when it speaks, I listen.   I got my pruning shears and started cutting, singing a chant from the Indian goddess tradition, the "Hymn to the Great Mother", with each clave of the blades.

Goddess Kali and hibiscus "Salutations to you in the form of Consciousness", cut.
"Salutations to you in the form of Intelligence", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of Power", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of Forgiveness", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of Beauty", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of Fortune", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of Contentment", cut. "Salutations to you in the form of the Mother", cut.
The deed was done. I looked at my beautiful hibiscus, shorn of her leaves and branches and remembered the old Sumerian story of Ianna's descent to the Underworld. She must leave behind her crown, beads, breastplate, gold ring, measuring rod, and royal robe until she is "naked and bowed low."

The hibiscus was indeed "naked and bowed low". With nothing left to feed on, the white flies disappeared. The hibiscus sat for about a month, a few dead stumps rising from a large clay pot. Every time I looked at it, I too felt "naked and bowed low". Then one day in mid-June, I saw a spot of green pushing out of the central stem. By July the stumps were covered with small green leaves. The hibiscus lived. By August it was rounder, fuller, lusher, than every before. It seemed to have a new vitality, like it knew something it hadn't known before. Or maybe it was me who knew something I hadn't known before. Something about roots and the power of darkness. Something about how even  when we think nothing is happening, something is happening.

Then the buds began. Previously the hibiscus put out five or six blossoms at a time, but now it was covered with flowers.   It was a glorious explosion of red vermilion. That was when I knew it was Kali, come to teach me about death as a doorway to life; about the power of descent; about the wisdom of the sword when we wield it with the compassionate touch of the Mother. A gardener might say it was simply a matter of proper pruning. For me it was more than that. I'd watched the hibiscus return from the mouth of death, radiant, resplendent, alive.

The story goes that Kali comes into the world during a war betwen the gods (who represent truth) and the demons (who represent everything that keeps us from living in truth--fear, unworthiness, self-doubt, addiction, and so forth). The battlefield is really the psyche. The demons are winning until the Great Goddess Durga comes onto the scene. At the peak of the fighting she calls on her most potent aspect, Kali, who leaps from Durga's brow and charges onto the killing ground, destroying the demon army. Goddess Kali and hibiscus
Much as I delight in this image of the fierce feminine, my favorite part of the story comes at the end. Kali has won the battle; however, whe is so immersed in her dance of destruction--she is, after all, on a mission--she is unaware that the job is done. If she continues dancing, she will destroy the entire world. Fortunately her consort, the god Shiva, knows what to do. Taking the form of a tiny baby, he lies down on the battlefield. As soon as Kali sees this tender infant, she stops, and cradling it to her breast, begins to nurse. Death gives way to new life. I love this image of the fierce goddess, surrounded by ten thousand demon corpses she has just slaughtered, quietly suckling a baby.

Cutting back my hibiscus was a fierce act. I had to let go of blame and self-pity, heed a powerful inner voice, take a chance on a bunch of dead stubs in a pot. I had to trust in the mysterious darkness. This is Kali work, cutting away that which is dead, diseased, bug-ridden, finished, blocking our way--severing the ties that bind us.

Ultimately, of course, all is Kali, all is the Mother. The hibiscus, the white flies, the gods, the demons, the beautiful, the terrible, the eternal cycle of life, death and transformation. She spits us out of her womb and eats us back into it, over and over again.

When we don't know how to see her, Kali can be quite terrifying. In Indian religious art she is often pictured wearing a garland of skulls and a skirt of severed arms.

Her hair is wild, her tongue sticks out, she holds a severed head in one of her many hands. She is the embodiment of the fierce feminine, protectress of the heart, come to wrest us from all that keeps us from our Truth. Some say there is none who is more compassionate.

Goddess Kali and hibiscus

I have learned much from my journey with the hibiscus. That things are rarely what they seem. That the plain and simple is often a mask for beauty and power. That one should never underestimate the power of roots. That we animal folk are not so different from plants.

We need room to grow. We need fresh air, warm sun, good food, clean water, and most of all, we need love. Sometimes that love is fierce, rising up to safeguard our time or creativity or pupose, our loved ones or community.

When the white flies start buzzing around, zapping our vitality and strength, covering us with a veil of torpor and forgetfulness, that is the time to call on Kali.

Kali is the fierce energy of the psyche, the light of discrimination, the sword of wisdom, the power to recognize what must be done and to do it. Kali's sword shapes and refines our lives, honing and sculpting us, making order out of chaos, showing us the meaning, beauty and purpose of our lives. The sword in the hands of Kali is good and just. It is not the sword of violence and cruelty. Kali's sword is the compassionate blade of the mother.

Kali is also the fertile darkness, the deep dark void, the every-changing cycles of time. She teaches us through every phase, if we will only open up our ears and hearts and eyes and really listen.

I like to imagine myself and the hibiscus as one. I close my eyes and feel my rooots reaching down into the earth, spreading out deeper and deeper, holding me in the embrace of rocks, dust, sand, loam, peat, mold, clay, earthworms, leeches, ants, beetles, lice, underground fertility,   feeding me its life. Goddess Kali and hibiscus
I see my leaves and branches rising from theground, covered in red and green profusion, each of my flowers an offering to the same life force that has pushed me up from itself and will pull me back down again.

I feel the warmth of the sun, sweet touch of the earth, fresh taste of water, and know that all of this, earth, water, fire, and air, is all of me. The tea I drank for breakfast, soup I ate for lunch, all the plants that made it, the heat that cooked it, all of it is Her becoming me and me becoming Her.

So tending my hibiscus, I tend it lovingly, as I try to tend myself and all with whom I come in contact, remembering that we are all one living presence of the Goddess, who is everywhere, in everything, the very stuff from which this universe is made.

Goddess Kali and hibiscus Lady of the Plants. they say you are in everything and I know this is true because when I close my eyes and really listen, I hear your deep song singing from my heart, holding me through countless seasons, from seed to bud to bloom and back to seed again.
Suzin Green teaches Devi Yoga, a Goddess path drawing from the Hindu Goddess tradition, Tantra, Bhakti Yoga, Archetypal Psychology, and the Way of Art. A musician and writer, she has released four albums, Dream Shield Journey, Om Namah Shivaya, Hearts on Fire, and Devi Demo and is a featured artist on the Gaiam/Relaxation Co. release, Women's Yoga Chants. Suzin writes about the Goddess for national magazines and performs and teaches throughout the USA, Cananda, and Mexico. "Kali and the Hibiscus: The Dark Goddess of the Pruning Shears" appeared in SageWoman, Spring, 1998 (Issue 41) and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the publisher,  SageWoman Magazine, 1991.

Goddess Kali

Points of Reflection

Do you get a bit queazy when you read about the Indian gods and goddesses (or, for that matter, those from other cultures) who were fearsome? Do you find the Hindu goddess Kali's appearance disturbing? Does the idea of a woman being furious (or experiencing her ferocity)  please you, or does it disturb you, for example by displays of anger seeming "unsafe" or not "lady-like"? 

Many women develop their capacity for "righteous anger" and outspokeness in late midlife. Do you think this is a good thing for them, their friends and family, society in general? Is it something you admire?

What do you think of the idea that all of us (women) tend to have too much "stuff" in our lives, things that stand in the way of our living with truth or authenticity in our lives. What are some of the things you think women need to "prune" from their lives?

Goddess Kali

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