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 and the
The Dark Goddess
in the Pruning Shears
by Suzi Green
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.
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
|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.
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
|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,
|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.
|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.
|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
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.
|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.
||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.
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.
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
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?
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