KALI: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar

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KALI: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar

By Elizabeth U. Harding 

Nicholas-Hays, Inc. 1993 


This is a book about the Hindu Goddess Kali. In the preface to her work Harding explains, “Kali, the divine Mother, has been largely misunderstood in the West. As a result, people have labeled her as something evil rather than a source of joy...This book attempts to clarify who Kali is.”  For those who are interested in exploring Kali, this is a lovely source. That, however, is not what I’m commenting on in this blog. Instead, I’m taking a few paragraphs out of context and considering their significance as healing metaphors. 

Harding opines, “While Christians believe in a God that is all good and a devil that is all bad, Hindus believe in only one Universal power which is beyond good and bad. To explain the concept, they give the example of fire. The same fire that cooks one’s food can burn down one’s house. Still, can we call fire good or bad?” Now, please understand that I am not advocating for Hinduism over Christianity. If your faith is working for you, whatever it is, that is something that is so sacred and profound for you it supersedes any intellectual twattle. However, I do feel that disempowering the binary concepts of good and bad opens the doors for psychic and emotional healing. 

My experience of Western culture is that it loves binary thinking; there seems to be a sense of safety in identifying good vs bad. However, that concept separates instead of including; stops movement instead of dancing. We can point a rigidly justified finger at all those bad people or bad things while finding comfort in everyone who is good like us. The communion created within our cocoons of sameness is small and insulated, often based on some very old rules that have been blindly passed down through generations. Hence, the relationship is apt to be constructed out of obligation and fear: I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me, we both know the rules. Where is there an experience of learning from the other? How tightly must we gird ourselves to stay small in our tiny world of sameness? How much of our own heart and vulnerability is lost behind this grand defense? Where is there room for exploration beyond the old tried and true narrative? Where is there a place for boldly new experiences or a slightly different perspective? And it is that slightly new perspective, by the way, the re-evaluation of the old story, the questioning, that is often the beginning of healing. 

When good and bad become internalized, the result on the developing human can be treacherous. For many people suffering from trauma, especially early childhood trauma, the good/bad judger has been viciously turned on themselves. I have witnessed so many who suffer not only from their early victimization at the hands of guardians unable to care for them but also from the internal voices who blame and deride and shame. The hapless child has unconsciously bought the story that they are terribly, horribly bad. They will often spend a lifetime trying to quiet the internal ruckus that continually insists that they do not deserve love or good fortune. This voice unconsciously guides every choice they make. And even if they achieve worldly success, they often still feel empty or like a fraud, terrified that someone will see the “real” them and their world will shatter.  

What happens if we take good and bad out of the equation? What happens if we have the courage to look at our pain and redefine it as trauma (or visa -versa, look at our trauma and call it pain)? What happens if we accept that each of us is made up of many intricate components, some happy, some sad, and lots and lots of emotional depth that is neither positive nor negative in between? If we can find the courage to re-evaluate our life’s story; stop accepting someone else’s narrative as our personal truth, find the crack in the armor instead of desperately trying to plaster over it, we are on the road to healing. This can be the first step in defining our own truth and morality and allowing our constricted hearts to breathe and participate in life. 

Here’s an example of questioning a very old, very accepted story. Harding ponders, “Could it be that God in ancient times was a she? According to Judeo-Christian tradition, this idea is ‘unthinkable’, but if one seriously studies history with an open mind, one cannot exclude the possibility of a Great Mother.”  She argues that Kali has been manifest for centuries in many cultures as that Great Mother. She begins defending her thesis by examining images from Neolithic times and then travels to Mexico where she finds the ancient Aztec goddess Coatlicue whose “resemblance to the Hindu Kali is striking.” She goes on to find “Kali in ancient Crete as Rhea, the Aegean Universal Mother or Great Goddess”. In Ireland, she identifies her as “Caillech or Cailleach. An old Celtic name for the Goddess in her Destroyer aspect”. Harding, quoting Sir J. G. Frazer, goes so far as to consider that California is named after Kali. “In medieval legend, the Caillech became the Black Queen who ruled a western paradise in the Indies, where men were used in Amazonian fashion for breeding purposes only, then slain. Spaniard's caller Califia, whose territory was rich in gold, silver, and gems. Spanish explorers later gave her name to the newly discovered paradise on the Pacific shore of North America, wish is how the state of California came to be named after Kali”.  

Is any of this the “truth”? Who knows? But does the old Christian myth of Adam and Eve hold any more veracity? Is one myth good and the other bad? I don’t think so. They are all rich with imagery and symbols. What is important in healing is to examine what we have been told is the truth and feel if it holds value for us, as an individual. To heal we need to dig deeply and find the images, words, music, dance, an embodiment that hold a very visceral, personal truth. This is where new life begins.