Kali Ma, called the “Dark Mother,” is the Hindu goddess of creation, preservation, and goddess of destruction. She is especially known in her Destroyer aspect, squatting over her dead consort, Shiva, devouring his entrails while her yoni sexually devours his lingam, penis. Kali, in this aspect is said to be “The hungry earth, which devours its own children and fattens on their corpses…” In India the experience of the Terrible Mother has been given its most grandiose form of Kali, which just is not simple imagery; it is the image of the Feminine, particularly the Maternal, for in a profound way life and birth are integrally connected to death and destruction.
The full importance of the profound meaning of the functions of Kali as the live-giver, preserver, and destroyer have been dismissed or destroyed over the centuries, as have been the aspects of other manifestations of the goddess. Many western interpretations of Kali in art and literature just depict the destructive aspect of this goddess, which tend to portray her as fearsome and evil. In the London Museum is an image of her which is labeled “Kali-Destroying Demon.” The Encyclopedia Britannica devotes five columns to the Christian interpretation of the Logos and dismisses Kali’s part in the creation of the world. This deity is mentioned in a brief paragraph as the consort of Shiva, and “a goddess of disease.”
In Hinduism Kali’s three functions are assigned to the gods: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. It is noted that Vishnu, who is thought to have brought the world out of the primal abyss, wrote the following about Kali: “Maternal cause of all change, manifestation, and destruction…the whole Universe rests upon Her, rises out of Her and melts into Her. From Her crystallized the original elements and qualities which construct the apparent world. She is both mother and grave… The gods themselves are merely constructs out of Her maternal substance, which is both consciousness and potential joy.”
As a Mother, Kali was called Treasure-House of Compassion (karuna), Giver of Life to the World, the Life of all lives. Despite the popular western belief that she is just a Goddess of destruction, she is the fount of every kind of love, which flows into the world through women, her agents on earth. Thus, it is said of a male worshipper of Kali, “bows down at the feet of women,” regarding them as his rightful teachers.
Some say the name Eve perhaps originated from Kali’s leva or Jiva, the primordial female principle of manifestation; she gave birth to her “first manifested form” and called him Idam (Adam). She also bore the same title given to Eve in the Old Testament: Mother of All Living (Jaganmata).
Although referred to as “the One,” Kali was always a trinity Goddess: Virgin, Mother, and Crone. This triad formed perhaps nine or ten millennia ago has been manifested in many cultures: the Celts with their triple Morrigan, the Greeks with their triple Moerae, the Norsemen with their Norms, the Romans with their Fates and triadic Uni (Juno), the Egyptians with their triple Mut, and the Arabian Moon-goddess. Kali can be identified everywhere. Her trinity is recognized in the Christian triple Godhead; some conclude this Godhead is all male, not nothing that in the Hebrew Old Testament the word for Spirit, ruwach, was of feminine gender.
Blood sacrifice was important in the worship of Kali as they were in the worship of the early Biblical God, the commanded that the blood must be poured on his alters (Exodus 29:16) for the remission of sins (Numbers 18:9), but there were differences. Jewish priests ate the sacrificial meat themselves whereas the devotees of Kali were permitted to eat their own offerings as in Calcutta. Kali demanded only male animals be sacrificed; a custom dating back to the primitive belief that the male had no part in the cycle of generation. The god Shiva, Kali’s sacrificial spouse, commanded that female animals must not be slain on the altar.
Kali was the Ocean of Blood at the beginning of the world; she might be said to be the primordial mass from which all life arouse; and her ultimate destruction of the universe is prefigured by the destruction of each individual, though her karmic wheel always brought reincarnation. After death came nothing-at-all, which Tantric sages called the third of three states of being; to experience it was like the experience of Dreamless Sleep. This state was also called “the Generative Womb of All, the Beginning and End of Beings.” Kali devoured Time, she resumed her “dark formlessness,” which appeared in all myths of before-creation and after-doomsday as elemental Chaos.
The Tantric worshippers of Kali readily acknowledged and accepted her Curse; they willing accepted her terror of death as well as they accepted her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. They knew the coin of life has two sides, life and death; one cannot exist without the other. Kali’s sages communed with her in the grisly atmosphere of the cremation ground, to become familiar with the images of death. Her devotee would say, “His Goddess, his loving Mother, in time who gives him birth and loves him in the flesh, she also destroys him in the flesh. His image of Her is incomplete if he does not know her as his tearer and devourer.”
The name Kali Ma comes from Kalma, a hunter of tombs and eater of the dead, as she was called in Finland, also called the Black Goddess. European “witches” worshipped her in funeral places, for the same reasons, that the Tantric yogis and dakinis worshipped her in cremation grounds, as Smashana-Kali, Lady of the Dead. Former pagans adored her in cemeteries as the Black Mother Earth, where the Roman tombstones invoked her with the phrase Mater genuit, Mother receipt-the Mother bore me, the Mother took me back.
Sometimes Kali, the Destroyer, wore red symbolizing the blood of the life that that she gave and took back: “as She devours all existence, as She chews all things existing with Her fierce teeth, therefore a mass of blood is imagined to be the apparel of the Queen of the Gods at the final dissolution.” The gypsies in their worship of Kali, the Goddess of disease, clothed her in red, the proper color of gypsy funerals. A.G.H.
Walker, Barbara G, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, New York, HarperCollins, 1983, pp. 488-494