On a cold December day on the cusp of 2020, my fiancé and I entered a warm yoga studio to look inward and forward. We rolled out our mats with the intention of stretching our bodies, minds, and spirits, curious about what more we could bring to our practice in the new year.
During meditation, our teacher challenged us to peel away the layers of individual identity by repeatedly asking ourselves, “Who am I?” My answers came easily at first. Mother, sister, lover, friend. “Who am I?” Journalist, gardener, yogi. A doer, yes. Photographer. An observer, too. I
notice color, light and shadow in the external world; dare I look into the shadows of my soul?
The prompt to “search for the divine within” evoked an image of a dancing goddess, strong and graceful, at ease in her very female body. She looked me directly in the eye, smiled enticingly, then stuck out her tongue, a playful gesture that felt menacing.
Who was she? Her incivility made me think of Kali Ma, the ancient Hindu goddess. What little I knew of Kali frightened me. Goddess of death and time, both creator and destroyer, she was worshipped as the Mother of the Universe 3000 years ago. Her legendary power came from the combined shakti, divine feminine energy, of all the Hindu gods, and she was sexually irresistible.
Kali is always pictured naked, whether as a voluptuous seducer, a cadaverous crone, or a fierce warrior, her skin blue or black, her eyes blazing, her long tongue extended, dripping blood. She sports a garland of shrunken heads, a skirt of severed arms, and earrings of dead children. In her many arms, she wields weapons and offers blessings. In her most famous pose, she brandishes a bloody sword and holds high a severed demon’s head, standing with one foot on the prostrate figure of her husband, Shiva, the god of destruction.
She appears in another painting that depicts a legendary battle with a demon whose misdeeds threaten the peace and prosperity of the land. Raktabija, whose Sanskrit name means “blood seed,” has a special power; when a drop of his blood touches the ground it immediately grows
into another deadly demon. Archers, both human and divine, cannot defeat him. When their arrows pierce his skin, the blood shed multiplies their enemy exponentially. It takes Kali’s quick thinking and decisive action to turn the battle around. She sticks out her long tongue and laps
up droplets of the demon’s blood before they hit the ground, then devours his clones!
Knowing what I knew about Kali, and observing her energy rising in me, I wondered what 2020 had in store for me. What demons would I be called on to destroy?
Searching for insight, I thought about how images I’d chosen to create a vision board for 2019 had obliquely predicted pivotal events that year – my cat’s demise, the completion of my memoir, and acceptance into a writing program at Birkbeck. It makes me smile, thinking how a picture of a princess bride in rubber boots proved a whimsical preview of my engagement to a Hampstead Heath-stomping man who treats me like royalty.
So what portent did an ancient goddess have on my plans to move abroad, get married, and pursue an advanced degree? Nothing obvious, at first.
Kali’s image lurked in the back of my mind during the cold dark months of winter. Then I forgot all about her. I arrived in London in early March, in anticipation of a festive wedding party at Lauderdale House. We were preparing for 50 guests from the US, Ireland, and the UK. But just two weeks after my arrival, England went into lockdown, and our wedding plans were destroyed. Was this Kali sticking her tongue out at me?
Then one sunny day in May, six weeks into the lockdown, as my forever fiancé and I marched up Haverstock Hill, armed with masks and hand sanitizer, it hit me: Kali is here! My subconscious encounter with the goddess wasn’t just about me; I’d tapped into an archetypal energy
much larger. Suddenly I saw Kali’s fierce energy erupting around the planet in the battle against the coronavirus. I saw the virus as a demon like Raktabija, replicating itself exponentially, thwarting aspirations
for peace and prosperity. I admired Kali’s zeal to restore balance. Who better than the goddess of death to understand that the price of life is sacrifice? I felt her appetite for vengeance in my own outrage at the injustices and inequities exposed by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.
I saw Kali’s unabashed nakedness as women’s empowerment, her dark skin and upraised arms in the grieving mothers who founded Black Lives Matter, and her collaboration with other deities as a model for female leadership.
Kali was everywhere I looked, even in the mirror. The roots of my hair revealed a little more grey each day of the lockdown, providing incontrovertible evidence of my age. Even if COVID-19 doesn’t get me, I will die one day.
Like my true hair color, the pandemic is revealing underlying truths about the way we treat nature and each other. The news is disheartening. The issues are global. What can be done? I want to do more to make change than wash my hands, wear a mask, and stay home.
Now, in mid-summer, my fiancé and I roll out our yoga mats in the living room of our Primrose Hill flat. Our teachers appear on screen. But the best teacher I’ve had this year appears in the dark, behind my closed eyes, during meditation. It’s then that I sense Kali’s fearlessness and
creativity within me. I invoke her shakti powers to accept death, battle for justice, and gestate something new. I’ve discovered the divine within. She can’t be locked down.