Now that the programming lineup has been made public, I can happily announce that my proposal to Many Gods West 2016 was accepted. I’ll be presenting “Loving God, Becoming God: Three Tales of Apotheosis” in Olympia, WA, on the first weekend of August. I had the pleasure of presenting last year at the first MGW conference and I’m honored to be extended the opportunity to share some material that’s very meaningful to me.
“Loving God, Becoming God” will focus on the lives of Akka Mahadevi, Sri Andal, and Mirabai, three Hindu women poet-saints, and the stories told about them. Are these stories technically apotheosis narratives and if so, what does that suggest about the nature of the divine? Can modern non-Hindu devotees approach these stories with a view towards the innate human dignity of these three women and affirm their spiritual trajectories? If we can, what implications does our affirmation hold for the way modern seekers are regarded?
I chose to speak about these three women because I feel like their stories deserve to be heard by a much wider audience. The English language academy has only relatively recently turned its attention to the amazing faith traditions recounted in the Tamil language. Though Mirabai has been written about fairly extensively in English, Sri Andal remains lesser-known especially once one leaves the academy. Akka Mahadevi often receives little more than a mention of her name in English academic works. I’ve spent years trying to learn their stories and trying – and ultimately failing – to understand their lives. My failure, I think, indicates that these women, their lives, their faith, and their compositions are always going to resist assimilation. They will continue to stand apart.
The stories of their lives exist in a twilight zone of legend, faith, literature, and history in the authoritative material sense. There is no real way to separate the threads to uncover the “real” story devoid of the subjective color of faith. Therefore religious believers may bring a particular insight to their engagement with these stories.
The women’s life stories also illustrate many of the topics that are raised and argued about in modern polytheism. Highly personalized relationships, including marriage, with the High Ones are subject to highly publicized critique. Sri Andal, Mirabai, and Akka Mahadevi each expressed their feelings for their respective spiritual Beloveds in highly romantic and marital terms and the effects of those expressions would be familiar to anyone who has participated or observed the analogous conversation today.
I love these women and their legacy. I want to share the amazing bodies of work they have left to us. I want to tell their stories and make them live again in the minds of people sympathetic to their spiritual experiences.
I’m not a scholar. I’m not an academic. I’m a religious believer deeply touched by the trials and triumphs of three women who lived centuries ago, who cared nothing for their renown or immortality but who achieved it somehow nonetheless.
If you’re in the Olympia, WA, area during the first weekend of August, I’d love to share these remarkable stories with you.