Why We Need Love Goddesses

I’ve said plenty of times that the deities in my life are all chaos and death. Chaos n death, that’s the pattern.  It’s not a matter of me being especially chaotic or deadly, but something about the way I fit into the giant clockwork jigsaw of the universe makes me especially compatible with these Powers. We fit well together. It’s always been chaos n death.

Many polytheist and pagan types find themselves aligned with Powers that share very similar domains or characteristics. A person might find themselves surrounded by liminal characters, lots of gatekeepers and crossroads types; another might find frequent allies in watery deities, deities related to animals, or deities concerned with health and healing. And of course, some people find themselves surrounded by Love Goddesses(TM).

I never “got” love goddesses. (And yes, I know there are male-type Powers associated with love and the broad category of concerns that love goddesses are also concerned with, but this actually isn’t important to the point I’m going to be eventually making.) I didn’t understand these love emotions or the beauty, art, or luxury that typically went along with love. I knew it was important, I just didn’t understand it on a personal level. I didn’t see how these things related to me.

A lot of this was very likely because I had a rock-bottom opinion of myself. I have always thought of myself as a fundamentally unloveable person – despite any evidence to the contrary. Not that I wasn’t worthy of love; I just felt that at some point, eventually, without a doubt, the people who loved me would discover that underneath the good stuff was a whole lot of garbage that wasn’t worth the effort. I have done considerable work on this front but it is still a mental stumbling block that needs constantly negotiated.

I also didn’t like myself. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was unattractive. I thought that I was repellent to others. I thought that luxury and pleasure were a waste, that they were a pacifying comfort against the reality of entropy and pain. I thought beauty was a waste because everything crumbles to dust sooner or later. Freya-norse-mythology-21934274-300-427

Freya was the first Power to step in and start to change all this. She was my first ally, in a way. She was the first Power to just up and offer to help when I was struggling with the emerging realities of life as a spirit worker and maturing devotionalist. To my mind, She had nothing to gain from this. Her compassion went straight down into me and rattled my emotional basement like nothing else had. I started to understand, very vaguely, that love was beauty and that beauty was healing.

A couple years ago I came across a Power that shook me right down to the emotional basement all over again. At the time I had resumed some very old work with Kali (like, stuff that I had started when I was 16) and was feeling it struggle to resolve. It wasn’t the wrong work, but it wasn’t quite right on some level, either. I persisted, hoping it would level out. I was puzzling over a very direct encounter of Her in an unfamiliar form. I fell into the research rabbit hole and came out the other side staring into the eyes of Kamakhya.

Shakta theology and philosophy is distinctive in the context of subcontinent religious traditions and global religious traditions. Encountering a radically different form of Kali was not actually a problem in the way such a thing might be in a different tradition or context. It was merely unexpected. That Kamakhya was identified with the yoni Shakti pitha, with Sri Lalita, with Tripura Sundari, and with the very Earth Herself was more surprising.

Sri Lalita

Sri Lalita

Sri Lalita had fascinated me for a long time but I hadn’t really done much about it (chaos n death, remember? I was busy). In her hands She holds a noose and goad, two minuscule instruments capable of exerting force wildly disproportionate to their size; a goad is intended to move an elephant. One instrument propels while the other restrains. Her other two hands hold arrows made of flowers (or flowers used as arrows) and a bow made of sugarcane (or a stalk of sugarcane used as a bow). The sugarcane bow is said to be strung with a string of beads. Imagine!

 

 

 

I called this goddess of plenitude forms Sri Lalita Tripura Sundari Sodashi Kamakhya – because She was. She was all these things and all these things are the same entity (you know, more or less. That’s just how Shakta theology works). Through Her divine grace I learned about love. I learned about just how powerful love actually is and how it can accomplish things that other emotions simply cannot. Her grace accompanied me at every step as I dove deep back into the bhakti current that had nurtured me so long ago.  No longer content with redigesting the lessons I had absorbed as a teenager, I set about trying to learn the deeper truths of this path and She helped me gain a fuller understanding of the power of devotional practice. And this is finally the point I want to make.

Devotionalists need Love Goddesses(TM). We need the Powers associated with love, beauty, joy, compassion, and companionship. We need to have these things in our lives because our path is completely saturated in a very particular sort of love. Petitioning a beloved Power who’s already on our side *because they have chosen love and power and beauty and compassion as their domain* is one of the most effective and profound things you could ever do on this path.

Devotionalists need Love Deities. We are already in Their precious and sacred domain. They already care about us. They already love our relationships. They already love our love.

My work with Sri Kamakhya is done – at least, this stage of it is. I was going to gently put away Her blessed altar because there is another Power that I am resuming work with and I have used up the very last bit of available horizontal space currently accessible. My little heart broke. My cold nasty cynical Lokean heart just broke. My beautiful, compassionate, luminous Goddess – how could I remove her visage?

And there it was – permission. Permission to keep the altar in place, permission given by a Power who has no sentimentality, but who does have compassion. Even She has to acknowledge the most blessed patron of my spiritual love.

We need Love Deities, you guys. We already have them.

Making Relationship Available

As you probably know, various traditions within the Hindu religious complex are very near and dear to my heart. These traditions have taught and nurtured me, and played a formative role in getting me to where I am today. Before there was Kali, before I was introduced to Wicca, before I even had any witchy friends, there was Krishna. Why wouldn’t there be? He’s become a global presence precisely because He’s so darn lovable. His name means “all attractive”; He possesses all attractive qualities and attracts all intelligences towards Him.

krishna-731To use spirit work terms, Krishna has one hell of a call center. He’s got an answering service that can do just about anything. In my experience, He’s intensely difficult to actually get on the line. But really, He doesn’t need to take His own calls. As the cause of causes, He can just sit back and hang out. His heavenly realm is one of eternal springtime, dancing girls, and happy animals. As far as His doctrine is concerned, He doesn’t need to do anything; He causes other causes, and those emanations do the rest.

Everything I know about Krishna, including my own experience with His call center, tells me that He’s a benevolent, easy-going guy who loves to have His friends around. So when I did finally encounter Him, the conversation didn’t go like I was expecting.

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Changing in Response

For many years I’ve observed a strong crossover between devotional practitioners and spirit workers. In the grand Venn diagram of my personal informal observational study, there is considerable shared territory. It’s not absolute or even predominate; it’s maybe 50/50. That is – about half of devotional practitioners are likely to have some sort of spirit work calling going on and about half of spirit workers are likely to have a strong devotional streak to what they do. (However, I do believe that one is not necessarily likely to predict the other and I’ve not really noticed any firm or reliable trends that predict either. Devotional inclinations develop along the lines of personality usually and spirit work, well, that’s for the Gods to decide, isn’t it?)

My spirit work is strongly expressed through emotional connection and the language of relationship; my life as a devotionalist is indelibly shaped by the fact of my existence as a spirit worker. I imagine that this situation is familiar to many of my readers. Despite the analytic seduction of this particular correlation I have rarely found any firm connective tissue that would tie the two together in a manner that would be meaningful to anyone else.

However, I recently uncovered a little tidbit that might tie these two worlds together a little more strongly – at least in some cases. I do maintain that the path of the spirit worker and the path of the devotionalist are different enough that we need not explain one in terms of the other; similarly, a person should never feel pressured or under the assumption that one path indicates the emergence of the other. (While I do have opinions about how closely they are related in a spiritual and karmic sense, those are simply opinions and thus are always changing and not terribly reliable.) All those disclaimers said, here’s a little sample of what I discovered.

I found that in certain cases of extreme devotional fervor, in intense moods of separation and love in particular, the physical bodies of devotees are said to have changed somehow. Some of these changes are mythical in their extremity (like the shrinking of limbs) but those highly visible changes are built up to with more subtle changes over a long period of time. These smaller changes are both the response to the extreme emotions of the devotees and evidence of these feelings. Perhaps most tellingly, there is a precedent for increased physical sensitivity in the devotees.

Heightened sensitivity is nothing new to many of the long-term devotional practitioners I know. Sensitivity to environmental stressors seem to be the most frequently experienced. Light, noise, the press of people, and even various psychic and spiritual forces are causes of overstimulation, discomfort, distress, and general discontent and anxiety for a number of people I know. Some of this is personality but some of it….well.

Spirit workers are quite familiar with the understanding that the path changes them merely as a natural outcome of engagement. It is inevitable. Some of these changes are referred to as mods or modifications, spiritual (or not-so-spiritual) adjustments that make us better able to execute the particular tasks we’re called for. Though mods are (or used to be) spoken of as deliberate alterations that the Powers initiate, modification happens on its own. We grow a new spiritual (or not-so-spiritual) body in response to the demands of the path and our engagement with it. I’ve personally developed a handful of food sensitivities that I feel are pretty closely related to the Work. A friend speculated that the weird, undiagnosed physical ailments I live with are one manifestation of the frustrated shaman’s path I’m part of. Maybe, maybe not. There are precious few spiritual clinicians out there that can diagnose these things. But anyway.

Finding an acknowledgement that devotional practice carries the potential for profound and subtle transformations was actually quite significant for me. Yes, there seems to be little reason to expect an intense spiritual path to *not* change a person and indeed, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence within our contemporary pagan and polytheistic communities to support this. Even in more magical currents, including traditional witchcraft, sabbatic trads, and Western mystery stuff, you find the acknowledgement that people are changed in some way by having emotional ties with Powers. (These are usually discussed in terms of magical powers obtained through the company of a spirit, but change is change.) But see, I study devotional practice. I specifically study devotional practice in the context of bhakti and modern paganism. In many ways bhakti is my guidebook. I rely on this tradition of generations of devotional experts to provide a certain guidance through what I’m experiencing here and now. I don’t mistake what I’m doing for bhakti, but bhakti helps me make sense of what’s happening in my life. So when the tradition that has taught me says, “Hey, your longing and love for the Divine really does change your shit”, it’s significant to me.

This is a pretty new little discovery and I’ll need to do some more digging before I can really share more details on it. For now I’ll offer this to my fellow Heartroad-ers: Yes, your love and longing is real to this world and others. Yes, your physical existence is shaped by the company you keep. Yes, these transformations are sacred and they are the scripture that your life is writing. And yes, the frightening and monstrous and disturbing transformations we endure are all the more beautiful and profound because they are proof that we participate in a love that is stronger than life as we understand it.

Someday I’ll write about how I’ve become my own proof of the Gods. Someday I’ll talk more about my weird gold eyes.

Mystic Love; intermission

Wow, I really hadn’t expected such a response to my little post about mystic love. I’ll finish it up at with the rest of my current thoughts at some point but right now I’m mentally drained from the exertion of the weekend. (The local presentation of my PCon session went well and I got some good feedback; this will make the real thing even better.) To thank everyone for their signal boosting and interaction with my tiny blog I’d like to share the YouTube movie on Meera’s life that I’m currently watching. Unlike the other two that I like, this one is in Tamil and is considerably older (1945). It’s fun for lots of reasons. The girl playing young Mirabai is appropriately cute, as is the older actress. Adult Meera has lots of disinterested expressions for her mortal  husband and bears his attentions with humorous impatience. We also get several Tamil devotional bhajans instead of the Gujarati bhajans that are typical of Mirabai movies so that’s cool; I lovelovelove the traditional ones but it’s fun to explore additional songs, too. Andal is also mentioned in passing, yay! To see the English captions, just turn on the CC option.

Something that always impacts me about Meera’s story is that as a queen, she had absolutely everything. Up to the point of her renunciation she never had a moment of want. She even got a temple built to her Beloved (at least she does in many of the movies about her life, including this one). Regardless of all this plenty, she still suffered. Even in the most ideal of circumstances, her search for Krishna was challenged at every turn. No one has it easy on this path; this is simply because the mystic’s path is not an easy one. It is so easy to feel downright oppressed at the difficulties facing our individual searches. I strongly believe that these feelings of frustration shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the search for the Beloved is fruitless or impossible or that we’re just not meant to find Them. This is just the nature of the path and it has to be accepted as such. I’m sorry it hurts. I’m sorry for myself and for you and for Meera and for all of us who suffer from this very precise form of loneliness and hurt. But this path also leads me closer to my Beloved and so I have to bless it.

Anyway, enjoy.

PS: I’m sorry that I don’t have any info about the distribution or current copyright holder of this film. IMDB doesn’t have any helpful info on this count either. There are some channels on YT that seem to be authorized by specific distros (Shemaroo is a big one and their channel includes a Meera movie) that you can explore further.

Mystic Love, Mystic Priorities

Last night I had a long talk with some friends about some of the more prominent aspects of my private spiritual life. This conversation had been waiting to happen for a while but my private spiritual life isn’t something that I can just dump on unsuspecting acquaintances; you gotta work up to that level of disclosure. Even though I’ve known for a while that these people were safe to talk to about these things, the time had never been right for the conversation until now.

We talked about a lot of things but about the mystic’s path in particular. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and never was quite able to put it into words until now. Objectively I recognize that there is much of the mystic about me but it’s not really the path that I identify with. I am, perhaps, too aware of my functional capacities, my nature as a spirit worker, to relate most strongly to my search for the variant faces of my Beloved. (“But,” the heart whispers, “might you not be approaching this search through the vehicle of the Work?” Hush, I whisper back, or you’ll spoil the ending.)

Mystics are relentlessly driven to see the face of the Beloved. Sometimes this face is singular and sometimes this face is manifold. Sometimes there is a highly specific name and sometimes there is not. Further, to one degree or another, mystics seem to be able to hold the tension between specificity and the expansive sacred All. Holding this tension is sometimes sweet, sometimes incomparably bitter. Recognizing that all personalized divinity suffers from restrictive particulars can be frustrating because the mystic has a strong desire to have that personalized connection. Many are able to find a personalized connection to that sacred All and others find the sacred All in a personalized connection. Others (like myself) are pushed to fall in love again and again with apparently disparate expressions of the Beloved and Hir machinations but many others have struggled and still are struggling to resolve that tension. It is challenging to be aware of an immense, pervasive, inescapable foundation of sacred nature-awareness while also needing, really needing, that highly personal connection.

The challenges on this path are numerous. Frequently mystics are not in a cultural or religious context that allows them the freedom to express themselves or pursue their search without obstacle. Indeed, the negotiation of obstacles is a primary characteristic of this path. Mirabai in many ways is my favorite mystic and the one whose story I find most helpful and instructive. Her entire life was a series of obstacles in the way of getting what she wanted and of simply enjoying what she had. This is pretty typical, actually. Mystics’ stories are not generally happy ones, even though their private lives are distinguished by intense, life-changing ecstasies. There simply aren’t that many happy or satisfied mystics and saints. (Although wait – those God-realized saints of some traditions absolutely do have that profound bliss but most mystics seem not to fall into that category. Thus I will have to set that small category aside; the mystic is characterized by the search, the God-realized saints by the finding and abiding.)

Another significant set of challenges arise because the mystic has a fundamentally different set of priorities than everyone else. Negotiating and renegotiating these priorities with the circumstances imposed by the world, by the social context, and simply by the human condition an ongoing problem for mystics. Even those who successfully separate themselves from the priorities imposed by others (usually simply by just fucking off into the forest for decades at a time) face the deep consequences of that separation. It is quite rare to find a set of circumstances that allow for the material, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support of someone whose priorities are fixed on deep emotional connection with the divine. It does happen, but most mystics have to juggle their priorities without a full spectrum of meaningful support.

There’s more I’ll write on this subject but I’m going to catch another few hours of sleep first.

The Bhakti Bookshelf: The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani

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Studying any devotional tradition requires one to look at what practitioners themselves have written describing their tradition and the elements within it. I’ve been looking for a nice introduction to the Vaishnava perspective on Radha for some time; many other books provide very little insight into Her or Her character. Though I’ve found a handful of books detailing Radha’s character from a non-Vaishnava and non-Hindu academic standpoint I’ve been after something a little different. In many ways, The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani is just what I’ve been looking for. Though I wouldn’t give this book my wholehearted recommendation to the novice bhakti student there are many things that might make it worth your attention.

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Happy Radhastami!

The Vaishnava festival of Radhastami recently ended. This holy day honors the advent of Sri Radha on the earth and her special role in Krishna lila is celebrated.

Radha is many things at once. She is a mortal woman, a goddess incarnate, the shared essence of Sri Krishna, the utmost devotee, the queen of Vrindavan. Some aspects of Vaishnava doctrine state that Sri Radha is the power behind her Lord because he will appear when she longs for him. Radha’s worship summons the Lord and he is most pleased by receiving her selfless adoration and affection. The complex and nuanced expression of this deep relationship can be said to illustrate the many ways that worshiper and worshiped might interact with one another.

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