Several months ago I had a dream that was unprompted by my conscious mind (i.e., one in which I did not set intention for). In the dream I am standing in a large opening, with an equally large swimming pool in front of me. There are numerous gods and goddesses all performing various tricks and acrobatics, all seeming to be vying for my attention. I am mesmerized. And then out from the group comes a spinning top-like persona. She is painted similar to a Russian matryoshka doll, but shaped like a child’s top. She comes toward me, fast, and spinning wildly. It reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon from childhood. And I am so amused by this that I giggle.
I knew that this spinning top was Kali-Ma. I don’t know how I knew, but hey, dreams are the places were magic happens and where knowing is just what it is- a raw, unquestioned download of information. So this was my first introduction to Kali. Prior to this dream I had a vague knowledge of her, mostly gleaned from imagery and from some deep, archetypal, collective unconscious understanding. And while I had some curiosity to know more about her, it wasn’t a pressing thing.
But amused by the dream and wondering what Kali’s obvious presentation amidst many others gods and goddesses could mean for me personally, I made a mental photograph and tucked it away for future exploration. One thing about a shamanic way of being is there is limitless material that presents itself on a continuous basis and I can’t immediately work with it all, so I have to choose, and the choosing is usually based on urgency of need, and preference. But the Spirits have a way of defining for us what we need to be focusing on, no matter how much we try in our ego selves to run the show.
So I carried on as usual. Within weeks I noticed that my time spent healing in the non-ordinary reality began to be characterized by an increasing amount of whirling and twirling, which was a very different energy than the usual that I felt. At some point while in spirit I audibly heard the term “whirling dervish.” I giggled because it sounded like such a child-like term. I thought it was odd, and wasn’t sure what it meant, even though it did have a familiar ring to it. But I didn’t do anything with the information beyond noting it. I continued on. This spinning energy grew stronger, more intense. I again heard the term “whirling dervish.” The Spirits are persistent.
It was clear they were trying to get my attention, and this time I was certain I needed to follow-up. I did what anyone given a specific term they knew nothing about what do- I turned to Google search. And right away the page loaded with a plethora of information about Whirling Dervishes, which are members of a sect of Sufism that use a twirling type of dance to reach a meditative trance state, and do so publicly as an expression of their devotion. Interesting. I am glad I researched it. But what do I do with this information?
I went back into my spirit body and tried on the Whirling Dervish hat, imagining myself spinning and twirling, as I had been doing, but this time with an intention of devoting myself to God. I let go of all other intentions and just opened up to whatever wanted to come. Within a few moments of my designated Chronos time, I was back to the healing work I love doing so much. But this usually loving, tender, nurturing, grounded, parallel energy I felt quickly turned into a violent, intolerant, unforgiving, dominant energy. I began wielding a large sword that I was using to behead, to gut, to chop off limbs. It was so forceful and sudden that it was a shock to me. And I also noted that all of my usual spirit animal helpers vanished. They were just gone.
The first thing I did was question myself- is this something bubbling up from the shadow? Some sort of projection of my own unresolved anger? What work do I need to do here to return back to the place of love and light and all that foo-foo stuff? I was mostly afraid of unintentionally harming others. So I thought on it, and went back in with an intention to find out more information about this specific experience. Only it got worse. Over the course of a week I had my head severed multiple times, was burnt up in home fire a couple times, was gutted and danced on my own slippery intestines under my stomping feet, and on and on.
I can handle this in my own right, but as I would surrender and accept it, trying to go back into a healing modality for others, the violence would carry over. In my healing work I was blood letting, cutting out hearts, gauging out eyes, pulling out stringy stuff from brains, chopping off feet, and performing all sorts of gory and violent acts. It was shocking. So much so that I shrunk back, retreating into myself. I stopped doing any healing work for several days as I worked with trying to understand what was happening.
But I am compelled to continue doing what I came to do, and I don’t shrink back from self-exploration. So I mustered up the courage to re-enter the space with this intense and violent spinning energy, head bowed, and asked for guidance and insight on what this all means. I was pushed down, hard, onto my knees and decapitated many times. I accepted and gave thanks, waiting for an answer. And then she showed herself to me.
I know instantly it is Kali, even though she does not appear as depicted in art. She is large. Her head appears as a wolf. She has a gaping hole in her Solar Plexus, and out of it beams a bright yellow light, bright as the sun, and in both directions this wildly spinning tornado-like energy reaches out like a tentacle. On one side the tornado breaks up and consumes everything in its path. It is chaos, violent, and destructive. There is no personal consideration. She does not stop and say, “Oh look, there is John. I am going to destroy his life only with great and tender consideration for his personal needs and circumstance.” In the mass destruction there is a total lack of personalization. On the other side the tornado is spitting out new life, as in creating, again with no intimate personalization. She feels like a massive, powerful machine, using destruction as a fuel for creation. And yet strangely there is a very palpable sense of maternal love- a love for humanity, for creation, so much so that she detaches herself through depersonalization so that she can do the hard work.
The experience reminded me of the times as a mother I had to restrain my child so that the shot could be administered, or the wound cleaned out. But this expression of love, while powerful and perhaps the truest form of love, was overshadowed by the sheer force of the energy of destruction and creation, and complete detachment.
I stepped back into ordinary reality. What the hell just happened?
I spent the following hours and days feeling into the enormous cycle of life. I felt an utter awe and respect, but also a sadness at the impersonalization. I knew this experience was so profound it had changed me, and there was no going back, no way to unsee or unfeel what I had experienced. Trying to go back and do the tender healing I had been doing seemed futile. I knew I had work ahead of me. So I allowed myself room to process and integrate this powerful experience.
In that room a full-on existential crisis manifested. I felt so small and insignificant in her shadow. Humility is one thing- I submitted to her beheading over half a dozen times, and I could accept that. But it was the gnawing sense of purposelessness, that we are all just energetic fodder in the never-ending cycle of life. And there was continued fear- a fear of the power and sheer violence. And then waves of confusion. I really knew nothing about Kali, and here she came to me in her utter, raw power. Why? And what did she want from me?
One thing I do know about a shamanic way of being is this: it’s predicated on direct experience. There is no authority in this dimension beyond the authority offered through the spirits in the other dimensions. So I knew better than to Google ‘Kali’ and use that information to validate my experience. The experience was undeniable and I knew it was Kali who presented herself to me. But I did want to know a bit more about her, and so I went to work on gaining a little background on her. I put feelers out to a couple spiritual mentors, and discussed the experience in my own therapy sessions. All of this was framed within a context of what it could mean for me personally (purification, initiation, etc.), but without a direct connection with the deity of Kali. I reached out in a few shaman groups, but was met with silence. And so I turned to Google search to get at least a sketch of her.
At the end of the day I read a lot of mixed presentations on who Kali-Ma is. Her most faithful devotees see her as a tender mother who provides aid to her children, and they seem to allude to a very personal relationship. They also seem to be very defensive about her role in destruction, and attribute her destructive tendencies to only those constructs within us that are harmful (the demons who attach to us, the faulty ego constructs that limit us, etc.). I want to make it clear that I am not a Hindu and I know very little about the deities or cosmology of Hinduism. I have done some exiguous work around Ganesh, but even that has been archetypal, and not intimate or worship-centered. I am only sharing my experience here, and from a Western neoshamanic context. I prefer not to defer to the Google hits and are more amenable to work with the energy in how it has presents to me in the NOW moment. And through a shamanic approach to working with this energy (direct experience and interaction/ \observation), my understanding has continued to expand.
After my initial period of fearful confusion, the retreating, re-approaching and clearly seeing and feeling Kali-Ma, and then retreating again into myself to process and integrate the experience, I approached the spirit realms with a new-found courage, a continually expanding humility, and my usual intention for self and others. I also came with a hope that ‘she’ had not left in the wake of my trepidation, and that she would continue to teach me how to use her energy. And indeed she has. While the intensity of those first moments of witnessing and feeling her fullness has dissipated, she left an indelible impression on me. I felt the energy of her coming through the very tips of her swords, and this imprinted on me like a tattoo. She brought a no-nonsense power to me and showed me that slaying demons is sometimes messy work. She taught me that’s it’s okay to be angry at the reduced state that people are in because of attachments and curses, and that I can hold love for the person while doing the hard task of slaying the demons and cutting the cords of cursings. And perhaps most importantly, she taught me that I can only wield her power once she has me on my knees and has beheaded me. While initially I was afraid of Kali and her energy, I am now grateful she revealed herself to me. I fully believe she has not only offered me a purification and initiation of sorts, she has and will continue to bless my shamanic practice as she ushers me into the battle field of Raktabija.