At the dawn of religion, God was a Woman. The Dark Goddess is the primordial Mother, the great creative matrix. Her Spirit hovered over the primeval waters and her cosmic womb gave birth to solar flares, swirling planets, atoms, cells and all of life. She is the ever-unfolding creative life force and the ecstatic dancer on the cremation grounds. She is the first and the last…She is the Paleolithic Mother carved at the entrance of rock shelters 25’000 years ago. She is the Neolithic Bird and Snake Goddess. In Egypt, she was worshipped as the “Queen of Heaven” and “Savior of the Human Race.” In ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), the king was wedded ritually to the high priestess viewed as an incarnation of the great goddess Inanna/Ishtar. The Sacred Marriage rite held the promise of a plentiful harvest and ensured the cyclical renewal of nature and all of life. This was also a time when the sexuality of the Goddess was openly celebrated as imbued with the sacred life force…
Since then, women’s bodies have become increasingly sexualized and objectified. Patriarchal institutionalized religion has, for the most part, contributed to the image of women’s bodies as being “inferior” to Spirit and prone to “sin” and “temptation” because women are “closer to nature” due to their child-bearing function. The most extreme expression of this attitude was the demonization of women accused of witchcraft. Witches were believed to kill newborn babies, destroy the crops, and engage in sexual intercourse with the devil… A strange reversal of the ancient powers and functions of the Goddess, indeed! And even today, in our so-called progressive modern times, comments can be found floating in cyberspace referring to the Dark Goddess as a “witch” or “demon.” The question arises: What is it that is so bewildering, even terrifying about these dark-skinned goddesses? And what is their deeper function and symbolism at this time of dramatic changes on the planet?
Let’s take a closer look at Kali, the Dark Mother in India’s Shakta tradition. With her garland of severed heads, pendulous breasts, disheveled hair, sunken eyes, and lolling tongue hanging from her bloodstained mouth, she appears at first glance gruesome and even repellent to most Westerners. Kali is commonly depicted as standing on Lord Shiva’s corpse or dancing her frenzied dance in the midst of the burning pyres on the cremation grounds…Her multiple arms variously hold a bloody sword, a freshly severed head, and a skull cap filled with blood. What are we to make of this horrifying representation? To get a deeper esoteric understanding of the Dark Mother, we need to go beyond her physical appearance. The severed heads symbolize our finite attachments and illusions that are being destroyed by Kali, if we invoke her. She is an embodiment of divine love and wisdom, for her nakedness symbolizes her knowledge of the “naked” or Supreme Truth beyond the veils of delusion. In this function the Dark Mother helps us to come to terms with our deeply entrenched fears, most prominently our fear of death. She calls on us to step outside our comfort zone and face our own “darkness” – our unresolved psychological shadow issues – so that we may find release and healing. The Dark Mother embraces all of our fears, heartbreaks, anger, and despair – nothing is excluded… Her medicine is ‘holy darkness,’ for it is in what the mystics call the Dark Night Journey of the soul that we grow psycho-spiritually. Meister Eckhart, one of the great Christian mystics of the Middle Ages, reminds us that the ground of the soul is dark…To come to terms with our own fears, we have to take the plunge into the darkness, the great Unknown.
Visualize yourself venturing into a dark cave, the womb of Mother Earth. You are alone. All external distractions have faded away. You have to draw your attention into the core of your Being – the “cave of your heart.” Surrounded by an impenetrable darkness you cannot even see where your next step may take you… What is coming up for you? Fear? Despair? Helplessness? Are you worried you may not be able to make it to the exit of the cave? Sit with these strong emotions for some time, allowing for whatever to arise…The way out is through trust. You have to trust that you will be guided, step by step…Paradoxically, it is by facing our deepest fears that we become liberated and by surrendering to what we cannot know that we become whole human beings. The Radiance Sutras remind us that “secrets are hidden in darkness and difficult nights. This is the call of the Dark One, the roar of life seeking its source. The union you long for is within reach…”
I believe that we are now going through this crucible of “holy darkness,” this birth canal with all of its painful pangs, both individually and collectively. We witness this in the shocking rise of extremist movements and unprocessed collective shadow issues such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. It is unfortunate that our Western culture has, for the most part, a very dualistic understanding of “light” versus “darkness.” This is partly a result of organized religion and its socio-cultural conditioning given that Christianity eventually became an exclusive “religion of the light.” Light and dark are viewed as rigid and incompatible polarities with the light commonly affiliated with “good” and the darkness with “evil.” This rigid duality also finds its expression in all forms of racism and stereotypical notions related to skin color and “blackness.” Yet we forget that in Wicca today as well as in pre-Christian cultures darkness was not viewed as negative, quite the contrary. Many pagan goddesses such as Isis of Egypt or the Greek grain mother Demeter had dark manifestations. Dark-skinned goddesses may hence be viewed as representing the night, death, and all the mysteries that have been collectively repressed in Western culture. The Dark Mother embodies the raw and untamed forces of nature and the creative impulse of life. She is the evolutionary catalyst and the ultimate sacred activist who galvanizes grassroots movements and popular uprisings against oppressive governments. Yet she also symbolizes the great dissolution and ego death by turning everything we took for granted upside down and burning up the old paradigms of separation to transfigure the collective heart of humanity. Not surprisingly, Dark Mothers such as the Black Madonna have repeatedly been invoked as protectresses of social justice movements all across the world. She is the mother of all people, no matter what race, gender, social status, or sexual orientation. Now is the time of the Dark Mother. She is here. And she is ready to take the lead. Let us be willing to follow her call into the searing fire of transmutation, healing, and love.