Kali

Kali is the Hindu goddess of death.  Her name comes from Kalam and means black or dark in color.  She is associated with time, change, power, war, blackness, destruction, evil, and violence. In mythology, she is the consort of Shiva, and a ferocious slayer of demons.  But Kali is also a most ambiguous deity.

Kali Many followers perceive this goddess as the Supreme Mistress of the Universe because she was created first – out of the blackness – before the rest of time began.  Therefore she is the highest reality and the greatest force.  And because Kali brings death, she serves as the vehicle to human salvation.

Others view Kali as the benevolent Mother.  She is the Ultimate Being, and those who worship at her feet become her children.  Yet she is a fearsome sight to behold.  The goddess is usually portrayed as a naked blue woman with four arms, a sword, skull jewelry, matted hair, blood-shot eyes and a drooping tongue.  She feeds off human flesh and blood, holds a severed head, and has Shiva laid flat at her feet.  She is often accompanied by snakes and jackals.  Kali is a far-remove from the Christian image of the beautiful, meek Holy Mother!

Perhaps because of these ambiguities, some Hindus fear Kali as the Dark Goddess and have turned her into a witch.  Her followers are called Daayans – and many unfortunate women are currently being actively persecuted in certain regions of India today.  You can read some of their harrowing stories here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/06/magazine-meet-indian-women-hunted-witches-150603092941061.html

“The infinite is always mysteriously dark”  (Sri Ramakrishna).

 

Sources:

Wikipedia: “Kali” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kali

“Kali: The Dark Mother” at http://hinduism.about.com/od/hindugoddesses/a/makali.htm

“Mother Goddess As Kali” at http://www.exoticindiaart.com/kali.htm

Power

“Is it not glorious to ride on the wind –

to mount the stars –

to kiss the moon through the dark rolling clouds?

Witch

She loathed her own form and her own species –

earth was too narrow for her desires.”

(John Roby: Lancashire Myths and Legends)

Hecate

Hecate

How did the Greek goddess, who once blessed Athenian homes, change from being the protective “Mother of Angels”  into Shakespeare’s grand witch, the medieval “Queen of Ghosts”?

Hecate was a pre-Olympian earth spirit and the counterpart of the Roman Goddess Trivia.  Her name suggests “The Distant One,”  because she was a liminal deity who stood at the threshold of other worlds.  For this reason she was often depicted at the crossroads holding torches (to light the way), keys (to open doors), or accompanied by daggers and serpents (to protect the entrance).  Legends claims that Hecate embraced solitude.  And like the moon she came and went through the nighttime, appearing and disappearing at will.

According to Hesiod, Hecate was the only child of Perses and Asteria.  She was a virgin who remained unmarried, kept safe under the protection of Zeus.  Aeschylus described her as a great goddess who ruled over the earth, sea, and sky.  She was responsible for storms, yet she also looked after women in childbirth.  Some mythologies present Hecate as a triple goddess with three heads who could see in all directions.  Her wisdom extended into the past, present, and future – and also into the mystical realms of the sleeping and the dead.  In this way Hecate became associated with those who live on the margins of society, and those who wander in the spectral space between life and death.

Hecate’s reputation started declining when Sophocles and Euripides made her the mistress of magic.  Thereafter, she was aligned with ghosts and herbal lore – perhaps as the result of helping Demeter in her search for Persephone in Hades.

But on the cusp of the Dark Ages, Christian Romans began persecuting pagans, demolishing temples and statues, and destroying all symbols of female power, intellect, and influence.  Hecate suffered in this purge and was turned from a goddess into a witch.  From that time on she was cast as the “she-dog” or “bitch,” and was portrayed with either a polecat or canine familiar spirit, a sign that she was in league with demons.  Her herbal lore focused on poisons and she became associated with garlic, yew leaves, and cypress trees – common symbols of death and the underworld.  And then she began demanding blood.

Shakespeare put Hecate in command of the three Weird Sisters from Macbeth.   This cemented her popular medieval image as the evil sorceress famed for human sacrifice, who gave birth to Medea and Circe.  And that was where she remained – far removed from the “Mother of Angels.”

But modern Wiccans have reclaimed this goddess as a symbol of female emancipation.  Hecate is now called upon for wisdom, protection, power, prophecy, and guidance in the world beyond.

And so, ironically, it appears that the Bard’s words have finally come true:

“Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings” (Macbeth 2:1).

 

Picture: Campamento Mestizo

Name That Devil

satan

What the devil should we call the Evil One?

If God is a personification of the term Good, then Devil may derive from Evil – a word stemming from the Latin diabolus, which in Middle English became devel.

With over 40 names, the Devil has far more titles in The Bible than anyone else except Jesus – the most common being Lucifer, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, and the Anti-Christ.  Revelation mentions The Beast, though Matthew refers to the ruler of the Lake of Fire as Beelzebub.

The Evil One is also called the Deceiver, Dragon, Enemy, Father of all Lies, and Leviathan.  Portrayed as the Serpent of Old, the Tempter, and the Wicked One, the Devil appeared as the snake who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Traditionally, the Devil is a fallen angel who lures human beings into sin.  He is often seen as the opposite force to God, stealing souls away from Heaven for the darker realms of Hell.

In many cultures Satan remains a symbol of evil – a metaphor for sin and excessive pleasure.  He is the trickster, folk villain, enemy, anti-hero, tyrant, and source of unhappiness and misfortune.

So what the devil should we call the Evil One?  Anything except Master!

Faust and The Devil

Faust

The Faust legend is a morality tale warning ambitious young men to reject the devil and all earthly temptations of power and desires of the flesh.

In German classic literature, a jaded scholar called Doctor Faust makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, signed and sealed with his own blood.  He agrees to exchange his soul for worldly pleasure, riches, and knowledge – but when the terms of the agreement expire he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in hell.

Who is Faust based on?  The most likely prototype seems to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540), a famous German alchemist and magician.

Why does Faust make this pact?  He is a dissatisfied academic who yearns for something more.

How long is his rule on earth?  Faust is granted 24 years – one for each hour of the day.

What does the magician do with his new powers? First, he seduces a beautiful maiden called Gretchen.  Yet although he destroys her earthly life, she is granted a place in Heaven because of her innocence.  Then he plays pranks on people, settles old scores, and meddles in the politics of his day.  At one point he demands to see the most beautiful woman ever, and is granted a visit from Helen of Troy.  And finally – having sated his lusts and tamed the natural world – he has a moment of utter contentment before the devil appears and rips his body to pieces.

In choosing instant gratification and pleasure, Doctor Faust rejects Christianity and turns away from God.  He is a personification of Matthew’s warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (16:26-27)

Would you be likewise tempted?

Morgan le Fay: The Fairy Witch

Morgan

Another of Merlin the Magician’s students was King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay.  At various times she challenged the Lady of the Lake for the title, The Queen of Avalon, and early writers had trouble deciding whether she was a fairy or a sorceress.  The name “le Fay” suggested she came from fairy heritage, while others associated her name with “Morgen,” meaning “sea-born.”  In all accounts though, she had supernatural powers.

Scholars now believe that Morgan derived from the Celtic Welsh goddess, Modron.  The first tales made her the eldest of nine sisters – or one of nine virgin priestesses – who lived on the Isle of Apples (Avalon).  She was an enchantress and healer, capable of flying and changing shape.  After King Arthur got wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

Throughout the ages Morgan has retained her healing powers.  But in patriarchal times she became more sinister and dangerous.  Like the Lady of the Lake, she was turned into a witch figure – lustful, sly, and unpredictable – finally becoming the arch-enemy of Arthur and his queen.

Later versions of Morgan made her more human.  She was born to Arthur’s mother (Igraine) and her first husband (Gorlois), and was therefore the king’s half-sister.  Morgan spent time as Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting, got unhappily married to King Urien, bore a son called Ywain, and had an unrequited passion for Sir Lancelot.  When she learnt of Lancelot’s love for the queen she caused all sorts of mischief to expose their affair, often being thwarted by her counterpart, the Lady of the Lake.  At some point she became Merlin’s apprentice, but instead of using her powers for good she commanded the forces of evil.  Her obsession with Lancelot – and hatred for Arthur and Guinevere – intensified to such a point she was exiled from Camelot.  Morgan lived in the forest and carefully perfected her craft, until the locals started calling her The Goddess.  Then she ended Arthur’s reign.  She gave Excalibur to her lover, and threw its protective scabbard into the lake, leaving King Arthur completely unprotected in battle so that he became mortally wounded.  She was ultimately the bringer of chaos and death.

But having been called a fairy, healer, enchantress, seductress, and witch, modern pagans are now reclaiming Morgan as a symbol of feminine power.  She is seen by some as the third face of the Triple Goddess (the Crone or Warrior Woman), which reunites her with Celtic Modron – the Mother.

Of all the many aspects of her mythology, Morgan le Fay is indeed a shape-shifter!

 

Sources:

Norako, Leila K. “Morgan le Fay.”  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/morgan

Wikipedia, “Morgan le Fay.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan_le_Fay

(Picture: Frederick Sandys)