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Awakening Devi Through Western Hearts: New Rituals and Ancient Practice
(Kali Puja for the West)

by Chandra Alexandre, PhD

Devi, as she is called in Sanskrit, is the supreme Goddess of Indian tradition. She is multifaceted and universal in appeal; however, understanding Devi, particularly from a western perspective, is frighteningly difficult. This is at least in part because we in the West have traditionally little upon which to base a conception of Goddess, let alone a Goddess who is both immanent and transcendent, unitary and multiplex, all-pervasive and immediately powerful.

Here, by sharing a contemporary ritual that combines eastern and western practice, I hope to show that a new level of cyclical complexity can be achieved in which the goddess’ symbols inform by connecting to passion that is not containable by country of origin. I believe that ritual has the power to reverberate throughout more than the immediate context and situatedness of subjects and communities. Therefore, rather than judging who and where Devi belongs, perhaps the reciprocity of human kindness can far exceed our expectations - the grand hope being that we can empower women and men alike through worship of Devi to be all of who and what they are, and whatever they may want to be, no matter what their address.

Before we delve into the ritual, it is important to consider how we understand Devi, remembering that in Indian life and both the sacred and the profane literature, she finds no contradiction in manifesting as intimate mother and transcendent, universal creatrix; virgin and celestial lover; faithful, complacent wife and bloodthirsty, independent huntress. In any of these forms or combinations, she encompasses and transcends Western notions of duality, thereby defying our ability to quantify, qualify or explain her existence in terms we might easily understand by virtue of our dominant worldview. Devi, it would appear, is beyond succinct and simple explanation; beyond a monological interpretation.

In fact, so great has been her influence in popular culture throughout the ages that borders have never contained her. From Parvati to Kali, Shasthi to Sarasvati, new versions of the goddess, new reasons for her existence, and even newer forms are constantly appearing in India and abroad. She has historically crossed with trade routes and migrations into neighboring lands, becoming a powerful and revered deity in her newly chosen homeland, wherever that might be. To wit, in both Tibetan and Nepali Buddhist contexts, the Indian Kali and Chinnamasta early on became Tara and Vajrayogini, respectively. And today, Devi is beginning to find recognition across oceans in the minds and hearts of those located in more distant foreign lands, most notably North America, Australia, and Europe.

Here in the United States, She is inspiring a (r)evolution of worship and is now assuming revised, context-specific meanings and alternative significances worked through the vehicles of individual bodies, minds and hearts. From the inside out, coming to us in dreams, meditations and through the channels of sacred spaces, the goddess’ archetypal symbols are lifting us through and back into ourselves. She flies through time and space into our consciousness and refuses to be ignored. It would seem that our very souls are calling her to emerge – and she is heeding the call. Especially for those seeking to awaken the intensity of the Divine Feminine in a land that has so culturally and spiritually denied it, the presence of a goddess who manifests in as many forms and guises as does Devi seems more than understandable. In particular, Devi seems to move westerners (a huge proportion of whom are women); and since many are called by the fierce forms of the goddess, we will here honor Devi as Kali, the fierce most divine embodiment of creation, preservation and destruction.

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