Kali ≠ Cruelty.

Via Swami Matagiri
on Apr 16, 2012
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Matagiri Perkins

Imagine the scene: India, 1977, and a street performer has set up a mongoose and a snake to fight each other.

As the crowd gathers, he starts shouting “Jai Kali Ma!” Someone’s playing a drum, someone’s dancing, a ferocious ecstasy seems near. Then from the crowd bursts a tall American woman with wild black hair, as wild as Kali herself. She grabs the man’s stick, threatens him with it, scatters the crowd, and explains to him that he has it all wrong.

Did it happen exactly like that? I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but the woman with the long dark hair was Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and when she told this story it made perfect sense.   Ma has worked for forty years to clear up misconceptions, about karma, about tantra, but most of all about the Mother, especially her fiercest forms.

Kali is the black mother, the one with the garland of skulls and the skirt made of human hands, the one holding a big knife in one hand and a severed head in the other, the one whose long tongue drips blood. But Ma Jaya says this has nothing at all to do with cruelty or violence, and that’s what the mongoose man didn’t understand.

So, who is this black mother? Like her consort Shiva, she destroys and transforms. Her special province is destroying the ego, the small self that tricks us into separateness. Kali is in charge of ego death. If you look again at her image, why do all those severed heads seem to be smiling?  Here’s what Ma Jaya said in an article originally published in Parabola:

“Kali represents the destruction of ego and illusion.  She devours pain, devours truth, devours falseness, devours all that is and just leaves the purity of the heart. She wanders the skies in search of any kind of sorrow so she can absorb it inside of herself.…This Mother will wrap her arms around you and hold you, she will love you and touch you and give you compassion, and in the same breath strip the flesh away from your bones and leave you free.”

Whether we understand Kali as an actual being or as some sort of archetype, her blackness is our own. She’s dark because we are dark. But worshiping Kali is not just darkness meeting darkness, because what would be the point of that? That’s where I think some feminists get it wrong when they embrace Kali for her ability to “kick a**.” The a** they want to see kicked usually belongs to some man or some male power structure. That’s fine with me, but Kali isn’t really about that, any more than she’s about the celebration of blood and violence between a snake and a mongoose in some Indian marketplace. She’s not about cruelty, she’s not about power, and she’s not about women’s empowerment.

Who is she then? Most simply, Kali is a bringer of grace. As she absorbs our darkness, we become lighter. Most of us fear ego death even more than we fear physical death, and yet the teachings of most religions and spiritual paths describe ego death as the doorway to transformation. That’s precisely why we need Kali, she who holds “grace and mercy in her wild hair.”

editor: Greg Eckard


Swami Matagiri Jaya was an editor and a writing teacher for so long that she finally felt, “Enough already! I can write.”  First, she had to accept that she knows some things worth writing about, after spending 35 years in a spiritual community with her guru. She was initiated as a swami in 2011. In her spare time, sometimes she teaches Kali Natha Tantric Yoga, and other times she teaches English and psychology at a local college.  She’s still an editor too, and you might be able to hire her to edit your book!



About Swami Matagiri

For many years, Swami Matagiri Jaya was happy to edit books, videos, and tapes and for her guru, Ma Jaya. Ma encouraged her to write, but she usually managed not to. Lately she has realized that she has a lot to share and there’s no point in being shy about it. She has lived in a spiritual community since 1975, and was ordained as a swami in 2011.


23 Responses to “Kali ≠ Cruelty.”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Is there ritual sacrifice in the name of Kali? I understood the objection by the american to the snake and mongoose street show, but is there a sanctified time and place in worshipping Kali for animal sacrifice?

  2. Swami Narayana says:

    Swami Mata Giri
    Well said.
    Jai Kali Ma.
    Jai Ma.

  3. Scott says:

    Padma, please read the article, her posit is well constructed and laid out there.

  4. Quincy Jaya says:

    Well written Swami! The Mother herself is channeling through you!!
    Jai Ma !!

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    Scott, what I find interesting about this article is the thesis of Kali does not equal cruelty just begs to be commented on from a cruelty perspective. It is as if Matagiri Perkins has no idea that thousands of animals are slaugtered in the name of liberating one's ego and that somehow the snake/mongoose street game is appalling?. I can think of no other act which would solidify one's ego to samsara more than slaughtering an animal to a goddess and believing that this is a way out towards "grace and mercy". Just because this has been done by millions of people in India for thousands of years does not make it "holy", culturally speaking.

  6. Uma Simon says:

    Dear Padma Kadag: I think you need another forum to express your views. You obviously have quite an agenda that I don't think will be fulfilled here. I find Swami's views on Kali to be quite enlightening and inspires within me a true appreciation of Kali. Thank you Swami.

  7. ValCarruthers says:

    Beautiful article, Swami Matagiri Jaya.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  8. Beautiful post. Thanks Swami Metagiri!

  9. Ashoka Ram Jaya says:

    (A common Danish expression, which colloquially means "The final word," and literally means "End, fart, finished!"

    Exquisitely stated, Mata Giri. Love you! Cannot stop the tears, though, hour after hour… I do have something to say about the volume of karma Ma has rid the world of, and the ego-justified poison arrows sent into Her heart as a result. But this is far away from the appropriate place or time for that.

  10. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  11. Ashoka Ram Jaya says:

    This time I shall devour thee utterly, Kali ma, for I was born under an evil star. And one so born, they say, becomes the eater of his mother. Thouw must devour me or I myself shall eat thee up, one or the other it must be. I shall besmear my hands with black. And with black, my face. With black I shall besmear the whole of my body, and when Death seizes me, I shall besmear His face. Oh Ma, I shall eat thee up but not digest thee. I shall install thee in my heart, and make thee offerings of my mind. They say that by devouring Kali I shall embroil myself with your husband, Shiva. But I am not afraid. Braving His anger, I shall chant my Mother's name to show the world that Ashoka Ram Jaya is Kali's rightful son. Come what may, Ma, I shall eat thee up… Thee and thy retinue.


    You bet your a** Kali is one of the purest forms of grace in the universe! To even get a whiff of her is beyond any human concept of grace.

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  13. […] Love devours all fears and concerns, even the fear of death. It opens our eyes past what we can usually see. When we are open, love streams as powerful medicine from the core of the heart. It breaks us free of the obstructions of lifetimes. […]

  14. […] few weeks ago, I wrote something about how this terrifying black goddess Kali has nothing to do with cruelty, including animal cruelty. This brought howls from those who believe it is necessary to chop the […]

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