Earlier this year, I took a course from Eric Stoneberg on the 16 Moon Phase Goddesses, or Nityas.
In the Rajanaka Tantra worldview Stoneberg teaches, there is a separate figure for every phase of the moon, tracing its progress from new to full. They are said to be the 16 manifestations of desire, or 16 faces of the goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari.
Lalita’s name means “she who is lovely in the three worlds,” indicating the worlds of consciousness, unconsciousness and the dreaming state. She is a goddess of the moon, a beautiful 16 year old woman sometimes called Shodashi (16 in Sanskrit), known as the goddess of spiritual or cosmic desire.
Desire is a physical impulse in us, and it’s not always about sex. Desire is what moves us forward and informs our choices with instincts from the body. The desire to feel something deeper, to connect, whether it’s for another human or some aspect of God, is something we all share.
I have a meditation from Stoneberg for each night of the moon phases, and if I were a more disciplined person, I would listen to them every night as I contemplate the figure representing each phase.
I am not that disciplined of a person, so I check in with the goddesses whenever I feel like it. One particular goddess comes up almost every time I do: Bherunda, the fourth night of the moon cycle, whose name means Molten Gold.
If I were the type of person who believed in signs (and okay, I am) I would think Bherunda was trying to tell me something. I’ve been going through many transitions this year, some easier than others, and her message seems to keep coming back whenever I feel lost.
Bherunda is the only one of the 16 (and one of the very few in the formidable Hindu goddess pantheon) who is totally naked. She also has more weapons than anyone else, including a noose, which captures desire, the goad, which presses it forward, a sword, a discus, a bow and arrow and a lightning bolt.
My favorite of her weapons (perhaps for the poetry of it alone) is her shield, which is a song she knows how to sing to protect herself. Alongside all these literal weapons, her shield is a metaphor for the only thing that can truly protect you when you feel vulnerable: knowing that as long as you stand in your truth, it’s going to be okay.
It’s important to acknowledge the unconscious beliefs we pick up and to look at them critically. Our naked truths sometimes buck against the assumed values and beliefs held in our communities and cultures.
Standing up and allowing them to be seen can be terrifying and game changing, which is why we often hit resistance, both from people around us and from our own terrified selves.
I own a small yoga studio, and only recently realized how much I’ve been unconsciously believing that I won’t be able to make it work.
There are little voices in my head that tell me I am not experienced enough, that I don’t know what I’m doing, and that I will fail.
Bherunda encourages me to be naked to myself, be honest about what I want to do and what I am capable of. Beyond my fear-based unconscious assumptions, I dream to thrive as a business and create a new paradigm in the yoga community that involves consciousness raising and a fight for fair pay for yoga teachers.
I am also turning 30 soon and very freshly single. Though I doubt I’ll be getting literally naked with anyone anytime soon, I feel as if the veil has been dropped from my own expectations of myself at this time of my life.
I have a lot of internalized ideas about what a woman should be doing in her 30s, including settling down and sacrificing herself for her babies—and also creating a meaningful career with no help from anyone.
As I make my way along my own personal path, I can see that none of this is predetermined for us, and making new or unfamiliar choices can be scary simply because change is scary.
My song that I know how to sing to myself is a simple reminder that fear and resistance don’t always indicate a wrong turn: sometimes they are a signal that you are on the right track.
When I turn to the moon and see Bherunda there, I am reminded to look at what I think, feel, desire, and fear.
Bherunda’s molten-gold-ness makes her a favourite of Ayurvedic medicine doctors because she is able to dissolve the fear and shame that can come with honest desire, especially if it’s a truth that doesn’t look like everyone else’s truth.
As I peel off layers of social expectations and self-inflicted fear, I see that honesty can be a serum for health and healing. I have all the weapons I need to protect myself. I can drop what’s been covering my true self, and become powerfully, metaphorically naked.
And, goddess willing, one day, with the right person, I’ll get literally naked again too.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise