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. Padma Kadag says:

    Kali requires animal sacrifice. The street scene which you describe, though cruel in it's intent for all involved, is nothing compared to an all out Kali sacrificial festival in India and Nepal. One or two animals, sometimes hundreds at a time letting their blood flow from the severing of their heads. The more lives taken the happier is Kali. Yet you paint this incomplete picture regarding the destroyer of ego and "bringer of grace and mercy". How very sad. Please tell us outright that you do not consider the sacrfice of animals in the name of Kali to be cruelty. Please enlighten us.

  4. Scott says:

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

  5. Quincy Jaya says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. Padma Kadag says:

    And though Swami Matagiri Jaya finds the sacrifice of animals to be wrong per his/her response above to my inquiry why on earth would the Swami use Kali as an example of a path to destroy one's ego knowing fullwell that Kali requires the severing of heads in order to propitiate favor? There is something fishy in Denmark.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. Padma Kadag says:

    Uma and Swami Matagiri Jaya I am amused that any inquiry regarding the "cruelty" of animals , a term which is at the thesis of your article, is regarded as dogmatic. What is dogmatic and authoritarian is you suggesting, Uma Simon, that I find another forum to express my views. But yet my original question has not been answered. Is the sacrificing of animals to Kali not considered killing or slaughtering? Is it somehow not killing in the eyes of the believers due to the presence of Kali? Uma…would the appreciation for Kali still be enlightening if you were aware that in order to destroy the ego one must sacrifice chickens, goats, Buffalo? Certainly there are other paths less bloody which you may find enlightening. What is my agenda? My agenda is to ask why would a devotee of Kali write an article on "cruelty" to animals without discussing the difference between the mongoose/snake street game and the severing of animal heads require for Kali puja?

  11. Caroline C. says:

    I think you need the sociocultural ,historical and textual background discussing why Kali requires killing to make your argument. (That goes for Swami Matagiri's take too) The thuggees killed travelers as sacrifice to Kali. But then you've got Ramprasad Sen and Ramakrishna, Kali devotees who, at least from what I've read, did not advocate killing.

  12. Beautiful post. Thanks Swami Metagiri!

  13. 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.

  14. Ashoka Ram Jaya says:

    Sometimes I may be wise enough to understand a fraction of what Ma taught, as She slew ego's head with one swipe, and the next embraced and made herself vulnerable like Mother Ganga. We all of us have that potential already present in us, and Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati manifested the Mother archetype's full spectrum like no one I have ever known or even studied… and I often think of Carl Jung in this context. In his secret and recently discovered Red Book (actually, Liber Novus), it seems evident he was seeking "Kali Ma" for his own healing. http://youtu.be/wop91_Gvwos

  15. ValCarruthers says:

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

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

  16. Padma Kadag says:

    For a quick reference simply "Google Images Kali animal sacrifice".

  17. Caroline C. says:

    I don't doubt that killings happen in the name of Kali- killings happen in the name of all sorts of God. What you are saying though, is that Kali requires this killing. Yet the article disagrees, and seems to agree with well known luminaries, and so too would seem to say that thuggees (hopefully an historical relic) and modern killing are done in ignorance. What I was suggesting, in order for your argument to hold any sway (and of course this goes for Swami Matagiri as well, anyone), would be to present actual evidence, such as the "tradition" , those who support it and so forth, so that a case is made founded on something besides conviction.

  18. Ashoka Ram Jaya says:

    With human cognitive potentials/abilities — from psychology, sociology, ehtnology, economics, politics, religion etc — being ever more oriented towards evolutionary biology, one might even consider the Kali perspective scientifically. This paper from Aarhus University in Denmark may help bring the Kali archetype into a perspective which even atheist can appreciate. http://au.academia.edu/MathiasClasen/Papers/84183
    (you have to sign in to download the full paper)

    It's not to advocate this perspective, but only to underline that human beings are basically on a very sharp razor's edge, to borrow from W. Somerset Maugham, in terms of understanding self vs Self, in the Jungian understanding, ie: the little ego vs the Self, also known as the divine in many circles. Evolutionary biology, in its psychological context, considers how our personal inherited past rises unconsciously, subconsciously and attempts to rise to the conscious, the entire history of who any one of us are, to become all we can be.

    Right now the planet is trapped by human behaviors which have brought us to the 6th mass extinction event (the last one was 65 million years ago), where 200-400 species of animal and planet life go extinct each 24 hours (far above the background rate of natural selection), where those same anthropogenic behaviors have caused climate change, and where a child dies for each of your five heartbeats due to malnutrition in a world where, in 2005, the UN proved empirically that the planet produced enough food to feed almost twice the world population.

    The problem often occurs with how our primitive drives, perhaps reinforced by the mirror neuron system, become entangled in our cognitive thinking, and we wind up creating religions where actual killing in the name of Kali would occur. We see the same problem with many fundamental religions, where killing in the name of some god, based on literal interpretations of human-created scriptures, seems to justify that. And of course, "free-market" and dictatorial economic theories blindly "capitalize" well on that one for the fleeting moment of having some gold in one's hand at the expense of the nature of who we truly are.

    What Ma taught is that the entire history of everything in the universe, the whole 13.7 billion history, and everything that is beyond the scope of even any theoretical Higgs boson (God particle) or any other theory, exists fully in each and every one of us. And that Kali "slays" that which moves against the nature of Self realization.

  19. Ashoka Ram Jaya says:

    "..where 200-400 species of animal and planet life go extinct each 24 hours…"
    Meant: "…plant life…"

    And by Self-realization, which when you look at the Jungian perspective of depth or evolutionary psychology, would mean that "you" are "at one" with all of nature, and whatever wrought nature. Hence, "you" would be behaving in the Now, and likely would do whatever it takes to reduce suffering wherever you became aware of it. For by reducing suffering around you — consuming fear for example — then you are also removing that which works counter to the unthinking characteristic of nature. Happiness becomes your god. Ma worked hard to teach me that, even in the name Ma gave me. I've been very sad in my life, and "ashoka" simply means, "remove suffering."

  20. 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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