Inanna, the paradox … Inanna, the whole …

Rassouli..LightDance

Artist: Freydoon Rassouli*

‘…the very being of this goddess infuses and vivifies all nature and natural processes. She is the divine in matter. As such, she sustains the ebb and flow, the relentless paradoxical reality of the natural world. She exists between blessing and curse, light and dark, plenty and want, goodness and malevolence, life and death. Harsh as her reality may seem, it is the Real every living being must encounter. And she is thedivine in matter. Implicit in her presence is a divine plan, a sacred order and meaning. Enigmatic as the plan may be, it is inferred by Inanna’s careful attention to the workings of the world and the people in it. ….

We can think of Inanna, with her complex mix of characteristics, as an attempt to bring together the seemingly chaotic forces of the universe into one unifying, and therefore orienting personification.

She embraced the full continuum of authority from the darkest to the most brilliant. A creature of earth as well as heaven, she reflected paradoxical human nature.’

— Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna: the Queen of Heaven and Earth

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For more beautiful images from this artist, visit  http://www.rassouli.com

Kamakhya – the Goddess of Desire…

The Indian Great Goddess, Adya Shakti, is not only wise, valiant and the source of creation, she is also very much in touch with her sexuality, fertility and related bodily functions. She is worshipped as yoni (vulva) in her Kamakhya form. The name Kamakhya literally means ‘She whose title/definition is Sexual Desire.’ The Kalika Purana, an important Hindu text, gives the description of the innermost cave of the main temple where the deity resides –

‘Inside the cave there exists a very lovely pudendum on the stone which is 12 angulas (9cm) in width and 20 angulas (16 cm) in length gradually narrowing and sloping… It is reddish in colour like vermillion and saffron. On that female organ the amorous Goddess Kamakhya … The primordial force resides in five different forms.’[1]

The main Kamakhya temple is situated near the city of Guwahati in Assam, India.

Kamakhya Temple in Assam

Kamakhya Temple near Guwahati, Assam

According to another important text, the Devi Bhagavata Purana

‘…in Kamakhya-yonimandala[2] …the goddess…dwells forever, the site being the jewel of all the holy places. No sacred place can excel this one in which the goddess is seen menstruating every month… It will not be an exaggeration if it be said that though the wise persons have identified the entire world with the body of the goddess, the said Kamakhya-yonimandala has no second in reflecting her real glory.’[3]

Goddess sculpture in the Kamakhya temple.

Goddess sculpture in the Kamakhya temple.

The relevant myth with slight variations is the story of Sati, an incarnation of Adya Shakti (Primal Power), and daughter of the celestial king Daksha. She married Shiva, the destroyer god, the personification of the Great Time, the first Yogi, without her father’s consent and angered him. Once when Daksha organised a gathering of the most honoured gods, goddesses and celestial beings, he purposefully left out Shiva and Sati from the invitee list. His intention was to publicly reject Shiva as a god of any importance. Sati could not believe her father would do this on purpose and decided to attend the ceremony anyway. Shiva refused to attend and tried to stop Sati from going, but in vain.

Sati reached her natal home and were publicly humiliated by her father. Shiva too was insulted and maligned in his absence. In anger and pain, and in protest, Sati burnt herself to death. Shiva reached the spot in a terrible rage and inconsolable grief. He sent his most terrifying aspect to kill Daksha; then he picked up the lifeless body of Sati on his shoulders and started dancing the tandava (dance of destruction). Everything went in turmoil and the whole creation came under imminent threat of annihilation. But Shiva in his terrible grief proved unstoppable by any force in the universe. The god Vishnu devised a plan to stop Shiva’s madness and sent his weapon to slice away Sati’s body without Shiva noticing. Sati was sliced into pieces which fell in various parts of the earth. Shiva came back to his senses and stopped when he realised Sati’s body had incrementally disappeared from over his shoulder and creation was saved. Wherever these pieces of Sati’s body fell, it became auspicious; and temples were built over them. These 51 temples of Adya Shakti are called the Shakti Peethas (Abodes of Shakti). The place where her yoni fell, became the abode of Mother Kamakhya, one of her forms.

This picture is not of the main temple is Assam as photography is not allowed within the main temple. This is the Kamakhya Yoni worshipped at the Kamakhya Temple in Devipuram, Andhra Pradesh.

This picture is not of the main temple is Assam as probably photography is not allowed within the main temple. This is the Kamakhya Yoni worshipped at the Kamakhya Temple in Devipuram, Andhra Pradesh.

It has been argued that yoni worship is a much older tradition than the myths themselves. According to Biswanarayan Shastri, the yoni is regarded as the symbol of creation and worshipped with the utmost regard. The creative female force is conceived as the visible symbol of the invisible female and is identified with the Goddess.[4] Every year the festival of Ambubachi celebrates her menstruation for four days; the temple is closed during these days and when re-opened is considered the most auspicious time to pray to the Mother.[5]

Brenda Dobia writes about an interview she conducted with a temple priest on her pilgrimage to the Kamakhya temple –

‘He repeatedly affirmed the yoni’s fundamental role in srishti, creation, and elaborated Kamakhya’s central importance as the yoni of the Earth itself. Significantly, the annual Ambuvaci festival which celebrates the menses of the Goddess involves a ritual remembering and replenishment of her powers, with Tantric adherents from Goddess sites all over the sub-continent converging there. Julia Jean reports that the regeneration of both the Earth and the devotees at this time is understood to derive from the shakti (power/energy) in the menstrual blood of the Goddess.’[6]

The temple of the Great Mother Kamakhya is located in modern India in the district of Kamrup (literal meaning, embodiment/manifestation of desire) in the state of Assam. It is named after the ancient kingdom of Kamrup (or Kamarupa) which took its name from the presence of goddess Kamakhya. The superfast cross-country train that runs daily between my city and Kamrup is officially called the Kamrup Express. As a teenager, I remember being intrigued by the name of the train and the ‘mysterious’ place it connected us with. With years, the sense of mystery had given way to a feeling of awe at the myths of this Mother who shares the most intimate pains of my womanhood, who bleeds like I do; who is defined by her sexuality and yet holds the capability to lend her name to entire kingdoms and districts in the past and in the present.

This too is a picture of a family of mother worshippers in the Kamakhya Temple at Devipuram, Andhra Pradesh

This is a picture of a family of Mother worshippers in the Kamakhya Temple at Devipuram, Andhra Pradesh

There are many more Kamakhya temples dotted around India, but the Kamrup Kamakhya is the predominant in fame. Again, the menstruating goddess is found in other forms in many places in India who too are worshipped as forms of Adya Shakti herself – for example, goddess Bhagavati in the Chengannur Mahadeva temple in South Kerala.[7] The temple website says –

‘…[The] festival of this Temple is Triputharattu which is considered as a symbol of fertility. This festival is connected with a menstruation ceremony, which is observed periodically in the temple. That is why this temple is also considered as Shakthi Peedam (a local language version of the word Shakti Peetha).’[8]

In Orissa, the annual festival of the earth goddess (Harchandi) is called the Raja Parba (literally, menstruation festival). The earth is believed to be menstruating on these days and the worshippers refrain from ploughing, digging or interfering with her in any other ways.[9] To Harchandi’s worshippers, women’s menstruation is the gift from and continuous with the menstruation of the goddess.[10] In my marital home in Orissa, my in-laws celebrate the earth mother’s menstruation with utmost respect and love; women wear new clothes and dress up to mark the renewal of mother earth. Intriguingly, one of the main rituals for this festival is for girls to swing on a rope-swing. This in all probability symbolises female exuberance and fertility as a creative force.

A poster of the Menstruation festival of the goddess or Raja Parba

A poster of the Menstruation festival of the goddess or Raja Parba

Another poster

Another poster

Raja_Doli_khela_Odia_festival

A girl’s first menstruation too is celebrated by women as a gift of the goddess; it is one of the most significant days of her life. My sister-in-law was extremely disappointed that I could not travel from the UK to India for her daughter’s first menstruation rite. It is almost as if I had not been able to attend a close relative’s wedding. In the Shakta (Shakti worship) traditions, menstruation is not just a biological fact; the cyclical changes in a woman’s body are believed to represent the cyclical changes in the environment, the seasons and in the very order of the cosmos.[12] But the Great Mother’s close relationship with the bodily processes of menstruation, sex and birth do not devalue her divinity or her status as the all-powerful primal force in the universe, nor undermine the notions of her wisdom. She is a woman, a lover, a mother, a creator, a protector, a warrior, and the all-knower, all-powerful all in one.


[1] Kalika Purana, as quoted by Biswanarayan Shastri, ‘The Mother Goddess Kamakhya’ (2005) 1(2and3) Ishani  available at

https://www.indianfolklore.org/journals/index.php/Ish/article/viewArticle/284 (accessed 21 May 2011)

[2] The word yonimandala in all probability means ‘the circle of the yoni’ or ‘the place of the yoni.’

[3] Devi Bhagavata Purana, 8.38.15-18 trans. follows N.N. Bhattacharyya, The Indian Mother Goddess (New Delhi: Manohar, 3rd edn, 1999)

[4] Biswanarayan Shastri, ‘The Mother Goddess Kamakhya’ (2005) 1(2and3) Ishani (online journal. See note 1 above for the url)

[5] Same as above.

[6] Brenda Dobia, ‘Approaching the Hindu Goddess of Desire,’ Feminist Theology, 16 (2007) 61, 74

[7] Biswanarayan Shastri, ‘The Mother Goddess Kamakhya’ (2005) 1(2and3) Ishani (online journal. See note 1 above for the url)

[9] Kartikeya C Patel, ‘Women, Earth and the Goddess: A Shakta-Hindu interpretation of Embodied Religion’ (1994) 9 Hypatia 69, 78

[10] Same as above.

[12] Kartikeya C Patel, ‘Women, Earth and the Goddess: A Shakta-Hindu interpretation of Embodied Religion’ (1994) 9 Hypatia 69, 72-73

Inanna — Queen of Heaven and Earth

Goddess Inanna was worshipped primarily in ancient Mesopotamia or Sumer. The daughter of the Moon-God Nanna and Goddess Ningal, she was described as the ‘mountain born.’ She was a warrior goddess. But her power encompassed far more than just winning in battles. She was one of the most worshipped and revered goddesses in the ancient Sumerian pantheon. She is described in contemporary literature as ‘greater than the great gods,’ as the ‘queen of heaven and earth.’ She was also the only deity in the pantheon that accommodated opposites and reflected both light and dark, terror and love, destructiveness and creativity. She is the goddess of war and at the same time the goddess of all kinds of love. From the love for one’s child to the erotic love for one’s partner are all within Inanna’s domain.

In her iconography, she is depicted as a lady with lions/lionesses at her feet. Her lion/lioness is the symbol of her unrestrainable power. She holds in her hand the Sumerian symbols of fertility, plenty and prosperity. She is also represented by an eight-pointed star. She is associated with the planet Venus and is named the Morning and Evening Star.

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Terracotta Plaque depicting Inanna; southern Iraq (1800 and 1750 BC)

Inanna is unbound by the social rules of behaviour and she transcends our ideas of good and bad. She guides us to confront the fact that we are capable of both great good and great evil; that the capability for evil does not live outside of us, but in us. She is the unified manifestation of all that is pleasurable, beautiful, kind, loving, uplifting and bright with all that is painful, ugly, harsh, cruel, downgrading and dark.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

Another ancient depiction of Inanna.

‘Inanna’s presence draws us into the realm of the inner life. She is the guide who insists we face our shadowy contradictions, that we own who we really are in all our painful and wonderful complexity. As the goddess of paradox, she is the model of unity in multiplicity. Each of us reflects a bit of her discordance within ourselves. Each of us is burdened with the chore of gathering our many conflicting pieces together into a semblance of order and congruence.’ (Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart, page 22)

Inanna was revered, loved, feared and worshipped for thousands of years in the ancient Sumer, that is, (roughly) modern-day Iraq. Of course, now her religion and worship are a thing of the past. But she still lives on and captures our imagination.

A Modern depiction of Inanna

A Modern depiction of Inanna

In these pages, I will attempt to unearth her myth and literature. I will journey to the heart of Inanna’s religion and try to understand the love her worshippers had for her. She is one of the most prominent manifestations of the divine feminine. And she shares many characteristics with the Indian Great Goddesses – she rides lions, just like the goddesses, Durga and Sheranvali; she is a paradox of light and dark, terror and love, just like the Indian goddesses Kali and Durga; and she is the ‘mountain born,’ just like the goddess Parvati. Sheranvali’s name literally means ‘the lion rider’ and Parvati’s name literally means ‘of the mountain.’ So I see Inanna as another facet of the universal divine feminine, the ancient creatress, the Primal Power. Here I will share my journey to her with you.

Witchcraft — the Old Religion of the Goddess

Witchcraft is a word that frightens many people and confuses many others. In the popular imagination, Witches are ugly, old hags riding broomsticks, or evil Satanists performing obscene rites. Modern Witches are thought to be members of a kooky cult, primarily concerned with cursing enemies by jabbing wax images with pins, and lacking the depth, the dignity, and seriousness of purpose of a true religion.

But Witchcraft is a religion, perhaps the oldest religion extant in the West. Its origins go back before Christianity, Judaism, Islam — before Buddhism and Hinduism, as well. and it is very different from all the so called great religions. The Old Religion, as we call it, is closer in spirit to Native American traditions or to the Shamanism of the Arctic. It is not based on dogma or a set of beliefs, nor on scriptures or a sacred book revealed by a great man. Witchcraft takes its teachings from nature, and reads inspiration in the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, the flight of birds, the slow growth of trees, and the cycle of the seasons.

Artist: Freydoon Rassouli

Artist: Freydoon Rassouli*

According to our legends, Witchcraft began more than thirty-five thousand years ago, when the temperature of Europe began to drop and the great sheets of ice crept slowly south in their last advance. Across the rich tundra, teeming with animal life, small groups of hunters followed the free-running reindeer and the thundering bison. They were armed with mainly the most primitive of weapons, but some among the clans were gifted, could “call” the herds to a cliffside or a pit, where a few beasts, in willing sacrifice, would let themselves be trapped. These gifted shamans could attune themselves to the spirits of the herds, and in so doing they became aware of the pulsating rhythm that infuses all life, the dance of the double spiral, of whirling into being, and whirling out again. They did not phrase this insight intellectually, but in images: the Mother Goddess, the birth-giver, who brings into existence all life; and the Horned God, hunter and hunted, who eternally passes through the gates of death [so] that new life may go on.’

– excerpted from Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess (20th Anniversary Edition; HarperOne, 1999)

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*To see more paintings by Freydoon Rassouli, visit www.rassouli.com  

Images of Her 3

‘The simplest and most profound meaning of the image of the Goddess is the legitimacy and goodness of female power, the female body, and female will. The image of the Goddess is transformative because the image of God as male has been deeply internalized in western culture.’ — Carol P. Christ, Rebirth of the Goddess: finding meaning in feminist spirituality, page 8.

Artist: Alexi Francis

Artist: Alexi Francis

 

 

Durga — the mother, the warrior, the goddess

One of the most potent and widely worshipped form of the Primal Mother, Adya Shakti is Ma Durga. Her win over evil is marked every year by her worship, celebration and festivities. The occasion is variously called Durga Puja (Spiritual Festival of Durga), Navratri (the Nine Nights), Dusserah (the Ten Days), etc.

Ma Durga is a warrior goddess. In Hindu mythology Goddess Adya Shakti or the Primal Power took the form of Durga to battle with Mahishasur (the Buffalo Asur). An Asur is a powerful cosmic creature with destructively and negatively used supernatural powers.[1] Durga battled Mahishasur and ultimately defeated him. She rode on a lion and wielded a multitude of powerful weapons in her multiple arms. She is power in its rawest, most primal form. She inspires awe, fear and love at the same time.

Photography: shestirs

Photography: shestirs

The myth of Durga starts with the myth of Mahishasur (the Buffalo Asur). Mahishasur was an extremely powerful Asur. He pleased the gods through his penance and received the boon he asked for – that he will never be slayed by man or god or any other Asur. He then started threatening the three worlds by his newfound might and invincibility. He conquered the earthly and netherworlds and defeated the gods in heaven. Nobody could kill or stop him. At this hour of crisis, the gods called on the Primal Power, the original Mother of All, Adya Shakti to come to their rescue. In general, Adya Shakti does not manifest in one particular form. She is in all — everything that exists. But for this task she needed to manifest in all her awesome power in one form. The gods are all her parts, her creation and their capabilities and powers are all her reflections. So they decided to join their powers to give Adya Shakti the shape of a warrior goddess. The powers of the gods met and an immensely powerful goddess emerged – Durga, she who is unknowable, she who is invincible in all her forms. Parts of her body, her attire, her ornaments were all made by the gods from their individual powers. She is described as ‘the woman so stupendously huge her head grazed the sky while the ground sank beneath the weight of her feet.’[2] When she took shape, her beauty and power stunned the gods and they bowed down to the Mother in reverence and awe. They gifted her their weapons symbolising their individual powers.

Artist: Hoon

Artist: Hoon

Durga challenged Mahishasur in battle. Her battle cry sent chills down the back of the Asur army. After a fierce battle of nine nights and ten days, she defeated him and his army. This battle is celebrated in India every year as Durga’s festival.

Durga is fierce and beneficent at the same time. In her many arms (often said to be ten, or eighteen, or a thousand) she holds both the symbols of destruction and sustenance. She destroys the harmful and preserves the good in us. She is the protector who comes to our aid when we need her. She also shows us the extent of the power of a woman, a mother and a goddess and our connection to her. In later posts I will describe Durga’s connection to her earthly daughters and sons in modern India.

Artist: Poonam Mistry

Artist: Poonam Mistry

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[1] Asurs are often translated in English as demons. But that does not capture the true essence of the word. Asurs are far more than demons. Often more spiritually evolved than humans, they can contact the gods directly. They often please gods by their penance and yoga and manage to receive their blessings (as gods in Hindu mythology are also bound by certain laws of the universe, including giving one what one deserves). But most of the time the Asurs turn out to be self-centred, power hungry individuals, who use their god or goddess-gifted capabilities negatively and then have to be stopped by the gods and goddesses themselves.

[2] Linda Johnsen, Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe (Yes International Publishers 1997) page 87

Saraswati… in you and me…

‘In you and me, Saraswati flows through that moment when we choose a creative path or make an intention. She lives in the ever-new creative instant when inspiration arises within the field of your consciousness. When an idea takes form, you can find her as the inner impulse that comes from somewhere deeper than your ordinary mind, ready to dance on your tongue. She undulates in the stillness before the notes come forth as your power to make connections between apparently disparate things, as the power to understand language, as intelligence in all its forms, as insight and rhetoric, and as the intuitive knowing that lets your recognise your own awareness as the field of enlightenment.. .

At her subtlest, Saraswati lives in that pulsing space at the root of sound, where silence gives birth to creative possibility. A hymn to Saraswati, by the Tantric sage Abhinavagupta praises this subtlest form of Saraswati like this: “No one knows your nature, nor is your inner reality known. You are the whole universe and you exist within it.”‘ – Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti (Sounds True Inc 2013)

Artist: Danny O'Connor

Artist: Danny O’Connor