Navarathri meaning (nine nights) is a nine night-ten day festival dedicated to the various forms of Goddess Durga. Celebrated on a grand scale in parts of India and Nepal, Navarathri is one of the ritual highlights on the Hindu calendar. Devotees of the Mother typically fast, pray and house dolls of the Goddess in their homes. Large parades and festivals featuring beautiful larger-than-life sculptures of Her are paraded through the streets, flanked by throngs of devotees. It’s a beautiful, colourful and festive time!
There are several different Navarathri phases throughout the year, however, the (current) cycle held in the month of September/October is usually the biggest, grandest one of them all. Generally speaking, using the Vedic Calendar, the major Navaratri period begins the day after the New Moon in Virgo (Kanya ‘Virgin’ Raasi/Sign). (The Western calculation would view that as the New Moon in Libra just past). We call this the start of the month of Ashwin (in some Hindu calendars- there are various, and they don’t all align). The Tamils for instance, consider this the 9th day of the month of Protasi (Purataasi Maasam)
We’ve just begun celebrating Navarathri today (September 25th 2014), which will continue for nine nights and culminate on the 10th day (October 4th 2014)
On each day, a different aspect of the Goddess is venerated, each with Her own sacred symbolism, form and purpose. On the 10th day we celebrate Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra (or Dasara) – on this day, all forms of the Goddess Unite as one. Twenty days from Vijayadashami, Hindus will celebrate Deepavali/Diwali. This corresponds with the night before the New Moon in Libra (Vedic Calendar) and falls on October 23rd, this year.
I interpret the energy of Virgo as the Rising Woman, the Self-Sufficient Priestess Nurturing Herself and Others. The celebration of Goddess during the Virgo New Moon is a powerful and logical association to make. As we (all) align ourselves to Her vibrations, through fasting, prayer and ritual we set powerful intentions for the next astrological cycle ahead – with the Full Moon in Pisces, six months from now (as per the Vedic calendar). Virgo is to Shakti as Pisces is to Shiva – in my understanding of the Two.
The celebration of Navarathri at this time paves the way to Deepavali/Diwali, the Festival of Lights (October 23rd 2014) – which I will write on, closer to the date.
Each day of Navaratri corresponds to a different aspect of The Goddess. There are multiple ways of conceptualizing these Nine Aspects, so there isn’t ‘One’ Narrative that defines the process. Also, the festival is celebrated differently across the various regions of India 🙂
My preferred interpretation of it is to break it down into three segments:
Days 1-3 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Durga in her form of Mother/Warrior – Nurturer/Protector. (September 25-27 2014)
Days 4-6 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Laxmi. She brings Grace, Abundance, Comfort, Harmony and Peace to the world in Material Form and in that sense shares many attributes with Goddess Venus. (September 28-30 2014)
Days 7-9 are dedicated to the energies of Goddess Saraswati. She brings Knowledge and Wisdom and is more associated with the Intellect and the Mind. (October 1-3 2014)
Day 10 is conceptualized in different ways (more details shared on October 4th!). It is said, that through the entire Navarathri period, the Goddess is engaged in battle with a fierce demon known as Mahishasura (the ‘Buffalo Demon’). On Vijayadachami – literally meaning victory (vijaya) on the tenth day of the lunar month (dachami), she combines her 9 forms, and energies, into One and gains the strength to defeat him. This is why Goddess Durga is also known as Mahishasuramardini. You can hear a wonderful rendition of the Mahishasura mardini Strotam here:
In this conceptualization, I interpret the duration of the 9 days to correspond to the natural progression of the human chakra system. We begin with issues of tribal connection and survival in the first three days (defending the self from enemies and nurturing one’s family/tribe). We move on towards a wider understanding of material concerns, and a desire for comfort, attachment and pleasure in its many forms. We finally learn the wisdom of detachment and explore the higher faculties of Mind.
— till we finally transcend that too — on the 10th day – Vijayadashami – The gifts of each chakra are combined, and the lessons of each integrated. We are finally able to overcome our perceived obstacles. This ‘victory’ is normally depicted as The Mother slaying the Buffalo Demon Mashisura, her eight arms poised at the climax of battle. Another narrative suggests that it was on this day that the gifts of the male gods combined to form the powerful goddess Durga – whom some accounts suggest as the Virgin.
(For those interested you might want to read my take on ‘Reclaiming the Virgin’ to get the fullest implications of using that term – and the astrological energy of Virgo associated with this 9 night, 10 day festival. http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5i )
Personally, I resonate more with this interpretation of how the Mother ‘defeats’ Mahishasura: that it is not through battle/death, but through her sheer Loving, Powerful Presence for nothing untoward can exist in such Purity. I listened to this interpretation some time ago and will share the link with you when I chance upon it again. It took a while for it to sink it, but when it did – I couldn’t look at the narrative in quite the same way.
Putting it all together, I view these 9 days of prayer as a Pathway to Transcendence, within Material Form. The Rise of Virgo (Goddess / Priest/ess / Divine Feminine) as She Comes into Her Own Power – which includes of course, the same aspect of energy in men.
As we embody the Mother’s Love in Material Form, connecting all parts of our Being …. We learn that her Lessons of Strength and Power come .. at the end of the Day, through the Highest, Deepest, vibration of Cosmic Love.
Blessings to All. And Happy Navarathri.
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
You can find out a lot more about this festival online. Astrological and spiritual interpretations are my own. unless otherwise stated.
Image Information: “Durga Puja celebration” by Dipankan001 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Durga_Puja_celebration.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Durga_Puja_celebration.jpg
Whilst we embrace the cause of the Rising Feminine, it is important to note that the end-game is not one where you have two equally strong ‘teams’ polarized against one another. It is not to pit man against woman or God against Goddess.
It is ultimately, a Call for Balance.
I am a Priestess and I champion the cause of priestesses officiating over temples and rituals once more without fear, without prejudice, without discrimination – without the idea of filthiness associated with their bodies and their sex. That does not mean that I see women superior to men, or a Goddess superior to a God.
In me, I have a Goddess, and God. In me, I have the Divine. (I’m still in the process of remembering, and realizing it)
So do you. So do we all. So does every bit of creation, animate and inanimate.
In you, in me, in everything there is a God/Goddess/Formless Divine energy flowing through – so what use is there placing limitations on how it can or cannot be expressed?
I find it strange that those who claim their understanding of ‘God’ is ‘gender-neutral’ find it so threatening or uncomfortable when I or others use the term ‘Goddess’, or Priestess. (If it’s all really equal, then no conflict should arise… )
Ideally, there will come a day where both terms are so accepted and embraced by all, that no one will even bat an eyelid.
But that day is not here yet. We are, of course, all working towards it.
Yes, at the end of the day … It’s all Energy, and Dissolution anyway – but we have chosen to incarnate as Spirit-in-Flesh. And it seems sad when half of that Spirit is denied the expression or recognition of its intrinsic Divinity. The Feminine is repressed and challenged not only when she arises through the bodies of women, but also through men who choose alternative definitions of their masculinity-honoring-Femininity.
Till then, I remain focused upon a Spiritual Path that Honors the Formless Divine by ensuring that its Material Representations (Idols, Statues, Sacred Facilitators) are truly representative.
The paradox of recognizing the God/dess on an altar, and not in the flesh of a person is one I’ll address later.
Blessings and Love to All,
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
Image Information: Minoan – Snake Goddess – Walters 23196.jpg – Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
When I was a child, I’d clutch an astronomy picture book along with my pillow to fall asleep every night. I didn’t understand the equations behind cosmic order, or the physical laws that governed forces beyond my comprehension – I just knew I liked the cosmos – and one aspect of it in particular: The Black Hole. I understood that it was a very large rip in what we considered to be space-time and that it whirled at extremely high speeds, ripping all forms of light and matter that went nearby it into shreds. Somehow, I never saw it as the destructive abyss of total annihilation it is often portrayed as, I always viewed it as a gateway of sorts.
In my teenage years, sufficient sci fci flicks and popular science opened my mind to the possibilities of the connecting the singularities of two different black holes in different parts of the Universal fabric, creating such a gateway as I had envisioned. Intuitively, this made logical sense to my adolescent self, but I felt that something quite mysterious, transformative – even alchemical – about black holes was still missing from our scientific understanding of them. I had a knack for predicting astronomical finds based on thought experiment around this time. Logic told me that there would be ice on the Moon, for instance – and science confirmed it to be so within a year or two of that thought.
With Black Holes on the other hand, my attraction to them as a child was far from logical – I just ‘knew’ there was something about them that exemplified some core principle about the way I view and experience life. Recently, I found an article wherein science filled in that missing piece of the puzzle for me – I now know just why my attraction to this astrophysical phenomenon has been so intense, enduring and so difficult to put into words. Synchronistically, the parable of the black hole illuminates certain spiritual paradigms in the technical language of science – making one of the least palatable spiritual truths somewhat more intelligible and acceptable.
The Black Hole is a whirling void, a compression of matter, energy, time and space folded backwards to a terminating point known as the singularity at which all known physical laws of time and space break down. It is the astronomical equivalent of the atmospheric tornado, or the aquatic maelstrom. We tend to see these whirling bodies of matter and energy as destructive or terminating points, the abyss from which we do not return and whose event horizon we fear to approach. The notion of the bottomless pit, the dark abyss features prominently in certain spiritual teachings – from an internal perspective going through transformative pits in which we are destroyed, and yet arise anew, termed as the ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ – a period of introspection, intense self examination, the destruction of the ego and psyche and eventual re-integration into a energetic signature of a higher vibrational frequency. We associate this powerful theme of death, transformation and rebirth with symbols such as the Rising Phoenix that leaves its ashes behind in flight. Spiritualists would describe it as ‘traveling through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to emerge as a Being of Light’. It is this process of transformation and creation through destruction associated with astrological elements such as Pluto, Hades, Scorpio and the 8th house and themes connected to the psychological and spiritual Underworld. Diverse religious traditions point to ‘Dark’ Archetypes, particularly in the figures of fierce warrior goddesses such as Kali, Lilith and Hecate that lead to spiritual transcendence through paradigmatic shifts incurred in extreme circumstances such as perceived death, loss and suffering.
The notion of Darkness in the esoteric religious, spiritual and astrological traditions of the world empowers the Void, or returning to that formless, unknowable Mystery at the Heart of Creation. In Jungian psychology, this Primal Ocean of the Collective Unconscious is strongly identified with the Anima Mundi – or aspects of the World Mother/Great Goddess archetype. Sadly, this aspect of spiritual experience is often cast as heretical, taboo, undesirable when badly misinterpreted through the lens of a very superficial, yet pervasive mis-reading of mmonotheisticbelief systems that sadly appear to espouse a rigid binary between Light/Dark = Good/Evil, despite the fact that their greatest champions, prophets, seers, etc. had each experienced their own version of ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ – frequently in Deserts, as per the Abrahamic religions.
The more enlightened perspective of experiencing Darkness is to view it as passages through aspects of the shadow self, the suppressed or hidden psyche which we feel ashamed, afraid or in denial of. The equation of the wild archetypal female destroyer/nurturer across cultures captures the eviscerating pain of traversing this aspect of the psyche, and the illumination within that emerges through transcending this pain. Hindus may call this the Path of Sakthi (or Saktha traditons) via the Tantric Goddesses, Buddhists have their equivalent in the practice of Chod – the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians and other cultures with a strong tradition of fierce female goddesses and priestesshoods understood this principle to a profound degree. It is with the comparatively recent binary drawn across gendered, ethical and spiritual lines which have confabulated this notion of traversing inner Darkness to succumbing to evil temptation, often in the form of a woman.
But what does all this have to do with the astronomical parable of the black hole? As with the transformative potential of traversing the suppressed psyche, the material reality of black holes speaks of the same story in different terms. What was once viewed as an incredibly powerful, complex, mysterious yet dangerous aspect from which there is no return, now appears as a transmutative generator of Light. Scientists at John Hopkins University have conclusively demonstrated, with the backing of 40 years of research, that the inevitable outcome of gas entering this black hole is the emission of (even) higher frequencies of light (up to 100x) from its Core, back into the Universe. As matter is superheated (up to 10 million Celsius) and transformed into photons at the heart of the abyss, it sheds its old form and emerges anew, burning brighter than its previous form would ever deem possible. Irrespective of whether science’s understanding of ‘vibration’ corresponds with the spiritual notion of it, I take some comfort in knowing that one of the most exotic, mysterious and powerful aspects of the cosmos, which has always been close to my heart, mirrors a time-honoured facet of spiritual practice and experience that crosses the boundaries of time, religion, and space. Or is that the other way around?
Blessings and Love to All,
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
First Published: April 5th 2014, on an older blog of mine
Image Information: “Black Hole Milkyway” by Ute Kraus, Physics education group Kraus, Universität Hildesheim, Space Time Travel, (background image of the milky way: Axel Mellinger) – Gallery of Space Time Travel. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Hole_Milkyway.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Black_Hole_Milkyway.jpg
Pallas Athena is the warrior goddess of wisdom, courage, conviction, causes, strategy, healing and other fine qualities. She is a virgin goddess who never marries, takes a male partner, or gives birth to a child through her womb (though she raises one as a surrogate mother).
There is controversy surrounding her feminine identity and the way she treats those of her same sex. For instance, she accidentally kills her childhood friend Pallas, turns the proud and skilled weaver Arachne into a spider for her hubris, transforms the beautiful Medusa into the snake-headed Gorgon as she was raped, thereby defiling Athena’s temple. Feminists have debated the figure of Athena for years owing to her specific treatment of women, and the mythological cooptation of a deity from matriarchal society into a patriarchal one. This claim seems to have some weight when you consider her multiple origin narratives – a goddess of a lake in Libya, then as the daughter born of Titaness Metis … and then as the direct offspring of Zeus who sprang fully formed from his forehead, and in some stories as the daughter of Poseidon.
A further myth tells us of how Goddess Athena’s victories have bestowed mixed blessings upon women. She and Lord Poseidon were competing to see who would become the patron deity of Athens. Athena won by gifting the Athenians the olive tree, but not without incurring the displeasure of Poseidon. The men of Athens then agreed to give up the citizenship rights of the women there to appease him. If I recall my first undergrad research paper on the subject correctly, they were supposedly too emotional and passionate to have any head for politics.
Goddess Athena is further differentiated from other female Greco-Roman goddesses by the fact that she refuses to engage in any form of sex (per most myths, others hint at same-sex interests), and does not bear children, though she has a foster child. As there is still so much of stigma surrounding women who cannot bear children, or who choose not to (and as I read recently, women who do not endure ‘normal, natural’ childbirth) – Moreover, she is severed from any Mother archetype or connection to the Womb as she is born of the head of Zeus (who actually devours his wife Metis so she may not bear an heir that would be more powerful than himself but Athena’s rising cannot be stopped – in one account). The Mother is devoured by the Father to avoid the birth of an heir who can surpass him. Because she is not male, Athena is automatically accepted by the Father as his ally as she bears no threat his supremacy.
Now I’m not saying that these myths are true, or that they are not. Personally, I have always loved the Goddess Athena and I find her courage to be one that speaks to every minority man/woman/LGBT person who has ever needed to step up and play in the big leagues, in ‘a man’s world’. But the myths are narratives that reflect a particular social and cultural context. And sadly, they still echo with the kinds of concerns that others still feel (and sometimes voice) when seeing a woman stepping into her own power – even today. (But it’s not her place! Her place is in the kitchen! Women must be soft spoken, it’s a man’s job to earn the money, if she’s out for work at night she must be a prostitute! etc. etc.) These fears are more visible in some cultures, but still present across the globe in one form or another.
But what do we do with this information?
I feel that collectively, we need to reclaim the figure of Goddess Athena from the mythological associations that somehow associate her assertive force with a betrayal of / alienation from her own biological sex (women) – and re-cast them in the modern day. This is my still-evolving take on this mighty Goddess:
Here we see the first ‘career woman’ who chose to divert her energies into her work, and not into raising children or pleasing a male partner in bed. In liberal societies today, many would recognize those choices in their own lives and feel the same weight of burden or stigma associated with them. In traditional societies, more women are beginning to rise up and exercise their right to live their lives beyond a biological/reproductive/heterosexual prescription.
Honestly, the choice needn’t be so stark, Women can be assertive and have careers and success and power without giving up their familial roles as mothers. They can be as nurturing and caring as they want to be. And they do not need to step on or curtail the expressions of power of their fellow sisters and brothers. And if women don’t like having a female form – depending on which part of the world they’re in – they can even change that too.
I would go out on a limb and say that if Athena was a human woman living today, she would likely be a (1) ‘career woman’ (in her cultural milieu) rejecting the prescriptions of patriarchy and/or (2) LGBT (think about it, same-sex partnerships, a female body that rejects any identification with biological processes unique to women and performs ‘as a man’).
So you could say – at least within the Greco-Roman pantheon, Goddess Athena was the first female form to break out of the stereotypical mold, exploring alternate meanings and expressions of female identity, power and role. So she is not just a Goddess for ‘women’ but for anyone daring to take a leap forward in uncharted territory: A Path-Maker.
Taking that in, all I can say is …
Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
Part 1 of this series is available at: http://wp.me/p4OUNS-5y
*I first published this article in another blog of mine on July 12, 2014.
Image Information: “Bust Athena Velletri Glyptothek Munich 213” by Unknown (Greek original by Kresilas) – User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-08. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bust_Athena_Velletri_Glyptothek_Munich_213.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bust_Athena_Velletri_Glyptothek_Munich_213.jpg