St. Kali, Mary Devi, Cosmic Shekinah
Absent Mother God of the West: A Kali Lover's Journey into Christianity and Judaism Neela Bhattacharya Saxena Lexington Books Pages: 208 978-1-4985-0805-6 • Hardback • December 2015 978-1-4985-0806-3 • eBook • December 2015 978-1-4985-0807-0 • Paperback • March 2019
"Who or what killed the Mother God of the West? (48)" is Dr. Neela Bhattacharya Saxena's central thesis question for this book as she adeptly guides us on an enriching, multi-faith experiential journey through Western Christianity and Judaism. Her lens is the great Indic traditions well-known from her upbringing in Bengal. This lens uncovers the lost Great Mother in Western, androcentric, patriarchal religiosity directly from her global travels to the physical locations where these female icons, statues, churches and temples reside. Along the way, she includes detailed conversations with her deeply-informed sources from religion, philosophy, psychology and theology.
Developing from her life-long love of Kali in Hinduism, she helps us regain the lost Buddhist Tantra tradition in India that she calls 'Gynocentric' reintegration of the feminine principle. Through her guru, Baba, she weaves us through the complex history of the loss of the non-Vedic Tantra in India that eventually spread to Tibet through Padmasabhava and female Buddha Yeshe Tsogyal claiming a root 'Gynocentric, pregnant nothingness' missing from most monotheistic, male-privileged religions. From the Prajnaparamita Sutra being the Mother of All Buddhas, she begins unearthing Gynocentrism within divine relation. She succeeds in detailing, explaining, discovering and re-discovering this concept through her encounters with Greek Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena, Christian Virgin Mary, the Black Madonnas in Einsiedeln, Częstochowa and Chartres, Mary Magdalene and Shekinah -- resurrected in Jewish Kabbalah. Her Indian sensitivity brings a fresh focus to reforming a missing, sublimated, or clouded over womanly divine presence in Western religion. She mollifies the negative, dualistic separation surrounding divinity, sexuality and women, by reestablishing women's own divine right by un-clouding the Divine Feminine, unifying East and West in a global context. Saxena states:
"A profound inward truing of the self toward a deeper awareness of one's connectedness
to all sentient and non-sentient worlds is the gift of the Divine Feminine. Both immanent
and transcendent, she epitomizes nonduality and sacred materiality so that we can honor
our earthy existence and our interior dimensions (xxx)."
This global realization comes out of what Swidler and Mojzes claim in The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue, 'that relationality is not relativism' and that 'our Western tradition of truth [has been] largely absolute, static, and monologic, [and]/or exclusive. It has become de-absolutized [all-embracing], dynamic and dialogic -- in a word relational (2000:47). This is the 'radically Gynocentric path to freedom' that Dr. Saxena talks about in "Gynocentric Thealogy of Tantric Hinduism: A Meditation on the Devi" in the Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology. Her current book here continues and expands on that thinking.
If we, in the West, are ever to wholly understand Christianity and Judaism at all, then we must look at the traditions from India and Tibet because the Vedas, Hinduism and Buddhism pre-date both. Eastern wisdom informs Western wisdom by re-integrating, not separating out the feminine principle, from the male principle. It establishes the independence of women as divine beings in the human world independent of how Western religions have perpetrated what Frymer-Kensky speaks of as "misogyny and 'glorification of pederastic homophilia' as a result of the 'separation of the sexes and limitation of public life to males.'(205)"(28)
We experience Saxena's quest for 'women divine', women's diversity, women's resilience to exist and be present within matricidal attempts to cloud over her presence. She cites how deep rooted anti-goddess rhetoric exists in Revelation 17:2-3,4:
'The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her, and the inhabitants of the earth
became drunk on the wine of her harlotry. ... woman seated on a scarlet beast covered
with blasphemous names … wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious
stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a gold cup filled with the abominable and sordid
deeds of her harlotry.'
She concludes by saying, "This scarlet and purple-clad female with the cup of obscenities will haunt Christians of every kind as she represents the horror of sexuality as sin or guilt. In one fell swoop, the profound mystery of sexuality is desecrated beyond repair. (52)" But she reiterates that the feminine principle/pregnant nothingness is ever-present and cannot be eliminated or desecrated, no matter how doctrinally ignored or degraded she is. Matricide is not the answer.
Along with other feminist theologians and philosophers, Saxena asks why over time the principles of compassion, nurturing, tenderness, and sensitivity toward self and others have been identified with weakness, obedient dependence and docility and not strength, independence and self-confidence. Are not these ingredients for a healthy amour-propre, the sane sense of one's own whole personhood?
In Judaism, the Shekinah retrieves immanence, "the rejection of 'power-over', [recognizing] instead that each of us is part of the creative being who is the universe herself. (114)."
In conclusion, she asks when will a theology of war become one of peace, from 'hyper-masculinized ideologies masking as religions where some form of 'war' is the only meaningful activity (139)?" She invokes Kali's 'frightening visage' to pay heed to changing dualistic polarities to non-dualisms which can help us to be less reactive, slowing our response of immediate violence to the other where kenosis can enter in.
From Vimala Thaker and Karen Armstrong, she insightfully sees the need for mind- body- spirit continuum. She corrects Frances Clooney's error from talking about the uneasy fit of goddess-speak inserted into male-dominated Western Christianity, Judaism and Islam, 'yet they all talk about God being without gender (142)' to then making a conscious choice to writing about goddesses within the context of existing supreme male deities in Indian theologies because they 'already' possessed complete, developed male theologies. She admonishes his hubristic male assumption as a misinterpretation. For her, Brahman is impersonal in Vedantic India as expressed by Tat.
Recently, watching, That's Entertainment, a nostalgic look at Hollywood Musicals featuring Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Debby Reynolds, Ava Gardner, Anne Miller, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow, I see the spirit of the Western Goddess is surely with us. We need only tap our ruby slippers to find her hiding in plain sight.
Janice L. Poss Ph.D. Candidate Claremont Graduate University Women's Studies in Religion
Pat Reif, IHM, Memorial Lecture coordinator MA, Pastoral Theology, Loyola Marymount University 665 S. Indian Hill Blvd. #C
Claremont, CA 91711