Death and Destruction, Creation and Rebirth: Goddess Kali

February 5, 2015

On the first night of my holiday trip to Hawaii, I woke up to the worst voicemail of my life. Learning of this close death literally took the wind out of me. I cried for almost 24 hours straight, 20 or so if you take into consideration the three or four hours I slept thanks to the sleeping pill my mom gave me.

For the next two days I remained in bed… moving between sobbing, staring at the ceiling, googling grief, and waiting for what seemed like an endless, painful amount of time until I could board my plane to head home early.

goddess-kaliThe night before I flew out I had a very vivid dream. In it, a beautiful blue goddess with many arms was trying to show me something. Someone was there trying to explain her to me, but I couldn’t make sense of his words. I was enchanted by her presence, and I remember trying to think of her name to google more about her at the end of my dream. I knew her, and yet I had never seen her before.

At some point the following morning, I finally did type “blue goddess with multiple arms” into google, and was presented with the Hindu Goddess Kali… a Goddess of Death, and more specifically, all things ego and physical.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gods and Goddesses of other cultures, knowing full well that there are certainly things to learn from their meanings, mythologies, and stories, yet never felt drawn to any particular one. And since I believe in divine guidance and messages, I didn’t brush off the fact that a very clear, specific Goddess had come to me during my sleep… possibly the only meaningful period of sleep I had reached since the horrible news.

At first, learning about Kali startled me.

After all, this beautiful (sometimes terrifyingly depicted) woman wears a necklace of skulls, a skirt of severed arms, and is holding a severed head and blade in her left hands.

But the more I read, the more Kali resonated, and the more I felt blessed by her presence in my dream. Whether or not you believe in the specifics of other religions and their symbols, I truly believe that we learn and grow more as individuals and spiritual beings when we stay open to the divine messages and messengers that appear in our lives. You can still be a devout [insert religion here], or anti religion completely, and receive divine guidance from other sources.

The more fully we step into our spiritual nature, the more the walls and divides between religion and their individual semantics fade away. It’s all about love, energy, and connection when we get to the core, and there are lessons that teach us how to be more spiritually aligned from everywhere.

The best way to explain in modern terms what a deity is, is to understand deity as a unique vortex of energy. Sometimes that energy vortex takes recognizable anthropomorphic form (for instance, in meditation visions). Sometimes that energy is felt through the sound vibrations called mantra, or through the geometric pictures, called yantras, that map the way that energy looks in “blueprint” form. To learn to experience these distinct energies, with their distinct powers and qualities, is the invitation of Awakening Shakti (divine energy). Recognizing and decoding the various “tastes” of the goddesses is a way of deepening your capacity for living with passion and depth. It’s a practice for mining your soul’s connection to the cosmos. It offers a powerful means of understanding the capacities of your own psyche. And it can reveal spheres of consciousness that are ordinarily beyond the range of human understanding.

Awakening to Kali, by Sally Kempton

What resonated most clearly in the moment was that Kali was not a Goddess of human death, like the Grim Reaper or the Devil… Kali is about death to the ego, and any illusions we have about what’s “real” in this life, especially about ourselves and our existence. And she is about libration… liberating her children from the illusion and confines of the ego and attachment to our bodies, our human form. She brings us back to the truth: we are more than our bodies. We are spirit, soul, and divine energy, manifesting in this world in human form. But we are not our bodies, and when we kill the ego, or leave the body and the physical world, we return to the truth and the divine flow, and move onto what’s next for us.

This is a truth I’ve known for some time now, yet needed so desperately to be reminded of as I began my decent into a grief I had never experienced before. We don’t know what happens after our physical bodies die, but how can the energy that makes up our soul, spirit and essence (born of the same energy and makeup of the Earth, the stars, and the Universe) not return to the greater flow of life?

Beyond the immediate resonance of Kali, I recognized her as a long time presence in my life. Destruction, chaos, tearing down what’s known, and revolutionary change inside and out. When I first started in on my quarter-life crisis, the catalyst for the work I’ve done and the life I’ve created, it was filled with chaos and destruction. Ending of relationships, challenging everything I knew to be “true” and “right” in life, quitting jobs, releasing old beliefs, shattering my sense of self in the world, and allowing parts of me that needed to die, die.

Kali is a long time friend, I just didn’t see her there.

The icon of Goddess Kali shows her holding a severed head and a bloody sword, signifying her power to create revolutionary change, dissolve ego, and overthrow hierarchies and structures. In the physical world, she shows up as sudden earthquakes and hurricanes, but also the revolutionary life-changes that shake up cultures and disrupt societies. You’ll find her in intense experiences of all kinds, especially the experiences that destroy what is outworn and prepare you for new creative growth. You find her energy in endings that presage new beginnings, and in the powerful impetus to create change and transformation in your life and in your world.

Awakening to Kali, by Sally Kempton

I don’t know exactly what Kali’s presence, or this huge loss, means right now. I still truly believe everything, even the horrible and hard for us to understand, happens for a reason. With my whole heart and soul. I also know that this loss has moved me closer to my truth and my purpose, and so all I can do is simply lean into that while giving myself the time and space to grieve and heal.

Whether you choose to believe or resonate with Gods and Goddesses, or traditions of other cultures is absolutely up to you… but I challenge you to be open to the messages, lessons, and gifts they have to give. Divine guidance comes in many forms, and usually works through people. I’ve received the clearest divine guidance from status updates on Facebook, the same as I have through spiritual experiences such as meditation, journaling, or other sources. Whoever you believe in, whatever you believe in, whether God or the Universe or simply the flow of life, you are always receiving guidance and messages, you just have to be open to them.

For me, Kali brought peace and a sense of grounding, as well as guidance for how to move forward in my life and work after such a big loss. For you, her message may be smaller and less complex. But I encourage you to stay open to whatever is here for you too, and whatever has yet to come.

Kali challenges us by daring us to look her in the face and find the love behind the pain of life. — Sally Kempton

It’s been many years since I wrote these words, and I’ve since published a book about my journey through grief, PTSD, and the many deaths that followed, learning more than I ever wanted to know about rising up and coming back from challenging chapters and big life transitions.

If you’re navigating your own dark night of the soul, I recommend checking out my shop for resources, including Journey Mapping™ and my Awesome Life Tips® book.

I also recommend our Tales from the Journey™ Podcast!

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