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Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway

The Goddess Kali Helps Us Dance
with Hungry Ghosts of the Past

by Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway


"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well dance with it."
--George Bernard Shaw

Every family has its dark secrets. And we all have our elephants on the table – the issues that are so obvious but which are never discussed, acknowledged or healed. Many of our lives are shaped around dysfunctional family backgrounds, and we tend to try to disassociate from them, as we get older. It’s a good idea to grow up and leave the past behind. But if we don’t examine the pain of the past and make an attempt to heal it, we will drag it with us through life … and hungry ghosts of the past will plague us.

A Goddess is a Girl's Best Friend by Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway

But what is scariest and most unsettling about a hungry ghost from the past is we don’t really know what it is—lost spirit or fiendish monster of our own minds. All we know is that there is a presence that somehow holds a power over us; we may not even know why.

So they become part of our shadow selves, and can insidiously haunt our daily lives -- until we make a decision to set them free. It’s a human impulse to run from the darkness. Yet when you understand the truth about the shadow, you will come to understand that running from it does not bring you to safety – while running to it and embracing it will. Like ghosts in the attic, unresolved relationships and unsettled problems of the past make a racket – until we learn to look them square in the eye and say, "boo."

We have to be willing to step into the darkness in order to own it, acknowledge it and begin to heal the pain, fear, shame, perceived sins of the past that lurk in the shadows.

Black Mother Goddess Kali is known as one of the most powerful and most beloved spiritual allies of the Hindu tradition. But Kali is also the universal mother. It is believed that she goes into the darkness with us, and for us, to swallow our sins, worries, and concerns. She can show us how to radically transform our lives by embracing our own darkness, rather than fearing and fleeing from that which haunts us. She can spiritually hack away at the handcuffs that keep us shackled to the hungry ghosts of the past. There comes a point in the process when you must surrender fully to her healing powers, and let her bring you back cleansed, transformed, whole.

"Kali represents the entire physical plane. She is the drama, tragedy, humor, and sorrow of life. She is the brother, father, sister, mother, lover, and friend. She is the fiend, monster, beast, and brute … The full and seductive, terrible and wonderful earth mother always has something to offer." --Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Also known as Kali Ma and the Black Mother, Kali is the powerful Hindu Goddess who is in charge of darkness, death and regeneration. Many people fear her because she is so awesome looking, but Hindus love and adore her as their great mother Goddess and they see her as a manifestation of power that is fierce and potent. She is shakti (female energy) incarnate and the manifestation of primordial power. While she is the consort of the great Lord Shiva, she is also seen dancing wildly, with his form beneath her feet. They are partners in darkness, and in dancing the dance of death and regeneration. She brings life and death … she is regeneration and rebirth. In many ways she is the consummate representation of the classic power of the Divine Female – the power to birth, to bring death to the old and to regenerate. Her haunts are cremation grounds, where she takes life, and then recycles it into new life. Her symbol for cutting away at evil and darkness is to behead humans, but what that image really represents is the cutting away of the human ego and all the problems it causes. She eats pain, and swallows despair, and the secret shadows of our lives. She wipes out oddball beliefs, worn out thoughts and constructs that no longer serve us. She is a wild Goddess. Black (or blue looking) and wearing a garland of skulls around her neck, she has four arms; a symbol of domination over the world. In one hand she holds a head dripping blood, in the other three she wields various weapons. One of her hands removes fear and another grants bliss. Her tongue is sticking out and her eyes look wild.

How Kali can help us own up to our shadows:

  • Admit we love our ghosts. Since our scariest ghosts are usually people we love, know or have known, it’s not easy to let them go. We know our ghosts intimately; know the places they rattle their chains and make windows and doors open to the frightening, howling wind. We know the way they scare us, and how they are likely to strike. We are familiar with the way they go bump in the dark night of our souls. Sometimes we put them there to cover up even deeper pain or to allow us to avoid dealing with something uncomfortable. It is not easy to give up our ghosts because we love them … or we have become so accustomed to them that we fear what life may be like without their racket and disruptions.
  • Surrender to Divine Will. If you are in deep pain about your past and truly yearn for liberation, you can surrender it in its entirety to Goddess Kali, and to the Divine Spirit of All That Is. There comes a point when we must allow Her to decide how to handle things because we are clueless and emotionally paralyzed. Sometimes in order to gain everything, we must loose everything and then build our lives anew. We live in fear of the transition period--in which all seems lost. We are too preoccupied with fear and guilt to see our way clear. Surrender your problems and fears and she will return them, transformed, and perhaps unrecognizable--your life will be forever changed in an empowering way. Kali can help you put life in perspective. Call to her with this salutation from www.kalimandir.org.

"To the Devi who abides in all beings in the form of intelligence

Salutations to Her, Salutations to Her, Salutations again and again."

  • Recognize she is not so scary: Kali is only dark from a distance… as is our own shadow. Many people fear her, as they do their own darkness. This poem by Hindu Saint Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-86) explains how the Black Mother looks fierce before you get to know her, but she’s not so intimidating on closer examination.

"Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion?

She appears black because She is viewed from a distance;

but when intimately known She is no longer so.

The sky appears blue at a distance, but look at it close by

and you will find that it has no colour.

The water of the ocean looks blue at a distance,

but when you go near and take it in your hand,

you find that it is colourless."

  • Keep her image near. People of the Hindu faith, and practitioners who adapt Hinduism into their spiritual practice, often honor the images of deities to help them feel more connected and give them a ways to focus. Place Kali’s image on the door of your apartment--the way you would post a warning sign about your alarm or watchdog--as a symbol that "this home is protected from Hungry Ghosts" by Kali. If it’s too intense outside, keep it on the inside of the door.

Be Liberated and Healed on "Kali TV"—A Media Meditation

Kali demands that you face the truth. Daytime television has become an American arm of Goddess Kali, taking people through the darkness of family life and digging up the old bones long buried in the back yard. This gives all of us a chance for catharsis and release. The father who drank, the mother who gambled, the uncle who abused, the brother who drugged have all become icons of day time TV, parading family problems across the screen and showing us that we all have problems and … there is always someone worse off. Crazy as they may seem, they all reveal a little part of us, and showcase their dramas and traumas on our behalf.

The cosmic talk show meditation. When you are ready to meet your ghosts and transform your life, take on the task of identifying your pain, and shame, and freeing yourself by sharing it the way many people do these days: By going on TV. Your TV show will be in your mind and your studio will be entered through a meditation. This is not a task for the meek-hearted and is only suggested for those who are ready to confront the hungry ghosts of the past. For this exercise you will need a black candle, a TV set and some time alone.

1. Sit down for the show of your life. When you will be undisturbed, pull up in front of your TV for inspiration, but don’t turn it on. Think of some of the talk shows that really try to help people work through bizarre problems – such as the recently cancelled Sally Jessy Raphael show, which inspired this meditation, or Oprah--and create a composite talk show host who embodies the qualities of Kali--harsh when she has to be, honest to the bone, willing to take your hand and lead you into darkness … and stand by to pull you out when you have had your fill.

2. Light a candle to the shadow of shame. Before you begin, light a black candle. Whatever happened in your childhood is past, yet there is a part of your mind that does not allow it to be put to rest. It is like the talk show that never ends. It replays like a movie, it comes up like a broken record, and it can be so imbedded in your psyche that it runs your life without you even realizing it. The process of shinning a light into darkness takes longer than it ever took for the original incident that changed your life, but you must honor your own process of discovery and gain insight. Begin by lighting a black candle. It represents Kali Ma--the Dark Goddess--and it contains your shame, pain, and your fear; your depression and sadness. As it melts, it is symbolic of melting the darkness in you, so you can see the light of any given situation. Imagine as the candle melts down that Kali is taking in all the blackness, so you no longer have to. Trust that she can take all that, and more.

3. See yourself on the Kali Show. Sitting in a comfortable position, with your feet on the ground to anchor you, take three cleansing breaths and close your eyes. Imagine you are at the "Kali Show," waiting back stage so she can introduce you. Feel any nervousness you may have about going on TV to tell your family secrets. See Kali come out, to audience applause. Notice that she is not as scary as you thought, or as big. She seems tough and yet kind. Trust that she will help you through this. Know in that moment you will be able to lean into Kali, for she is the cosmic talk show host who can expose the dark root of your problem and she is the great mother who will nurture and protect you in the process.

4. Tell Kali and the world the truth about your pain. She calls you out of your temporary back stage cocoon and invites you onto national TV. The audience is sitting there waiting to hear your dark secrets. Millions of people will watch this, including the people who you may talk about. But Kali assures you that if you get it out of your system, and just say it now, you will be healed. She tells you that expressing your pain out loud is the first step to healing it. And that having people bear silent witness will help cure your fears of sharing your truth. She urges you to take this opportunity to inventory every horrible thing you hold against your family, and against yourself. Own your own darkness. Why do you feel so wounded? What are the things in your past that cause you the greatest pain? Who do you blame for your wounds? It is time to tell them how they’ve hurt you. Notice the feelings that course through you. Are you afraid to tell your hungry ghosts the truth, or is it liberating? Whatever the feeling … keep following Kali’s instructions. Know you are safe, you are grounded.

5. Who are your hungry ghosts? Kali, Queen of the Cremation Grounds, demands now that you identify the hungry ghosts of your past. She asks you to name the relatives and loved ones who haunt you… be honest. They can be dead or alive. Who has hurt you, betrayed you, and messed your life up in some way? Who brings tears to your eyes and has scarred your soul? To whom do you attribute your pain? She asks you to name them one by one, and then asks you to look into the camera and tell them how you feel. She places a warm hand on your back for comfort and says, "go ahead, and look them in the eye and tell them how they hurt you." The camera zooms in for an extreme close up and she encourages you to feel the depth of pain, to relive the initial trauma. There is no place to hide. It is time for the shame to be laid bear. The audience starts chanting your name, encouraging you to address the hungry ghosts. You feel the fear welling up inside, pressing against your chest … and your heart. You try to hold it in … you try to keep it back … you can feel it burning in your esophagus. Then you realize you can’t keep the ghosts safe for one moment longer. They must be exposed. And you realize all these years you have been hurting yourself trying to protect the people who hurt you. Big hurts or little ones, you have turned them against yourself. Kali is showing all four arms, and you feel them on you. "Go ahead," she urges. "Tell them now and you will never have to tell them again."

6. Tell your "shameful" secrets. Blurt them out. Dad, you bastard, you ruined my life… Mom, you made me hate myself.... Sister, you stole my attention … Brother, you broke my heart ... Grandma, you never loved me … Uncle John you tried to fondle me. Whatever comes up let it hurl … and hurl it right home to the source. Don’t be afraid. Let it out of you until there is nothing left to say. Then allow a moment of silence … even allow the audience a moment of shock. Then watch the shame disperse. Poof. It is as if a great weight has lifted. Feel the release, and the sense of relief. Let the feeling of liberation begin to seep into every cell of your being and uplift you.

7. Dance with Darkness. As a surprise, Kali has all the people you have just unleashed upon backstage. And somehow, when she brings them out, they don’t seem so scary. They seem small, weak, tired, powerless. The parts of them that scared you once and haunted you suddenly seem deflated. They can no longer hurt you. Kali begins the wild dance of death and regeneration. She begins to dance with your hungry ghosts and suddenly they are smiling. They are no longer hungry ghosts who drain your battery and steal your life force…. They are people. Regular people. They have no power over you. She teaches you to dance with the darkness so that it does not feed your fears or your shame. Kali turns some music on and you dance like a wild woman, with Kali, and all the Hungry Ghosts. You dance away darkness and shame. Your heart is lighter.

8. Praise Kali and pray to her. Thank her for her help and for having you on the "Kali Show." Hindus praise Mother Kali in many ways. She is considered the great, all-powerful Devi, the dark destructress and the rebirther of the new you. Call to her in this Shloka, or prayer to Devi (Sanskrit for Goddess) from Hindunet (www.Hindunet.org).

O mother, who is present everywhere, who is embodiment of Universal Mother,

O mother, who is present everywhere, who is embodiment of Power and Energy,

O mother, who is present everywhere, who is embodiment of Peace,

I bow to thee, I bow to thee, I bow to thee.

9. Reach out for ongoing support. A healthy person learns to balance dark and light, the way the earth balances day and night. The shadow has its reasons and seasons, and brings us important lessons to learn. But we must also know when we are way out of balance, have had enough, and need emotional rescue of a practical nature. If you feel the Hungry Ghosts of the Past chomping at your heals, dance with them if you can. Stay present with feelings and fears and see what they have to teach you. And when the burden it too much, give it all over to Kali. She can take that – and more. Kali helps heal the soul, and the ego that gets in the way of spiritual evolution and oneness with the Divine. Remember to seek professional and peer help as needed, and be willing to try practical approaches such as counseling, support groups or 12 Steps programs. This, in addition to spiritual nourishment through a Hindu Temple, Yoga, or spiritual practice and participation in any way that is beneficial.

Remember this Kali Affirmation: "My truth shall set me free."

© Copyright 2002  Reverend Laurie Sue Brockway  All Rights Reserved. 

This article was adapted from a new book by Soulful Living columnist, Rev. Laurie Sue. If you would like to know more about how the Goddesses can lend a spiritual hand to you in every day life, look for A Goddess Is A Girl’s Best Friend: A Divine Guide To Finding Love, Success and Happiness, By Laurie Sue Brockway. It’s due out from Perigee Books, December 2002.

Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway
Reverend Laurie Sue Brockway is an author, teacher and contemporary clergy person who specializes in matters of the heart and soul. As an ordained interfaith minister and non-denominational wedding officiant, it is her honor to regularly marry couples in love.

Prior to becoming a minister she enjoyed a successful and colorful 20 years in media as a widely published journalist, editor and author of several books on relationships and romance, as well as being a noted spokesperson on those topics. She was editor-in-chief of two national magazines and several regional publications, and her articles have been published around the world and in many newspapers and national magazines, such as the NY Daily News, The Washington Post, Women's News, New Woman, Ladies' Home Journal and Child. She evolved years of specialized reporting in the field of male-female relationship dynamics into a more spiritual pursuit that led her to train to be an interfaith minister, and then establish her wedding ministry along with a number of popular relationship enhancement programs. Her wedding ministry is based in New York.

She is also dedicated to bringing about a deeper awareness and understanding of the Divine Feminine. As a graduate of The New Seminary in NYC, the world's premier seminary for interfaith ministers, she was educated and trained in the tenants, spiritual practice and worship of many faiths. She became a specialist in the feminine aspects of God in all the world's religions. Today, she is widely recognized as a minister, teacher and scribe specializing in women's spirituality and The Divine Feminine from an interfaith and all-inclusive perspective. She is on the board of directors of World Light Fellowship, heading up their Feminine Faces of God programs, and is Founder of Our Mother's House, a cyber ministry at www.OurMothersHouse.org.

Long devoted to helping women access the "Goddess Within," she is currently working on two books that bring the wisdom of ancient archetypes to modern women. Her newest book, A Goddess Is a Girl's Best Friend, is due out from Perigee Books in December 2002.

To be placed on a mailing list for information about A Goddess Is A Girl's Best Friend: OurMothersHouse@aol.com


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