An uncomfortable truth: there’s a red hot river of rage bubbling just beneath my surface.
For all I know, it’s been there since the beginning. My mom cheerfully noted my temper in my baby book, and I have memories of fury erupting out of me from nowhere at various points throughout my childhood.
Of course, it wasn’t really emerging from nowhere. My anger came from the depths of me, and the eruptions were often the result of my inner bitch suddenly refusing to play the role of the “good girl” that seemed to make everyone so much more comfortable than this fiery, erratic version of me instead.
I’ve mostly kept her in check, but sometimes my inner bitch has absolutely demanded to be seen. In middle school, I was the awkward skinny girl with braces, clinging hopefully to the edge of the popular crowd but clearly never belonging there. I wore my insecurities on my sleeve, and I was a ripe target for bullies because of it.
I really tried my best to implement my mom’s two recommended strategies: 1) be extra nice to everyone, and 2) ignore the bullies. Neither of these worked very well.
I had kids drawing offensive pictures of me in my notebook when I left class and went to the bathroom. I had kids leaving harassing voicemails on my home answering machine, and prank-calling me at babysitting jobs. Someone even anonymously mailed me a keychain printed with the words, “Shit happens and you’re living proof.”
I tried to laugh it all off and pretend like it didn’t matter, but it did. It was devastating. I was anxious and afraid and pretty much miserable all the time.
Still, I tried to keep it all in check - until the day that I couldn’t. It was summer break, and one of my former friends, who had been the chief architect of that year’s Bully Offense, called me and began screaming about something I’d supposedly done (I hadn’t), then threatened to send a bunch of people over to my house to kick my ass. Or something like that.
As I listened to her accusations and false rage, something inside me snapped. I was just so tired of this shit, but more than that, I was angry. Really, really angry. Fucking furious.
I began letting loose a stream of obscenities that flowed into the phone without thought. I don’t remember what I said, but if she’d been there in person I’m certain I would have lunged for her throat, not caring if either of us survived.
When I finished I vaguely recall shocked silence on the other end of the phone line. I hung up, shaking with anger and waiting for a call back at any moment. Bring it on, bitch! I was ready for the fight, but it never came.
About a half hour later, I calmed down and began panicking, imagining all kinds of horrible consequences for my outburst. None of them ever came to pass. The bullying ended after that phone call, and while junior high and high school still sucked, I was free to continue moving through them without daily threats and harassment.
Anger is bad...right? It’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand that this isn’t always the case. While anger can be toxic, it can also be clarifying and instructive. Looking back to that moment in middle school, I can see now that my anger was not only warranted, but absolutely necessary for my self-preservation.
Any display of big emotions from women is generally frowned upon. If you cry, you’re weak. If you get angry, you’re hysterical (and maybe shrill, depending on the tone of your voice).
This is one of the reasons I find many Goddess worshipping traditions to be so interesting. Rather than presenting us with an anesthetized, constricted version of femininity, they offer us rich, complex images that shatter polarizing viewpoints.
The Mother Goddess of Paleolithic and Neolithic times contained the totality of light and dark within Herself. Today, we can still see this dynamic present in the Hindu Goddess Kali.
Kali appeared to me once in meditation. I didn’t know who she was at the time. I only saw a fleeting image of a blue skinned goddess, her neck encircled with round objects. I went to Google later, searching for blue skinned goddesses, and recognized her right away.
Kali. Those circular things around her neck were skulls. She also wore a skirt of human arms, and her tongue, pointed and sticking out, was dripping with blood. Holy crap. I was shocked, frightened and more than a little intrigued.
In the Devi Mahatmya, a Hindu religious text praising the power of the DF, Kali emerges from the Goddess Durga’s third eye to defeat the demons Chanda and Munda. Later she confronts the demon chief Raktabija, who has a secret weapon. Every drop of his blood that is spilled becomes another warrior.
This may be a problem for some, but not for Kali. She slays Raktabija, then uses her long tongue to lap up all of his blood. Yep, this Goddess is not for the faint of heart.
In her spiritual memoir Red, Hot and Holy, Sera Beak describes Kali this way:
"Kali loves to hang out in graveyards, drink the blood of demons, and boogie and howl and stomp and spit and so forth. Unlike many popular Hindu goddesses, she’s not married. She does make love with the Hindu God Shiva…but only if she can be on top.
"Kali is sometimes known as the forbidden thing. She reveals the places in our psyches where we have denied our authentic sexuality, rage, killer instincts, animal nature, shadow and power. These 'forbidden' places inside us hold integral elements of our feminine divinity. They are ripe with our promise," writes Beak.
In Jungian psychology, the “shadow” refers to the part of our consciousness that is hidden from ourselves. Because we usually don’t want to see or identify with the parts of ourselves that we’ve labeled negative, the shadow is the home of the darker aspects of our personality.
Kali, then, is the Goddess of shadow. We can only grow and evolve if we’re willing to walk into the shadows, uncover what is lurking there, and begin the often difficult task of coming to terms with what we find. Kali will show us the way, but be warned: It won’t be an easy journey.
Paradoxically, however, Kali is also known as Mother Kali – “a benign and loving source of every boon and blessing,” writes Sally Kempton. This is because when we are willing to open to our shadow and see what is lurking there, taking ownership for it rather than projecting it onto others, we have the opportunity to transform it into boundless love and compassion – for ourselves and others.
There’s a beautiful article about Dark Mother Kali that was making its rounds on social media recently. Its author, Vera De Chalambert, asserts that it was not Donald Trump who won our most recent election, but Kali herself.
“Kali has brought down our house in a shocking blow; all the illusions of America, stripped in a single night. We are not who we thought we were. Now we must get ready to stand in her fires of transmutation. We need them,” she writes.
Back to my seething rage. What is its origin? Who is its target? Like Kali, I suspect the answer is complex. I’m angry at the regulating part of myself who is still trying to play the “good girl,” silencing my own voice to not make waves or make others uncomfortable. I am angry and frustrated, too, by my own reluctance to take action, out of fear of making the wrong decision. And while I’d like to blame a host of politicians and voters for creating a mess of this country that I love, I’m also angry that it took so much to shake me awake to the injustices that have been present for a long, long time.
A couple of months ago I gathered with a small group of women friends. We went around in a circle, sharing what was going on in our lives. When it was my turn, I told them all I could feel lately was an undercurrent of fire and anger. It was burning strong, but it felt oddly purifying.
One of my friends suggested I burn something on a piece of paper to ritually release my anger. I couldn’t come up with words to write on my paper, so I drew fire.
Fire burning fire. Doesn’t get any hotter than that.
We watched the paper burn to ash, and as it did, it took on the shape of a perfectly formed black rose. I couldn’t stop staring at it.
Sometimes we have to burn in order to find the beauty.