I adore Hindu deities. At one time or another, I’ve been in love with all of them: Durga, Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Hanuman.
But I especially love goddesses.
That wasn’t always the case. When I first started meditating, and for years afterward, I couldn’t see the point in deities. I wasn’t a Hindu, after all, and goddesses just seemed like a cultural "extra"—too religious for a world where everything interior could be understood as the play of neurons and dendrites. Myths are one thing, after all. But, actually invoking and praying to goddesses? Weird.
Then, about 20 years ago, I attended a workshop on Saraswati, goddess of learning, writing, and music. As we meditated on a Saraswati mantra, I "recognized" the particular feeling that the mantra evoked in me. It was the same feeling that, all my life, has shown up when I’m writing in an inspired state. At that moment, I had a kind of epiphany. Was it possible that the energy of a goddess could be connected to my literary inspiration? Did those moments when an idea arose from "nowhere" come from the energy of a transpersonal force, an actual goddess? I’ve come to believe that, yes, it does. Strength, wisdom, and intuition are natural to us, as they are to every sentient creature. But they don’t belong to us. Our gifts and powers and talents are aspects of the divine energy that moves through everything in the world. We can exercise them, master our gifts through effort. But they are never ours. Tantric masters recognized that fact. They understood the power of archetypal energies. Their greatest insight, however, was to realize that all power could be traced back to a subtle sacred source. They called that shakti, or cosmic power.
To understand why you might want to get into a relationship with a goddess, it helps to know how tantra views deities, especially goddesses. Deities are archetypes, of course. Many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, carry specific deity archetypes within us: Durga the warrior, Shiva the ascetic, Saraswati the poet. But in tantra, goddesses are not simply archetypes. They are powers. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Durga personify energies that are always at play in us and in nature. They are really present, they are really accessible, and they are, above all, helpful. In tantra, there’s a recognition that all the energies in a human being and in the natural world are aspects of shakti. They are intrinsically divine. When we recognize and name these specific shaktis as goddesses, we literally activate their powers within us. When you name the energy of abundance as Lakshmi, or repeat a mantra to Lakshmi, you touch into the energy vortex she represents. You bring that energy more alive in you. You get access to it. When you call on Durga, you bring forth your own deepest reserves of strength. When you call on Saraswati, you call on inspiration.
These energies may already be playing in you. All of us have aspects of the goddess inside us. But when you start to see how your personal gifts, your love, and your strength are connected to transpersonal qualities in the universe, two things happen. First, you stop identifying egoically with your gifts. And second, you realize that you can connect directly with the divine sources of your energies.
The more you contemplate these subtle, luscious archetypal beings, the more they come alive in you, the more you feel guided by them, and the more your life becomes irradiated by their sparkling, shimmering presence.
I love that.
Sally Kempton is Yoga Journal’s Wisdom columnist. Her new book Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga and her audio program, Shakti Meditations, explore the power of invoking the goddess energy into your life.