Every year, we begin a new cycle of our training program, Daughters of Kali. Open to men and women, those entering our circle are introduced to the Sha'can tradition and our lineages in East and West. For many, there are subtleties and nuances of our circle work that are initially confusing, not to mention down-right difficult due to the use of many Sanskrit terms. Here is a beginning compilation of some of our members' questions. We hope you will learn a bit about our workings and enjoy engaging with us through them...
What is the proper way to enter the temple?
When entering sacred space, our sanctuary, or a dedicated temple, it is customary to touch the floor with one's right hand and then touch one's forehead. This is an act signifying one's intention to surrender to the divine (our deepest awareness of the divine will and our highest self) for the duration of the time one spends along with the deity being worshiped within the physical space occupied for worship. With this motion we are taking the dust from the floor in God/dess' home and putting it to our head to ritualize our deeper understanding of and work toward ego surrender. We allow this intention to be witnessed and acknowledged in community.
What is darshan? Are there certain or more appropriate ways to approach Maa when receiving darshan?
'Darshan' comes from the Sanskrit verb meaning, 'to see.' Darshan literally means to 'see' the divine; it is a term used to express the act of physically looking into the eyes of the image or statue into which the presence of the divine has been invoked and activated during ritual. By so doing, the worshiper is brought more closely into connection with the divine presence, allowing our soul--the spark of the divine within us--to recognize the original state of our beingness. Through darshan we reactivate our connection to Spirit, both internally and externally.
When approaching the Divine Mother, it is important to breathe and remain open in one's heart. Physical acts in addition to maintaining eye contact may include: prostration, bowing of the head, holding the hands in anjali mudra (the namaste or prayer position at the heart center), touching of the forehead to the feet of the deity, and other similar gestures of surrender, honoring and respect.
Why do we cover our feet in front of Maa’s altar?
We cover our feet and refrain from pointing them toward the altar out of respect for the spiritual process. The feet signify the mundane, the place of contact with our earthly selves. By being aware of the mundane in worship, we can set an intention to utilize that awareness to bring ourselves closer to our spiritual goals.
What does the word prema mean?
It means 'love.' Many common definitions may also be found here.
Why do we call directions thrice at community pujas? Is this a hard and fast rule?
Three is both a sacred number for goddess worship and a spiritual seal, a way of fully inviting in and holding the guides and energies called to be present in puja. Calling in the directions three times also encourages more participation in the circle. We welcome invocations from all traditions during this part of the ceremony. During our annual Kali Puja Festival, the directional invocations are more elaborate and supplemented with special elemental altars at each quarter. Therefore, during this time invocations are only done once.
Why do we ring the bell before we approach Maa?
The bell is rung to let Maa know that we are coming to worship Her. It gets Her attention!
Why are there so many skulls associated with Kali and the Sha'can path?
In many of the world's spiritual traditions, skulls, as repositories of the brain, are symbols of the power of the mind and of wisdom, as well as of the integrative forces that allow principles of mind, body and spirit to reveal the divine nature of beingness. Our cranium, therefore, is considered to be a symbol of the human potential for enlightenment, or oneness with God/dess.
When acting in the mundane realm, human beings often forget about or stray from this original connection to Spirit. To do so leaves the more shallow ego-identified state that is agenda-laden and task-oriented. Kali's skulls therefore are a reminder of our divine nature and our deeper call to the Great Mystery. They hold the potential for the unification of matter and spirit, heart and head, mind and body through love--which rectifies and embraces all opposites, bringing us through our yearning to a place of sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss).
Additionally, the skulls around Kali's neck form a mala, or rosary, each symbolizing the 51 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet from which all sounds are created. Hence, all mantras, or conglomorates of words used to address a deity (or words used for an effect which lasts beyond the utterance of the words), are worn by Her.
What does ishtadevi mean?
This Sanskrit word means 'chosen Goddess.' It is akin to the similar 'ishtadeva,' meaning 'chosen God.' In some traditions, this deity is chosen by virtue of family line; i.e., the god or goddess who is considered the family 'patron saint.' At SHARANYA, we promote deepening personal spiritual practice while learning about the Sha'can tradition in order to facilitate the personal revelation of this deity, who resides in one's heart. The ishtadeva or ishtadevi is also understood to be a reflection of the undifferentiated cosmic consciousness.
What's the difference between Devi and Deva?
The Sanskrit word 'Devi' means 'Goddess,' and the word 'Deva' means 'God.'
What is sadhana?
The Sanskrit word 'sadhana' means spiritual practice or discipline. In this, it can mean a particular practice or method--a spiritual technology--one undertakes or employs to deepen a connection with the divine or spirit; e.g., meditation, japa, or prayer. It also refers to the spiritual journey overall and in this sense relates to one's way of walking in the world or 'doing' life.
What is dakshina?
This is an offering made, monetary or otherwise, to one's teacher out of respect and gratitude for the teaching or work done on one's behalf, such as during puja, homa (fire ceremony) or other ceremony. It is given from the heart and is never asked for directly. A definition may also be found here.
What does Jai Maa mean?
This is a call to the Divine Mother, 'Maa,' a singing of Her glory. Literally, 'jai' means 'victory,' although we often translate it as 'hallelujah' or 'praises.' Speaking 'Jai Maa' in puja (worship ceremony) is an affirmation of the Divine Mother's blessings, a chant of gratitude for all Her gifts and the challenges She provides that help us grow spiritually.
Why do we chant to Agni first during Puja?
In Hinduism, Agni is the god of fire, the one who presides over all rites and rituals. He is 'purohit,' the one who presides over the fire ceremony and is the first deity honored in the Rig Veda, the oldest written religious text of record from among all surviving world's spiritual traditions. (Click here to hear the first three verses of that text.) Simply, fire is what enabled humanity to first survive and then thrive. We open our ceremonies with a chant to Agni to honor the role of fire both as literal element and as metaphor for the transformational spiritual journey.
How do you "ground"?
The concept of grounding refers to any method of reconnecting to one's body (i.e., physicality) after engaging in any endeavor, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual that facilitates or actively directs focus away from the fact of one's embodied presence in the moment. We can be readily reminded of our bodies through bringing attention to our breathing or by touching of the ground on which we stand. Doing so reincorporates us, allowing for an integration of our experience with the fullness of mind, body and spirit.
Where can I learn Sanskrit? Is it difficult?
Sanskrit is one of the languages we use in ritual for Sha'can--typically we also use English, but individual practitioners are encouraged to use their mother tongues, as well. Other languages frequently heard in our circles are French and Hebrew, for instance.
It's important to note that you are not required to learn the Sanskrit language in order to be a practitioner of Sha'can, though learning relevant mantras and their proper pronunciation is greatly encouraged. However, if you wish to delve deeper into the Eastern side of the path, it is recommended that you become more familiar with Sanskrit. In addition, members of the Matrika Chakra are required to have memorized the Sanskrit alphabet and its pronunciation.
Sanskrit is a rather notoriously difficult language to learn, and there are not many venues to learn it outside of universities, depending on your location. However, many people have devised methods to help you expand your Sanskrit vocabulary via chanting and other methods.
We offer a 75-minute monthly Sanskrit workshop at our Bay Area mandir, 11:00 a.m. the morning of pujas (see our Calendar for specific puja dates), which costs $45 per session. These classes are meant to build familiarity with the Sanskrit alphabet and language in the context of spiritual practice.
There are also a variety of online and home study courses for the serious Sanskrit student, offered by such places as the American Sanskrit Institute, which offers a complete CD course, or through the Indian language site Acharya (you can get to the lessons directly here. Please note that SHARANYA does not endorse any particular outside product, and we encourage you to do your own research on the method or course best suited to your interest and learning process.
What are the most important Sanskrit texts for Shaktas?
Traditionally speaking, the two most important Sanskrit texts for Shaktas are the Devi Mahatmya (or Chandi Path, as it is also called), and the Srimad Devi Bhagavatam. Other important texts for left-hand Tantric practitioners and devotees of the Dark Goddess Kali and all her manifestations are the Yogini Tantra and the Kalika Purana. Please contact us if you are interested in a more comprehensive reading list in this regard.
How much of what we do is Tantric, and how much of what we do comes from the Craft?
Sha'can is a tradition rooted deeply in both Western and Eastern esoteric traditions. (Read more about our tradition and Shakta Tantra more generally here.) Because those practicing Sha'can primarily live in a Western context, and many come from the Western goddess tradition of the Craft, we use a structure for our rituals that is primarily Western, yet for those who have been to India and have experienced worship there, perhaps you will note as do many who come to our pujas that the feeling is very much akin to the ambiance and experience of worship in India!
In particular, we cast a circle and invoke the directions and elements, as well as welcome in certain forms of the Divine. The nature of our pujas is highly participatory and everyone is invited to honor Spirit in their own way within our circle. There is no presiding guru, and anyone who wishes to devote the time, energy and heart to the tradition can learn to lead the puja. We have no distinctions based on familial ties, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other means that are used to discriminate in the world's various religio-cultural spheres.
This said, just about everything that we do inside this structure comes from our Tantric lineage traditions, both orthodox and heterodox. The structure itself acts as a framework for exploration of the Divine through various spiritual methods and practices--many of which are originally from India and, in fact, actually inspired the framework for much of the earth-based ritual commonly used in the West in the first place. For example, in Tantra as in many Western Pagan traditions, it is important to cast a circle, call the directions and fully participate in your own spiritual awakening (although the methods for doing so look somewhat different). At SHARANYA, we bring this all together in a seamless, organic, evolving and yet structured ritual setting that allows for both experience through some traditional spiritual methods and individual awakening by the grace of the Divine.
Still, we do incorporate elements of the traditional Hindu puja in our ceremonies. The traditional puja has itself incorporated many aspects of Tantric worship over time; for example, the use of mantras, yantras and various other elements within traditional puja are all intimately linked to Tantra. Thus, although we are approaching the Divine, our beloved Dark Mother, from the Western perspective, Eastern influences as we have learned them from teachers in India are woven (sometimes in modified form) throughout our worship. We do so with honor and respect for the homeland, traditions and people of South Asia. At its core, we consider our ceremony to be a trans-lineage, evolutionary, creative, and participatory celebration of our love of Maa and the Divine in its inclusiveness.
Where does the word Rashani come from? Is it Sanskrit?
The work 'Rashani' is a Romani word that means 'priestess.' The Roma (pejoratively called 'Gypsies') have their origins in India, and our use of this word to name our ordained ministers honors the bridge between East and West, and honors the Roma lineage that forms part of our tradition.
Where can I find out more about the Hindu pantheon?Kali: The Feminine Force by Ajit Mookerji
There are many books and websites written from many different perspectives on this subject, and it is very easy to get lost amongst them. Because we are a Kali temple, we recommend the following books on Kali and related goddesses:
Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineshwar by Elizabeth Usha Harding
Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas by David Kinsley
Our online courses through Kali Vidya can help you navigate this broad subject. We invite you to join us there if you are not able to be with us in person.
Is there a recommended reading list beyond the books required for DoK?
There are many, many wonderful books that will facilitate your learning about Hinduism, deepen your understanding of ecofeminism, foster growth in the Sha'can tradition, and support your spiritual journey. Some initial suggested reading for those new on the path follows:
Adams, Carol J. ed. Ecofeminism and the Sacred (Continuum: New York) 1993
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today (Beacon Press: Boston) 1986
Aiyar, Indira S. Durgā as Mahisasuramardini: A Dynamic Myth of Goddess (Gyan Publishing House: New Delhi) 1997
Baring, Anne and Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (Arkana/Penguin: London) 1991
Bhairavan, Amarananda. Kali's Odiyya: A Shaman's True Story of Initiation (Nicolas- Hays: York Beach, Maine) 2000
Bharati, Agehananda. The Tantric Tradition (Samuel Weiser: NY) 1975
Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath. Ancient Indian Rituals and their Social Contents (Manohar: New Delhi) 1975
________________________. History of the Śākta Religion (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers: New Delhi) 1996
Brown, C. Mackenzie. The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devī-Bhāgavata Purāṇa (State University of NY Press: Albany) 1990
Danielou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India (Inner Traditions: VT) 1985
Eck, Diana L. and Jain, Devaki. Speaking of Faith: Global Perspectives on Women, Religion & Social Change (New Society Publishers: Philadelphia) 1987
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, (Harper & Row: San Francisco) 1988
Feuerstein, Georg. Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy (Shambhala: Boston) 1998
Gadon, Elinor W. The Once & Future Goddess: A Sweeping Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Cultural Mythology of Our Time (Harper & Row: San Francisco) 1989
Galland, China. Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna, A Ten-Year Journey (Viking/Penguin) 1991
George, Demetra. Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess (Harper Collins: San Francisco) 1992
Ghanananda, Swami and Sir John Stewart-Wallace, C.B., eds. Women Saints East and West (Vedanta Press: Hollywood, CA) 1955
Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess (HarperRow: San Francisco) 1989
Hiltebeitel, Alf and Erndl, Kathleen, eds. Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses (New York University Press : NY) 2000
Hixon, Lex. Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna (Shambhala: Boston) 1992
Huyler, Stephen P. Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion (Yale University Press: New Haven) 1999
Jansen, Eva Rudy. The Book of Hindu Imagery: The Gods and their Symbols (Binkey Kok Publications: The Netherlands) 1993
Jayakar, Pupul. The Earth Mother: Legends, Rituals Arts, and Goddesses of India (Harper & Row: San Francisco) 1990
Johnsen, Linda. Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India (Yes International Publishers: St. Paul, MN) 1994
Khanna, Madhu. Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity (Thames and Hudson Ltd: London) 1979
Kinsley, David. The Sword and the Flute: Kālī & Krṣṇa, Dark Visions of the Terrible and the Sublime in Hindu Mythology (University of California: Berkeley) 1975
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (Bollingen Series: Princeton) 1974
Ochs, Carol. Behind the Sex of God: Toward a New Consciousness Transcending Matriarchy and Patriarchy (Beacon Press: Boston) 1977
Pande, Mrinal. Devī: Tales of the Goddess in Our Time (Penguin Books India: New Delhi) 1996
Pattanaik, Devdutt. The Goddess in India; The Five Faces of the Eternal Feminine (Inner Traditions: VT) 2000
Payne, Ernest A. The Śāktas: An Introductory and Comparative Study (Dover: New York) 1997 (Reprint)
Pintchman, Tracy. The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition (State University of New York Press: Albany) 1994
Shelton, Mary Murray. Guidance from the Darkness: The Transforming Power of the Divine Feminine in Difficult Times (Putnam: NY) 2000
Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (Zed Books: London) 1989
Sjoo, Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth 1991
Sri Aurobindo. The Ideal of Human Unity, (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press: Pondicherry, India) 1950
Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess--10th Aniversary Edition, Revised and Updated (Harper: San Francisco) 1979
Stone, Merlin. When God Was a Woman (Harcourt Brace: NY) 1978
White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (University of Chicago Press: Chicago) 1996
Woodman, Marion and Elinor Dickson. Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness (Shambhala: Boston) 1996
Woodroffe, Sir John. Hymns to the Goddess (Ganesh & Co.: Madras) 1973
Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi) Joseph Campbell, ed., 1990
You may also join our discussion forum for all those interested in the Dark Goddesses. This is a more general place to talk about Her mysteries. Come explore what it means to be one of the Daughters of Kali™ first-hand!