Celebrating Mary Magdalene
Feast Day of a Saint & Priestess: A Role Model of Mother Blessed?
Mary Magdalene is often called the “Great Mary”… She may be “Our Lady” of the next millennium… the non-virginal role model for women as a wife and mother… but also as an Apostle…and an evangelizer.
From her comes the model of gender equality for women and men in the next century.
—The Society of Mary Magdalene
Walk into the cathedral of Sainte Marie-Madeleine in Sainte Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, and one of the first things you’ll notice is the conspicuous lack of a crucifix at center stage. Instead, positioned directly in line of sight above the main altar is a beautiful stained-glass window called, “La Gloire,” encircled by angels. The window is relatively small but stands out from its surroundings, the light passing though illuminating the brilliant yellow that is the backdrop for the pure white dove in the center. It would be apt to say that the effect is startling at the same time that it is embracing; the light coming through giving a distinctively warm and loving ambiance to the damp and quiet vastness of the large cathedral.
This dove, of course, is more than a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity’s Trinity. While acknowledging the dove as a symbolic conduit for the Holy Spirit in Christian art and thought, this aspect of the Trinity defies complete masculinization by the Church. In both Gnostic and Hebraic traditions, for example, it has been called the Feminine aspect of God—Sophia and Chokmah respectively. Here in this majestic cathedral in the heart of land overlaid with pre-Christian (some would say heretical or pagan) influences, it is also a profound and significant icon of the basilica’s namesake, Sainte Marie Madeleine. The Magdalene, as she is also known, is here revered; for she is said to have been elevated on the wings of angels and carried from her grotto cave nearby in order to die in this place in the arms of her friend, now a saint, Maximin.
And we can move beyond the Christian embrace into a consciousness where the dove also ties the Magdalene to the love goddesses of, at least, Greece (Aphrodite) and Syria (Ashtoreth). This symbol then manifests in the tradition of troubadours and bards who brought dove imagery into their love-inspired works, corroborating the claim that it was the Divine Feminine of which they were singing, not just mere mortal love. We can also deepen that claim to suggest specifically that it was the Magdalene they were honoring in their verses.
Descending down the narrow stairs leading to the crypt of this church, one enters the small space quietly; for there’s a sense that reverence is due the personages honored inside. Inside, along with the sarcophagus of St. Maximin and those of three other individuals (Sidoine, Suzanne and Marcelle), lies what are said to be the remains of Marie Madeleine herself.
Enshrined in what Father H. Lacordaire, writing in 1860, calls “the third most important tomb in the world...[ranking] immediately after the tomb of our Savior in Jerusalem and of Saint Peter in Rome,” we find her body. Her skull, however, has been removed and placed on a palanquin of gold and set behind a barrier of glass to promote easy (and untouchable) viewing. Now guarded behind a gate, this ornamented relic is paraded through the town every July 22nd on her feast day—some say her birthday—to accompanying fanfare.
Visiting one May, I was disappointed to be too early to witness the festivities, but was nonetheless impressed with the magnificence of the Magdalene’s presence as I could feel it. Walking into the fourth-century chamber (part of the original church), home of her remains, I offered a silent invocation, honoring both her role in early Christianity and the mysteries of the Great Goddess in which she is said to have participated. Perhaps she heard me; for the pictures I took and later developed show not a reliquary of her skull, but rather what a friend to whom I sent copies in Nans-les-Pins (a neighboring town) called, “the most compassionate face I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, the Magdalene appeared in the image, a face on the backdrop of a skull inviting me further into the revelation of her truth.
For centuries, France has been the home of heretical sects and traditions of devotion, honor and reverence that bring together the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Black Madonnas (often in the guise of another Mary—either Mary the Egyptian, a repentant harlot, or Mary of Cleophas, who was present at the foot of the cross), and ancient goddesses such as Cybele, Artemis, Demeter, and Isis. Here, it is rather easy to scratch the surface of Catholicism to see that underneath are ancient pre-patriarchal, pre-Christian traditions of the Triple Goddess, She who in her aspects of Maiden, Mother, and Crone presides over love, birth and death.
The south of France is also special because it is said that here the Magdalene set ashore sometime around 43CE, perhaps carrying in her womb the child to be born of her union with Jesus—bringing a new twist to the legend of and quest for the Holy Grail, the cup as metaphor for her womb that carried the bloodline of Jesus, as Margaret Starbird pointed out in her writings long before the Da Vinci Code. It is here that the hidden story of Christianity begins to be revealed (the story of yearning for the lost Feminine); and here that an awakening to the consciousness of the Divine Feminine within the Judeo-Christian western world was reinitiated and continues to manifest powerfully today.
Happily, this awakening is to be found even within the very same institutions that so forcefully tried to suppress any expression of the Feminine, Divine or otherwise. Of course, re-emergence of the Divine Feminine has manifested most intensely where it was demonized most, and women have often quietly been Her most ardent devotees.
Today, on her sacred day, I invite you to meditate on your relationship to the Divine Female and the Feminine, on your embodiment of Her qualities, and on the ways in which you have overcome suppression, oppression, rejection and all forces that have asked you to be or claimed you to be something you are not. Take a moment for yourself to remember; allow into your body a flood of gratitude for what you have become and what you are becoming. In this space, remember the power of your female line, your bloodline, and the footsteps of those who have gone before to help create and maintain a space for Her in this world.
(Article by Chandra Alexandre)
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Dear Friends...Sisters & Brothers on the Path,
make all the difference as we work to keep engaged spirituality and a unique
spiritual expression of service viable in the world. At SHARANYA, our
Goddess Temple survives because of you, because of your support. For
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in the world. Jai Maa!
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Empowering & Evocative: Women & Goddess in India
Drenched in blood from horrible battles, She, Goddess, protects the whole of creation from harm. In gratitude, She is loved deeply by huge numbers of devout followers. Still, while her prowress on the battlefield is recognized and glorified, in some parts of India to this day it is nonetheless believed that only by the power of special talismans can the fierce form of the goddess be transformed into the nurturing mother so adored in daily worship. Such a belief only perpetuates a duality that serves patriarchal ends, and today, we increasingly see that Her myths and appellations are being reclaimed to serve women's personal and collective empowerment.
In India, the two realms of sacred and secular are linked in a profound way. In the literature, religion, myth, and other social constructs of Hindu culture, an understanding of the feminine in both goddesses and women prevails. In a feminist reworking of this recognition, which has often been used to oppress, some Indian women are instead making a point to affirm that women are to be taken as “shades of the Divine,” pieces in fact of devī’s śākti. Mrinal Pande, for example, has written Devī: Tales of the Goddess in Our Time to specifically highlight the ways in which Indian women are defying the imposed limits of patriarchy and a male-dominated world and using Goddess to do so.
There has also been at least some call within Indian feminism for a relationship to be made between raudra devī (the fierce goddess) and the empowerment of women. Such a push is evidenced, for example, by the appearance of "Kali for Women," a pre-eminent feminist publisher in India that claims this fierce goddess’ name specifically in order to engage feminism and social justice for women.
It is possible [to empower women] through the revival of an energized feminine principle symbolized by Kālī—the most significant Goddess in the Hindu pantheon… Kālī in the non-Sanskritic personification—ethically dynamic and control-free. Kālī—autonomous and active and not defined by male control as she is depicted in later mythological texts by her “spousification” with her consort Shiva. Kālī who challenges the civilized order of Dharma and the status quo. -- Rani Jethmalani
One concrete way that the Dark Goddess does manifest in the Indian context itself, although still marginally, is through actual women who embody Her. Through these control-free women, those seeking goddess, empowerment and transformation outside of patriarchal norms can perhaps find powerful role models.
Such women reside within the Tantrick tradition as tāntrikas (women gurus and aspirants); within a very small percentage of Hindu society as sadvis (women renunciates); and within the reality of empowered individual women who have become role models and saints in their own right without (only sometimes with) the support of men.
All these women, often living at the fringes of society or embraced predominantly by those outside of India, must be reclaimed as a viable and normative (rather than exceptional) part of Indian womanhood. These autonomous women, according to Linda Johnsen (speaking in Daughters of the Goddess: The
Women Saints of India), “differ from us in that they seek not to learn or teach about the Goddess, but to wholly embody her. Because they incarnate the divine, unselfconsciously they evoke her in us.”
The presence of such women and those who have taken up the mantle of empowering relationship between women and goddess is, we believe, both a wake up call and glorious testimony to what is actually happening...and beyond that, provocation for what else is possible. Join SHARANYA in an exploration of the possible every month...
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Mudra of the Month
Used in puja and healing work, this mudra concretizes the power of the shankha, or conch shell. This gift of the sea provides dramatic spiritual cleansing through the
grace of river goddesses Saraswati and Ganga, and is also thought to
help heal disorders of the body's fluids and equilibrium.
Said to be imbued with the powers of many other Gods and Goddesses, including Soma and Surya (the moon and sun gods respectively), the shankha is multipurpose: it is ground into medicinal powders, used in ceremony, and designated as one of the most important instruments of the Divine as guardian of goodness. Auspicious when it is found in nature turning to the left, it is the absolver of sins when born turning to the right.
To make this mudra, grasp your left thumb in your right fist. Then, simply bring the thumb of your right hand together with the index finger of your left, forming a conch shape. You will immediately notice the remarkable resemblace of this mudra to the intended object and the beautiful ease with which it is formed. There is tremendous grace in shankha mudra, perhaps a gift of the flowing waters.
Use this mudra to:
In worship ceremonies, you may wish to use this mudra while water is offered to the feet of the deity, or prior to receiving the blessed water from this offering at the end of the ritual. You may also wish to note the energetic differences between use of the left and right hands in holding the mudra: spiral the mudra with your right hand holding your left thumb (as pictured here) to attract abundance, and change hands to promote cleansing and letting go.
- rid yourself of mental effluvia
- bring a sense of calm and tranquility
- balance the nadis (energy channels)
- release tension and anxiety
- harmonize inner and outer worlds
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Our Community Welcomes You!
Interested in lending your love of Maa, your creativity, your inspiration to Kali Puja? Feel free to bring
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community, and look forward to your unique expression of joy in Her
name. We welcome your suggestions too; your experience, expertise, and
desire can inform many of the ways we do Her work in the world!
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Upcoming Events & Community Offerings
SHARANYA's Kali Puja (7/26) Open to everyone. Come join us in worship of the Divine Mother, Goddess Kali Maa, by all Her names!
SHARANYA's Introduction to Daughters of Kali (7/26) Open to everyone! What is DoK? Read on and visit our website to learn more...
Daughters of Kali (DoK) is a study and ritual circle
that meets monthly to facilitate work with the Dark Goddess and in particular,
Kali Maa. It is primarily a teaching coven yet members have an opportunity to
engage their learnings directly in community and public work. This circle is
dedicated to those interested in becoming practicing members of the
Sha'can tradition and SHARANYA community. Participation in regular circle
work for a year and a day can prepare one for initiation. Initiation,
however, is a personal decision and is not a requirement of DoK. In addition to
participating in dedicated work together and learning the history, symbolism,
ritual formats and prayer methodologies of Sha'can, Daughters of Kali members
work with an initiated mentor and contribute to the community by attending and
eventually facilitating public worship ceremonies. Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s
“Kali Puja” is a guide on this journey as are postings and articles on the SHARANYA website.
All newcomers to DoK are expected to have
read the FAQ page, glossary of terms, and puja article by the first meeting.
Click here to RSVP for the July DoK Open Circle
At the Heart of Tantra: Practice & Theory on the Path of Spiritual Awakening (7/26) at the Cultural Integration Fellowship. Lecture by Chandra Alexandre at 11am. By donation - All are welcome to attend.
Yogini Chakra (8/1) (Closed circle) & Lammas
Purnima Satsang (8/5) 7-9pm Full Moon - Evening of dhyana
(meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony at SHARANYA's Devi
Mandir - our home sanctuary. (Community celebration; extended spiritual
family and guests welcome.)
Community Meeting (8/10) SHARANYA's organizational gathering, open to everyone, to discuss business, logistics, planning, and fun!
SHARANYA's Board Meeting (8/14)
Amavasya Satsang (8/21) 7-9pm New Moon - Evening of dhyana
(meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony at SHARANYA's Devi
Mandir - our home sanctuary. (Community celebration; extended spiritual
family and guests welcome.) RSVP requested.
SHARANYA's Kali Puja (8/30) Open to everyone. Come join us in worship of the Divine Mother, Goddess Kali Maa, by all Her names!
SHARANYA's Introduction to Daughters of Kali (8/30) Open to everyone!
Not in the San Francisco Bay Area?
you are not in the Bay Area or cannot attend events for any reason,
please join one of our online communities and participate in learning
more about Maa through...
A Wisdom School for Her Mysteries & Dedicated to
(R)evolutionary Shakta Tantra
Kali Vidya is offering a series of classes that you can work through independently or with your current worship circle.
Learn more about the tradition that inspires our work and worship... >>
Daughters of Kali Open Circles & Initiation
At SHARANYA, we
approach Maa with a deep commitment to Her homeland, respect, reverence
and honor for Her Indian advocates, and a dedication to the creation of
the Sha'can tradition as an appropriate manifestation of our love for
Her in the West through Shakta Tantra. Originally birthed into consciousness in India, She is
now arising in contexts outside of South Asia and is helping to create,
inspire and evolve new forms of worship. SHARANYA and our tradition is
dedicated to honoring Her appropriately and reverently here in the
western world. "My
DoK experience was profound and fulfilling. I gained not only ancient
and mystical wisdom but also a family that became connected to me on
the most deep, soulful and sacred level...."
One's dedication on
this path as a Daughter of Kali involves study of Hinduism, Tantrick
practice, Sanskrit, and the Old Religion. It can lead to initiation
into Her mysteries within the lineage tradition of Sha'can, a tradition
that is informed by both Tantra and the Craft and sits solidly as a
(R)evolutionary Shakta Tantra relevant for those practicing outside of India
of Kali, one gains an understanding of Kali and the goddesses of the
Tantrick path. At each meeting, we work together using ritual, myth,
lecture, readings, discussion, spiritual practices, and group work to
deepen understanding of the Divine Female in historical, cultural and
psycho-spiritual perspectives. In the spirit of the Sha'can tradition,
in which mind, body, and spirit co-mingle in conscious creation,
classes require commitment, outside reading, participation, and active
engagement of Spirit in the day-to-day world.
Learn more about Daughters of Kali >>
Amavasya Satsang & Pilgrimage Blog Postings
New Moon & Solar Eclipse Reflections
Tuesday was both the New Moon and Solar
Eclipse. Personally, I really did not know what to expect. Often, the
New Moon energy is not something with which I am comfortable; I always
feel the dark, void, or emptiness...which is not within my comfort
Walking in the Footsteps of Goddess
Pilgrimage --a sacred journey-- has the
capacity, should we choose to engage it, to take us to the heart of our
beingness. Every year, I set out for India, land of the ancients,
homeland of the Divine Mother and the one to whom I have dedicated
myself, Kali Maa. On these trips, I do my best to open to the
possibilities and to the realities; for India is a place of shattering,
and I am no stranger to the perils (both seen and unseen) of each
Read on! >>
How to Create a Living Altar to the Dark Goddess
Many practitioners are afraid of dark goddess energies. Divinities such
as Hecate, The Morrigan, Freya, Gran Brijit, Kali, Lilith, Oya and
others prove frightening, leaving many without recourse to some
powerful help, especially in times of challenge or crisis. Even the
most seasoned among us can fear working with these goddesses.
that, and how can we create a safe space in which to work with Her and
the potent energy she carries?
Learn more and continue the dark goddess adventure here >>
Quote of the Month
Tantra in Practice
"After both partners have bathed, śākti (the female partner) is liberally and gently massaged with scented oils: jasmine for her hands, keora for her neck and cheeks, champa and hina for her breasts, spikenard for her hair, mustk for her abdomen, sandal paste for her thighs, and khus for her feet..."
--Mookerjee & Khanna
The Tantrick Way (p. 167)
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To the Kaula & Community...
Gratitudes and Blessings...
Let the light of the Divine shine always through your unique expression of Her grace!
Click here for more mantras for your daily practice... >>