A CELEBRATION OF THE GODDESS
Nor can it be doubted that a cult of the One
Madonna existed already in the Paleolithic age.
— Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Rig Veda as Land-Nama-Bok
I. Lalitasahasranamam (The Thousand Names of the Goddess)
Introduction to the Great Mother of the Universe:
The First Eighty-three Names — Ayeshah Haleem
Srimata! — Glorious Mother!
Srimaharajni! — Glorious Queen!
Srimatsimhasaneswari! — Glorious Ruler on the Lioness Throne!
Thus begins, with her first three names, the uplifted Sanskrit hymn Lalitasahasranamam (The Thousand Names of the Goddess) in praise of the Goddess of our Universe, with forms of address describing her prime triplicity as Container, Measurer, and Matter of the Universe (all implied by the word Mata; (1) Queen of the Universe thereby; and Regulator of Time, the Devouring Lioness) — and therefore of all cycles that eventually return to their starting point, making a whole.
Although her triple quality is all-encompassing, she is Manifestation itself (Maya) — the Veil of Existence — in all its variety and detail, and thus she may be found through countless avenues. It is something of this multiplicity that The Thousand Names of Lalita seeks to convey, though the "thousand," in turn, stand for the thousands upon thousands of epithets that actually exist. The text now available, (2) although a compilation of recent date, is without doubt derived from prototypes reaching back several millennia before Christ and eventually to Paleolithic times.
It does not have a completely clear-cut structure, but within the morass of names, clusters group together in particular themes: the first eighty-three names — with which we are concerned here — primarily describe her manifest form and her martial prowess against evil of all kinds. Because the World is Form and she is the World, the hymn begins with a description of her shape in terms of the most beautiful female body conceivable, made all the more desirable by its vegetable and mineral accoutrements. Metaphysically, it is a presentation of the Way to Goddess via a goddess, whether in human or statue or icon form — a way accessible to human beings at any level of understanding, a beginning on physical and biological foundations which have to be seen as symbolic vehicles in order to lead to contact with the Goddess herself.
She is born in the sacred fire-vessel of Pure Intelligence (name 4) resplendent as a thousand rising suns (6), in order to perform the purpose of the Gods (5). Names 7-12 describe her in statue form, endowed with four arms that hold four weapons, the noose that lassos selfish desire; the elephant hook that controls anger; the sugar-cane bow of the flowing mind; and the arrows of the five elements, her radiance suffusing the entire Egg of Brahman with compassion. Many examples of Indian sculpture survive that embody these names and are still used as yantras. (3)
Names 13-51 lovingly enumerate her physical form: her hair gleams with sweetly smelling flowers and is caught up in a homed crest of rubies; her forehead is as beautiful as an expanse of the bright moon on the eighth day; her full-moon face is marked like an antelope is marked, with beauty spots; her eyebrows are. . .etc. This is the Goddess as Aphrodite, vehicle of physical beauty and bodily fulfilling love, the ground of Tantra.
Her supreme power is praised by Brahim, Visnu and Siva (83), as well as by the rshis or seers (64). She sits on the fivefold seat of Brahma (58); indeed, she is Siva himself (53); and the lap of Siva is also her throne (52). In an esoteric interpretation of name (71), the five angles of Sakti redeem the more static four angles of Siva, their union creating the Sricakra.(4)
Other of the remaining names describe her centrality in Hindu terms: she dwells at the center of the peak of the heavenly Mount Meru (55); is leader of the Illustrious City therein (56); and dwells within the Wishing-Jewel House within that (57). Yet she is ubiquitous, residing also in the great thicket of Lotuses (59) or grove of kadamba trees (60). And the bliss experienced at reaching her is because she is established in the midst of the Ocean of Nectar (61).
But there is another side to her beauty which is the manifestation of her victorious energy, seen as Warrioress. Omitting a few, we now come to a cluster of very long names (65-82), each taking up a whole line of verse, which shows how the very illusions she has allowed to be created are routed and destroyed by her own viaticum,(5) since in the end all the powers of the universe are under her sway and can be used by her as her own armies. This is the Goddess as Athena/Minerva.
Earliest cult statues of Aphrodite show her armed (de Lasseur 1919) and accompanied by a lion (Hampe 1969, 35fE). According to Simon (1969, 181f. and 231), Athena and Aphrodite were still closely related in Mycenaean times, as shown by the Arrephoros festival. Confirming this conclusion, on the acropolis of Gortin, Aphrodite and Athena were worshiped jointly (Rizza-Scrinari 1968).(6)
Thus, before Greek mythology in Mycenaean times separated Aphrodite from Athena, both aspects were seen as one goddess. The most enduring form of both in synthesis is to be found in the Sumerian Dingir ("Deity," here "Goddess") Inanna, later addressed by the Babylonians as Ishtar.(7) Presiding over the sacred marriage at the beginning of the New Year, she rode the Lioness of Time through the whole cycle of the year, finally regaining the next sacred marriage and resurrection of Tammuz. Inanna was worshiped from Anatolia to India from the fifth to the third millennium, with Mesopotamia providing the central temple nexus of her cult. The Thousand Names and their related doctrine surely connect back to this remote and far-flung area but survive fully only in their Sanskrit text.
II. From the Tara Puja Celebrating the 21 Taras
(Traditional Tibetan, adapted and edited from the text of Lama Chagdad Tulku, 1986, by C. Muses)(8)
To Troma (Drolma), the Green Tara.
Namo arya Tara yeh. From the most perfect of places Troma is born from the green syllable TAM, its light shining forth to liberate beings who receive it.
Pupeh, Dupeh, Alokhe, Gandeh, Niwiteh, Shabda pra ti tsa SO HA AH HUNG! [21 syllables] i.e., Flowers, Incense, Light, Perfume, Food, Sound pra ti tsa SO HA AH HUNG! The form of Tara appears. In the center, in the heart, on a white moon appears a green TAM; thence many lights shine forth. All twenty-one Taras appear with this light. We invite the light of the unborn dharmakaya — the unobstructed Arya Tara's wisdom-essence. From Arya Tara's form, sweet nectars flow forth, entering through the crown, and our bodies become filled with ambrosia.
I salute you Troma, Divine Mother, Noble and Supreme One, throughout the ten directions and the three times. She who is — the Saviouress, the swift one without fear, who gives With TURE whatever is needed. I bow to Her whose seed mantra is SO HA, Whose face is fashioned from a hundred full moons of autumn. Who gleams with the revealing light of a thousand stars — She who is the field through whom the six virtues are made manifest.
Salute Her who is the mound on the heads of the buddhas, Who fills the sevenfold worlds of Desire, Direction, and Space with the mantra TUTTARE HUM, Who controls them all; Whose fingers form the mudra of the Triple Gem to adorn Her heart, Whose wheel-emblazoned hand twirls about its own light and reaches to every direction. She who by Her laughter brings demons and the world under Her sway.
Salute Her who alone has the power to command the guardians of the foundation of our universe; Who sits surrounded by a radiant garland of flames, like the fire of a finished aeon. Who may turn the Wheel of the Law to our inclination, conqueror of great obstacles by Her tenfold mantra OM TARA TU TARE TURE SO HA.
Inside the great pot of jewels are the three syllables OM, AH, HUNG [rendered "Body, Speech, Mind"; cf. the fundamental Magian precept of love and truth in Thought (HUNG), Word (AH), and Deed (OM)]. May the two bodhicittas ripen naturally. Arya Tara's body becomes one with mine as Her rays are absorbed from now until enlightenment is reached, with mundane and supra-mundane happiness.
Salute the one Who holds the hare in the moon and the lake of the gods in Her hand. Who removes' all poisons.
Salute Her whom all the assembly of gods serve and attend. This is the Root or Primal Mantra of the Twenty-one Salutations. By recalling it at dusk or dawn it gives perfect protection from all fears, clearing impending consequences of one's past acts, so that one receives high empowerment, and everything in this life proceeds towards divine awareness. Hindrances will be negated; all that is wished for will be attained.
May we have the measureless strength to practice enlightenment in great waves, and may holy Tara ever protect us that we become unweakened and unerring.
And in the following theophanies by Jacqueline Northfield, Goddess and God take on humanity and find familiar resonances in our lives and in our visions and sacraments of love. As the poetess wrote to me, "These poems are written in the spirit of a tantric priestess seeking regeneration through her quest for the lost beloved, culminating in ecstatic union: not a crude androgyny of hermaphroditism, but a transformatively harmonious blossoming of both natures. Thus tremendous power is generated. By worshipping the presence-of-goddess in woman, the god-like presence in man is catalyzed, and vice-versa." Then Goddess incarnates, and Isis rescues her Osiris.
The Goddess to a Young Bride
What has love to do with patience, gentleness, kindness
and all those virtues which adorn the shrinking bride
as bedazzled, bejewelled and besotted
she ascends to the bridal chamber?
No joking and no mockery could lighten this pregnant
where all ornaments are stripped away
until we are dissolved and reborn
in light that seems a darkness to us
dreaming here below in our disjointed sleep
Temple Priestess Vision
0 golden lion-hearted one
flowing through my veins like light
Defenceless I stand before you
my waters turning to wine
inflaming me with vision
of riding the skies on rapturous raptor wings . . .
0 blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh
who can unlock the golden key of me —
I join with you again and again . . .
Knowing not if I drown or fly
I ask not to escape:
for if that light's too great to bear
I'd die to see thee standing there!
There is also a higher pregnancy, in store for all who will,
as in these lines (by Kyril Demys).
In nature's glass we feel
such primal flames
but by a scanted, dim reflection
from their powering source
that best we see and sense
when mightily and with simplicity
love swells within
consuming us with joyous pregnancy
wherefrom we know
ourselves shall soon be born:
sunlit to live
in light that from our hearts
shall stream forever more
Two Odes (by Musaios).
Spirit of light and of blessedness
Genius of Spring and of gladness
Goddess of love and fruition!
Thy form I see in May nights' scintillating skies
as scented breezes from Thy starry chariot blow
to fructify the barren earth of wintry days . . .
0 teach my heart to sing the Silent Song
Instill into my soul its magic hue
Let tears of gladness mingle with the fragrant dew
of blooming gardens
ne'er again to part from joyous paeons
in the palace of the gods.
As dawn first burst against my opening eyes
I dreamed a last dream ere I woke to earth.
On golden air your fair form did arise
and fused my soul with light to give it birth.
One instant lived I as a new-blown breath
as fresh as that from soulless sylphs outbreathed,
in vernal fires my doubting died a death
that left my brow with wraiths of heaven wreathed
Then every atom, lustreless and dim
within me, drank your splendid smile and rose
upon the morn — a golden-chorused hymn
of perfumed pollen to the heavens rose.
Thus daily turns my dross to gold by Thee:
Thou and the dawn, divinest alchemy!
Some lines from the passionate rhapsody of France's great poet Pierre De Ronsard, for whom Goddess incarnated in his sixties as the lovely Helene de Surgeres (translation by C. Muses).
Je veus brusler pour m'en voter aux cieux
Tout l'imparfait de ceste escorce humaine . . .
en esperant quelques foys de taster
ton paradis, ou mon plaisir se niche.
I long to bum, while mounting to skies,
All imperfection from this human rind . . .
Aspiring to taste and taste
Thy paradise, wherein my pleasure niches.
A Vision of Goddess (by Lisa Lyon)
I am your eternal bride
your wide, starry-eyed child
your daughter, your mistress
l am the fire in your loins
your mother, your lover
I stand here, pure sister
naked and vulnerable before you
I am the priestess, the star
one foot on earth and one on air
my perfumes are the heavy oils
of arcane art
in my flaming mandoria
I seek myself in all of you
your mouth, your eyes, your sex
they are mine
I want to fuse into a perfect child a sacred child conceived in the wild
for each encounter with you is a wedding
an endless, ongoing ceremony
Here is a lovely poem in high lyrical expression that we can all appreciate. But the same sentiments implemented literally would arouse the worst taboo of most cultures: the nightmare image of incest. This last contribution thus raises profound questions of the human yet transcendent vision of a total relationship with an ideal "Thou." Mystics of both sexes in the Christian, Indian, and Islamic traditions have experienced similar states of heightened perception and feeling. The Divine Beloved is felt as all social roles at once. This concept of a numinous and all-encompassing relationship enters deeply into the human trans-cultural psyche and throws profound light on our key point here: why such universal closeness lay at the basis of the incest taboo whose nature and origins fascinated both Freud and Jung, who never, however, fully sounded or resolved them.
Yet Freud, whose honesty is always endearing and admirable, wrote quite candidly in Totem and Taboo that "still in the end one is compelled to subscribe to Frazer's resigned statement, namely, that we do not know the origin of incest dread and do not even know how to guess at it." Indeed, both sociology and psychology have foundered on the reefs of incest. "Infantile regression" as an explanation, in the face of the mountains of anthropological fact, is patently not only inadequate but inappropriate to plumb the incest question.
The reason for these difficulties is that its psychological origin is veiled in the numinous, as an ontological fact and not merely a phenomenon of the human psyche. The "incest" is meant to be simply a role metaphor for a transcending, all-embracing, and apotheosizing relationship. In that transfiguring and hierogamic realm, the metaphor becomes sublime; but if one attempts to abuse it by literalness, then it can become sociological horror in many cultures. It is here a matter of the highest regeneration or a mostly tragic degeneration, with little or no ground between except in the imputedly divine royal succession practice of certain ancient cultures (e.g., Egyptian, Iranian, Incan, and Polynesian) or in the social acceptance and cultural implementation and support of certain shamanic roles. For further discussion, see our contribution to the Proceedings of the Fourth Conference on Shamanism held in September 1987, edited by Ruthinge Heinze of the anthropology department of the University of California at Berkeley.
1. Cf. the Egyptian Ma'at, She-Who-Measures-and-Orders. C.M.
2. Mantrasastra Lalita-sahasranamam with Bhaskararaya's commentary, translated by R. Ananthakrishna Sastry (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Society Publishing House, 1976).
3. Instruments of magical evocation. C.M.
4. Thus forming the sacred 9, or ancient Egyptian ennead of divine powers, divided also into 5 + 4 domains of god — and goddess —regents in esoteric Taoism. C.M.
5. Her saving, eucharistic grace and power. C.M.
6. All the above references are from E Holscher, Die Bedeutung Archaischer Tierkampjbilder (Wurzburg, 1972).
7. Adopted in the Hebrew "Esther" and the Phoenician "Astarte," not to mention the great Germanic Goddess "Oster," the origin of the later Christianized feast of "Easter." The Goddess still lives. C.M.
8. I am grateful to Janice Chase, moving spirit of the Santa Barbara Center of the Karma Thogsum Choling, for drawing this beautiful prayer to my attention when we were discussing Tara and the rites of chod after she had read the new introduction to Esoteric Teachings of the Tibetan Tantra (Muses 1982). C.M.
In All Her Names