Sally Kempton's new book, "Awakening Shakti," is a spiritual gem. Because Sally is a gifted writer and her devotion to the Divine so strong, this work shines with the dynamic energy she describes so well. What I particularly love about Sally's writing is the richness of the language. Her sentences are juicy and actually sensual, giving the reader an actual experience of the abundant Shakti she so openly adores. What this creates is a union between the transcendent and the personal, between spaciousness and intimacy. As a psychotherapist, what I value so much in these pages is the inclusion of material that is psychologically sophisticated and emotionally nuanced.
Sally isn't afraid of the deepest, darkest feelings and neither are the Goddesses who embody all the elements of our experience. By elaborating on the likes of Kali and Lalita, Sally gives us the delicious, esoteric myths of these Tantric Icons in a way that allows each of us to recognize them in everyday life. There is more!. Again and again, Sally brings us back to practice. She invites us to engage the energies of the Divine Feminine. And the practices she offers are profound ventures into the heart of this mysterious presence we call Shakti.
Once again, we find a true yoga which unites the ancient traditions of the East with more contemporary ways of deepening our experience so that we may more fully receive the bounties of the Goddess's offerings. This book is a must read for women, and men alike, who wish to partake of a grand, adventurous voyage into the mythology and vastly inclusive spirituality of the Tantric Feminine.
Posted on February 24, This is more than a book , it is a gateway into experiencing the Shakti through the Indian goddesses examined in the book. Sally has always been my favorite teacher and this book gives the world her teachings. She is able to explain complex subjects so the average person can understand them and she gives you tasks to do which will enable you to enter into the experience she talks about. Posted on February 21, After hearing Sally , I purchased the book for reference , I am currently doing art on the Wisdom Goddess's.
Though I haven't read the entire book it is denoted and very useful. You always do an exceptional job. I love you service to us all. Every few minutes, I had to stop talking because tears kept threatening to break through my voice. When it was over, I knew that something had just happened which would change my life.
Back at the dawn of time, the great Goddess, who creates the world and then lives as the world, is asked to incarnate as Sati She-Who-Is in order to make the sacred marriage with her eternal consort, Shiva. Without her presence, Shiva cannot act in the world. He sits on a mountain, lost in meditation, disdaining to perform his cosmic function.
This creates havoc in the cosmos. So, the great deities Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Sustainer approach the Goddess on their knees. They beg her, for the sake of the world, to take the form of a woman and lure Shiva out of his yogic trance. Daksha, a minor elemental deity, will be her father. The Goddess agrees, but only on one condition. She has seen that men and gods have begun to treat women as property, lesser creatures in the cosmic hierarchy. If I agree to become your daughter, she tells Daksha, you must promise to honor me as the Great Goddess.
Awakening Shakti by Sally Kempton - Read Online
If you do not, I shall instantly leave my body, for I will know that the time is not yet right for me to act fully in the world. Daksha humbly agrees, and Sati is born in his household. At the age of sixteen, she marries Shiva, drawing him out of meditation through the allure of her irresistible beauty and her power of creating bliss. Shiva is the primal outsider of the Hindu pantheon, the lord of thieves as well as yogis. The original shaman as well as the primal yogi, he resides in the deep forests and mountains, attended by ghosts and goblins.
He refuses to change his homeless lifestyle just because he has a wife. So for eons, Shiva and Sati make passionate erotic love under trees and beside streams, in subtle realms beyond the clouds, and in secret mountain caves. They adore each other with cosmic passion. Then the trouble starts. A few thousand millennia have passed. Daksha has worked his way into a position of power as the leading deity of religious orthodoxy. Daksha plans a huge cosmic fire ritual, which will establish for all time the religious structures of the universe. He invites every god, titan, celestial musician, snake deity, and nymph in the universe.
But in a fit of celestial malice, Daksha deliberately sends no invitation to his daughter and her consort. Sati hears the news on the day of the sacrifice. She is stunned beyond measure. Daksha has done the unthinkable. Not only has he grievously insulted her beloved, he has dishonored the World-Mother, the power of life itself, without whom religion is meaningless.
Sati knows she cannot remain in a world that does not recognize her. She sits in meditation, summons her inner yogic fire, and sends her life-force into the ether, leaving her body behind. Shiva goes mad when he finds her. He takes himself to the ritual ground and destroys the sacrifice.
Wherever he carries her body, earthquakes and volcanoes, tidal waves and forest fires erupt. At last, the gods do the only thing they can do to save the universe. As the parts of her body fall to Earth, they become physical pockets of sacred ecstasy, earth shrines. For eons, in hidden caves and beside trees, near bodies of water and at the heart of villages, people will find the goddess enshrined in the soil and rock itself.
Her body is the sacrifice that infuses the divine feminine into the earth. The story, as I told it, comes from the Shakta tradition, the branch of Hinduism that worships the Goddess as the ultimate reality. In the more traditional version, Shiva is the main figure in the story, and Sati is depicted as a submissive Indian wife who leaps into the sacrificial fire because her husband has been insulted. In fact, this version has a dark side. The Shakta version reveals a far more interesting take on the story. As the great Goddess Herself, Sati has the power to choose life or to depart it.
She leaves because, like so many fathers and the conventional world he represents, Daksha has failed to honor her power and independence. She leaves because she knows that if the dignity of the feminine is not recognized, true union of the masculine and the feminine is not possible. The story reveals, more clearly than any in Eastern mythology, that moment when the patriarchy removed goddess worship from conventional rituals, leaving the Goddess to hide in the secret places of the earth. Because the Goddess understands deep time, she also knows that her death is not really an ending, because one day the time will be right for her to reincarnate and once again marry her consort.
This time, perhaps, the world will be ready for her. There is a form of myth that is subversive. This version of the Sati story speaks for a hidden voice within its traditional culture: the voice of primal feminine dignity. Such a powerful myth interacts with the psyche and connects us to the deep structures of the universe. That kind of love, I saw, is a quality of the universe itself, which is willing to destroy its own life-forms when the conditions of life become untenable. The divine feminine knows that a birth sometimes demands a death, and that the personal self sometimes has to die if the world is to be made sacred.
It was the energy itself, the pulsing, love-saturated, subtly sensual energy that rose in the atmosphere that night in India as we invoked the Goddess. That energy seemed to be telling me that there are secrets, ways of being in the universe such that only the divine feminine can reveal. After that night, I began to see her everywhere, almost as if she were pursuing me. I went about my normal existence, which was highly scheduled and mostly work centered.
But every now and then, she would show up. Once as a palpable presence who seemed to hover in the air next to me emanating soft waves of, yes, maternal tenderness. More often, I would sense her as a subtle sensation of luminosity that would infuse the air, or as an inner feeling of joy, or a sensation of being surrounded by a soft, embracing awareness. One effect of all this was to make me fall in love with the natural world.
My new awareness of the Goddess spilled over as a new awareness of trees and landscapes, so that what had seemed matter of fact and dull now began to vibrate with sentience. I would find myself staring up at a eucalyptus tree as if it were a lover, or looking out over a landscape with a feeling that it was alive and breathing. I began to practice a meditation where I imagined that the trees and the air were seeing me, and when I did that, the borders of my skin-encapsulated sense of self would soften, and I would know that the world and I were part of the same fabric.
Goddess awareness literally put me in touch with something that felt like the soul in the physical world. It also made me start looking deeper into the myths of the Hindu goddesses and into the practices of sacred feminism. As others have before me, I intuited that we are in a time when Sati will definitively take her place in the world once more. Then, when the opposing warriors rode down on them, these beings turned sideways into the light and disappeared.
Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga
In a sense, the Goddess too turned sideways into the light. She immolated herself like Sati—surviving demurely in India as a consort of male deities. She was exiled like the Shekinah, the feminine divine of Judaism. In our time, the Goddess has come roaring out of her hiding places—for it is also the nature of the feminine to roar—and we are beginning to recognize uniquely feminine kinds of power.
We sense that something profoundly important is missing from a world in which the power of the divine feminine is not understood and in which women themselves are out of touch with their own Shakti, the force of feminine strength and the flavors of feminine love. Many contemporary writers—I think especially of Riane Eisler, Andrew Harvey, and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee—have pointed out to us that our survival as a species may depend on our ability to reengage with the feminine. He wrote, If there is to be a future, it will wear a crown of feminine design.
Women, at least in the developed world, enjoy freedoms and dignities and opportunities that were possible at no other time in history. But very few of us live from our intrinsic feminine strength and intelligence. With all its gifts and dignities, modernity has created conditions that weaken our bonds with the feminine. If we are premature or seem weak or sick, we might be separated from our mother or even kept in incubators—in short, abandoned by the feminine. We grow up into a culture where girls are treated as objects of sexual desire long before they have any true sense of self, and where the secret language of the feminine has been cornmodified into shared conversations about fashion and nail polish.
We become mothers outside a system of social support, often juggling demanding jobs, economic shortfalls, and our own emotional difficulties. As we age, we turn invisible. My friend Penny came home from a trip to New York, where she remembered from twenty years before that every man she passed undressed her with his eyes. She told her husband, Men in New York have become so much less sexually aggressive. Her husband gave her a puzzled look. The realization sent her into an identity crisis that lasted for several years—during which she spent time observing elderly women she knew, realizing that, rather than becoming true elders, many of them simply devolved into passivity and depression.
To change all this requires a deep turning of the heart, a shift of consciousness that has to come from our connection to the source of life. The sacred technologies of Tantrie culture offer us this possibility. Unlike physicists, however, yogic seers experienced this energy not simply as an abstract vibration but as the expression of the divine feminine power, called Shakti. The word shakti means power. Shakti, the innate power in reality, has five faces. It manifests as the power to be conscious, the power to feel ecstasy, the power of will or desire, the power to know, and the power to act.
The tantras say that all of these powers come into play in the act of cosmic creativity, when divine intelligence spins a universe out of itself, much the way a human mind creates a dream or a fantasy on its own inner screen. The cosmic creation explodes in a big bang and then evolves over millions of years as suns, planets, increasingly sophisticated life forms, and, of course, human beings.
Shakti takes form as the biological processes of our body. She acts through our thoughts and the play of our emotions. She becomes every atom and dust mote in the physical world. We are, in our essence, made of Shakti. Her powers of consciousness, ecstasy, will, knowing, and acting are constantly at play both in ourselves and the world.
She is also the force that inescapably nudges us toward the evolution of our consciousness, with which we must align when we seek conscious transformation. As Rama, Vishnu is the beloved of Sita, who embodies faithful, wifely devotion. As Krishna, he has dozens of consorts, but most notably Radha, his youthful lover and the partner of his most erotic games.
The Goddess, Shakti, also appears in a multiplicity of forms. As an independent goddess, she is often given the generic name of Devi Goddess , but she is also worshipped on her own as Durga, the demon-slayer and mother of warriors, and as Kali, the Black One, who matches Shiva in her power to dissolve forms into formlessness. All these names and attributes can be confusing to the linear mind, especially when you first discover the same goddess being described under different names.
Yet that multiplicity is also what allows us to choose our own gateways into the luscious field of goddess energies. For this, we need to give ourselves permission to explore the different faces and energy signatures of these deities. The best way to explain in modern terms what a deity is, is to understand deity as a unique vortex of energy. Sometimes that energy vortex takes recognizable anthropomorphic form for instance, in meditation visions. Sometimes that energy is felt through the sound vibrations, called mantra , or through the geometric pictures, called yantras , that map the way that energy looks in blueprint form.
To learn to experience these distinct energies, with their distinct powers and qualities, is the invitation of this book. Recognizing and decoding the various tastes of the goddesses is a way of deepening your capacity for living with passion and depth. It offers a powerful means of understanding the capacities of your own psyche. And it can reveal spheres of consciousness that are ordinarily beyond the range of human understanding. Our relationships to the sacred change as we develop. The form of the divine we conceive as five year olds will be different than the way we conceive of the divine in our twenties.
The same goddess may be worshipped by uneducated villagers in rural India as the focus of superstition and fear, and by educated middle-class urbanites as the focal point of conventional religious worship. A mystically minded devotee might invoke that same goddess as the mediatrix of her spiritual unfolding or as a source of inner blissfulness. A meditator might experience the Goddess as his kundalini, expanding his awareness through meditation, appearing in visions, ultimately dissolving all forms into light.
So, when we invoke the Goddess, our view of her always depends on our own level of consciousness at a given moment. That said, there is a level at which gods and goddesses have an independent existence, apart from the way we conceive them. Gods and goddesses are real. They are actual beings who exist in eternal forms in the subtlest realms of consciousness.
But within the human psyche, these cosmic beings also exist as psychological archetypes in the Jungian sense of the word. Jung and his followers looked at the Greek gods—Zeus, Aphrodite, and the others—as archetypes of universal psychological energies. An archetype is a subtle blueprint that both transcends individual personality and lives in it, connecting our personal minds to the cosmic or collective mind.
The Hindu deities are just as much a part of our psychic structure. When we work with them as symbols, the Hindu deities represent—and in my experience actually can uncover —dynamic psychological forces. They personify energies that we feel but may never have thought to name or invoke, both in ourselves and in the world. This was what I began to discover as I studied and contemplated the personalities of the specific goddesses in the Indian pantheon.
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I had always thought of them as purely symbolic, even metaphoric. But now I began to see them less as symbols than as actual entities in the psyche and the universe—elemental and very real beings who could be reached through visualization, through mantra, and through the powerful structures of their myths. Because they recognize the transformative potential of contemplating deity energies, both Hindu and Buddhist Tantrikas practitioners of Tantra have performed deity meditations since at least the eighth century CE. Getting to know these different energies through deity meditation changed my relationship to my own energy sources.
On the most immediate level, practicing with the goddesses showed me that there are sacred powers within me, aspects of my unique self that connect me to the elemental forces of the cosmos, that I can call on for insight and help. That way, you can better receive their gifts. You can recognize and own their shadowy aspects. You can access their power to awaken and transform you. Above all, you can dance with their energies. Durga Hard to Conquer : the warrior, cosmic protector, and empowering mother.
Lakshmi Auspicious : the goddess of good fortune, wealth, and inner and outer abundance.
Kali The Black One : the mysterious, terrifying, fiercely loving goddess who brings radical change into your life and ultimately dissolves all forms into the void. Among her forms are Tara and Bhairavi. Parvati Mountain Lady : the goddess of the sacred marriage; the divine yogini, who embodies the power of creative will. Saraswati The Flowing One : the goddess of language, creative intuition, music, eloquence, and speech. Sita Furrow : the faithful wife, guardian of the womb, goddess of the earth and its mysteries. Radha Golden Girl : the goddess of erotic devotional love who carries the gift of divine longing and mystical surrender.
Dhumavati Lady of Smoke : the crone goddess who teaches us how to turn disappointment into spiritual growth. Chinnamasta The Severed-Headed One : the goddess who presides over the sacrifice of the false self. Lalita Tripura Sundari The Playful Beauty of the Three Worlds : the queenly goddess of sacred sexuality as well as the highest form of mystical experience, whose blessing unites the energy of the body with the energy of spirit.
Bhuvaneshwari Lady of Space : the goddess of sacred space who creates reality out of the infinite space and dissolves all limitations into herself. Some of these goddesses are warriors. Others are lovers. Some have maternal energy, others are dedicated to opening you to mystical realms. Each one of them can be a guide into the deepest realms of the soul and a teacher of the skills of living as an empowered feminine lover of life.
I like to think of goddess practice as a form of sacred feminism—not political feminism, but feminism of the soul. It also involved a deep and fearless self-exploration, a commitment to looking beyond our conditioned assumptions about masculine and feminine. That exploration got lost in a kind of backlash in the s and s, but young women are again exploring those questions, even as neuroscience is coming to understand the differences between a male and female brain.
One of the great questions that sacred feminism looks at is: what is true feminine power? Sacred feminism aims to answer this question. It also takes us beyond the association of femininity with gender, and it shows us that the very life-force of the universe is the feminine face of spirit. To be a sacred feminist is to be a lover of the feminine face of God as she appears in the world, in culture, and also in our own psyche and soul—while also recognizing that the feminine can never be separated from her masculine other half.
The Tantric traditions of India and Tibet, especially, understood the divine feminine as the force within life that can act creatively or destructively with equal facility. The sacred feminine can be nurturing but also appropriately ruthless, chaotic, and orderly. Goddess powers endlessly weave the strands of our personal and planetary destiny through space and time, and into the timeless and spaceless.
Sacred feminism sees and loves the world as a sacred dance. Sacred feminism wants to embrace everything that is beautiful in the feminine, as well as everything that is terrifying. The most immediate and powerful way to unlock the energies of the sacred feminine is through the technologies of deity practice. In deity practice, we contemplate the forms and qualities of subtle beings. Advanced practitioners in the Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions have developed deity meditation into a living science for transforming consciousness.
In these traditions, a teacher suggests that a student meditate on a particular deity in order to activate qualities in his or her own psyche. The deity becomes the focus of your meditation and acts as an inner guide, protector, and as the one addressed in petitionary prayer. At more advanced levels, you meditate on the subtle and secret energies within the deity.
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Gradually, through your meditation and through your inner conversation with the deity, you start to feel the subtle energy of Shiva or Kali or Lakshmi inside your own energy field. Deity meditation has powerful psychological benefits. It unsnarls psychological knots—for instance, issues with power or love. As a spiritual practice, it opens up transpersonal forces within your mind and heart.
It can become a powerful focus for devotional feelings, put you in touch with protective energies, and subtly clear your inner vision so that you see the world in a softer, more loving way. Moreover, your inner relationship with the deity becomes a source of refuge, like an intimate friendship that gives you comfort and a sense of home. When you invoke deities through meditation, visualization, inner dialogues, and mantras, you bring their light and energy into your own body and mind. Deity practice helps us embody the subtlest powers of the universe. It affects us psychologically, spiritually, and even physically.
It can protect us, empower us, teach us unconditional love, and even enlighten us. The Hindu goddess tradition offers a uniquely insightful window on the dynamic aspect of the divine feminine. To recognize power as feminine is game-changing. In the West, we are used to regarding the feminine as essentially receptive, even passive.
The Tantric sages took the opposite view. Looking deeply into the energies at play in the world, they intuited the feminine as pure creative Eros, the life-force behind all evolution and all change, whether physical or psychological. In fact—and this is a big insight—the Tantric traditions tell us that all power comes from an essentially feminine inner source. The masculine in its purest, most essential form is the source of consciousness , of awareness.
So when the masculine wants power, it must draw it from the feminine, just as when the feminine wants to be conscious, to reflect, she must draw that capacity from her inner masculine source. From the Tantric perspective, all our biological activity is inherently feminine. The power behind breath is the expression of the feminine, not to mention our heartbeat, the energy that fires our muscles, and the impulse behind thoughts. Even more important, the Hindu view of the Goddess identifies her with the kundalini energy, the hidden power of spiritual awakening. So practicing with these goddesses gives us a direct connection to the inner force that can transform consciousness itself.
Deities come alive when they are invoked and worshipped. If you want to know them, you need to treat them not only as figures out of myth but as living beings, energies that are palpable, powerful, and real. These goddesses give boons. They manifest insights. They dance inside meditators as the kundalini energy, the subtle power that transforms consciousness. Because human consciousness and human imagination are so powerfully creative, our attention to these forms has a powerful effect on our own life experience, and also affects collective consciousness.