A single flame serves as a focus or point of attention, intended by design to receive our desires, our rituals, prayers and spells, and convey them expediently to our Maker. In fact, the Hindu’s call the flame Agni, the most important of all the Vedic gods because he is a messenger to and from the other Gods and Goddesses. Focus on the flame long enough and it transforms into a lamp post, lantern, or lighthouse, whose shining beacon serves as a point of rescue, beckoning us home to relief or even surrender. In this way, the fire is masculine and feminine, receiving and projecting, and thus being whatever it needs to be for the spiritual seeker. It tends to all of us in this way.
One Flame -- The Magician, High Preistess, and Empress all in one!
My personal introduction to the Hindu deities began in 1995 as Leslie’s mother fought metastasized lung cancer. She lived with us for eight years and was reliant on us. It was Lord Ganesh on my desk at work, on a chain around my neck, and in my heart. He was my flame, my lighthouse, and while he eased me gently through that difficult period, I did what I could to ease Leslie’s pain.
In the year 2000, Leslie and I were together fifteen years. We were living in the San Francisco Bay Area and raising our three year old daughter. When I discovered Sri Karunamayi or Amma (which means Mother in Telegu), I discovered my spiritual mother. Like the ringing of the new year in the new millennium, my heart rang jubilantly with the truth of my discovery. I knew I’d found someone who was closer to the Goddess than the rest of us. I could feel it in my bones. More than that, my search was over, and my true spiritual journey could begin.
Amma’s devotees consider her a living incarnation of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, who resides over knowledge, learning, the arts and science. Every word we speak comes from Saraswati. Every piece of art we render comes from her, as well. Her light shines very bright in India, kept aflame by the enduring faith and love of Her children.
Thereafter, I learned of the many Hindu goddesses who have dwelt uninterrupted in the planet’s spiritual heart of India for centuries. There, the Goddess comes in many forms, so Her children can find one version to closely identify with. Each of these manifestations has a purpose in the cosmos, a purpose in the world, and a purpose in our lives.
From that point on, Amma Sri Karunamayi was my lamp post, my flame, and from where She installed herself deep within my heart, She guided me forward, and opened my eyes in ways I could not have previously imagined. To me, She is The Magician, The High Priestess, and the Empress all rolled into one. As The Magician, She reminds me of the importance of good communication in my relationships and in my written word. As The High Priestess, she reminds me to use my intuition, to maintain balance, and to turn inward for answers when I need them. Finally, as The Empress, Amma is the eternal mother, committed to caring for the needs of every single one of her children, myself included, with the understanding that it is her responsibility, her mission, and her utmost pleasure.
We find our spiritual anchor in different places. It doesn't matter what that anchor is, as long as it is cathartic and serves to awaken us from spiritual slumber. As you consider your personal flame, ask yourself these questions:
(1) What God or Goddess do I identify with or resonate to the most?
(2) What can I do to experience a closer relationship with my chosen diety?
Send your heartfelt and sincere query into the world and watch for subtle hints as you are answered. Or perhaps your favorite tarot deck can help you unravel this worthy mystery. Whatever you do remember this: Divinity is within!
Amma’s greatest gift to me is the knowledge that the Goddess resides within. She is the eternal flame, the fire that tends to all. She encourages us to spiritual maturity, and arouses in us the awareness that we are capable, powerful, spiritual beings.
The author Linda Johnsen has written two wonderful books that exquisitely describe the Goddess and her connection to India and the modern day saints. Try “The Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe” and “Daughters of the Goddess: The Woman Saints of India”. They are masterful, and they speak my heart.
“To the Hindu, the Goddess is not an archetype or a tool for psychological self-analysis. She is a living reality more real, in a sense, than ourselves. The Divine Mother is the source of all archetypes, indeed the source of everything in all dimensions of being. Many women in India worship Kali, but they’re not worshipping her to get in touch with their anger. Although she is born of the desire to right wrong, Kali is not about vengeance. Because she’s coming from Durga, from a level of consciousness which is completely centered – which is the center – she’s the source of all strength, lying far beyond the grip of anger. So, she fights and wins all battles in life without losing her composure. She controls the power of anger – it doesn’t control her – it’s just an energy emanating from her at her command, used at the service of her limitless wisdom. When we’re angry we’re not in touch with Kali; in fact, we’re entertaining a conditioning that Kali is set to destroy because she’s the purifying power of consciousness and doesn’t tolerate demonic emotions or impulses. Anger sets us up against someone or something we perceive as an enemy. And when we perceive anything as other than our high self, as other than the Goddess, then we are in the grips of an illusion. The yogis call this avidya, limited understanding. The limitations of our mind and senses prevent us from seeing the whole picture, the fundamental unity of all things. The Vedas say that “seers see all being in the Self, and the Self in all beings; therefore they hate no one.” They perceive themselves and everyone else as emanations of the Divine Mother.” (1)
In “The Living Goddess”, Johnsen describes Saraswati as the goddess of wisdom and inspiration. She is the creative spark. All words that are uttered from our mouths come from Saraswati. And the arts are Hers, as well as education and learning. “It was Sarasvati who projected our universe at the beginning of this cycle of creation, and whose unlimited creative energy erupts fresh every moment in the form of music and poetry, insight and ecstasy. The laws of physics are evidence of her boundless creative intelligence, though she herself is not fettered by these laws. The Rig Vega, India’s 6,000 year old bible, salutes Her as Vak, “the Word,” because she manifests entire world systems merely by uttering a command. The primevil vibration of Sarasvati will set the galaxies spinning.” (2)
Johnsen describes Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth and good fortune. Not only does She bestow material blessings, but She grants prosperity and wealth in all things, such as wisdom, good sense, compassion, and love. Lakshmi is about abundance.
Durga, riding her Great tiger, is described by Johnsen as the Goddess as conquering force. She is the protector. From Durga, in her most intense attitude, springs forth Kali Ma to destroy all of our “demons” or unhealthful desires and negative thoughts. “Westerners seem to find Kali, that lethal projection of Durga’s fury, the most fascinating of all the Hindu goddesses. The dark Mother embodies everything about God that makes us uncomfortable. Kali is naked because she is literally stark reality. When all our illusions are stripped away, what remains is the unceasing maelstrom of nature; continual change, constant loss, and inevitable death. The Goddess always wins. There is no real contest.” (3)
(1) The Living Goddess: Reclaiming the Tradition of the Mother of the Universe, by Linda Johnsen (c) 1999, Yes International Publishers, St. Paul, MN 55105-2602, pp 94-95.
(2) The Living Goddess, p. 26.
(3) The Living Goddess, p. 93.