She appeared out of nowhere, as if from an explosion of smoke thrown by a cheap magician while I was meditating on another goddess. It was a mix of vision and cartoon unfolding on my confused mind-screen. She smelled like cemetery earth from my father’s recent burial. Her hair was white, disheveled, as if on fire, her nose was a huge hook, warts and all, just like I imagined it as a child when she still terrified me from the corner of every dark room. Baba Yaga, the infamous dark hag, the evil witch of every Russian fairytale, the one who eats children and lives in her house on chicken legs and rides a broomstick, was in my room and in my face, and she meant business. Her demeanor was urgent. She barked with a deadly seriousness, shoving a femur bone in my face. She spoke in Russian, “Hold on to your bones!” Then she was gone.
I felt shaken. The experience felt so real that I wondered about my grasp of reality. I would have been thrilled with a vision of a goddess… but a fairy tale character? From the Jungian psychoanalyst Jean Shinoda Bolen I would later learn that archetypes and especially goddesses appear to us as they damn well please—cartoon fairy tales, illustrious rooftops—and that when you are handed bones, that’s an initiation, if she’s ever seen one. I learned that Baba Yaga was a primordial form of Kali even before the Indo-Aryan march across the Russian steppes. Most importantly, as the next cycle of my personal dark night unfolded only a few months later and I began moving through the devastating pain and disorientation of divorce, I returned again and again to the wisdom of the hollowness of bones. I committed to keep choosing truth over safety, the real over the convenient. I embraced the groundlessness of the Mother’s hut on chicken legs. I wailed in her dark woods until I had no voice. I let her make a stew of me. Vast emptiness, no holiness. She offered only truth.
There comes a time when nothing is meaningful — except surrendering to Love.
Today, our very own postmodern Kali Yuga is upon us. The old world with its illusions of certainty and predictability is coming to an end. The Mother in her holy chaos is pulsing through every crevice of the planet, beginning her dance of change and transfiguration in the collective field. If you listen deeply, you can feel it too; we have been handed bones. I believe that Hurricane Harvey marks the first glimpse of what Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker in their brilliant upcoming book Savage Grace call the Dark Night of the Globe, a period of unprecedented global crisis, climate disaster, dissolution of old templates, and if we allow it, collective spiritual initiation. They prophesy that we are entering a dance that will either mark the end of civilization as we know it and possibly even human life on the planet or will force us to dive into the Mother’s cauldron of transfiguration and arise as what Andrew Harvey calls ‘divine humanity.’
In bemoaning the absence of the rights of passage in our culture, Marion Woodman explains the importance of undergoing a psychological or spiritual death. She says that unless we experience “a period of being in the dark hole of chaos, followed by a rebirth—then people don’t truly grow up.” She explains that in old cultures the young had to believe that during their coming-of-age rituals, they might die. This is how they would have to prove that they are mature enough to enter the adult world. Like it or not, for good or ill, this dark night of the world soul is upon us. And in the absence of rituals, this is all we’ve got as a global initiation into adulthood. Perhaps only such a deep collective reckoning can trigger the kind of spiritual maturation that is called for by our times. Only God knows if it will be enough to lead us to abandon our narcissistic notions of spirituality, to let go of the false promises and psychopathic tendencies of capitalism, to humble our hearts before the great Transparency, and to rise like the Mother for all living beings.
In ancient Greece, its own dark crone goddess Hecate was known as the goddess of the crossroads. It is at the crossroads that we find ourselves. In The Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kingsley says: “If you’re lucky, at some point in your life you’ll come to a complete dead end. Or to put it another way: if you’re lucky you’ll come to a crossroads and see that the path to the left leads to hell, that the path to the right leads to hell, that the road straight ahead leads to hell, and that if you try to turn around you’ll end up in complete and utter hell. Every way leads you to hell and there’s no way out, nothing left for you to do. Nothing can possibly satisfy you anymore. Then, if you’re ready, you’ll start to discover inside yourself what you always longed for but were never able to find.”
We are at the crossroads now and there is nowhere to run. Our world is dying and so the call from the deep is strong. The work before us is uneasy and long, but great powers work by our side. And it is only from this place of darkness, of radical uncertainty, of coming to the edge of all our limits, the end of all our old stories, that something new within our soul might emerge. Life is roaring in dialects of Kali—asking us to get real, to get committed to our spiritual lives, to each other, and to this world. To tolerate the growing pains of the dark nights given to us. To get exceptionally honest and do our shadow work. Are we willing to give up our spiritual materialism and surrender the accolades of the false paradigms of success? Are we willing to dare self-disclosure, to reveal how imperfect and lonely and messy it is to be human? Are we willing to meet our grief, our confusion, our heartbreak—the very real uncertainty of it all—and not send suffering into exile? The Mother has no orphans. Dr. Martin Luther King used to say, “We must meet suffering with soul force.” The Mother is the soul force.
The truth is that Kali has always had the world. Marrow of time, oracle of holy change, she is the great gate of transformation through which all must pass. Her medicine is darkness. Her initiation is by fire. Appearing in difficult periods of transition—death, disease, divorce, loss of structure—she is the devi of disillusionment. It is said any contact with her transfigures the soul. From the moment the Mother birthed the universe of her holy dark womb to the instant she swallows it up again, we are hers, and she only ever asks one thing: when all is stripped from you, what remains? Whatever your answer, she will throw it up against death. So we must listen deeply now. Our planet is in crisis. We live in messianic times. And, tag, you are it! We are not free until we are all free. So, what are you willing to rise for? What is your True North? What do you sit and stand for? What are you willing to give up for it? If all that can burn is burned up, what remains?
She rides in on a tiger, magnificent and fierce. She wields weapons; she slays demons. But, we are in the long game now. We must remain vigilant, relentless, grounded in the Real. We must pray and prepare. The night will be long. The night will be dark. The forces of separation are great. But She IS here now, and in the late hour, when all hope is lost and all that we most loathe to give is stripped from us, she will rise, even more terrible, as only Love can be. And She will win.