by Rev. Nano Boye Nagle
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
As a woman, one of the things I love about Queer Spirituality is to honor the Dark Mother. Honoring the Dark Mother requires paying attention to our Shadow. We live on the fringes of society, hidden in the shadows. We are not afraid of the dark. The Dark Mother shatters illusion forcing us to face the 'what is' of our hearts and our lives; she exposes weakness and transforms it into strength. Fall is the time the Dark Mother is called back to open the doorway between the worlds. It is the time when we harvest the fruits of our earlier work. Fall is the time to acknowledge what is, as it is. The nature of the Fall determines whether we make it through the darkness of Winter.
The Dark Mother is the most hidden part of being a woman and the last part we find. She is hidden below years of inherited grief, shame and misrepresentation. She is hidden beneath our fears, our perfections and our compulsion to be perfect. She is patient to infinity, but will avenge her children with the precision of an eagle hunting. She calls us into Herself. The danger, though, is when we slip into the darkness and wait for Her to bring change to us, for that's when we risk falling into hopelessness and depression. I know -- I've lived there many times. I know Her shadow intimately, and ironically Her shadow is a place I can go to avoid dealing with mine. At times, I have lost myself in the Her mucky tar because it was easier than being angry or powerful. In that place I have denied myself my passions and denied the power of Her truth. I went to places in the darkness that are dangerous and terrifying, sometimes, because I was too afraid to live right-sized and sometimes because I did not know how to face the reality of my unbalanced brain chemistry alone. I could not distinguish between my ego self and my shadow self. Visiting places that are meant to be impossible to return from, I discovered that my will to live is stronger than my desire for the comfort of darkness. Although life comes from the darkness, it does not live in it.
There is another option: We can choose to answer Her call with bold humility. Answer Her call, enter into Her and become Her. When we breathe Her darkness into every cell, we become One with the source of creation. In the Alchemy of birth, the moment just before the breech is the most dangerous but contains enough energy to propel new life out of the darkness of the Mother's womb. The Dark Mother offers us grace beyond our own imaginations and guides our souls to the moonlit path leading to health and wholeness.
Earlier this year, at the Spring Equinox ritual, I bound myself to creating peace through partnership. I chose this spell because I believe partnership is the foundation of true change. This is true in issues of social justice or world conflict and it is true in my personal relationship with the world around me. I know, because I am very experienced at forgetting this truth and as a result I have created unnecessary suffering for myself and others. Creating a just world based upon partnership is vital in Queer Spirituality and probably my most difficult spiritual practice. I bound myself to peace because I know terminal individualism is a weakness that keeps my life stuck and small. Prema Dasara, the Buddhist Sufi teacher, in a recent workshop talked about the need to pay attention to our weakness, for that is our edge. She went on to say that the weakest in a society is the key to the strength of that society -- it is where healing must begin and the first place to show the fruits of change. Two years ago I prayed to release all passion that stood in the way of my service to God and the people around me. This year, in the service of the Mother, I bound myself to peace through the expression of my passions, while creating partnership in my life and the world. Since that time Kali has been my mentor and my guide. Being ridden by Kali is never an easy ride.
Spring is the time when the Goddess's creativity is most passionate, a time for negotiating creative partnerships, when the seed of the summer fire is planted. My spell was to bind myself to create partnership through the expression of my passions. My thinking behind this was that the expression of my passions for art, music, poetry, would be the soil in which I plant my passionate beliefs about service, partnership, justice and personal growth. The Goddess demands growth through cooperation and sacrifice; my vocational responsibility in this growth is my Ministry and my artistic passion.
I am a passionate woman, a woman-identified woman, passionate about women, Women's mysteries, the Goddess, the Dianic Tradition and the responsibility of learning The Craft. I am an Interfaith Sufi Minister, passionate about The Beloved, the Arabic prayers, Sacred Texts of the World, and the pursuit of "unity without uniformity." I am a Queer-identified Dyke, passionate about social justice, living on the fringe of society, creating a world where all are welcome in their 'otherness.' I am an intelligent, educated woman with two degrees who works in a bookstore for $7 an hour. I am a woman with a brain injury who is baffled and mystified by the etiquette and mysteries of the workplace and the little tasks "anyone can do." I am a lover in a committed relationship, passionate about my partner, our life, our sexuality, our communication and acknowledging the presence of the Goddess in our lives.
Most of the time I celebrate all these things, but on occasion, it's hard being me and the world is not a fair or just place. In those times, this daughter of Kali can burst with unfettered anger. The Buddha said that passions are dangerous things, but I'm not sure I'm willing to live a passionless life, even with the difficult consequences. I am passionate about living authentically, with integrity, being honorable, being just, and being present. I am passionate about all these things, and the truth is, I have always been a child of Kali. When I am Her, I see fear on the faces of the people around me and I know change is coming and there is no turning back. When Kali rises, sacrifice is not optional, but I am left wondering: Is this anger of mine Kali in her glory or the phantom of the Opera for my drama queen ego?
Feminists and psychotherapy tell us to express our authentic feeling and emotions, but in my experience, this causes problems when it comes to anger. People, well, especially women, have a hard time expressing or even being in the presence of anger. They do not easily forget or forgive the one they have experienced as angry, because they automatically translate anger to violence. We are so quick to re-traumatize ourselves that we are unable to reframe loud, excited conversation as simply a stage in the cycle of emotions. I have been in groups where a voice raised for any reason was experienced as shouting. I have been accused of being angry when I was simply excited and fired by the conversation. Some of this is cultural prejudice and internalized patriarchy. We are taught that "good girls" are seen and not heard, and loud, excited conversation reflects working class background or membership in certain ethnic groups with low social status.
To be face-to-face with anger expressed full force, even if it is without abusive language or physical violence, opens us to the fire and grief at the center of the Dark Feminine. It brings us face-to-face with our own unresolved and untapped rage. Rage we fear because Kali energy is not easy to control or direct. This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church made the Divine Feminine pure and light: It denied her the power of her righteous anger, denied her right of wrestling with God, thus denying women the right to question the power of men.
My passion for justice is founded in moral integrity, but the light of that integrity can cast a dark shadow. This dark side of my passion is feral, unpredictable and has the potential to destroy all the things I value in my life. It can cause me to fall into the trap of being 'Right' and knowing the 'Truth'. It releases aspects of my Self I would prefer remain hidden. The irony is that I cannot understand my Self until I see and understand who I don't want to be. One cannot predict the way a spell will manifest, once it is spoken. Sometimes the value (lesson) of the result we want is hidden in its shadow. The shadow protects us from what we don't want to see, from what is. This is another reason why patriarchal religions vilified the Dark Mother and the Dark in general, because if we knew the gifts of our darkness we might be able to see through the illusion they created and called the light.
I want to be clear here: When I am talking about the dark, I am not talking about 'dark arts' or glorifying the dark side of humanity. "Do no harm" is the bottom line. I am not celebrating darkness that causes separation, I am talking about the need to acknowledge our wholeness (holiness), which must include all opposites. We can recognize our habits and secrets and use them as guides to unity. This is not a celebration of duality, it isn't either/or. Light and darkness must both exist because one holds the essence of the other and without this essence they would both cease to exist. In Chinese five-element theory, passion and anger are in the same place, they are two faces of one expression of creation.
Being treated unjustly or being exposed to injustice can take me from passionate reason to rage in an instant. When I experience injustice, for myself or others, and Kali calls me to do her work, the resulting behavior can match any rebellious teenager. This rage guarantees the creation of a chasm between me and the person I perceive to be the source of the injustice. For some reason, I've found this tends to be somewhat counter-productive if partnership is the goal! This rage is my weakness and I am in the process of turning it into my greatest strength. I became a victim of my own spell. I cannot live in passionate partnership until I can face the behaviors that separate me from other people. My teacher Diane Connelly always says, "Fear is just excitement that hasn't taken a breath yet." Perhaps rage is just passion that hasn't taken a breath yet, passion that is not centered or directed with right-mind and focused intention. If I am committed to practicing passionate partnership I must be willing to reveal the passions I would rather keep hidden, yet I cannot deny my partnership with Kali. Her righteous anger is a powerful creative force in the Universe. My anger has been a dangerous, destructive emotion in my life; once released it is rarely forgotten or forgiven. This is the energy of flash floods in the desert during spring or tornados in the still heat of a Midwest summer.
This shadow, like all shadow, is not the enemy: It is the liberator. The nature of the shadow is born in the nature of the light. Anger is a Minister of change. Kali is an emissary of change. She is the protector of what is good and just. She keeps the precious alive. My anger has kept me alive beyond my circumstances. Many times throughout my life it removed me (all be it ungracefully) from situations that were not serving my soul. I know there are other ways to initiate change that are more peaceful and do not bring as much chaos. However, chaos is the easier, more familiar choice -- less work and on many levels more socially acceptable. As a culture we are still a long way from teaching nonviolent negotiation skills and self-expression. As an individual I am a long way from initiating change through example, particularly in this arena.
The days shorten and I have a new prayer; it calls to me a job that brings me peace, prosperity, partnership, flexibility, focus and fun. I am asking for help to find employment that Kali will not have to purify. As my spring spell continues to build and permeate my life, I am grateful it does not bind me to perfection; it binds me to practice the passionate pursuit of peace: peace in my heart, peace with the world and peace with my relationship to change. I am bound to peace in my relationship with the Dark Mother, which, as the details of my life seem to stagnate, is becoming the most difficult binding to embody.
I am not surprised at the difficulty of this binding, for She is a shape-shifter, always changing, indefinable. In September, I spent the weekend with Fred and Karen Gustafson and a group of wonderful women and men exploring faces of the Dark Mother. Freds new book The Moonlit Path Reflections of the Dark Feminine , is a collection of essays about the Dark Mother by scholars and writers from diverse traditions. Over the weekend we discussed the book and tried to define Her for ourselves but couldnt come up with a clear definition. The poem (top right) came from our conversations:
change is the only constant in our lives, it would seem prudent to learn
ways to be in partnership with her, to relax into her sweet caress and
find peace in the lingering echo of her kiss. Queer spirituality is
about a commitment to partnering change through the practice of passionate
peace, in the loving arms of the Mother however she manifests, dark,
light, green, white, old, young, ancient or new.
I wish for us all the courage and strength to keep practicing partnership, Rev. Boye.
(1) Hazrat Inayat Khan.
(2) I'm told this is why sex can be very good after an argument.
(3) Founder of the TAI SOPHIA Institute, Columbia, MD.
(4) Gustafson, Fred, The Moonlit Path Reflections on the Dark Feminine, (Nicholas-Hays, Inc. ME 2003).