In her book, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, Shiva explores one way of looking at the Divine Feminine through lenses that appreciate both transcendent as well as immanent manifestations. She proposes fully embracing the notion of Pakriti as a “spiritual” discipline rather than simply as “nature,” so that a more balanced worldview can be achieved. This new worldview takes into account the marginalized position of women while de facto promoting environmental sustainability and the wellbeing of diverse, autonomous communities focused on the sacredness of relationships rather than on their destruction.
According to Shiva, Pakriti means not just the traditional counterpart to Purusa (the Divine Masculine, or the Masculine Principle of manifest culture and society), but instead theentirety of nature with its ability to create, sustain and destroy in order to continue the cycle of life in all its aspects. Thus, Shiva’s position asserts “both a holistic perspective and aninclusive agenda of concerns based on its considerable respect for diversity—both in turn being principles of nature.” 
On another level, such thinking shows that the construct of maya (illusion) as found in many Indian philosophical systems is not required to solve the corundum of how manifest reality (difference) can be reconciled with the unitive One. Instead, maya can be understood as the human resistance to holding the tension of paradox in life. In this way, perhaps the women of manifest nature can reclaim their right as beings who are living testament to the power of the Goddess and be honored as such. And the “One” can take on new meaning as a “dynamic system of relations wherein any particular manifestation functions simultaneously as a distinct part and the unbroken whole. The parts are not derivative of the whole, or vice versa, [nor are the parts dissolved into one another to become the whole, or vice versa.] Each aspect constitutes the other.” 
It is with this idea in mind that the Goddesses of East and West need to be (re)evaluated. Unfortunately, however, as we saw earlier in this article, the Western Goddess(es) of mainstream contemporary manifestation and interpretation provide little by way of role model to help us accomplish the task of aware integration of spheres on both the intra- and inter- (as well as micro- and macrocosmic) levels that permeate the realms of mind, body and spirit. Therefore, if we are to move beyond our present embeddedness in the philosophical systems of our respective contexts, any divine teacher thus considered must be a manifestation of reality that lies beyond duality while embracing of it, and must be a penetrator/trix of all worlds, symbolic and otherwise.
Chamunda and her sister Kali, in my opinion, represent an understanding of the limitations of a dualistic worldview while simultaneously embracing duality as facilitator for self-awareness—-the manifest universe and the physical form being vehicles for the exploration of consciousness into itself. Further, they allow communication and representation among each and every sphere of life as well as among worlds, much like the Hermes Trismegistus of Greek mythology and later hermetic philosophy who not only facilitated communication between Gods; between Gods and men; but also between the worlds of Heaven and Hell. In this way, the Divine Feminine as manifest from within the Eastern psyche serves the required purpose; for as C. MacKenzie Brown notes: “In the Devi-Bhagavata…the goddess is both male and female, and transcends the two, but without devaluing either the transcendent or samsaric[earthly or immanent] dimensions.” 
Further, it may be noted that from a perspective focused on the dynamics of inter-relationship rather than the intra-relationships of East and West, the Western relationship to “God” and the Eastern understanding of non-duality as a quality of “God” is typified by the following story:
A Western reporter and an Indian devotee of the Goddess come across a statue of Kali. She has her four arms: the upper right raised in blessing, the lower right offering a boon (wish), the upper left holding a machete dripping with blood and the lower left gripping a severed human head by the hair. Seeing this split, the Westerner immediately asks: “So how do you get the blessing and avoid the machete?” The Eastern devotee angrily replies, “That’s not it at all…The blessing is only won when you accept both sides of her, including pain, sorrow, decay, death, and destruction. Run from her horrors, and you run from her blessings. To deny death, to act as if your little self is the center of things and must be protected from pain and preserved as long as possible—this is the real death. But embrace Kali as she is—kiss her bloody tongue and feel all four arms caress you at once—then you have life, you have freedom.” 
In this story, the boon for the Western mind would be to get beyond dualistic thinking; and the boon for the Eastern mind would be to allow this non-dualistic perspective to integrate into all spheres of life, not simply the spiritual one.
But working with images such as Chamunda and Kali, I believe, is one way to begin transforming traditional perspectives. Although a re-visioning of these goddesses in the East to include a mandate for social reform might be a worthwhile endeavor, I can only mention here the potential impact that working with them might have upon Western consciousness were, for example, a fully developed program inclusive of yoga, ritual, meditation and contemplation, etc. to be implemented by those wishing to break free of the limiting constructs of our time.
Revisiting the Goddess
Therefore, I hold that those wishing to reach beyond the schisms of Western thought (and beyond the hypocrisy of Eastern practice if one is from that context and so inclined) need to welcome a teacher capable of fully embodying both sides of duality; for one must be willing to embrace death if seeking to fully enjoy life (as the story above pointed out). The extremely intense presence of Chamunda when brought into contemplation by a seeking mind can indeed be a call to wake up to the vibrancy of life; to the reason behind the ephemeral nature of things; and indeed to the fullest sense oneself and one’s purpose in the world.
For as told in the Upanishads when Sanatkumara says to the young Narada: “One who meditates upon and realizes the Self discovers that everything in the cosmos—energy and space, fire and water, name and form, birth and death, mind and will, word and deed, mantram and meditation—all come from the Self.”  The Self is therefore the embracing One and that which enables human beings to comprehend the infinite diversity of the world. The manifestations of the macrocosmic world can be easily understood in terms of the microcosmic Self and vice versa; or again in the words of Hermes Trismegistus, “as above, so below.”
In meditating upon the image of Chamunda and asking questions as I did about the reasons behind her powerful presence, one may be forced to ask too exactly what this Goddess desires us to see and to ultimately understand about our presence in the world: What is my role here? Why is there suffering? What is the purpose of life? Why has Patriarchy been a part of our human experience? As it says in the Chandogya Upanishad, “You are that.”  And so for the individual contemplating the nature of non-dual reality while trying to reconcile manifest existence and personal experience, Chamunda can function as a portal to understanding.
It also seems appropriate that as we today search to give a meaning to our lives in these times of planetary crisis, turning to different ways of knowing and of experiencing reality may assist us in our struggles to ‘make sense of it all.’ This introduction of Chamunda as a teacher to the West is again not an attempt to co-opt or misrepresent a Hindu deity; it is simply a suggestion to be aware of more than those things with which we are readily familiar in our quest.
Done with honor, respect, and with no claim at contextual understanding, opening to the patterns of collective thought that made the Goddess Chamunda a part of human reality may be a way to break the hard lines of Western dichotomy. It may help us reconnect to the ancient roots of many of the symbols, myths and traditions that have sprung from our collective human history, and it may help us connect to something deeper from within our own Western psyche. It may help us to eventually reclaim the power inherent in both Mother and Witch for the betterment of humanity.
Thus Chamunda-Devi may be a kind of key – not to unlocking the past, but to helping us ‘re-find’ the awareness most important for us today. Perhaps she can help us to dive into the primordial well of remembrance that exists within each of us in order to help surface feelings and intuitions that are particularly important for the creation of human as well as Gaian wholeness.
As the last line of the Creed of the Star Goddess tells us, “I [the Goddess], have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”  We need only wish to remember in our hearts, with all of our heart, and She will reveal Her reality no matter where we live, what language we speak or what traditions we follow. As we move forward along our collective path in this evolutionary spiral we call life, may we seek always to know the truth of our past, so that we may all move together towards tomorrow. In this project, Chamunda is certainly qualified to be our guide.
The rest of my stay in India continued to be filled with Chamunda’s presence, and I began to affirm as I learned more about her that she was unknowable in any purely historical or religious sense but for my own cellular memories perhaps and more recent experiences of her. By Chamunda’s grace, however, I find that as I deepen into her mysteries and continue to invoke her in my life, I am drawn back in time so that I may discover not only her truth, but also the truth of how the track of recorded history both reveals and obscures truth. As much contemporary feminist scholarship reveals, much of recorded history obscures. By Chamunda’s grace, however, the path towards greater self-awareness was presented to me, and I continue to ask the above-mentioned questions, slowly gaining insight into her potential role as a teacher of the West.
The path towards greater self-awareness therefore has very large implications, and I continue to ask the above-mentioned questions to gain insight into Chamunda in all manifestations so that she may ultimately teach her secrets to all those willing to learn. I for one, am realizing that the mysteries of the Goddess reveal themselves to me though my personal experience, and as I open to trusting that my spirituality in this vein contains the greatest wisdom of all, the circle is closed and I am before Her once again.
1. Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1986 p. 149
2. Dehejia, Vidya. Yogini Cult and Temples: A Tantric Tradition (The National Museum: New Delhi) 1986, p. 187
3. The Matrikas first appear in the Mahabharata and have collectively been dated to about the first century A.D. Their manifestations in the literature of the epic – and post-epic periods seem to be characterized as malevolent, blood-drinking and demonic; but worship is also directed to them for protection. The Matrikas are notably a group of goddesses, the number of which becomes somewhat standardized at seven or eight in the postepic period. They are given in the Visnudharmottara-purana as: Yogisvari, Mahesvari, Vaisnavi, Kaumari, Brahmani, Chamunda and Varahi.
4. I have visited this temple and seen these images. David Kinsley also makes mention of this fact in his work,Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1997, p. 16
5. Kinsley, David. Ibid., p. 75
6. Sheldrake, Rupert. The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God (Park Street Press: Vermont) 1991 pp. 196 – 199
7. Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses, ibid. p. 77
8. Kothari, Rajni. Foreword in Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development by Vandana Shiva, (New Jersey: Zed Books) 1989, p. X. (Original italics.)
9. Spretnak, Charlene. “Radical Non-duality in Ecofeminist Philosophy” essay in Metis: A Feminist Journal of Transformative Wisdom, Spring, 1996; Vol 1, No. 1., p. 11
10. Brown, C. MacKenzie. The Triumph of the Goddess: The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana (SUNY Press: New York) 1990, p. 216
11. Reported by Tim Ward in Common Boundary, March/April, 1997, p. 34
12. Chandogya Upanishad, translated by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press: Berkeley) 1987, p. 190
13. Chandogya Upanishad, ibid., p. 183
14. Adapted from the traditional (oral) poem by Doreen Valiente, British witch. Traditional.