I am a priestess of Kali.
With these few words, a whole cacophony of syllables arises in me. These are not the seed sounds of mantras turning on my tongue. Rather, they are the tones of language rushing to respond. Some attempt to elucidate, help the uninitiated understand what it means to occupy this space as a radical feminist and Western-born Hindu convert. The words come with memories of having endured the incredulous gazes of educated atheists in Indian households and meeting rooms, women and men who believe religion to be the downfall of humankind for all the injustice wrought in its name—particularly against females.
Some of the sounds move to simplify and articulate a position that is as straightforward as my breath, power and careful steps upon the planet. The words come with awareness that my footfalls are in time to the whispers and drumbeats of the witches, healers, sages and wise ones across traditions and history. They are in alignment with the teachings of my maternal grandmother, who had ready access to the unseen realm and taught me to believe in magic. Others seek to distance me from those who find the archetype of the terrible, devouring mother convenient to explain their theories and phobias. The words come to argue a larger vision, one spoken by great Hindu-Tantric mystics, those who saw Kali clearly as a birther of worlds as much as a devourer of them.
Finally, voices inside move toward the challenges of what it means to be authentic, a lineage carrier and a female priest. The words come to claim space as I stand counter to the orthodoxy that recognizes only Brahmin men as her clergy and women’s blood as impure. They come to claim territory as Kali worship is evolved because of new limitations (animal sacrifice, for example, is not welcomed) and freedoms afforded on American soil. They come because I have freely chosen an arduous path on which I have been gifted so much, and I would love to share what I have learned on my journey with others.
Becoming Kali’s priestess has meant that I have consciously invited the process of birthing my soul. And whether in Kolkata or San Francisco, this goddess has both represented and simultaneously been more than personification, metaphor or archetype of my transformation. In 1992, Kali came to me in a dream. Larger than life, black and bloody, she invaded my New York apartment and asked me one pointed question: Do you want to live or die? With every cell of my body I knew the answer to that question and realized that I was making some very bad choices if it were life I truly wanted.
By: Chandra Alexandre – Originally published as part of an anthology about priestesses: “Stepping Into Ourselves,” by Goddess Ink Press.