Paradoxical Kali and a World in Conflict - from Ferment Aug 04

Jung on war, Christianity and the “repressed animal”
Painful self-awareness or blissful ignorance?
What does Kali have to do with human destructiveness?


The question in brief...

What can Kali, the paradoxical Goddess, mean to a world in conflict, a world engaged in a fumbling quest for peace?

Ferment’s answer in brief...

The vision of Kali represents that which Jung terms “completeness” as distinct from “perfection”. Complementing other sacred visions, she can help us to heal divisions in the psyche, and thereby help overcome demonizations and anathemas that hinder the quest for peace.


In the last few years, Ferment has explored a number of Indian and western works which have to do with the vision of Kali as the Great Goddess, at once terrible and beneficent. We know this is not the only view of Kali, in India or elsewhere -- to some she is simply a threatening power, to others she is simply the compassionate mother.

However, the dark and beautiful Kali has been known in India for many centuries, certainly since the time of the Kalika Purana which was compiled around one thousand years ago. Now she is becoming more and more known in the west, where she is aptly termed “paradoxical”. Heinrich Zimmer (1890 to 1943) was perhaps the first writer to use this term to describe her.1

What can this vision of Kali mean to us? What does she have to offer to a world in conflict?

War, Christianity and the animal

Let us consider Jung’s discussion of a disturbing dream, reported by an elderly Christian woman “who, like many others, was upset by the problem of the [1914 - 1918] war”. In the dream, the woman is singing songs of devotion, when she looks through the window and sees a bull moving about erratically. It breaks a leg, and is in agony. The woman feels sorry for it. 2

Jung comments:

It is no accident that official Christianity has no relation to the animal... By being repressed into the unconscious... the animal in us only becomes more beastlike, and that is no doubt the reason why no religion is so defiled with the spilling of innocent blood as Christianity, and why the world has never seen a bloodier war than the war of the Christian nations. The repressed animal bursts forth... and in the process of destroying itself leads to international suicide.3
While pointing to this failing in “official Christianity”, Jung affirms the positive Christian principle “love of your neighbour”. He considers that the woman’s dream points to a need to extend this love “to the animal too, the animal in us...” As he goes on to suggest, “the dream... is trying to give the dreamer an opportunity to become reconciled with herself...” 4

If repressing the animal leads to international suicide, reconciliation with the animal contributes to peace in the world. As Jung says: “If every individual had a better relation to the animal within him... he would react instinctively against any institution or organization that had the power to destroy life on a large scale.” 5

What is the “repressed animal”? Jung is not reductionist: he does not attempt to explain the image away. The animal is what it is: “an untamed force of nature, which, left to its raging, hurts itself and demands pity.” 6

How, in Jung’s view, can this repressed presence in the psyche emerge as war between nations? As Jung explains, the outer conflict springs from projection: “the unconscious of one person is projected upon another person, so that the first accuses the second of what he overlooks in himself.” 7 We demonize another person, or indeed a whole country: “The enemy nation is stripped of every shred of decency, and our own faults appear in others, fantastically magnified.” 8

Painful self-awareness

As Jung says in a later article, written during the Cold War: “... when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.” 9

Remaining undivided in this sense (unaware of the inner opposite) is not at all the same thing as reaching what Jung calls “wholeness” or “completeness”. Wholeness is approached through an inner process of reconciliation, which is the alternative to denying and projecting. Jung distinguishes between “completeness” and “perfection”. “Natural as it is to seek perfection... completeness is forced upon us against all our conscious strivings...” 10

Christ, by himself, is an image of perfection. Completeness looks more like “the crucified Christ hanging between two thieves”. 11 There is, of course, no animal in this picture; but the crosses manifest one form of destructiveness, and the thieves another.

Jung mentions another image of the difficult path to completeness. It is a picture created by a patient of his, a young woman in a time of emotional conflict. The picture shows a dark female figure in front of a wheel with four spokes. Four snakes are growing from her head. She is covered in flames, and emits a bright light. Jung says that this image “depicts a state of suffering, reminiscent on the one hand of crucifixion and on the other of Ixion bound to the wheel. From this it is evident that individuation, or becoming whole, is... the painful experience of the union of opposites.” 12

The union of opposites is expressed geometrically by the wheel with four spokes, “the cross in the circle” which offers protection because “it shows evil that it is already included and has therefore lost its destructive power.” 13

Becoming whole involves painful self-awareness. By contrast, remaining undivided is a state of blissful ignorance, one might almost say innocence. If you can remain undivided by demonizing others, you may be more confident and more persuasive than those struggling towards wholeness. In the words of W.B.Yeats (1865 - 1939):

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.14

For Jung, then, the “animal in us” is a truly dangerous presence, for it can cause destructive and self-destructive behaviour on any scale. Yet we cannot make ourselves safe by repressing it: on the contrary, repression is what has made it as dangerous as it is. We need to learn to live with it.

Kali & human destructiveness

What does Kali, the paradoxical Goddess, have to do with this potentially destructive and self-destructive power within us?

Kali is not simply destructive: the Indian literature shows that she has been experienced as protective, attractive, inspiring, compassionate. Does her character nonetheless include the destructive and the self-destructive?

The short answer: Yes, of course. Let us look at some the major Sanskrit writings about her: the Devi Mahatmya, the Kalika Purana, the Adbhuta Ramayana.

In the Devi Mahatmya, the name Kali has two distinct meaning. It is the name of a macabre fighting goddess, who is an emanation of the Great Goddess; and it is also (in the form Mahakali) a name of the Great Goddess herself.15 According to this text, Mahadevi, the Great Goddess, is also Mahasuri, the great shakti of the demons.16 The macabre Kali fights against demons, yet she does this in a demonic way: she drinks her
enemies’ blood.17

In Jungian terms, this disturbing piece of mythology suggests that she is bringing the essence of the demons into herself. She can show the demons they have been included and have therefore lost their destructive power.

The Kalika Purana is a major Sanskrit text which praises Kali as the Great Goddess. A passage in this work tells of the war between the divine hero Rama and his host of monkeys against the demon Ravana on the island of Lanka. The Goddess is present invisibly. For seven days she consumes the flesh and blood of both sides -- Rama’s monkeys as well as Ravana’s demons -- before finally giving Rama the victory.18

Now the Adbhuta Ramayana, where Rama’s wife Sita becomes Kali... She kills a great demon who has struck down Rama himself. She then begins a dance of destruction, making mountains shake. The god Shiva throws himself beneath her feet to protect the earth -- a beautiful image of wild emotion gently restrained by awareness. Sita tells the gods that, because Rama is lying as if dead, she wants to devour the whole world. So the gods bring Rama back to life.19

The dilemma of perfection and completeness is expressed in the myth of the Daksha-yajña, the great sacrificial feast performed by the god Daksha, son of Brahma. The Kalika Purana account of the feast may not be the earliest version, but is of particular interest to seekers of Kali.

Daksha invites everyone and everything to the feast, except for the god Shiva, and the goddess Sati. Sati is Daksha’s daughter, and Kali’s incarnation. Daksha rejects Shiva and Sati on the grounds that Shiva carries a skull, and Sati is the skull-bearer’s wife. In Jungian terms, Daksha’s feast is an image of someone seeking perfection, and therefore rejecting completeness. The feast begins a period of turmoil. Sati reacts to the insult by destroying her own body, after which Shiva breaks up Daksha’s gathering.20

Worship of a vision of completeness is not quite the same thing as worship of a vision of perfection. The difference is explored in the following reflection on the Greek god Dionysus, written by a translator of Euripedes’ play The Bacchae.

Dionysus... is a part of the world, and in particular he is a part of the world’s most complex product, man... The ‘worship’ which Greek gods required was not adoration, nor gratitude, nor even unreserved approval; and was thus quite unlike what ‘worship’ means in a Christian context. It was simply a recognition that they existed, that they were an integral part of human nature, of human society, of the natural world, or of the physical cosmos...21


Our discussion began with a dream, in which a gentle religious lady watches a powerful uncontrolled bull. The more we can learn, as individuals and as a culture, to balance and integrate the sides of the psyche represented by these two figures, the more able we will be to make responsible decisions about war and peace.

Contemplating the vision of Kali (as a complement, not an alternative, to other sacred visions) may help us to find the balance.

Colin Robinson

1 Zimmer, Heinrich (and Campbell, Joseph); Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization; Princeton Bollingen Paperback Ed, Princeton, NJ, 1972, p 215.
2 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; RKP, London, 1970; p 20.
3 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 22.
4 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 22.
5 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 22.
6 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 22.
7 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 25.
8 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 10; p 27.
9 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 9 (Part II); RKP, London, 1968; p71.
10 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 9 (Part II); p 69.
11 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 9 (Part II); p 69.
12 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 9 (Part I); RKP, London, 1968; p 381 to 382.
13 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works Volume 9 (Part I); p 382.
14 Yeats, W.B. “The Second Coming”, in Colmer, J. (ed); Mainly Modern; Rigby, Adelaide, 1969; p 193.
15 Jagadiswarananda, Swami (ed); Devi Mahatmyam; Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1953; chapter 12 verse 38.
16 Chapter 1 verse 77.
17 Chapter 8 verses 53 to 63.
18 Tarkaratna, Pañcanana (ed); Kalikapuranam [Sanskrit text in Bengali characters with Bengali translation]; Navabharat Publishers, Calcutta, 1977; chapter 60 v. 28 to 30.
19 Nagar, Shantilal (ed); Adbhut Ramayana [Sanskrit text with Hindi and English translations]; BR Publishing, Delhi, 2001, chapters 23 to 24. See Ferment December 2002, which includes a critique of Nagar’s English translation.
20 Kalika Purana chapters 16 to 17. See Ferment October 2002.
21 Vellacott, Philip; introduction to Euripedes (Vellacott, trans); The Bacchae and Other Plays; Penguin, England, 1973; pp 30 to 31.

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Article © Colin Robinson 2004

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