I’m doing a brief study on the situation of females within Hinduism. One aspect of this, an off-shoot of the main topic, is the phenomenon in India – and also outside India in some places such as South Africa where Indians have emigrated to – for women to be ‘possessed by Kali’. It’s not all that rare.
Normally in the Hindu lifestyle a woman’s role is fairly clearly marked out. From a Western perspective it can appear as though women in Hinduism are somewhat subservient. But there are instances in which both men and women become people who are regularly ‘possessed’ by a deity, and for women this deity is often Kali.
I’ll quote a few lines from material I’m reading:
“Trance possession, usually by one or other of the fierce Goddesses, such as Kali, Durga, Draupadi or Mariammam, is one of the most important features of these [South African Hindu fire-walking] festivals. People in trances display some of the characteristics associated with the particular deity. Generally, women are possessed by one of the fierce Goddesses, behaving in uninhibited ways not normally expected of respectable Hindu women. Women appear to experience possession more frequently than men and men tend to be more often possessed by one of the male deities, rather than by a Goddess.
“The usual triggers for entering a trance state are drumming, clapping, and chanting, and the smell of burning incense and camphor. As the trance comes on, devotees often start trembling, their eyes sometimes roll back, and women with long hair loosen their buns and throw their arms out while twisting their bodies. Some women shriek loudly as the Goddess takes control of them. These women often behave in fierce and frightening ways with their eyes wide and staring, they advance on people, grunting and gesticulating, and dancing ecstatically. They do not seem to feel pain when needles are inserted through their tongues and cheeks and hooks, with garlands attached, are pinned through the flesh of their chests and backs.”
There are also accounts in which the possessing Goddess comes regularly, such as every evening, and acts as advisor, councillor and doctor, sitting and conversing more sedately than described above with perhaps 30 to 60 people in queue per night, through a woman prone to such states. Family members may also be trained to let Kali take them over.
OK, so I’m wondering what peoples’ opinions are on this. I’d be particularly interested in feedback from people who are Hindus or have studied Hinduism quite deeply. For the Hindu perspective.
It seems to me that there are a few ways of looking at this.
1. Hindus take the effect at face value, believing that this IS ‘Kali’.
2. Some Westerners studying this don’t see an occult side to it at all and rationalise it away. To them, this is an outburst from the unconscious of some Hindu women due to their normally repressed lives. By taking on the persona of ‘Kali’ they can give vent to some of their repressed energies.
3. I see this more as a cross-cultural thing, and the Hindu possessions are only their localised ‘take’ on something wider. Isn’t this just like shamanism? Isn’t it very much like the Christian ‘speaking in tongues’ which they perhaps mistakenly today put down to ‘the Holy Spirit’? So maybe you get this in all cultures, and Hindu women simply take on the guise of ‘Kali’. But I don’t actually believe it is Kali, or even that there is a particular being who talks to you or has an individual life, called Kali. I see ‘Kali’ as more of an abstraction or a symbol of energy.
So if I’m right, it could be that such women are getting literally possessed by some form of discarnate, but that it isn’t actually Kali; or there may be no discarnate and it may indeed be some strange but powerful aspect of the unconscious. (I believe this aspect of the unconscious is at the root of much channelling, for example, and that there’s not really any outside being involved.)
I think right now I tend to the idea that it’s actual possession, by either outside discarnates or
With little time (usual story - Caernarfon internet cafe this time!) I will make one comment and hope to come back to this fascinating subject later and spend more time on it.....I am reminded of witnessing a festival at a small 'family' temple in Kerala some years back. A special 'shaman like' priest, not a regular pujari, was running the show and there was indeed a lot of 'trance' drumming. There was also a big fire with a pot of water being heated to boiling point and a metal rod stuck in the fire itself. Sitting in the front row inside the temple (which was open at the sides but protected by a roof) were the family members who were all well heeled, up to date, educated Malayalis. I was invited to sit with them so had a good view of the proceedings. The shaman (vellicapada I think is the true name but not sure of sp) also sat and then casually nodded to one of the women sitting near me, a middle aged lady wearing spectacles, and called her to him with a motion of his head. She got up, went to him and he whispered in her ear. In a split second she started to dance wildly, spun around to the fire and took up a palm frond which she repeatedly dipped into the boiling water and flicked onto her back and arms. Throwing that aside she then grasped the almost red hot metal bar and brandished it wildly in the air whilst continuing to dance. Eventually the shaman wrestled this from her and her family members guided her back to her seat. The ceremony continued with the shaman dancing and the woman was fanned by her family and eventually came to herself looking a little sheepish. One of the family told me that one of the women is always possessed (it's an annual festival) but they never know in advance which one it will be.
The whole thing was absolutely fascinating. And the deity was of course Ma Kali.
Computer time is alas coming to a close and 38 Americans will be waiting for me round the corner. So that's all for now.
Love as ever
That's interesting, Sunanda, as the possessed woman seems to have been perhaps not 'special' or at least not a regular 'body' for the spirit's use.
I continue to see this kind of thing as cross-cultural. If that's right, then in the Hindu context the phenomenon is only called 'Kali' or whatever to suit those present.
I wonder if you've heard of the spiritual organisation, Subud? Their 'latihans' are like mass possession. The group latihans seem to make anyone nearby prone to possession. I met one member who joined after being an electrician working int he room ABOVE the latihan, who knew nothing of it (in Birmingham). While working on wiring he suddenly got possessed, and knew enough to go downstairs afterward to ask what it was all about.
It begs the question as to whether such things are really 'spiritual' or in fact to be avoided.... An open subject.
(from an internet place in Chester now!)
On another occasion in Kerala, I witnessed a festival in honour of Lord Murugan (second son of Lord Shiva), where only male participants had metal skewers threaded thru their cheeks. Three participants had hooks thru the backs of their shoulders and the backs of their legs and then were suspended horizontally face down on what was basically a horizontal crucifix. This was then paraded thru the streets of Trivandrum for about five hours. The piercees also danced thru the streets, each with a minder, and were dowsed with water from time to time. Interestingly I had been permitted to watch the piercings ('Madam no ladies are allowed.' Five minutes later: 'Madam please come in'!) The trigger for the trance (no one called this possession btw) was again drumming which sent the participants into frenzied dancing. They were then led up one by one to a very muscular priest who was doing the piercing and he tested their degree of 'out of it-ness' by throwing a bottle of rose water in their face. If they flinched he sent them away to dance some more. they displayed no pain and did not bleed. But one of the men with the hooks in the back of his legs started to bleed before being hoisted in the air: this was dealt with by passing the aarti lamp in front of his face and smothering the wound with vibhuti (sacred ash). the object of the exercise was apparently to ask Lord Murugan for a boon and also to demonstrate the courage of the participants. At the end of the procession thru the streets several of the unpierced followers walked over red hot coals.
A week later I went to a similar festival and was there right at the beginning when the drums started inside the temple. Within a few minutes I could feel my body moving and realised how easy it would be to slip into trance if I wanted to. Interestingly no one was actually pierced on this occasion but the participants carried 'kavadi', wooden yokes on their shoulders decorated with peacock feathers and when they had walked a good few miles to another temple, two of the priests walked thru the fire, except this time it didn't work and they burned themselves quite badly (I saw their feet afterwards.) On the first occasion the pierced ones and the firewalkers were not priests but ordinary men, though I was told this winter that they are from just one caste (sorry don't know which.)
I'm sorry if this is a little off thread. Incidentally, I don't really want to comment on whether or not the women are possessed by Kali or some discarnate entity or simply in trance: I don't feel qualified to do so and, as you know, it is not in my nature to analyse things in this way. I simply see them, feel privileged to have seen them and accept that what I saw happened. why and how don't bother me.
Another point: in Tamil Nadu, on the odd occasion when a woman has seemed to become possessed in front of the deity, she is treated as a nuisance and an embarassment. (This in the big Shiva temple.)
But please do try and read the Sarah Caldwell book I recommended to you: it is very apposite (I hope that's the word I want!)
So apparently the same practices went with the Hindus to South Africa. There are three locations there where there's a large fire-walk of maybe 40 to 150 people. At least some of these are in trance at the time. It's usually the culmination of a long ritual build-up in the place of one and a half weeks. There's a minor controversy in one of the places as the males in charge don't allow women to partake, and a few at least wish to including the one taken over by 'Kali' every evening.
I understand your wish not to judge what is going on. That's actually a healthy and also scholarly attitude. (But it's also perhaps not so healthy for those involved to take it all on face value i'e' as Kali, etc.)
Some failed and burned their feet? I've hardly ever heard of that in any fire-walking situation. Interesting....
I remember witnessing a 'possession' many years ago, the energy moved into the body of a young girl sitting next to me, she was taken over by a deceased african lady that had not found her way to the light. Watching the pain that the young lady went through was not entertaining but very disconcerting, and all in the group at the time were very relieved when the energy moved out of the girl's body and went towards the light. Fortunately a very experienced church medium experienced in rescue work took control of the situation.
Trance is different again and shamans and some christian spiritualists have had experience with this. Trance work is not encouraged on the platform in the Christian Spiritualist movement.
Trance -v- Possession
With both one can have no memory of the energy working through one, it depends on the type of altered state involved. Hence why many trance mediums will tape record their sessions because they have little or no memory of what has happened during the time other energies have been working through them.
Outside beings involved.
Well when one sees them, hears and speaks to them there is no doubt when there is another being involved but this is very different from what many call channelling.
Overshadowing the medium
This experience is different again, when one's consciousness is consumed in another being's light, but yet you are left with just enough of the self to know that you are being overshadowed, by whom and to enjoy/witness the experience.
That's very interesting: the difference between trance and possession. Thank you.
It's usually the culmination of a long ritual build-up in the place of one and a half weeks.
Indeed, the men who participate in the Murugan festival and who are pierced, or firewalk, have to be purified in the 40 days before the festival by eating no meat or eggs, drinking no alcohol and not indulging in sex.
Interesting sunanda, ive read that it takes 40 days to purify yourself of many things (drugs, wrong doings etc...). Im also glad that you have not added any perspective to your stories Sunanda.
I saw on TV a while back, a documentary on the Sufis (mysticism in Turkey). There was this woman making bread, and all of a sudden another woman started saying a chant. The woman making the bread instantly went into a trance and started breathing strangely and making frightning noises. She then proceeded to pick up red hot coals from an oven, and eat them. They reported no ingury.
Do these trances give us super natural power? Are these trances similar to Astral Projection?
If some are frightening, and are considered a nuesance, perhaps its not such a holy thing after all.
I know the goddess Kali Ma. She is very strong, and she raises my kundalini energy. She wants to hep us move foreward very quickly. I see her in dreams and visions sometimes.
Gods do not have the ability to possess. They can only influence us, for it is we who have the will of choice. We may let them possess.
Possession may be a misconception. It is a touchy subject. because there is something that doesnt seem LUMINOUS about screaming and shouting, and flailing your arms, and having family members try to sit you down so you come back to normal. It is far different than a calm enlightened spiritual master. But that is just a judgement.
For I have read in Autobiography of a Yogi, that Paramhansa Yoganada's Guru Sri Yukteswar would go into the trance state at night, but it would not be fightening or hellish as some would describe.
I myself have entered trance states in which you experience the higher vibrational frequencies of the subtle body. And I remember what I see, and what happens, and how I enter.
Perhaps these "possesive" trances are creations of imagination manifested into reality. I say imagination with no limitations on the word. For it is imagination which is more real that many think.
So let us discern the difference between "possesive" trances in which one let themselves be controlled, and blissfull or "astral" trances, in which we reach higher states of conciousness yet do not move our physical body.
\"Sing Thou the sacred & simple song of love
And bring to all the solace of life, here & now.
The seer, the sight & the seen are no more three
In Thy triumph of truth, fearless & free.\"
that is a very interesting thread, thank you for bringing it up.
It coincides with a tv series which I am trying to watch when I can, called "Last of the medicine men" on uk tv doc, where the journalist (?) is entering different places where Shamanism is still active and observes what is taking place and speaks to the shamans...I saw the one somewhere in Vietnam (I think). and the one in Haiti (voodoo).
From what I have read now on the subject and watched (sadly, not experienced), it looks like shamanism is really at the root of all humanity's religions...and different possessions / trance / shamanistic rituals bear strong similarities. Even with a dualistic and not-so-nature-attuned religion as Christianity...for example the voodoo pilgrimage in honours of the3 spirits (yes!) of the Virgin Lady and the Black Madonna, and Jesus, plus other well-known "indigenous" Haitian spirits, ends under a huge water-fall, after worshipping spirit-trees, where almost all participants (men, women, all ages) experience possession, cry, laugh, embrace the rocks, dance, appear sexually provoking...a woman who was in trance was said to be possessed by the Black Madonna (I may be wrong here, but it was a female deity/spirit) and like many other women, had dressed very well and was sexually explicit because the female spirit was vain and flirtatious.
anyway, diverging: my point was the Water purging/healing/trance/communion.
I went to Lourdes a few months ago and experienced a true spiritual high, even though I don't belive in the Christian God. The completion and "climax" (if I can say) of the pilgrimmage or Lourdes experience is the bathing in the healing spring, now bath-houses regulated by international nuns. The whole experience for me was a very powerful unconsciously female cult, for 90% of the people who went to the bathing were women, and like in Fatima, most pilgrims are females...I was not aware of any of that before I went there. And watching the doc. about the voodoo walk through nature ending in the bathing and what looked like a big chaotic hysterical fiesta to Western eyes (a man was playing his saxophone in the water, with the water falling on his head while others were screaming and dancing) made me feel that WATER BATHING IS A VITAL PART OF HUMANITY'S SHAMANISTIC RITUALS....
What is the book you were reading, Venetian?
I also read abook on Korean shamanism called "housewives spirits and shamanism in Korea" where the author describes her long research (by living with the women) on the subject: in the northen part of South Korea, all (99%) shamans are women, local buddhist palaces have never agreed with the practices and tried discouraging women taking part in the (very frequent; actually shamans are called to do their duty an a very regular basis in households) experience.
I remember reading that every women could go up a mountain with a vase (containing something....), for healing purpose again, once a year, but could not lookor talk to anyone on the way up and if she did, she would have to do it all again! once at the summit, she would ask the mountain spirit to help with the disease of her relative.
I also remember that most of the rituals consisted with dealing with family ancestors (recent + old) and house spirits/guardians (the house being a very important place; basically only by living in your ancestors' house you could protect yourself from psychic attacks/bad luck) who had become angry as a result of not having been "celebrated" enough or just being selfish (spirits could be malovelent).
An old shaman questioned on the link: women-shamanism answered that all shamans have always been women but because women found it much easier to connect with the spirits while in trance, men who could do it benefited more prestige, as a result of the anomalilty of the situation, and hence made more money by working in larger towns.
I am fascinated by all practices of shamanism and its existence in Prehistoric
the figures in the picture denote her properties or virtues.
She takes the man from his body - this is why there is a sickle followed by a head, also notice the hands around her waist. Very clearly - to me anyway - she is a sex Goddess. Who takes a man to the spirit world or the world of the dead - as seen by the necklace of Skulls. The Garland of Flowers shows she is a Goddess of Love and peace, something like a valkyrie perhaps.
try the two words against one another - Valkyrie and Kali .
There was a program on the television lately and there are people in India who are all under the opinion that she is the destroyer, I beleive this is due to false teaching.
This is dangerous.
From false interpretation comes destruction, from Kali comes love.
Sorry, Monk, but I think you're oversimplifying things here. The Goddess Kali really isn't a 'Sex goddess', whatever that might be. And her attributes and appurtances (skulls, hands etc) are largely symbolic of the belief that she kills our ego. She is indeed a loving mother but she is also ruthlessly engaged in leading us to the realisation of our Self.
But it's another Yin/Yang thing. Without Shiva (the male principle) no Shakti (or Kali - the female principle.) The mystery is that from this seeming duality we achieve not only unity but monism: merging.
Kali is my Ishta Deva, my personal deity, and yes, she is fierce but she is very beautiful.
Kali is also Parvathi and a few others… She is more complex than just sex.
On the subject of Hindu Goddesses and Hindu Feminism; there is an individual called Prahlad Jani.
He claims that he was blessed at the age of eight by the goddess Ambaji (another aspect of Shakti or Durga) – Since then he says he has neither eaten food nor drunk water for decades (he’s well into his 70’s now I think).
That is quite a claim, and sounds scientifically impossible, however he was monitored at a hospital for 10 days where they confirmed that not only was it true that he definitely did not absorb any food or water during that strictly controlled experiment he also remained perfectly healthy and lucid with no detectable deterioration whatsoever except a very slight drop in weight…. But that is understandable if what he says is true as to how he gains his sustenance.
I watched a documentary that featured him a while ago and I just loved looking at the man. He has a really interesting face, wears a red sari, a nose ring, flowers in his hair, bangles, paints his fingernails red, wears a red tikki on his forehead like a married woman would and lives in a cave!
People call him Mataji.
I woulda posted a photo of him here... but this section doesn't seem to have that facility... Doh! [:-]
A pity - I don't see that they confirm anything about a literal hole in the palate? This may equate with 'soma', this nectar, created by some aspect of kundalini. My undersanding was that the tongue has to be 'swallowed' and then placed up intospace behind the nasal cavity abovethe palate. (But DON'T try this at home kids - I believe a friend of mine died trying it.)
Dressing somewhat as a female also reminds me of Ramakrishna who in his "Kali period" also dressed as a woman, and lived with women. He was so effeminate in that period that people could be taken to a room and asked to pick out which of the women was Ramakrishna - they couldn't.
Reading Ramakrishna' Gospel is another good way of understanding Kali BTW.
You wrote "Normally in the Hindu lifestyle a woman’s role is fairly clearly marked out. From a Western perspective it can appear as though women in Hinduism are somewhat subservient."
"SUBSERVIENT"? "SUBSERVIENT"? "SUBSERVIENT"?
"SUBSERVIENT"? My foot! Like hell, they are subservient! Maybe in Islam, NEVER in Hinduism ( as it is INCORRECTLY called in the West).
I am MARRIED to one! AND SHE is anything BUT SUBSERVIENT. This is one of the fallacies promoted by Muslims AND other anti-Hindu activists and eagerly grasped by Westerners!
I am NOT AN EXCEPTION. I challenge anyone to conduct a STATISTICALLY RELIABLE SURVEY to PROVE that Hindu women are SUBSERVIENT.I, fortunately, am trained in statistical analysis and sampling theory. Until they can PROVE that this is indeed the case, I shall thank them to discontinue this malicious LIE.
And if they cannot prove it, I shall thank them to DISCONTINUE THIS LIE AND APOLOGISE.
You, Venetian, wrote about "possession"! If youi travelled the length and breadth of India, you would find that the overwhelming majority of Hindus couldn't care less about "possession"!
They are FAR MORE OCCUPIED with solving the problem of "WHERE THEIR NEXT MEAL IS GOING TO COME FROM" ?
I am sure you can appreciate that, but it seems that many can't!