“The phrase “kindred spirit” evokes for women who grew up reading the stories of the adventures and misadventures of Anne Shirley Anne Shirley a young woman, an orphan, who desperately wants to have a shared relationship that is a true and lasting connection between people as deep as a connection of kin but as individually affirming as friendship.” At least that is what I said in the K entry in 2016’s A to Z.
This year K is being revisited as K terms which link to iconic Female elements in culture and for individual women. I am not terribly well informed about Hinduism having only formally studied the Bhagavad Gita in a ancient literature class in college. But in this post, written the same day the K entry is to be posted — argh, I am examining the Kindred Kali, which may (or may not, I don’t want to tout my abilities beyond what is reasonable) clear up some of the problems I have noticed in Western world friends’ interpretations of Kali who often view the deity Kali through a feminist lens.
I do not want to go over territory previously covered. However, I want to draw in the one aspect of the word kindred that is conceptually important for contemporary women; that of the kindred that is reflected in the title of the novel by Octavia Butler: Kindred. This work had some challenges that stemmed from being first published in the 1970 from feminist interpretations at a time when feminism was primarily a white woman’s tool. Womanist interpretations of identity are more inclusive of individually contradictory, but accepted, aspects of a culture reflected in individuals as a whole than feminism.
I hope to show the breadth of the concept of kindred by featuring two very distinct icons which reflect aspects of the concept.
Kindred spirits live in the domain of women. Kali is the fierce manifestation of the mother goddess.
Butler looks at how a contemporary woman who sees beyond the limitations placed on her by a set of historical facts, ultimately comes to accept that she cannot know those shaping forces without having experienced them directly. We all live in worlds we did not make, but we do have the power to shape our world by learning and experiencing all we can so we can work with constraints we inherited.
Kali created the domain that is women’s, and men’s. She is the warrior who is counterpart to Shiva. She is unbridled energy that creates and destroys and part of the cycle of time. Shiva often is shown throwing himself under her feat to stop her raging. Kali is untamed, beyond the constraints of humanity. She protects her young, but she is life and death as these states are inseparable. She does not tolerate evil deeds or demons.
In kin, and kindred, we often ignore the terrible as we want to gloss over the aspects of people and life that make us uncomfortable. Ancient Hindu tales of origin and deity understand the contradictions inherent in a world that was here before we were and that continues on after we are no more.
The kindred of whom of whom Butler writes are many: ancestors, people who share a race, people who share a lineage, women of your time, and women who came before. Sex, race, and status, as well as slavery are the themes of Butler’s Kindred. Butler is usually called a science fiction writer and she was one of stand out greats of speculative fiction. She died young, while in her 50s, but left a good body of work. Kindred is a time travel novel in which a young black woman from 1976 is repeatedly pulled back through time where she make life and death decisions about an ancestor of hers, a slave owner. This is a gross oversimplification, but that is the action that feeds the plot.
This is a great vehicle to examine race, gender, and sex in our contemporary world. A 20th Century black woman who is well educated, independent and partnered to a man of another race has to face the reality of the horrors of slavery and the complexity of family where people own and are owned by relatives, abused and treated as property by fathers who raped and owned their mothers.
Can generations of time mute the cries of indifference and cruelty that were part of all that brought all of us to the present? Time is Kali’s domain, as is night.
Kindred spans time as well as space. Kindred spans race. Kindred crosses gender and the sexes. But as Butler shows by having a woman first deal with this bit of the past that is herself, women shape the story, the history of of what comes down through families. Determining kindred is ultimately determining family and thus self.
It seems that all of the great mothers of ancient humans are complex creatures, iconic crones, frightening. The Hindu deity filling this niche seems to accept the complexity of all that is associated with the wonder and terror of life and death. Learning to see these same traits with us, within our roles, brings together the personal and historic by illuminating the mythic within us that cannot be understood, or contained, but rather respected and accepted.
A to Z - 2018 - Feminine Icons
As I write about iconic elements of The Feminine, or what are representations of essential aspects of figures that stand for women in various phases of life or in actions or behaviors that are inherently female, I try achieve some balance although biases are inevitable. All humans have biases. One of the biases that I would love to overcome is my Eurocentric bias. The world is a vast mixture of peoples and cultures. I am somewhat ashamed that I am not more global in my knowledge.
To overcome some of that bias, I want to travel to the world of the Maya who like so many other cultures have symbolically celebrated the wisdom and power of aged women in one of their Jaguar deities.
The incorporation of animal spirits into the gods and goddesses that helped the Maya give meaning and order to their world is essential to any understanding of their world view. Nature, people, and the animals and plants of their environment cannot be looked at individually. A pantheon of ruling and guiding spirits collectively influenced all peoples lives, not just human-formed deities, but mythic and magical beings taken from all aspects of the environment in which they lived.
The Jaguar was the top predator in the Mayan world. It is easy to understand the awe given to the Jaguar by the Mayans if you have ever been in the wild near a large cat.
My own first such experience was in Arivaipa Canyon in Arizona when my daughter was young. We were hiking as a group of around 10 people including a couple of children. This was a permitted hike in the section managed by the BLM. A mountain lion walked with us all of one day, as far as we could tell, pacing us along a cliff-top trail. It was stealthy but once spotted, we kept the kids in the middle of the group so the cat would not get any ideas that it could snag a straggler. I was not afraid, but I was in awe. I was just a part of nature, as was the mountain lion. Jaguars are bigger than mountain lions.
As a side note, a border wall would further endanger these cat species which do include the mountain ranges and wilderness area north of Mexico as the northern part of their ranges. A jaguar was spotted a couple years ago in Madera Canyon near Tucson.
Gods still walk among us.
If we are going to cover the iconic elements of THE FEMININE some space has to be given to discussion of the concept of virginity and the hymen. This is a brief article, but a necessary one, as an iconic aspect of how women are defined depends on this trait that is largely a culturally constructed concept and not a biological state.
Whether a hymen is intact, or ever existed, is a definitive sign of nothing. This inner labial membrane does not exist in all girls; variation is the norm, with all degrees of presence and absence of the trait found in neonates.
There is no one physical presentation of this trait. So to have the social status of a girl or woman defined by something that can not be verified is not only ludicrous, but dangerous.
While it is tempting to think that in the 21st Century a person cannot have their life ruined by the conjecture of others, but many fundamentalist religions essentially require a woman to be a virgin to be eligible to marry. Since the definition of a virgin is someone who has not had sexual intercourse, and the proof of this state is the presence of an anatomical state that may never have existed.
No one should need to prove such a status. That such a status is believed to exist and essentially has to be confirmed by another person is inherently a matter of social control and not one of fact.
Language around this topic backs up the social control aspect of the concept of virginity. As most people know there are many ways to have sexual relations with others. There is nothing binary about sexuality. It cannot be given nor taken.
There are many quite good explorations of this topic, some quite graphic, and I need not go into detail here and will just link to an article in the Atlantic.
Many feminist studies of this trait, as defined and managed by a patriarchal culture, sees this as one of the major proofs that men seek to define and control all aspects of women in what is considered the default or basic state of relationships. This is changing for some, but no one is immune to such a s deep historical belief that spans all cultures to at least some degree.