“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.