Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)
“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck
“Kali Can You Hear Me?”
When I bring up the subject of the “Kali Yuga” in polite company, I find that few people know what I am talking about, let alone that we are in the midst of it. So what is the Kali Yuga? According to Hindu lore, the Kali Yuga is the last of four epochs which can be roughly equated to the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age known in the Western tradition. Each epoch signifies a decline and a degradation from the previous phase. The Kali Yuga is the bottom of the barrel, where humanity has lost all connection to its sacred source and wallows in lower appetites, materialism and greed. In the Vishnu Puruna, this state is achieved “when society reaches a stage where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union between husband and wife, falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion.”
Kali is the Hindu goddess of destruction, usually depicted with four arms, dancing wildly on a corpse, tongue sticking out, blood dripping from her fangs. Kali is the wrathful manifestation of Shakti, the consort of Shiva. While Lord Shiva is the personification of pure consciousness, Lady Shakti represents the current of sexual energy behind all manifestation. The eternal act of love between Shiva and Shakti maintains the balance of forces in the universe.
According to some accounts, the four yugas are immensely long affairs, and there are hundreds of thousands of years left to run in our current Kali Yuga. However, some Hindu sects, such as the Dravidians, say that the entire cycle lasts 60,000 years in total, and we are currently approaching the finish line of the final epoch. The good news about the Kali Yuga is that Hindu time runs in a circle or spiral. The end of the Kali Yuga means a return to the Golden Age, the Satya Yuga, after passage through a transition made in darkness.
According to the French esoteric scholar Rene Guenon, writing in the early years of the 20th century, “We have in fact entered upon the final phase of this Kali Yuga, the darkest period of this dark age, the state of dissolution from which there is to be no emerging except through a cataclysm, since it is no longer a mere revival which is required, but a complete renovation.” Guenon scoffed at the “triumph” of Western values and empirical thought, seeing the modern worship of empirical science as a shallow delusion: “These lower forms of knowledge, so insignificant to anyone possessing knowledge of a different order, had nevertheless to be realized,” he wrote in The Crisis of the Modern World. This realization could only happen at the point where “true intellectuality,” knowledge of a different order, had disappeared or been completely devalued.
The standard liberal, feminist, or left-wing criticism of our society considers it a patriarchal dominator culture that represses the feminine and the natural. This is of course true, as far as it goes. However, in the Kali Yuga, it is the female daemonic current of Shakti energy that has gone berserk, and not the male principle. As Nikolai and Zenia Shreck put it in their entertaining Demons of the Flesh: “During this Aeon, the lunar, sinister current of the Feminine Daemonic is at its zenith, a spiritual condition which allows for the breaking up of all boundaries and the free play of creative chaos, unrestricted by the male ordering principle.” Since Kali is the wrathful manifestation of Shakti, the Kali Yuga could be described as the goddess Shakti throwing a hissy fit.
We find this idea coded into the Biblical story of Genesis. Man was satisfied in Paradise. It was woman, Eve, who bit the apple (of knowledge and desire), and she wants to keep biting. On the deepest level, men are unchanged by history—they are the same soldiers, shamans, and duffers now as they were five, ten, or fifty thousand years ago. Women are the ones who are trying to change. To bite deeper into the apple, “she,” the archetypal feminine, the Shakti-current, needs to be given recognition, permission, affirmation, by man and by the masculine Shiva-force of consciousness.
After giving this much consideration, I suspect that the “fate of the Earth” literally depends on understanding and acting upon this situation. “She” is going to continue to wreak havoc until she gets what she wants in the way that she wants it—which may have nothing to do with contemporary social values or moral and sexual stereotypes. The 1960s provided a dress rehearsal. The Shakti current opened up for a while, after the near-nuclear annihilation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the possibility of a global civilization based on love rather than domination became briefly apparent.
The “feminine” also represents the intuitive forms of thought denigrated by our rigidly masculine rationality, as well as nature itself. The Kali Yuga comprises all of recorded history—the last five or six thousand years. Historical time is the duration required for human consciousness to realize its separation from nature, and penetrate into matter through technology. As Francis Bacon put it at the beginning of the era of modern science: “We must torture Nature until she reveals her secrets.” Western science is a Sadean project. Western Man’s incessant probing of nature is, in itself, a quest for knowledge of the lost and defiled goddess whose body is the world.
When the feminine daemonic went berserk, at the beginning of the Kali Yuga, there was a withdrawal of maternal protection and sensual satisfaction from most of humanity. According to Robert Lawlor’s extraordinary book, Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime, this may have occurred through an actual shift or weakening in Mother Earth’s electromagnetic field. The aboriginals live without shelter or clothing on the southernmost continent, staying in constant contact with the planet’s electromagnetic force, its heartbeat. For the aboriginals, every day is the “first day” of creation, the origin point, and there was never a “fall of man” into a degraded state. Because they maintained this pure condition, they had no interest in developing technologies that would permit them to control or dominate nature.
At the core of our word “materialism” is “Mater,” mother. As the polarity of Kali/Shakti suggests, there are two sides to the mother archetype. There is the nurturing, fertile, and benevolent mother, and there is the aggrieved, possessive, devouring mother. In the modern world, we became obsessed with material goods and possessions. This obsession is due to our subconscious enslavement by the “bad mother” archetype. Kali Yuga humans, deprived of “mother’s milk,” of proper nurturing, become devious, depraved, greedy, insatiable, miserly—we have confused matter for Mater.
In his laboratory, the scientist has sought to understand the wound inflicted on him by the aggrieved feminine. He has asked the wrong questions and received the wrong answers. To ask the right questions, he would have to start with a different understanding. Rather than seeking some delusionary final closure, he would have to accept the nature of paradox, and the paradox that is nature.
Obsessed with the urge to escape the limits of spacetime through a direct phallic extension of his ego, through acceleration, man builds racing cars and rockets. Acting out of subconscious rage, man splits the atom in an attempt to annihilate matter/mater. The oceanic feminine waits for the wave to crash. Kali giggles. She whispers: “You do not know me yet, you man, you failed systemizer.”
Technology is an attempt to create a “second nature” that accords with limited masculine rationality. Modern technology imposes a rigid, static, dead order on the flowing fractal chaos that is feminine nature. At the moment of seeming triumph for modern science, the physicist discovers, to his horror, that matter is an illusion—there is only quantum foam, fluctuation, and flux. It is all feminine sinuous motion: Shakti. It is all relational. There is no hard fact, just spectacle and seduction and uncertainty principles. What holds reality together is consciousness, the observer who changes what is observed. Instead of a bedrock materiality, there is what the Hindus call “lila,” divine play.
The Western project of technology and science have been called into being by the secret workings of the aggrieved feminine current. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. However, it should be recalled that men tend to be “passively active,” while women are “actively passive,” impelling activity and erotic advances like magnets. The deviation in the feminine Shakti current impelled the anguished masculine drive towards rationality. My hypothesis is that the ultimate purpose of technology is to aid in the coming-to-consciousness of women—the realization of feminine desire and self-knowledge. At that point, Kali will retract her fangs, pull in her tongue, liberate her victims, and, with the faintest trace of a Mona Lisa smile, turn back into Shakti. As Wilhelm Reich put it: “Sexually awakened women, affirmed and recognized as such, would mean the complete collapse of the patriarchy.” The underground currents of our time lead in this direction. The mass-market success of The Da Vinci Code, a mystery based on the suppression of the sacred feminine by Christianity, is one of many indications.
As it says in The Tao, “Reversal is the movement of the Tao.” I propose that the conclusion of the Kali Yuga is a cosmic synchronization with the end-date of the Mayan calendar in the year 2012. By that time, masculine technology and feminine nature will have reintegrated, and the liberational movements that crested and collapsed during the 1960s will return, reformat themselves, and complete the task of establishing a new age and a new consciousness. The goddess is returning, and this time around, the apple will be eaten down to the core.